Hanks Named to Leadership Role in the Melanoma Group

Brent Hanks, MD, PhD
Brent Hanks, MD, PhD

Brent Hanks, MD, PhD, has been named associate director, Translational Science, for Duke Cancer Institute's Melanoma Disease Group. With the new appointment this month, he joins April Salama, MD (director) and Georgia Beasley, MD, MHS (co-director) and Smita Nair, PhD, (associate director, Basic Research) on the disease group’s leadership team.

Hanks, who joined the faculty in 2012 after completing his residency and fellowship at Duke, is an associate professor in the Department of Medicine, Division of Medical Oncology, and an assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology who has dedicated more than 17 years of his career to researching tumor immunology and immunotherapy. He’s also an experienced medical oncologist who manages patients with advanced melanoma and other skin cancers.

With this new role, Hanks has been charged with identifying and facilitating opportunities to integrate basic science research into the clinic and the clinic into basic science research in an effort to improve the management and treatment of patients with advanced melanoma

In practice, this means actively pursuing opportunities to collect tissue specimens from DCI patients for tumor immunology and immunotherapy investigations in the lab and translating the resultant research findings into innovative investigator-initiated clinical studies, which will, in turn, be leveraged to further support and strengthen the Melanoma Group’s basic science research program.

“While establishing this path of investigation in tumor immunology and immunotherapy in melanoma, we also hope to expand collaborations with our colleagues in other solid tumor disease groups,” said Hanks. “This approach should stimulate the ‘cross-fertilization’ of ideas and the generation of novel concepts that are more likely to secure external funding for our investigators.”

Andrew Nixon, Brent Hanks, Jennifer Choe
Andrew Nixon (left), Brent Hanks, and Jennifer Choe are collaborating on a biobank to help understand why some patients experience toxic side effects from immunotherapies.

Hanks runs an independent research lab, the Hanks Lab, which utilizes genetically engineered tumor model systems as well as clinical specimens to understand the mechanisms and characterize the pathways of immunotherapy resistance with the goal of developing novel strategies to enhance the efficacy of checkpoint inhibitor and vaccine immunotherapies.

His research is currently being supported by two National Institutes of Health grants; two foundation awards (the Emerson Collective and the Damon Runyon Foundation); internal awards from Duke Cancer Institute, Duke Health System, and the Duke University School of Medicine; and seven industry awards.

In 2019, Hanks was named associate director of Basic and Translational Research at the newly formed Duke Center for Cancer Immunotherapy at DCI.

Hanks also serves as a Biomarker Taskforce Committee member at the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer and as an Immunotherapy Taskforce Committee member at the Melanoma Research Foundation.

Hanks earned his PhD in Cancer Immunology in 2004 and MD in 2006 from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. He completed his residency in Internal Medicine (2008) and fellowship in Hematology/Oncology (2012) at Duke University Medical Center.

“Dr. Hanks has been committed to advancing the translational goals of the melanoma group from the outset of his career. His work has already influenced our understanding of mechanisms leading to immune therapy resistance in melanoma,” said Salama. “I am personally very excited to continue working with him in order to bring novel treatment approaches to the clinic.”


The Melanoma Disease Group is comprised of a multi-disciplinary team of surgical, radiation and medical oncologists, as well as dermatologists, experienced in specialized treatment for melanoma as well as advanced cutaneous squamous cell, basal cell, and merkel cell carcinomas. Providers in the group strive to improve patient outcomes through collaborative projects that span the spectrum of basic, translational, and clinical research. 

Every patient’s treatment plan is personalized. Patients have access to the latest therapies and treatments, including via a number of landmark clinical trials. Find more information on the Melanoma Disease Group on the Duke Cancer Institute web site.