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Photo of Dr. Suzanne Topalian

Suzanne Louise Topalian, MD

Melanoma Program Director
Professor of Surgery
Appointment Phone


Primary Location

Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center

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Out-of-State & International Patients +
Out of State Patients

Call 410-464-6641 (8a.m. to 6p.m., EST, Mon-Fri)

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International Patients

Call +1-410-502-0773 (7a.m. to 6p.m., EST, Mon-Fri)

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  • Melanoma Program Director
  • Professor of Surgery
  • Professor of Oncology

Centers & Institutes

  • Melanoma Program
  • Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center


General Surgery, Melanoma, Skin Cancer

Research Interests

Cancer immunology and immunotherapy


Dr. Topalian is a surgical oncologist who attended Tufts University School of Medicine and completed her surgical residency at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. She spent 21 years in the Surgery Branch of the National Cancer Institute, NIH, where her work in basic cancer immunology and translational cancer immunotherapy garnered international attention. Dr. Topalian was recruited to Johns Hopkins jointly by the Departments of Surgery and Oncology in 2006, to become the founding Director of the Melanoma Program in the SKCCC. She seeks to develop immunotherapies for melanoma and other cancers by defining tumor-associated proteins (antigens) and discovering optimal ways to formulate them into vaccines, and by developing methods to enhance anti-tumor immunity with monoclonal antibodies targeting immune-modulating molecules displayed on T lymphocytes.


  • English
  • French


American Association for Cancer Research;

American Association of Clinical Oncology;

Society for Melanoma Research;

American Association of Immunologists

Clinical Trial Keywords

  • Director
  • Melanoma Program
  • Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins

Additional Resources

Additional Resources +
  • Education +


    • Tufts University School of Medicine ( Boston MA ) (1979)


    • Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University/General Surgery ( Philadelphia PA ) (1985)


    • National Cancer Institute - NIH/Oncology ( Bethesda MD ) (1989)
  • Research & Publications +

    Selected Publications

    Research Summary

    Dr. Topalian's research prior to joining Hopkins revealed the existence of melanoma proteins and derivative peptides specifically recognized by human CD8+ killer and CD4+ helper T cells, paving the way for the clinical development of antigen-specific melanoma vaccines. Disappointing clinical results with vaccines led to the realization that immunological tolerance mechanisms dominate the interaction between cancer and the tumor-bearing host. Subsequently, Dr. Topalian has led the clinical development of immunomodulatory monoclonal antibodies to treat patients with melanoma and other solid tumors, in collaboration with Medarex/Bristol Myers-Squibb, finding that patients with treatment-refractory advanced metastatic cancers can respond to blockade of the T cell co-receptors programmed death-1 (PD-1) and B7-H1 (Brahmer, J Clin Oncol 2010; Sznol, ASCO Proc 2010). Her laboratory has been responsible for conducting correlative immunological studies in these patients, and has characterized the pharmacodynamics of anti-PD-1 and anti-B7-H1. Since animal models show that blockade of PD-1 and B7-H1 synergizes with cancer vaccines, Dr. Topalian has continued to search for optimal tumor antigens, investigating melanoma-associated mitochondrial mutations (Mithani, Melanoma Res 2008) and recently describing posttranslationally modified phosphopeptides as a new cohort of tumor antigens recognized by human CD4+ T cells (Depontieu, Proc Natl Acad Sci 2009; Li, J Mol Biol 2010). X-ray crystallographic studies of human CD4 T cell receptor interactions with a mutant melanoma antigen, in collaboration with Dr. Roy Mariuzza at the University of Maryland, have demonstrated suboptimal structural features, highlighting the need for enhancing anti-tumor immunity with immunomodulatory antibodies (Deng, Nature Immunol 2007).

    Journal Citations

    Deng, L.; Langley, R.J.; Brown, P.H.; Xu, G.; Teng, L.; Wang, Q.; Gonzales, M.I.; Callender, G.G.; Nishimura, M.I.; Topalian, S.L.; Mariuzza, R.A. Structural basis for the recognition of mutant self by a tumor-specific, MHC class II-restricted T cell receptor. Nat Immunol. 2007 Apr;8(4):398-408.

    Yang, J.C.; Hughes, M.; Kammula, U.; Royal, R.; Sherry, R.M.; Topalian, S.L.; Suri, K.B.; Levy, C.; Allen, T.; Mavroukakis, S.; Lowy, I.; White, D.E.; Rosenberg, S.A. Ipilimumab (anti-CTLA4 antibody) causes regression of metastatic renal cell cancer associated with enteritis and hypophysitis. J Immunother (1997). 2007 Nov-Dec;30(8):825-830.

    Lange, J.R.; Fecher, L.; Sharfman, W.H.; Alani, R.M.; Mikkilineni, R.; Topalian, S.L.; Balch, C.M. Melanoma. In: Abeloff MD, A.J., Niederhuber JE, Kastan MB, McKenna WG editor. 4th ed, Abeloffs Clinical Oncology. Philadelphia: Elsevier Inc.; 2008. p. 1229-1252.

    Mithani, S.K.; Smith, I.M.; Topalian, S.L.; Califano, J.A. Nonsynonymous somatic mitochondrial mutations occur in the majority of cutaneous melanomas. Melanoma research. 2008 Jun;18(3):214-219.

    Depontieu, F.R.; Qian, J.; Zarling, A.L.; McMiller, T.L.; Salay, T.M.; Norris, A.; English, A.M.; Shabanowitz, J.; Engelhard, V.H.; Hunt, D.F.; Topalian, S.L. Identification of tumor-associated, MHC class II-restricted phosphopeptides as targets for immunotherapy. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Jul 21;106(29):12073-12078.

    Brahmer, J.R.; Drake, C.G.; Wollner, I.; Powderly, J.D.; Picus, J.; Sharfman, W.H.; Stankevich, E.; Pons, A.; Salay, T.M.; McMiller, T.L.; Gilson, M.M.; Wang, C.; Selby, M.; Taube, J.M.; Anders, R.; Chen, L.; Korman, A.J.; Pardoll, D.M.; Lowy, I.; Topalian, S.L. Phase I study of single-agent anti-programmed death-1 (MDX-1106) in refractory solid tumors: safety, clinical activity, pharmacodynamics, and immunologic correlates. J Clin Oncol. 2010 Jul 1;28(19):3167-3175.

    Li, Y.; Depontieu, F.R.; Sidney, J.; Salay, T.M.; Engelhard, V.H.; Hunt, D.F.; Sette, A.; Topalian, S.L.; Mariuzza, R.A. Structural basis for the presentation of tumor-associated MHC class II-restricted phosphopeptides to CD4+ T cells. J Mol Biol. 2010 Jun 18;399(4):596-603.

    Royal, R.E.; Levy, C.; Turner, K.; Mathur, A.; Hughes, M.; Kammula, U.S.; Sherry, R.M.; Topalian, S.L.; Yang, J.C.; Lowy, I.; Rosenberg, S.A. Phase 2 trial of single agent Ipilimumab (anti-CTLA-4) for locally advanced or metastatic pancreatic adenocarcinoma. J Immunother. 2010 Oct;33(8):828-833.
  • Academic Affiliations & Courses +
  • Activities & Honors +


    Federal Technology Transfer Award, 2003
  • Videos & Media +
  • Upcoming Events +
  • Contact & Locations +


    Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center
    401 N. Broadway
    David H. Koch Cancer Research Blg. Room Room 508
    Baltimore, MD 21231
    Phone: 410-502-8218
    Appointment Phone: 410-502-8218
    Fax: 410-502-1958
    Location Map


    • Surgery

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