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Willem W Overwijk, Ph.D.

Present Title & Affiliation

Primary Appointment

Associate Professor, Department of Melanoma Medical Oncology - Research, Division of Cancer Medicine, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX

Research Interests

cancer immunotherapy, cancer  vaccines, tumor immunology, plasmacytoid Dendritic Cells, interferon

Cancer cells can be recognized and destroyed by the immune system. Our laboratory is focused on the development and study of mouse models from which we can learn how immune cells interact with, and can be manipulated to destroy cancer cells

  • Anti cancer vaccine development
  • The role of inflammation and immunity in tumor development, treatment and prevention
  • Regulation of plasmacytoid DC function; pDCs in inflammation and cancer therapy
  • Combination of immunotherapy with standard and novel cancer therapies

Our ultimate goal is to directly translate the results from our preclinical studies into effective immunotherapy for cancer patients.

Office Address

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
7455 Fannin St.
Department of Melanoma Medical Oncology
Unit Number: 904
Houston, TX 77346
Room Number: 1SCR2.3027

Education & Training

Degree-Granting Education

2000 The George Washington University, Washington, DC, PHD, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
1994 Combined College and Graduate School of the University of Utrecht, Utrecht, BS/MS, Medical Biology Tumor Immunology

Postgraduate Training

2000-2004 Post-doctoral fellowship, Department of Immunology, Tumor Immunology, The Netherlands Cancer Institute, Dept. of Immunology, Amsterdam, Netherlands


Academic Appointments

Assistant Professor, Department of Melanoma Medical Oncology - Research, Division of Cancer Medicine, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX, 4/2004-9/2010

