Dec. 1, 2018:

Investigator Spotlight

Pavankumar Tandra, MBBS, Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center (University of Nebraska)

Educational background

  • MBBS: Osmania Medical School
  • MRCGP: South East Scotland Deanery
  • Fellowship (Hematology-Oncology): University of Nebraska Medical Center

Research interests

My research interests include tailoring the systemic therapies for early stage HER2-positive breast cancer. I believe we should do more studies in the neoadjuvant platform to assess the strengths of new targeted drugs, to identify biomarkers and minimize the toxicity from chemotherapy. It is very promising to see the new drugs studied in the metastatic setting showing positive results.

Little-known facts about Dr. Tandra

  • I am a good dancer. I used to take part in dance events in medical school.
  • I love to spend time with my 2 beautiful children Venisha and Eashan when I am not working.
  • I love cooking and Costco shopping.


Thought Leader Perspectives:
Multi-disciplinary approach focuses on tackling CAR-T therapy toxicity

By Matthew Lunning, MD, and David Anderson, PhD

Where does the next great idea come from? How do we take it to the next level? We often find ourselves asking these questions. Many times this leads to niche experiments or derivations of recent results.

Expanding these questions to researchers in other disciplines recruits novel insights from a broader perspective, and promises to create a collection of ideas that may be more intuitive than previously considered. At the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) and Nebraska Medicine, we promote a cross-disciplinary research model.

Recently, our patients have been able to receive an emerging technology called chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy. In one exciting example, patients with relapsed or refractory diffuse large B-cell lymphoma have shown outcomes following CAR T-cell therapy which led to Food and Drug Administration approval.

As exciting as the results have been for this underserved population, the toxicities encountered during and following CAR T-cell therapy can be sobering. In particular, patients may be devastated by symptoms associated with cytokine release syndrome and neurotoxicity. In order to take CAR T-cell therapy to the next level, it is critical to learn how to predict CAR T-related toxicities and subsequently pave the way for emerging CAR technologies in other cancer populations.

Actionable biological predictors of CAR T-related toxicities are currently lacking, and it remains unknown whether these toxicities lead to subsequent impairments in quality of life and instrumental activities of daily living. To address this major barrier to the success of CAR T-cell therapy, the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center is teaming up with Matthew Rizzo, MD, the director of the UNMC Mind & Brain Health labs and chair of the UNMC Department of Neurological Sciences.

Our multidisciplinary team of clinicians and scientists (pictured) will attempt to link biological predictors of CAR T-related toxicities to the occurrence of cognitive dysfunction, reduced mobility, and impaired driving performance and safety. Through these efforts, the team hopes to develop biomarkers of CAR T-related toxicity, identify behavioral intervention strategies to improve mobility and activity levels, and establish criteria for determining when it is safe to continue driving following treatment.

The research may help pave the way for informing post-CAR T-cell therapy guidelines in areas where it may be difficult in a multi-institutional fashion.

Engaging clinician and scientist colleagues from both within and outside our respective specialties will continue to expand on bodies of knowledge that would otherwise not be possible. Our cross-disciplinary research model has fostered an explosion of questions that may lead to multi-institution collaborations to continue on this avenue of collaboration and growth. We are proud to be part of the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium, which provides the resources and opportunities for this growth.


About the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium: The Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium was created in 2013 to transform the conduct of cancer research through collaborative, hypothesis-driven, highly translational oncology trials that leverage the scientific and clinical expertise of Big Ten universities. The goal of the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium is to create a unique team-research culture to drive science rapidly from ideas to new approaches to cancer treatment. Within this innovative environment, today’s research leaders collaborate with and mentor the research leaders of tomorrow with the unified goal of improving the lives of all patients with cancer.

About the Big Ten Conference: The Big Ten Conference is an association of world-class universities whose member institutions share a common mission of research, graduate, professional and undergraduate teaching and public service. Founded in 1896, the Big Ten has sustained a comprehensive set of shared practices and policies that enforce the priority of academics in the lives of students competing in intercollegiate athletics and emphasize the values of integrity, fairness and competitiveness. The broad-based programs of the 14 Big Ten institutions will provide over $200 million in direct financial support to almost 9,500 students for more than 11,000 participation opportunities on 350 teams in 42 different sports. The Big Ten sponsors 28 official conference sports, 14 for men and 14 for women, including the addition of men’s ice hockey and men’s and women’s lacrosse since 2013. For more information, visit