First Gerstner Sloan Kettering Student Receives PhD Degree

Pictured: Dimiter Tassev

Dimiter Tassev

Dimiter Tassev, a member of Gerstner Sloan Kettering’s inaugural class, has completed all his degree requirements and will receive his PhD in May. Dr. Tassev did his thesis work in the laboratory of Nai-Kong Cheung.

“My thesis project originally came about through my own personal curiosity,” says Dr. Tassev. “While most therapeutic antibodies for the treatment of cancer were limited to targets that were only present on the outside of the cancer cell, I wanted to try to create a method by which antibodies could be used to target proteins normally present on the inside.” Ultimately, Dr. Tassev began targeting peptides presented by the class I major histocompatibility complex (MHC), a protein complex that most cells in the body use to show fragmented pieces of their own proteins to T cells.

This led to his discovery of several antibodies that bound toward specific MHC-peptide complexes found primarily on cancer cells and/or virally infected cells. “Eventually, I reengineered these antibodies in a form which would allow me to retarget the immune system using retroviral gene transfer, a common technique researchers use to modify the specificity of a patient’s T cells,” explains Dr. Tassev. “I still maintain very close ties to Dr. Cheung and our collaborators because my hope is that one day I can help translate my graduate work into the clinic.”

Dr. Tassev is now a scientist at ContraFect Corporation, a biotechnology company focused on the development of novel biological-based drugs for the treatment of infectious diseases. His role at the firm is to discover new drugs, in the form of monoclonal antibodies.