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Leisha Ann Emens, M.D., Ph.D.

Photo of Dr. Leisha Ann Emens, M.D., Ph.D.

Member, Tumor Immunology Research Program

Associate Professor of Oncology


Expertise: Breast Cancer, Medical Oncology

Research Interests: Mechanisms of immune regulation in the breast and ovarian tumor microenvironment

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Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center
Appointment Phone: 410-955-8964

401 N. Broadway
Baltimore, MD 21231 map
Phone: 410-502-7051
Fax: 410-614-8216


One of Leisha Emens’ patients has dubbed her a rock star of the oncology world. It’s not a far-fetched analogy. Like a rock star, Emens has a group of loyal devotees; hers just happen to be women with breast cancer. By being a part of experimental clinical trials to test the therapeutic breast cancer vaccine that Emens first created almost fifteen years ago during her fellowship at Johns Hopkins, these patients have come to appreciate her risk-taking nature, intense drive and singular ambition to bring the vaccine and other new, cutting edge immune-based therapies from bench to bedside.

“I’ve dedicated my career to finding ways to harness the immune system to fight cancer,” Emens says. She believes immunotherapy one day will revolutionize cancer care and, ultimately, prevention. But she also acknowledges the enormous challenges to making this happen.

The job that Emens is trying to get her breast cancer vaccine to do is inherently different, and more difficult, than the way a preventive vaccine works. Vaccines that prevent infectious diseases target foreign bodies. But because cancer arises from one’s own body, the immune system doesn’t recognize it as an invader; therefore, it doesn’t become activated to destroy the cancer as easily. What’s more, as the cancer spreads, the immune system learns to tolerate it.

“What we’re trying to do with therapeutic cancer vaccines and other immune-based cancer treatments is to develop ways to eliminate those pathways of tolerance and peel back those layers of regulation that keep the immune response to tumors shut off,” Emens explains.

Emens predicts that, in five years, the dramatic revolution in cancer immunotherapy will enter the clinic in force. She doesn’t attribute this pending success to her own incredible drive, but rather that which pervades Johns Hopkins. “It’s a great place to translate the science. Here, it’s a priority to get things from the lab to the clinic,” she says. more


  • Member, Tumor Immunology Research Program
  • Member, Breast Cancer Research Program
  • Associate Professor of Oncology

Departments / Divisions



  • MD, Baylor College of Medicine (1995)


  • University of Texas / Internal Medicine (1998)


  • National Cancer Institute (1993)
  • Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine / Oncology (2001)

Board Certifications

  • American Board of Internal Medicine / Internal Medicine (1998)
  • American Board of Internal Medicine / Medical Oncology (2001)

Research & Publications

Clinical Trial Keywords

Breast cancer, Vaccine

Selected Publications

Emens, LA, Asquith, JM, Leatherman, JM, Kobrin, BJ, Petrik S, Laiko, M, Biedrzycki, B, Abeloff, MA, Wolff, AC, Stearns, V, Disis, ML, Ye, Xiaobu, Piantadosi, S, Fetting, JH, Davidson, NE, Jaffee, EM. 2009. Timed sequential treatment with cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, and an allogeneic granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor-secreting breast tumor vaccine: a chemotherapy dose-ranging study of safety and immune activation. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 27: 5911-5918 PMCID:PMC2793039.

Manning, EA, Ullman, JGM, Leatherman, JM, Asquith, JM, Hansen, TR, Armstrong TD, Hicklin, DJ, Jaffee, EM, Emens, LA. 2007. A vascular endothelial growth factor-2 receptor inhibitor enhances anti-tumor immunity through an immune-based mechanism. Clinical Cancer Research, 13: 3951-3959. PMID:17606729, cover feature/ subject of accompanying editorial.

Ercolini, AM, Ladle, BH, Manning EM, Pfannenstiel LW, Armstrong, TD, Machiels, JP, Bieler, JG, Emens, LA, Reilly, RT, Jaffee, EM. 2005. Recruitment of latent pools of high avidity CD8+ T cells to the antitumor immune response. Journal of Experimental Medicine, 201: 1591-1602 PMID:15883172.

Machiels, J-P, Reilly, RT, Emens, LA, Ercolini, AM, Okoye, F, Jaffee, EM. 2001. Cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, and paclitaxel enhance the antigen-specific anti-tumor immune response of GM-CSF-secreting whole cell vaccines in tolerized mice. Cancer Research 61: 3689. PMID: 11325840.

Chen, G, Gupta, R, Petrik, S, Laiko, M, Leatherman, JM, Asquith, JM, Daphtary, MM, Garrett-Mayer, E, Kobrin, B, Davidson, NE, Dauses, T, Atay-Rosenthal, S, Ye, X, Wolff, AC, Stearns, V, Jaffee, EM, Emens LA. 2014. A Feasibility Study of Cyclophosphamide, Trastuzumab, and an Allogeneic GM-CSF-secreting Breast Tumor Vaccine for HER-2+ Metastatic Breast Cancer. Cancer Immunology Research, 2(10): 949-961. PMID: 25116755.

Activities & Honors


  • Alpha Omega Alpha, Medical Honor Society, 1995
  • Clinician Scientist Award, 2003
  • Research Scholar Award, American Cancer Society, 2006
  • Presidents Award for Professional Leadership, YWCA of Greater Baltimore, 2009
  • Maryland Governors Citation, 2009


  • American Association for Cancer Research
  • American College of Physicians
  • American Society for Clinical Oncology
  • Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group
  • International Society for Biological Therapy of Cancer
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