Skip to main content

Sawa Ito M.D., Ph.D.

  • Assistant Professor, Division of Hematology-Oncology
  • Assistant Professor, Department of Immunology

    Education & Training

  • M.D. - Hokkaido University, Japan
  • Ph.D. - Hokkaido University, Japan
Representative Publications
  1. Xiaowen Liu, Zongliang Yue, Yimou Cao, Lauren Taylor, Qing Zhang, Sung W. Choi, Samir Hanash, Sawa Ito*, Jake Y. Chen*, Huanmei Wu*, and Sophie Paczesny*.A GVHD-free Antitumoral Signature Following Allogeneic Donor Lymphocyte Injection Identified by Proteomics and Systems Biology. JCO Precision Oncology 2019.  DOI: 10.1200/PO.18.00365 JCO Precision Oncology - published online May 23, 2019. PMID: 31406955: PMCID: PMC6690359
  2. Jain P, Tian X, Cordes S, Chen J, Cantilena CR, Bradley C, Panjwani R, Chinian F, Keyvanfar K, Battiwalla M, Muranski P, Barrett AJ, Ito Sawa*. Over-expression of PD-1 Does Not Predict Leukemic Relapse after Allogeneic Stem Cell Transplantation. Biol Blood Marrow Transplant. 2019 Feb;25(2):216.  PMID: 30292745
  3. Ito Sawa*, Cantilena CR, Tian X, Jain P, Chinian F, Anandi P, Keyvanfar K, Draper D, Koklanaris E, Hauffe S, Superata S, Stroncek D, Muranski P, Barrett AJ, Battiwalla M. Distinct Biomarker Profiles in Ex-Vivo T cell depletion Graft Manipulation Strategies: CD34+ Selection vs. CD3+/19+ Depletion in Matched Sibling Allogeneic Peripheral Blood Stem Cell Transplantation. Biol Blood Marrow Transplant. 2018 Mar;24(3):460
  4. Anandi P, Tian X, Chinian F, Cantilena C, Dunavin N, Hensel N, Draper D, Koklanaris E, Maxwell S, Superata J, Muranski P, Battiwalla M, Paczesny S, Barrett AJ, and Ito Sawa*. Improved Reproducibility and Quality of GVHD Biomarker Assay- Application of Multiplex Microfluidic Channel System. Bone Marrow Transplant. 2016 Dec;51(12):1615-1616.  PMID: 27565279
Research Interests

Allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (alloSCT) is a curative treatment for high-risk leukemia. The donor's immune cells, which are transferred to the recipients, can eradicate leukemia. This so-called graft-versus leukemia effect (GVL) has been the subject of intense study in my laboratory and elsewhere. My research aims to find ways to harness this GVL to cure leukemia through three approaches.

The first is to improve the results of transplants for people with leukemia through low-dose cytokine therapy. I am conducting a clinical study to evaluate interferon-gamma (IFN-γ) to treat post-transplant relapse (NCT04628338), collaborating with Dr. Warren Shlomchik, based on his pre-clinical data supporting IFN-γ sensitizes leukemic cells to T-cell killing.

The second is to identify the mechanisms of how the leukemic cells escape from immune attacks. I have been investigating cellular and humoral biomarkers associated with post-transplant relapse and GVL. We aim to find clinically-applicable assays to monitor the post-transplant immune microenvironment favorable to GVL.

The third approach is to develop donor-derived adoptive T cell therapy, which directly boosts the GVL. Donor-derived T cells may recognize various antigens, including human leukocyte antigens (HLAs), minor histocompatibility antigens (miHAs), overexpressed leukemia-associated antigens, or neoantigens. Our laboratory aims to establish new T cell therapies targeting these antigens in alloSCT. We have been currently engaged in developing the miHA-specific T cell therapy in alloSCT.

My ultimate goal is to find ways to create an anti-leukemia immunotherapy utilizing the patient's own immune system and thus avoid the complication of alloSCT altogether.