Tullia Bruno, PhD • 2020 SITC Election

Tullia Bruno, PhD
University of Pittsburgh


Dr. Bruno is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Immunology at the University of Pittsburgh and a faculty member in the Tumor Microenvironment Center and the Cancer Immunology and Immunotherapy Program at the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. She obtained her PhD in Immunology from Johns Hopkins in 2010 and completed her postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Colorado in 2015—both with a focus in tumor immunology. While Dr. Bruno’s PhD training focused on inhibitory receptors on intratumoral T cells, she became interested in the role of B cells in the tumor microenvironment (TME) during her postdoctoral fellowship and has built her independent research program around understanding intratumoral B cell function in multiple human cancers, in particular, lung and head and neck cancer. Dr. Bruno’s research lab has an overt focus on studying immunity within cancer patients, which makes her research highly translational with the potential for future clinical trials targeting B cells. Thus, Dr. Bruno’s overall research objective is to develop a B cell-specific immunotherapy in the next five to ten years.

In addition to her research endeavors, Dr. Bruno is committed to effective mentoring of her trainees and is an advocate for women in science. This is evidenced by her participation in multiple societies that promote these arenas: TRCCC (Board of Directors), CABTRAC, the National Postdoctoral Association (Board of Directors), and of course, SITC. Within SITC, Dr. Bruno actively participates in the national meeting each year. In 2018, she co-chaired a session on B cells in cancer and will be returning this year (2020) to co-chair another session on this ever-evolving research niche. At the 2019 annual meeting, she served as the local meeting correspondent and participated as a table leader at the Meet-the-Expert Lunch. Dr. Bruno is also part of the SITC Membership Committee, the Awards Review Committee (Co-Chair for 2020), and the Cancer Immune Responsiveness Task Force (Co-Chair on Transcriptional Patterns in the TME). She is also an avid participant in the SITC Women in Cancer Immunotherapy Network and was a participant in the inaugural 2019 SITC WIN Leadership Institute last summer in Seattle. Dr. Bruno is passionate about her research, her trainees, and promoting the growth of SITC over the next several years.

SITC Election Platform Statement

What are the two or three critical issues facing the field of cancer immunotherapy?

I have been in the field of cancer immunotherapy since I was a graduate student, and this field has come to the forefront of research over the last fifteen years. In fact, there was a time when tumor immunology was isolated from basic cancer biology. However, since we have observed vast strides in the treatment of cancer patients with standard of care immunotherapies like anti-CTLA4 and anti-PD1, all cancer researchers have become more invested in the promise of immunotherapy. Despite these strides, these immunotherapies only benefit 20-30% of cancer patients. Thus, there is a need to continue aggressive investigation of the mechanism of action of these therapies and where they can be improved. As a skilled group of researchers, we should be focusing on this critical issue by dissecting the mechanism of resistance to these immunotherapies in treatment naïve patients. So often, these therapies are given in the setting of patient resistance. While this is informative, more studies understanding what is happening prior to and after the first round of immunotherapy will be enlightening. Further, we should be considering not only other immune cells in the tumor microenvironment (TME), but other components of the TME that greatly impact immune cell function i.e. stromal and tumor interactions. This will require a concerted effort from not only cancer immunologists but also cancer biologists and clinicians. One of the biggest challenges in the field is trying to understand which therapeutic options are the best for various patient cohorts. Rather than simply combining different immunotherapeutic drugs, there should be more scientific effort to understand the interplay of the immune response with the remainder of the TME. This will allow for appropriate targeting of key aspects of the TME that synergize to promote or dampen the anti-tumor response.

What is your vision for SITC?

SITC has grown to be one of the largest societies to support and promote immunotherapy since its formation in 1984. Currently, SITC has more than 2,400 members, which represent 22 medical specialties from 42 countries around the world. All of these individuals are engaged in the research and treatment of cancer. SITC has excelled at assembling high caliber scientific meetings and focusing on initiatives of major importance to the field. My vision for SITC is to increase membership but with an emphasis on engaging more cancer biologists that work on aspects of the TME that influence the immune system. Some of the best collaborative work that I have participated in at UPMC has brought together not just individuals that understand the immune system in cancer, but that also consider and study the intricacies of the TME. Second, I plan to dedicate time to the education and outreach of trainees, particularly those that are interested in branching into cancer immunology for the next stage of their career. Lastly, I plan to be a conduit with other like-minded organizations and patient advocates that I actively work with on similar issues so that SITC can grow its external collaborations and provide the best resources to its members.