Brian Mog

Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells have produced dramatic outcomes in patients with blood cancers, but have had limited success in solid cancers like pancreatic cancer or glioblastoma. One major challenge in solid tumors is the lack of cancer-specific targets that minimize toxicity to normal tissues. The genetic alterations essential for the development of cancer can also be used as immuno-therapeutic targets to specifically kill cancer cells and spare normal tissues. During my Ph.D. with Ken Kinzler and Bert Vogelstein in The Ludwig Center at Johns Hopkins, I developed two types of CAR T cells to target these cancer-specific genetic alterations. The first CAR approach utilized pairs of activating and inhibitory CARs to target the loss of heterozygous genes within cancer cells. In the second approach, components of a CAR were fused with the T cell receptor to target “hot spot” mutations that are presented as peptides on human leukocyte antigens. Both CAR approaches were able to cure mice of cancers containing the targeted genetic alteration without affecting cells representing normal tissues.

Questions & Answers

Why did you choose Johns Hopkins for your work?


I chose to attend Johns Hopkins for my M.D./Ph.D. because of the rigorous clinical training as well as the unparalleled depth and breadth of the research environment. The most compelling reason for me, however, was the sense of community both within the M.D./Ph.D. program and the broader university: The faculty were incredibly welcoming, and the students at all stages of training were supportive and collaborative.


What does receiving this award mean to you personally and professionally? Do you have any connection with the particular award you received?


I am incredibly grateful to have been recognized with the Nupur Dinesh Thekdi Award for the work undertaken during my Ph.D. This award is a testament to the mentors and colleagues who have helped me develop as a scientist. I am honored to both be part of Nupur’s legacy and to be recognized among the past awardees, many of whom I have looked up to throughout my time at Hopkins.


What contributed to your project’s success?


My project’s success is directly attributable to the team science approach fostered by the faculty within the Ludwig Center. The insights, suggestions and experiments contributed by the other graduate students, postdocs and fellows who also trained in the Ludwig Center were absolutely essential for the development of the new CAR approaches described in my Ph.D. The guidance provided by Ken Kinzler, Shibin Zhou and Bert Vogelstein was invaluable in providing scope and direction to the projects.


What thoughts do you have about Young Investigators’ Day itself, as a celebration of the roles students and fellows play in research at Johns Hopkins?


The training path to becoming an independent investigator, whether in academia or industry, can best be described as a marathon. Celebrating the important milestones along this journey recognizes the pivotal role graduate students and fellows play in advancing groundbreaking research even during their training.


What has been your best/most memorable experience while at Johns Hopkins?


One of my favorite traditions at Hopkins was the annual mini-golf competition at the M.D./Ph.D. program retreat. While I myself never won the competition, it was always fun to come together with friends in the program across all different years to talk about research and just catch up!


What are your plans over the next year or so? Graduating, looking for faculty positions, etc.?


After graduating from Hopkins, I plan to pursue an internal medicine residency and oncology fellowship with the goal of becoming a physician-scientist who will both care for patients with cancer and also run an academic lab to develop new immunotherapies for solid cancers.


Tell me something interesting about yourself that makes you unique. Do you have any special hobbies, interests or life experiences?


When I am not in the research lab, you can find me biking with my fiancé throughout the city of Baltimore, hiking with friends or playing board games. I highly recommend trying out Terraforming Mars if you have 12 hours to spare or Wingspan for a faster-paced ecologically accurate game!