Dr. Cepika is an immunologist with an extensive background in translational research, autoimmunity, autoinflammation, and human systems immunology. Her goal is to understand the mechanisms governing immunological tolerance, and to leverage this knowledge to cure currently incurable diseases.
Dr. Cepika received her MD degree and a PhD in Immunology from the University of Zagreb School of Medicine in Croatia. There, she focused on the immunomonitoring of patients with lupus, identifying how circulating DNA levels changed with therapy. Subsequently, she joined the lab of Dr. Virginia Pascual at the Baylor Institute for Immunology Research in Dallas, Texas. Dr. Pascual had previously discovered that IL-1beta is a key pathogenic player in systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis (sJIA), but the immune alterations contributing to IL-1beta-mediated inflammation remained unknown. To address this, Dr. Cepika developed a 3D in vitro stimulation assay to evaluate immune responses of blood leukocytes of pediatric sJIA patients. In combination with integrated bioinformatics analysis, this approach identified aberrant cellular responses, transcriptional pathways and genes that shed new light on immune dysregulation in sJIA. This assay can be further applied to dissect underlying immunopathogenic mechanisms in many human disorders.
Currently, Dr. Cepika is pursuing her quest to cure human disease and understand the mechanisms of immune tolerance in the laboratory of Dr. Maria Grazia Roncarolo, in the Pediatrics Division of the Stanford?s Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at Stanford.
Current Role at Stanford
As a senior research scientist in the laboratory of Dr. Maria Grazia Roncarolo, Dr. Cepika is working to identify a molecular landscape of inducible type 1 regulatory T cells (Tr1), and how it defines their functions. Tr1 designed to be tolerant specifically to patient tissue are currently investigated in a phase I clinical trial, with an ultimate goal to use Tr1 cell therapy to prevent graft-vs-host disease in patients with hematological cancers undergoing allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (NCT03198234). Identifying the components critical for identity of these cells and understanding their mechanism of action is an essential step for harnessing their suppressive power in the clinic.
Honors & Awards
Best Short Talk Award, North Texas Flow Cytometry Conference (2016)
Best Poster Award, ESF-EMBO symposium, "B cells: Complexity, Integration and Translation" (2008)
Full Scholarship, Leadership and Management of Health Services, Andrija Stampar School of Public Health, School of Medicine, University of Zagreb (2006)
Best Poster Award, Annual Meeting of Croatian Immunological Society (2005)
Dean?s Award for Best Student Research, School of Medicine, University of Zagreb (2002)
Education & Certifications
PhD, School of Medicine, University of Zagreb, Immunology (2012)
MD, School of Medicine, University of Zagreb, Medicine (2002)