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Texas Medical Center

Cancer and Hematology
Phone: 832-824-4395


1102 Bates Ave., Ste. 1570
Houston, TX 77023

Research Laboratory

Leonid S. Metelitsa, MD, PhD

Endowed Chair in Cancer Immunotherapy, Texas Children's Hospital
Director, Center for Advanced Innate Cell Therapy
Associate Director, Texas Children's Cancer Center
Co-Director, Neuroblastoma Program
Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Section of Hematology/Oncology, Baylor College of Medicine


School Education Degree Year
Children’s Hospital Los Angeles/Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA Post-doctoral Fellow 2002
N.N. Blokhin Memorial Cancer Research Center of Russian Federation, Moscow, Russia University Doctor of Philosophy 1995
Tver State Medical University, Tver, Russia Medical School Doctor of Medicine 1992




Organization Name Role
American Association of Immunologists (AAI) Member
American Society of Clinical Investigation (ASCI) Elected Member
American Society of Gene & Cell Therapy (ASGCT) Member

Research Statement

Dr. Leonid Metelitsa’s research focuses on understanding the role of Vα24-invariant natural killer T (NKT) cells in tumor immunity and translating this knowledge into NKT cell-based cancer immunotherapies. His group was the first to demonstrate that NKT cells localize to primary tumors in human patients and that presence of these cells at the tumor site is associated with favorable outcomes in the clinic (Metelitsa et al., JEM, 2004). Further studies revealed the underlying mechanistic basis of NKT cell tumor localization and function in the tumor microenvironment (Song et al., JCI, 2007; Song et al., JCI, 2009, Liu et al., JCI, 2012).

Based on the knowledge gained from studying NKT cell immunobiology, he has developed original technologies and processes for NKT cell isolation, genetic modification with chimeric antigen receptors (CARs), and ex vivo expansion to clinical scale (Heczey et al., Blood, 2014; Tian et al., JCI, 2016; X. Xu et al., Clin Can Res, 2019). These efforts have resulted in initiation of first-in-human CAR NKT cell clinical trials using autologous (NCT03294954; Heczey et al. Nat Med, 2020) or allogeneic (NCT03774654) NKT cells that are ongoing. 

Clinical Interests

  • Neuroblastoma
  • Solid Tumors
  • Immunotherapy

Research Interests

  • Vα24-invariant natural killer T (NKT) cells
  • Chimeric antigen receptors
  • Immunibiology of neuroblastoma
  • Cancer vaccines

Selected Publications

Heczey A, Courtney AN, Montalbano A, Robinson S, Liu K, Li M, Ghatwai N, Dakhova O, Liu B, Raveh-Sadka T, Chauvin-Fleurence CN, Xu X, Ngai H, Di Pierro EJ, Savoldo B, Dotti G, Metelitsa LS. Anti-GD2 CAR NKT cells in patients with relapsed or refractory neuroblastoma: an interim analysis. Nat. Med. 2020. PMID 33046868

Xu X, Huang W, Heczey A, Liu D, Guo L, Wood M, Jin J, Courtney AN, Liu B, Di Pierro EJ, Hicks J, Barragan GA, Ngai H, Chen Y, Savoldo B, Dotti G, Metelitsa LS. NKT cells coexpressing a GD2-specific chimeric antigen receptor and IL15 show enhanced in vivo persistence and antitumor activity against Neuroblastoma. Clin Cancer Res. 2019. 25(23):7126-7138. PMID: 31484667

Ngai H, Tian G, Courtney AN, Ravari SB, Guo L, Liu B, Jin J, Shen ET, Di Pierro EJ, Metelitsa LS. IL-21 selectively protects CD62L+ NKT cells and enhances their effector functions for adoptive immunotherapy. J. Immunol. 2018. 201(7):2141-2153. PMID: 30111631

Tian G, Courtney AN, Jena B, Heczey A, Liu D, Marinova E, Guo L, Xu X, Torikai H, Mo Q, Dotti G, Cooper LJ, Metelitsa LS. CD62L+ NKT cells have prolonged persistence and antitumor activity in vivo. J Clin Invest. 2016. 126(6):2341-55. PMID: 27183388

View publications on PubMed

View publications on VIICTR

* Texas Children's Hospital physicians' licenses and credentials are reviewed prior to practicing at any of our facilities. Sections titled From the Doctor, Professional Organizations and Publications were provided by the physician's office and were not verified by Texas Children's Hospital.