Kelly Kersten, Ph.D.

Kelly Kersten's Research Focus

Breast Cancer, Skin Cancer and Melanoma, Immune Disorders
Adaptive Immunity, Innate Immunity, Tumor Microenvironment, Tumorigenesis, Metastasis, Cancer Biology, Inflammation
Mouse, Primary Cells
Cellular and Molecular Imaging

The Kersten lab studies the interactions between the immune system and cancer

We are fascinated by the crosstalk between the immune system and cancer. Our goal is to understand how cancer cells hijack the normal physiology and function of immune cells to support tumor growth and evade destruction by the immune system.

Kelly Kersten's Research Report

Cancer immunotherapy, harnessing a patient’s immune system to fight cancer, has revolutionized the way we treat cancer. However, a large proportion of patients do not respond to this type of therapy, and we do not fully understand why. In the Kersten lab, we study how different immune cells affect anti-tumor immunity with the ultimate goal to improve therapies to fight cancer. Research in our lab is focused on understanding how interactions between different immune cells in the tumor microenvironment, specifically macrophages and T cells, affect anti-tumor immunity and responsiveness to immunotherapy. Why do T cells become dysfunctional and exhausted? How do exhausted T cells modulate the composition of immune cells in tumors? And how do macrophages shut down anti-tumor T cells? Our research aims to define the molecular mechanisms that regulate these reciprocal signals to design novel anti-cancer therapies. How immune cells function is highly context-dependent. Upon infiltration in the tumor microenvironment, immune cells face extremely harsh conditions characterized by nutrient deprivation, hypoxia and metabolic challenges resulting in their failure to function properly. We study how different environmental factors impact immune cell phenotype and function, with the goal to optimize their cancer-killing properties.

Kelly Kersten's Bio

"Cancer is one the main causes of death in the US. Our research is focused on understanding how we can harness the power of our immune system to attack and kill cancer cells and cure patients. I chose to join Sanford Burnham Prebys because of their collaborative research culture and state-of-the- art core facilities. I believe that teamwork is the foundation of scientific breakthroughs, and the Institute provides a perfect supportive and friendly environment to achieve this."

Originally from the Netherlands, Kelly received her B.S. and M.S. from Utrecht University, and performed her Ph.D. studies at the Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam working with Prof. Karin de Visser studying the role of the immune system in the metastatic spread of breast cancer. For her postdoctoral training, Kelly joined the lab of Prof. Max Krummel at the University of California San Francisco to study how tumor-associated myeloid cells affect anti-tumor T cell responses. Kelly is currently setting up her independent research team at Sanford Burnham Prebys.



2016-2023: Postdoctoral Training, University of California San Francisco (Mentor: Prof. Max Krummel, focus on immune evasive cancer)
2017: Ph.D., Netherlands Cancer Institute Amsterdam/ Leiden University (Mentor: Prof. Karin de Visser, focus on role immune system in breast cancer metastasis, 2011-2016)
2011: M.S., Biomedical Sciences, Utrecht University, Netherlands
2008: B.S., Biology, Utrecht University, Netherlands


Honors and Recognition

2022: Selected Attendee for SITC Women in Cancer Immunotherapy Network (WIN) Leadership Institute
2022: Selected Attendee for Arthur and Sandra Irving Cancer Immunology Symposium
2022: Ray Owen Poster Award for Outstanding Poster Presentation at 60th Midwinter Conference for Immunologists at Asilomar (sponsored by AAI)
2020-2022: Parker Scholar Award awarded by the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy (PICI)
2018: Honorable Mention of poster presentation at UCSF/UCB/UCM Immunology Retreat
2018: Poster presentation ‘Excellence in Research Award’ awarded by the National Philanthropic Trust
2017-2019: NWO Rubicon postdoctoral fellowship awarded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO)
2015: Best presentation award at the annual Tumor Cell Biology meeting of the Dutch Cancer Society (KWF)
2014: Travel scholarship awarded by the Dutch Foundation for Pharmacological Sciences (NSFW)
2010: Master scholarship awarded by the Dutch Cancer Society (KWF)



2022-present: Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC)
2020-present: Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy (PICI)
2012-present: American Association for Cancer Research (AACR)  

scientist at work pipetting


Uptake of tumor-derived microparticles induces metabolic reprogramming of macrophages in the early metastatic lung.

