Assist. Prof. Nihal Karakaş

Nihal Karakaş received her bachelor’s degree in Science Education in 2006 . Then, she studied on neural induction of mesenchymal stem cells and completed M.Sc. studies in Molecular Biology in 2009. During her education, she joined “Adult Cell Therapy Group” and experienced cellular therapy approaches (especially worked on hematopoietic stem cells) at Center for Regenerative Medicine, Edinburgh University in 2008. She then started a Ph.D. program in Neuroscience at Health Sciences Institute in Istanbul University in 2009. After completing her courses, she joined Molecular Neurotherapy and Imaging Laboratory (MNIL) at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School and worked on stem cell therapeutics for the tratment of brain tumors (2011-2014).

Dr. Karakas works as an Assistant Professor at Istanbul Medipol University, School of Medicine and Principle Investigator at Regenerative and Restorative Medicine Research Center (REMER) since 2016.




Research Interests:

In cancer therapy, toxicity in healthy tissue is a common side effect of current treatment modalities and tumor recurrence is almost inevitable. There is therefore an urgent need to develop novel therapies that act in a robust and cancer-selective manner. In line with this, main focus of Dr. Karakas’s research is developing novel targeting therapy approaches for cancer treatment. One of the succesfull delivery strategy for targeted therapeutics without the limitations of current chemotherapeutic agents, is using stem cells as therapeutic cargo carriers since they have known with their migration capacity towards the tumor sites even including microdeposits. Furthermore, stem cells can be collected individually and engineered to secrete multiple therapeutics which can enable their clinical translation from bench side to bed side.

Targeted therapeutics including recombinant toxin fusions are promising therapeutic candidates for fightening against the malignancies. Since the targeted toxins are able to attach cancer cell surface selectively via their receptor recognizing partners and induce cell death via protein synthesis blockage with their toxic components, they have been believed as the potential cell killers for a wide range of cancers.

Considering the limitations of current anti-cancer therapeutics in clinical use, research of Dr. Karakas at REMER is literally based on:

  • Discovery of new therapeutics/targets for brain tumors and engineering targeted therapeutics to treat the diseaseas well as understanding the molecular basis of tumor depletion caused by the targeted therapeutics.
  • Enlargement use of therapeutic stem cells for various malignancies.
  • Developing bioimagable tumor models

Recently she is working on engineering stem cells to secrete anti-cancer therapeutics including targeted toxins for the treatment of not only brain tumors but also other malignancies. For this aim, bioimaging markers (fluorescence proteins and firefly luciferases) and therapeutic molecules are integrated in stem cells using lentiviral vectors. Following experiments on therapeutic efficacy in vitro, therapeutic stem cells are then implanted into bioimagable tumors in vivo. After pre- and post-implantation of these therapeutically engineered stem cell cargos in mice bearing bioimagable tumors, regression in tumor mass is monitored by fluorescence/bioluminescence imaging tools and followed by subsequent tissue processing. Further studies involve analysis of the molecular mechanism leading to cancer cell death in culture and to loss in tumor mass in treated mice upon therapeutic stem cell implantation.

Figure Cell death mechanism directed by Pseudomonas exotoxin (PE) fused targeted toxins released from therapeutically engineered stem cells.



Selected publications

  • Stuckey DW*, Hingtgen S*, Karakas N, Rich B, Shah K. “Engineering toxin-resistant therapeutic
    stem cells to treat brain tumors”, Stem Cells, (Oct. 2014) *authors equally contributed.
    • Karakas N, Stuckey DW, Choi SH, Shah K. “ Arming stem cells with targeted toxins breaks
    resistance and potentiates TRAIL killing of brain tumors” (in submission)
    • Karakas N, Shah K. “Stem Cell Delivery of Targeted Toxins for GBM Therapy (Review)” (in
    • Isik S, Zaim M, Yildiz MT, Negis Y, Kunduraci T, Karakas N, Arikan G, Cetin G. “DNA
    topoisomerase IIβ as a molecular switch in neural differentiation of mesenchymal stem cells”,
    Annals of Hematology, Sept. 2014
    • Mammadov B, Karakas N, Isik S. “Comparison of Long-term Retinoic Acid Based Neural Induction
    Methods of Bone Marrow Human Mesenchymal Stem Cells”, In vitro Cellular & Developmental
    Biology , May 2011
    • Kamaci N, Emnacar T, Karakas N, Arikan G, Tsutsui K, Isik. “Selective silencing of DNA
    topoisomerase IIβ in human mesenchymal stem cells by small interfering RNAs (siRNAs)”, Cell
    Biology International Reports, March 2011
    • Karakas N, Mammadov B, Isik S, “Involvement of Integrin α5β1 in Neural Transdifferentiation of
    Human Bone Marrow Derived Mesenchymal Stem Cells ” (Abstract), Journal of IUBMB Life, May.
    • Mammadov B, Karakas N, Isik S, “Emphasis of the Efficient In Vitro Neurogenesis Method For
    Bone Marrow Derived Human Mesenchymal Stem Cells” (Abstract), Journal of IUBMB Life, May

Selected Media attentions

– Cancer-killing stem cells engineered in lab (BBC News, October 24, 2014)
– Stem cells that can kill cancer have been engineered by scientists (The Independent, October 27, 2014)
– Toxin-Secreting Stem Cells May Destroy Brain Tumors From Inside Out (Popular Science, October 27, 2014)