Selected Publications

Peer-Reviewed Original Research Articles

1. Hailemichael Y, Dai Z, Jaffarzad N, Ye Y, Medina MA, Huang XF, Dorta-Estremera SM, Greeley NR, Nitti G, Peng W, Liu C, Lou Y, Wang Z, Ma W, Rabinovich B, Schluns KS, Davis RE, Hwu P, Overwijk WW. Persistent antigen at vaccination sites induces tumor-specific CD8+ T cell sequestration, dysfunction and deletion. Nat Med 19(4):465-72, 4/2013. e-Pub 3/3/2013. PMCID: PMC3618499.
2. Li HS, Gelbard A, Martinez GJ, Esashi E, Zhang H, Nguyen-Jackson H, Liu YJ, Overwijk WW, Watowich SS. Cell intrinsic role for interferon-{alpha}-STAT1 signals in regulating murine Peyer's Patch plasmacytoid dendritic cells and conditioning an inflammatory response. Blood. e-Pub 8/2011. PMID: 21828128.
3. Park HJ, Qin H, Cha SC, Sharma R, Chung Y, Schluns KS, Neelapu SS, Overwijk WW, Hwu P, Kwak LW. Induction of TLR4-dependent CD8+ T cell immunity by murine -defensin2 fusion protein vaccines. Vaccine 29(18):3476-82, 4/18/2011. e-Pub 3/5/2011. PMID: 21382485.
4. Martin-Orozco N, Muranski P, Chung Y, Yang XO, Yamazaki T, Lu S, Hwu P, Restifo NP, Overwijk WW, Dong C. T helper 17 cells promote cytotoxic T cell activation in tumor immunity. Immunity 31(5):787-98, 11/20/2009. e-Pub 10/29/2009. PMCID: PMC2787786.
5. Sikora AG, Jaffarzad N, Hailemichael Y, Gelbard A, Stonier SW, Schluns KS, Frasca L, Lou Y, Liu C, Andersson HA, Hwu P, Overwijk WW. IFN-alpha enhances peptide vaccine-induced CD8+ T cell numbers, effector function, and antitumor activity. J Immunol 185(12):7398-407, 6/15/2009. PMCID: PMC2774140.
6. Thapa P, Zhang G, Xia C, Gelbard A, Overwijk WW, Liu C, Hwu P, Chang DZ, Courtney A, Sastry JK, Wang PG, Li C, Zhou D. Nanoparticle formulated alpha-galactosylceramide activates NKT cells without inducing anergy. Vaccine 27(25-26):3484-8, 5/26/2009. e-Pub 2/5/2009. PMID: 19200815.
7. Liu C, Lou Y, Lize G, Qin H, Liu S, Rabinovich B, Kim GJ, Wang YH, Ye Y, Sikora AG, Overwijk WW, Liu YJ, Wang G, Hwu P. Plasmacytoid dendritic cells induce NK cell-dependent, tumor antigen-specific T cell cross-priming and tumor regression in mice. J Clin Invest 118(3)(3):1165-1175, 2/2008. PMID: 18259609.
8. Overwijk WW, de Visser KE, Tirion FH, de Jong LA, Pols TW, van der Velden YU, van den Boorn JG, Keller AM, Buurman WA, Theoret MR, Blom B, Restifo NP, Kruisbeek AM, Kastelein RA, Haanen JB. Immunological and antitumor effects of IL-23 as a cancer vaccine adjuvant. J Immunol 176(9):5213-22, 5/2006. PMID: 16621986.
9. Overwijk WW, Theoret MR, Finkelstein SE, Surman DR, de Jong LA, Vyth-Dreese FA, Dellemijn TA, Antony PA, Spiess PJ, Palmer DC, Heimann DM, Klebanoff CA, Yu Z, Hwang LN, Feigenbaum L, Kruisbeek AM, Rosenberg SA, Restifo NP. Tumor regression and autoimmunity after Reversal of Funtionally Tolerant State of Self-Reactive CD8+ T Cells. J Exp Med 198(4):569-80, 8/2003. PMID: 12925674.
10. van Elsas A, Sutmuller RP, Hurwitz AA, Ziskin J, Villasenor J, Medema JP, Overwijk WW, Restifo NP, Melief CJ, Offringa R, Allison JP. Elucidating the autoimmune and antitumor effector mechanisms of a treatment based on cytotoxic T lymphocyte antigen-4 blockade in combination with a B16 melanoma vaccine: comparison of prophylaxis and therapy. J Exp Med 194(4):481-9, 8/2001. PMID: 11514604.

Invited Articles

1. Sikora AG, Hailemichael Y, Overwijk WW. Conference Scene: Immune effector mechanisms in tumor immunity. Immunotherapy 4(2):141-3, 2/2012. PMID: 22339456.
2. Overwijk WW, Schluns KS. Functions of gammaC cytokines in immune homeostasis: Current and potential clinical applications. Clin Immunol 132(2):153-65, 8/2009. e-Pub 5/9/2009. PMCID: PMC2761713.
3. Lize G, Radvanyi LG, Overwijk WW, Hwu P. Improving antitumor immune responses by circumventing immunoregulatory cells and mechanisms. Clin Cancer Res 12(16):4794-803, 8/2006. PMID: 16914564.
4. Overwijk WW. Breaking tolerance in cancer immunotherapy: time to ACT. Curr Opin Immunol 17(2):187-94, 4/2005. PMID: 15766680.
5. Overwijk WW, Restifo NP. Creating therapeutic cancer vaccines: notes from the battlefield. Trends Immunol 22(1):5-7, 2001. PMID: 11286676.


1. Lize G, Overwijk WW, Radvanyi L, Gao J, Sharma P, Hwu P. Harnessing the Power of the Immune System to Target Cancer. Annu Rev Med 64:71-90, 2013. e-Pub 10/22/2012. PMID: 23092383.

Book Chapters

1. Overwijk WW, Restifo NP. B16 as a Mouse Model for Human Melanoma. In: Curr Protoc Immunol. Chapter 20. John Wiley & Sons, Inc, Unit 20.1, 2001. ISBN: 18432774.

Last updated: 9/16/2013