Kersten K, You R, Liang S, Tharp KM, Pollack J, Weaver VM, Krummel MF, Headley MB

Cell Rep 2023 Jun 27 ;42(6):112582

Spatiotemporal co-dependency between macrophages and exhausted CD8(+) T cells in cancer.

Kersten K, Hu KH, Combes AJ, Samad B, Harwin T, Ray A, Rao AA, Cai E, Marchuk K, Artichoker J, Courau T, Shi Q, Belk J, Satpathy AT, Krummel MF

Cancer Cell 2022 Jun 13 ;40(6):624-638.e9

Understanding the tumor immune microenvironment (TIME) for effective therapy.

Binnewies M, Roberts EW, Kersten K, Chan V, Fearon DF, Merad M, Coussens LM, Gabrilovich DI, Ostrand-Rosenberg S, Hedrick CC, Vonderheide RH, Pittet MJ, Jain RK, Zou W, Howcroft TK, Woodhouse EC, Weinberg RA, Krummel MF

Nat Med 2018 May ;24(5):541-550

Critical role of CD206+ macrophages in organizing anti-tumor immunity.

Ray A, Hu KH, Kersten K, Kuhn NF, Samad B, Combes AJ, Krummel MF

bioRxiv 2023 Nov 2 ;

Lessons for the Next Generation of Scientists from the Second Annual Arthur and Sandra Irving Cancer Immunology Symposium.

Alvarez-Breckenridge C, Anderson KG, Correia AL, Demehri S, Dinh HQ, Dixon KO, Dunn GP, Evgin L, Goc J, Good Z, Hacohen N, Han P, Hanč P, Hickey J, Kersten K, Liu BC, Buque A, Miao Y', Milner JJ, Pritykin Y, Pucci F, Scharping NE, Sudmeier L, Wang Y, Wieland A, Williams MM

Cancer Immunol Res 2023 Dec 1 ;11(12):1571-1577

Uptake of tumor-derived microparticles induces metabolic reprogramming of macrophages in the early metastatic lung.

Kersten K, You R, Liang S, Tharp KM, Pollack J, Weaver VM, Krummel MF, Headley MB

Cell Rep 2023 Jun 27 ;42(6):112582

Tumor cell heterogeneity drives spatial organization of the intratumoral immune response in squamous cell skin carcinoma.

Tanaka M, Lum L, Hu K, Ledezma-Soto C, Samad B, Superville D, Ng K, Adams Z, Kersten K, Fong L, Combes AJ, Krummel M, Reeves M

bioRxiv 2023 Jun 21 ;

Neoadjuvant immune checkpoint blockade triggers persistent and systemic T(reg) activation which blunts therapeutic efficacy against metastatic spread of breast tumors.

Blomberg OS, Kos K, Spagnuolo L, Isaeva OI, Garner H, Wellenstein MD, Bakker N, Duits DEM, Kersten K, Klarenbeek S, Hau CS, Kaldenbach D, Raeven EAM, Vrijland K, Kok M, de Visser KE

Oncoimmunology 2023 ;12(1):2201147

IL-5-producing CD4(+) T cells and eosinophils cooperate to enhance response to immune checkpoint blockade in breast cancer.

Blomberg OS, Spagnuolo L, Garner H, Voorwerk L, Isaeva OI, van Dyk E, Bakker N, Chalabi M, Klaver C, Duijst M, Kersten K, Brüggemann M, Pastoors D, Hau CS, Vrijland K, Raeven EAM, Kaldenbach D, Kos K, Afonina IS, Kaptein P, Hoes L, Theelen WSME, Baas P, Voest EE, Beyaert R, Thommen DS, Wessels LFA, de Visser KE, Kok M

Cancer Cell 2023 Jan 9 ;41(1):106-123.e10

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