Izar Lab

Principal Investigator

The Izar research laboratory in the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Columbia Center for Translational Immunology (CCTI) is affiliated with the Program for Mathematical Genomics and the New York Genome Center. We aim to dissect interactions of cancer and immunity in the tumor development, metastasis and drug resistance using high-dimensional functional single-cell genomics and imaging. The ultimate goal of this work is to inform better selection and development of therapies to improve the lives of cancer patients.

Research

Dissecting mechanisms of early tumorigenesis and niche-specific metastasis

While the genetic landscape of primary and metastatic cancers is now well understood, it remains unclear how early genetic events determine invasive capacity and metastasis of various cancers, including melanoma. It is also unknown why some tumors have a preference to metastasize to one organ over another. To delineate these fundamental questions, we apply single-cell genomics and imaging to defined genetic models of human and murine cancer precursors in tissue-engineered and pre-clinical in vivo models. Among metastatic niches, we are particularly interested in the brain as it is a major cause for morbidity and mortality across cancers.

Delineating resistance to immune checkpoint inhibitors in patient models

Immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICI) are exciting therapies that produce potentially durable responses in a portion of cancer patients, however, the vast majority of patients do not respond. We have previously identified a set of genes that are associated with drug resistance. We now use multi-scale genome-editing and single-cell genomics in patient-derived tumor/immune models to functionally to characterize putative drivers of resistance.

Development of tools to better understand mechanisms of T cell exclusion

T cell exclusion from the tumor microenvironment is one of the most important, yet poorly defined mechanisms of resistance to immune checkpoint inhibitors. We aim to develop new experimental and analytical tools to define drivers of T cell exclusion.

Lab Members

Current Members

  • Amit Dipak Amin, PhD

    Amit received his BSc, MSc and PhD in genetics at the University of Leicester. Amit did his first postdoc at the University of Kansas in epigenetics and his second postdoc in cancer biology at the Universities of Arizona  and Miami. His work in drug resistance highlighted the seemingly inevitable onset of acquired resistance to targeted therapy. In his work, he has found, however, that the success of cancer immunotherapy suggests exciting treatment possibilities. On sabbatical, Amit undertook an MSc in cancer immunology at the University of Nottingham. In the Izar lab, Amit focuses on honing the immune system to seek-and-destroy cancer cells to overcome their resilience. 

    Amit Dipak Amin
  • Jana Biermann, PhD

    Computational biologist Jana Biermann is a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Department of Medicine at Columbia University. She received her MSc in Molecular Life Sciences from Humboldt University Berlin, Germany and her PhD in Medical Sciences from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. Her PhD research focused on computational biology and genomics in breast cancer, with a particular interest in the clonal relationship between primary tumors and metastases. In the Izar Lab, Jana studies the tumor microenvironment of melanoma brain metastases using single-cell genomics to determine brain-niche specific drivers of metastasis and immune evasion.

    Jana Biermann
  • Sean Chen, BS, MA

    Sean is from Singapore, and is proud to call St. Josephs Institution alma mater. For his tertiary education, Sean moved to the United States, and received his BS in Biology and Psychology from the School of General Studies at Columbia University. Sean’s research career as a technician started in 2005 at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, and he subsequently received his MA in Biotechnology from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Columbia University.

    Sean Chen
  • Patricia Ho, MD, PhD

    Patricia Ho is a third year MD-PhD student at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. A graduate of Williams College, she previously worked at the Broad Institute and Dana Farber Cancer Institute, investigating mechanisms of drug resistance in pediatric brain cancers. Currently, she is interested in researching ways to further optimize the use of immunotherapy in the treatment of cancer. 

    Patricia Ho
  • Igor Katsyv, MD, PhD

    Physician-scientist Igor Katsyv is an Anatomic Pathology resident at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. He is interested in computational biology and genomics, with a particular interest in cutaneous oncology. Before joining NYP/Columbia, Igor obtained his MD/PhD from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, where he used network analysis to study gene interactions in cancer. Igor will pursue subspecialty training in Dermatopathology. 

    Igor Katsyv
  • Johannes Melms, MD

    Physician-scientist Johannes Melms is a post-doctoral fellow in the Izar lab. He is interested in Cutaneous Oncology and Systems Pharmacology. Johannes uses combinatorial, multi-scale CRISPR/single-cell screens in patient models to deeply characterize drivers of immune evasion and resistance to immunotherapies in melanoma. He obtained a M.D. at the TU in Munich, Germany and has been a post-doctoral fellow in the Izar Group at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/Harvard Medical School since 2017, and joins Ben at Columbia University for continued training.

    Johannes Melms
  • Meri Rogava, MD, PhD

    Physician-scientist Meri Rogava is a post-doctoral fellow in the Izar lab. She uses CRISPR-Cas9 screens to understand site-specific tumor/immune determinants of metastasis with a special focus on the brain and the leptomeninges. She obtained a M.D. from Tbilisi State Medical University, Georgia followed by a M.S. and Ph.D. in Immunology at the University of Bonn, Germany. Meri has been a post-doc in the Izar Group at Harvard Medical School since 2018, and joins Ben at Columbia University for continued training. 

    Meri Rogava
  • Amber Wolabaugh, PhD

    Amber Wolabaugh is a rotating graduate student in the Izar Lab from the Microbiology and Immunology PhD program at Columbia University. Before coming to Columbia, she received a BS in Biological Sciences from Florida State University and was a lab technician at Yerkes National Primate Research Center from 2016-2019. 

Former Lab Members

  • Parin Shah, MS

    Research Technician (2014-2016)

    Current role: Ph.D. Student at MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX

  • Bokang Rabasha, BA

    Research Technician (2016-2018)

    Current role: Assistant Project Coordinator at Botswana Harvard Aids Partnership

  • Shaolin Mei, MS

    Staff Scientist (2016-2019)

    Current role: Ph.D. Student at MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX

  • Sreeram Vallabhaneni, MS

    Staff Scientist (2018-2019)

    Current Role: Staff Scientist at the Laboratory for Systems Pharmacology at Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA

Select Publications

  • Science. 2016 Apr 8;352(6282):189-96. doi: 10.1126/science.aad0501.

  • Cell. 2018 Nov 1;175(4):984-997.e24. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2018.09.006. (commentary on this paper: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30487234)

  • Cancer Res. 2019 Dec 27. pii: canres.2330.2019. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-19-2330. [Epub ahead of print] 

  • Elife. 2018 Jul 11;7. pii: e31657. doi: 10.7554/eLife.31657.