Research Interests 

Focusing on T cell immune responses, Blattman's research investigates how vaccines affect the balance between immunologic protection from infection or tumor growth, and disease enhancement due to immunopathology.

Blattman and his research team use quantitative mathematical models to describe the kinetics of infection and immune responses in the body. This allows them to predict which aspects of a T cell response protect the body and which contribute to disease progression.

The team tests show T cell responses affect susceptibility to infection, disease severity after infection and subsequent pathogen transmission.Their work is being used to develop safer and more effective vaccines for humans.

T cell receptor (TCR) diversity

In order to recognize and combat a diverse array of invading pathogens, T cells express a large repertoire of clonotypic ab dimeric T cell receptors (TCR), with few cells on average expressing TCR specific for any given antigen but an enormous number of specificities at the population level within an individual. Accurately estimating total TCR diversity is problematic, as this is a function of both the CDR3 diversity within each TCR chain due to recombination between V, D, and J gene segments, and P- and N-nucleotide addition or deletion at gene segment joints, as well as diversity due to pairing of different TCRa and TCRb chains. Current methods for obtaining both TCRa and TCRb CDR3 sequences from individual cells in large populations are unfeasible; single cell sorting is too expensive and molecular strategies have not been adequately developed. We have developed DNA origami nanostructures that can be transfected into T cells to capture and protect both TCR mRNA, as well as molecular techniques for linking these CDR3 into a single cDNA for paired-end high-throughput next-generation sequencing. We have begun to apply the DNA origami approach for quantitating cellular diversity to cancer in order to refine clinical therapy approaches.

Key collaborators:          

Dr. Hao Yan (ASU) – design and construction of DNA origami nanostructures, Co-holder of US provisional patent.

Dr. Karen Anderson (ASU) – application of DNA origami approach to tumor heterogeneity


T cell responses to vaccination

CD8 T cell responses are important for the control of a number of human and animal pathogens at the portal(s) of entry, as well as providing systemic immunity after infection. We are currently evaluating a number of different strategies for selectively targeting vaccine-induced T cell responses to mucosal sites as a means of improving containment at the portal of entry. However, narrowly focused CD8 T cell responses are insufficient to either provide coverage for the large number of circulating strains of some viruses or to prevent selection of mutant viruses after infection that are able to evade CTL recognition. We seek to understand what limits the generation of T cell responses to sub-dominant epitopes, and conversely what facilitates responses to immunodominant epitopes by systematically analyzing the efficiency of generation and stability of epitopes from protein substrates and how these parameters change in different antigen-presenting cell types (including direct and cross-presentation. The data from these studies can then be used to predict which epitopes from an immunogen will be immunodominant after vaccination, to design immunogens to increase the levels of subdominant epitopes on the cell surface as a means of improving responses to these epitopes, and to selectively target public T cell precursors that are present in the naïve repertoire such that a majority of individuals will be able to generate broader responses.

Key collaborators:

Dr. Linda Klavinskis (King’s College, London) – analysis of epitope hierarchy and cross-presentation pathways

Dr. Karen Anderson (ASU) – prediction immunogenic T cell epitopes based on hydrophobicity

Dr. Ken Bagley (Profectus Biosciences,Inc) – provision of reagents for improving mucosal T cell responses


Linking immunologic and epidemiologic measures of vaccine efficacy

Vaccination remains one of the most potent strategies for preventing human diseases caused by pathogens. The empirical approach to vaccine development, employing attenuated versions of pathogens or subunit vaccines has resulted in protective efficacy against a number of viral and bacterial pathogens. However, relatively modest subsequent progress has been made in the improvement of empirically defined vaccines or in the development of new, efficacious vaccines. This is in part due to an incomplete quantitative understanding of the immunological mechanisms that are required to reduce susceptibility to infection, disease pathogenesis, or subsequent transmission. We are using animal models of vaccination and viral infection to explicitly link vaccine-induced immunological responses with epidemiological measures of vaccine efficacy including reduction in susceptibility, disease, and subsequent transmission. This will allow us to develop a quantitative framework for understanding how immunological responses induced by certain types of vaccines might provide protection against infection and/or disease during subsequent pathogen exposure. 

Key collaborators:

Dr. Rustom Antia (Emory University) –immunological and epidemiological model development

Dr. Ira Longini (University of Florida) – epidemiologic analysis of vaccine efficacy, model linkage

Dr. Carlos Castillo-Chavez (ASU) – epidemiologic model simulations and refinement


Immunotherapy of Persistent Viral Infection and Metastatic Cancer

During prolonged antigen stimulation, as occurs during persistent viral infection or prolonged tumor burden, T cell responses become silenced as a means of preventing pathology to the host.  However, in some viral infection and cancer settings, it is desirable to “reactivate” these T cells in order to provide additional protection. We are using persistent viral infection and cancer models to understand the molecular interactions that program T cell exhaustion in order to develop strategies for improving therapeutic approaches. Using both immune checkpoint blockade and metabolic approaches, we have developed new avenues for therapy of refractory tumors and persistent viral infection.

Key collaborators:          

Dr. Pooja Hingorani (Phoenix Children’s Hospital) – provision of human osteosarcoma tumor samples

Dr. Rachael Srianni (Barrow Neurological Institute) – development of nanostructure approaches for glioblastoma immunotherapy

Dr. Adrienne Scheck (Barrow Neurological Institute) – ketogenic diet studies to improve immunity to metastatic glioma


Research activity

  1. Anderson,Karen S * , Blattman,Joseph Nathan , Yan,Hao , . Single Cell Analysis of Breast Cancer Tumor Heterogeneity. ASU-Mayo Seed Grant(1/1/2015 - 12/31/2015).
  2. Blattman,Joseph Nathan * . Blockade of Programmed Death Receptor Pathway as a Therapeutic Strategy in Osteosarcoma. PHX CHLDRN'S HOSPITAL (7/1/2014 - 6/30/2015).
  3. Blattman,Joseph Nathan * . Quantifying the balance between vaccine-induced T cell protection and pathology. EMORY UNIV (2/1/2014 - 7/29/2015).

* principal investigator