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Amer M. Najjar, Ph.D.

Present Title & Affiliation

Primary Appointment

Instructor, Department of Cancer Systems Imaging, Division of Diagnostic Imaging, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX

Research Interests

  • Application of enhanced bioluminescent, fluorescent and Positron Emission Tomography (PET) imaging tools to monitor
  • Understand, and improve adoptive immunotherapy

·   Development of positron emission tomography (PET) reporter variants: Development of differential PET imaging reporters to simultaneously image dual population interactions in vivo. Ongoing studies aim to further evaluate the feasibility of HSV1-tk variants and phylogenic forms of thymidine kinase as PET reporters to achieve higher signal sensitivity and enhanced substrate specificity. In silico molecular modeling is utilized to identify residue mutations that enhance radiotracer substrate binding and enzymatic conversion.

·   Optimization and standardization of tumor and stem cell transduction protocols. Development of retroviral and lentiviral vectors expressing reporter genes for PET, fluorescent and bioluminescent imaging. Optimization of standard protocols to stably and efficiently transduce tumor cells, T cells and hematopoietic stem cells. These protocols are being applied in numerous internal and collaborative studies. 

·   Application of PET imaging tools to immunotherapy. Clinical imaging of adoptively transferred T cells expressing chimeric antigen receptors is critical to understanding the distribution, targeting, and persistence of the cells in vivo. This information will determine the optimal T cell dose in clinical immunotherapy applications. Studies are underway in primates and mice to image adoptively transferred T cells and their activation status in vivo. 

·   Mouse models of immunotherapy. Studies are underway to develop lentiviral in-situ transduction methods to retarget T cells towards erbB2+ tumors in transgenic Her2NG and NSG mouse models. Retargeting of primary human T cells against CD19+ B cell leukemia using nonviral genetic modification are also being investigated.

Office Address

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
1881 East Road
Unit Number: 1907
Houston, TX 77054-1907
Room Number: 3SCR4.3608
Phone: 713-745-0303
Fax: 713-834-6073

Education & Training

Degree-Granting Education

1993 University of Houston, Houston, TX, PHD, Biochemistry
1988 Brigham Young University, Provo, UT, BS, Microbiology

Postgraduate Training

8/2004-11/2006 Research Fellowship, Imaging, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX, Juri G Gelovani, M.D., Ph.D.
4/2000-7/2004 Research Fellowship, Vascular Biology, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX, Saleh Shenaq, M.D.


Academic Appointments

Instructor, Experimental Diagnostic Imaging, Division of Diagnostic Imaging, The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX, 11/2006-5/2013

Other Appointments/Responsibilities

Laboratory Manager, Columbia Analytical Services, Houston, TX, 1999-2000
Environmental Consultant, Columbia Analytical Services, Houston, TX, 1999-2000
Training Instructor, Columbia Analytical Services, Houston, TX, 1999-2000
Mass Spectrometry Facility Director, Ionics International, Inc., Houston, TX, 1995-1999
Senior Scientist, Ionics International, Inc., Houston, TX, 1993-1995

Selected Publications

Peer-Reviewed Original Research Articles

1. Shah N, Martin-Antonio B, Yang H, Ku S, Lee DA, Cooper LJ, Decker WK, Li S, Robinson SN, Sekine T, Parmar S, Gribben J, Wang M, Rezvani K, Yvon E, Najjar A, Burks J, Kaur I, Champlin RE, Bollard CM, Shpall EJ.. Antigen presenting cell-mediated expansion of human umbilical cord blood yields log-scale expansion of natural killer cells with anti-myeloma activity. PLoS One. 8(10), 10/2013, 10/2013. PMCID: PMC3800010.
2. Robinson SN, Thomas MW, Simmons PJ, Lu J, Yang H, Parmar S, Liu X, Shah N, Martín-Antonio B, Bollard C, Dotti G, Savoldo B, Cooper LJ, Najjar A, Rezvani K, Kaur I, McNiece IK, Champlin RE, Miller LP, Zweidler-McKay PA, Shpall EJ. Fucosylation with fucosyltransferase VI or fucosyltransferase VII improves cord blood engraftment. Cytotherapy 16(1). e-Pub 10/2013. PMCID: PMC3883688.
3. Wang J, Najjar AM, Zhang S, Rabinovich B, Willerson JT, Gelovani JG, Yeh ET. Molecular Imaging of Mesenchymal Stem Cell: Mechanistic Insight into Cardiac Repair following Experimental Myocardial Infarction. Circ Cardiovasc Imaging 5(1). e-Pub 12/2011. PMCID: PMC3273544.
4. Perin EC, Tian M, Marini FC, Silva GV, Zheng Y, Baimbridge F, Quan X, Fernandes MR, Gahremanpour A, Young D, Paolillo V, Mukhopadhyay U, Borne AT, Uthamanthil R, Brammer D, Jackson J, Decker WK, Najjar AM, Thomas MW, Volgin A, Rabinovich B, Soghomonyan S, Jeong HJ, Rios JM, Steiner D, Robinson S, Mawlawi O, Pan T, Stafford J, Kundra V, Li C, Alauddin MM, Willerson JT, Shpall E, Gelovani JG. Imaging long-term fate of intramyocardially implanted mesenchymal stem cells in a porcine myocardial infarction model. PLoS One 6(9):e22949, 2011. e-Pub 9/2011. PMCID: PMC3164664.
5. Yeh HH, Ogawa K, Balatoni J, Mukhopadhyay U, Pal A, Gonzalez-Lepera C, Shavrin A, Soghomonyan S, Flores L, Young D, Volgin AY, Najjar AM, Krasnykh V, Tong W, Alauddin MM, Gelovani JG. Molecular imaging of active mutant L858R EGF receptor (EGFR) kinase-expressing nonsmall cell lung carcinomas using PET/CT. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 108(4):1603-8, 2011. e-Pub 1/2011. PMCID: PMC3029752.
6. Steiner D, Gelovani J, Savoldo B, Robinson SN, Decker WK, Brouard N, Najjar A, Xing D, Yang H, Li S, Marini F, Zweidler-McKay PA, Bollard CM, Shpall EJ, Dotti G, Simmons PJ. Noninvasive Bioluminescent Imaging Demonstrates Long-Term Multilineage Engraftment of Ex Vivo-Expanded CD34-Selected Umbilical Cord Blood Cells. Stem Cells 27(8):1932-40, 8/2009. PMCID: PMC3348864.
7. Najjar AM, Nishii R, Maxwell DS, Volgin A, Mukhopadhyay U, Bornmann WG, Tong W, Alauddin M, Gelovani JG. Molecular-genetic PET imaging using an HSV1-tk mutant reporter gene with enhanced specificity to acycloguanosine nucleoside analogs. J Nucl Med 50(3):409-16, 2009. e-Pub 2/2009. PMID: 19223410.
8. Singh H, Najjar AM, Olivares S, Nishii R, Mukhopadhyay U, Alauddin M, Manuri PR, Huls H, Lee DA, Dotti G, Bollard C, Simmons PJ, Shpall EJ, Champlin RE, Gelovani JG, Cooper LJ. PET imaging of T cells derived from umbilical cord blood. Leukemia 23(3):620-2, 2009. e-Pub 10/2008. PMID: 18830258.
9. Dotti G, Tian M, Savoldo B, Najjar A, Cooper LJ, Jackson J, Smith A, Mawlawi O, Uthamanthil R, Borne A, Brammer D, Paolillo V, Alauddin M, Gonzalez C, Steiner D, Decker WK, Marini F, Kornblau S, Bollard CM, Shpall EJ, Gelovani JG. Repetitive noninvasive monitoring of HSV1-tk-expressing T cells intravenously infused into nonhuman primates using positron emission tomography and computed tomography with 18F-FEAU. Mol Imaging 8(4):230-7, Jul-Aug, 2009. PMCID: PMC3178066.
10. Ross J, Najjar AM, Sankaranarayanapillai M, Tong WP, Kaluarachchi K, Ronen SM. Fatty acid synthase inhibition results in a magnetic resonance-detectable drop in phosphocholine. Mol Cancer Ther 7(8):2556-65, 2008. PMCID: PMC2553361.
11. Körbling M, de Lima MJ, Thomas E, Khanna A, Najjar AM, Gu J, Gelovani JG, Broaddus R. Fusion of circulating blood cells with solid-organ tissue cells in clinical stem cell transplants: a potential therapeutic model? Regen Med 3(2):157-64, 2008. PMID: 18307399.
12. Park SI, Zhang J, Phillips KA, Araujo JC, Najjar AM, Volgin AY, Gelovani JG, Kim SJ, Wang Z, Gallick GE. Targeting SRC family kinases inhibits growth and lymph node metastases of prostate cancer in an orthotopic nude mouse model. Cancer Res 68(9):3323-33, May 1, 2008, 2008. PMID: 18451159.


1. Marini F, Nishii R, Aycox P, McCue D. Mukhopadhyay U, Najjar AM, Alauddin M, Gelovani JG, Kornblau S. Noninvasive positron emission tomography (PET) imaging of sleeping beauty (SB) modified CD19-specific T cells expressing HSV1-thymidine kinase. International Society for Biological Therapy of Cancer, Washington, D.C. 2010.
2. Tian M, Silva G, Marini FC, Zheng Y, Baimbridge F, Quan X, Jackson J, Paolillo V, Mukhopadhyay U, Alauddin MM, Borne A, Uthamanthil R, Brammer D, Najjar AM, Soghomonyan S, Jeong HJ, Rios JM, Mawlawi O, Pan T, Stafford RJ, Kundra V, Li C, Shpall E, Perin E, Gelovani JG. Long-term monitoring of persistence, migration and differentiate of HSV1-tk expressed mesenchymal stem cells in an ischemia-reperfusion porcine model with 18F-FEAU PET/CT and MRI. Society of Molecular Imaging, Montreal, Canada. 2009.
3. Singh H, Najjar AM, Olivares S, Mukhopadhyay U, Alauddin M, Dotti G, Shpall EJ, Champlin RE, Gelovani JG, Cooper LJN. PET imaging of CD19-specific umbilical cord blood derived T cells. Society of Molecular Imaging, Montreal, Canada. 2009.
4. Marini F, Nishii R, Aycox P, McCue D. Mukhopadhyay U, Najjar AM, Alauddin M, Gelovani JG, Kornblau S. Preclinical molecular imaging and monitoring of causative T-cells during Graft Versus Host Disease Formation and during Anti-GVHD Treatment using repetitive [18F] FEAU/PET imaging. Society of Molecular Imaging, Montreal, Canada. 2009.
5. Perin EC, Marini FC, Silva G, Fernandes M, Bainbridge F, Angeli F, Vela D, Zheng Y, Buja M, Uthamanthil R, Borne A, Kornblau S, Thomas M, Robinson S, Decker W, Steiner D, Najjar AM, Mawlawi O, Tian M,Nishii R, Yoas K, Shpall EJ, Gelovani JG,. Repetitive [18F]FEAU PET/CT imaging for Monitoring the Migration and Engraftment of an sr39HSV1-tk Reporter Gene-Expressing Mesenchymal Stem Cell (MSC) after NOGA-assisted Transendocardial Implantation in a Porcine Model of Acute Myocardial Infarction. World Molecular Imaging Congress, Society of Molecular Imaging, Nice, France. (#0005), 2008.
6. Najjar AM, Nishii R, Maxwell D, Volgin A, Mukhopadhyay U, Kiyono Y, Bornmann W, Alauddin M, Gelovani JG,. Differential Positron Emission Tomography Imaging Using a Herpes Simplex Virus-1 Thymidine Kinase Variant with Enhanced Acycloguanoside Substrate Specificity. Joint Molecular Imaging Conference. Providence, RI. (#1044), 2007.
7. Dafni H, Najjar AM, Gelovani JG, Ronen S. Double- and single-step imaging of metabolically-biotinylated and avidin-fused cell surface receptors. Society of Molecular Imaging Fourth Annual Meeting, Hawaii. 2006.
8. Ross J, Tong WP, Najjar AM, Ronen S. Phosphocholine levels are modulated downstream of MAPK and PI3K signaling via inhibition of fatty acid synthase. International Society of Magnetic Resonance in Medicine, Pocono Manor, PA. 2006.
9. Dafni H, Najjar AM, Gelovani JG, Ronen S. Metabolic Biotinylation as a Molecular Imaging Method: Imaging the PDGFR-β Cell Surface Receptor. Society of Molecular Imaging Fourth Annual Meeting, Cologne, Germany. 2005.
10. Najjar A, Edwards M, Shenaq S, Gelovani JG. Noninvasive Imaging of Mesenchymal Stem Cell Neuronal Differentiation. International Society of Stem Cell Research Third Annual Meeting. San Francisco, CA. 2005.
11. Alauddin M, Balatoni J, Najjar AM, Volgin A, Gelovani JG. Synthesis and Preliminary Screening of 3’-Deoxy-3’-[18F]-Fluoro-1-β-D-Xylo-Furanosyluracil ([18F]-FMXU) in Cancer Cells. Society of Molecular Imaging Fourth Annual Meeting, Cologne, Germany. 2005.
12. Nui T, Najjar AM, Robinson SN, Yang H, Decker W, McMannis JD, Ng J, Thomas M, Xing D, Champlin RE, Gelovani JG, Shpall EJ. High Efficiency Transduction of Human Mesenchymal Stem Cells Using Retroviral Gene Transfer with Triple Reporter Genes. Blood 104(11): 150b, 2004.
13. Najjar AM, Shenaq S. Inhibition of Vascular Inflammation by Isoprostanes is Mediated by Peroxisome Proliferator-Activated Receptors (PPAR). Plastic Surgery Research Council Forty Ninth Annual Meeting, Ann Arbor, MI, 2004. 2004.
14. Totan S, Yuksel E, Najjar AM, Shenaq SM. The Molecular Aspects of Keloid Formation: Heat Shock Proteins and rho Kinase Signaling Pathway. Michael E. DeBakey International Surgical Society Fifteenth Congress. e-Pub 2004.
15. Totan S, Yuksel E, Najjar AM, Shenaq S. The Role of Heat Shock Proteins and Rho Kinase in Regulation of Denervated Wound Healing. J. Amer. Coll. Surg. 197(3): S61. 2004.
16. Najjar AM, Shenaq S. Nuclear Localization Signal Peptide-DNA Conjugation to Enhance Nonviral Endothelial Cell Transfection. Center for Cell and Gene Therapy’s Fifth Annual Retreat, Clear Lake City, TX. 2003.

Grant & Contract Support

Title: In Situ Redirection of T Cell Specificity and Imaging of Targeted CAR Expression
Funding Source: NIH/NIBIB
Role: Principal Investigator
Duration: 9/1/2013 - 8/31/2017
Title: Improving Cord Blood Transplantation
Funding Source: NIH/NCI
Role: Core Leader
Principal Investigator: Shpall, E
Duration: 9/22/2011 - 8/31/2016

Last updated: 7/17/2015