Cara C. Schafer


Department of Primary Appointment:
School of Medicine
Location: Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, MD
Research Interests:
Immuno-oncology, prostate cancer, health disparities, molecular genetics
Office Phone


Ph.D. in Biochemistry & Molecular Genetics, The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB)
M.S. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Georgetown University
B.S. in Biology & Biotechnology, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI)


Dr. Cara Schafer received her B.S. from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and M.S. from Georgetown University. She earned her Ph.D. in Biochemistry & Molecular Genetics from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) in the Cancer Biology Graduate Biomedical Sciences program. Dr. Schafer’s doctoral dissertation research focused on the role of tryptophan metabolism in the tumor microenvironment using preclinical mouse models of lung cancer. She found that a novel combination therapy targeting the function and activity of myeloid derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) impaired tryptophan-metabolizing indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase (IDO) and other related metabolic pathways which restored anti-tumor immunity in mice. Dr. Schafer also gained valuable clinical research experience evaluating immune cell subsets and enzymatic activity in whole blood of patients undergoing doublet chemotherapy.

In 2016, Dr. Schafer joined the Center for Prostate Disease Research (CPDR) as a Post-Doctoral Fellow to support the Cancer Moonshot’s APOLLO-3 prostate cancer study, in addition to a project aimed at identifying immune biomarkers and their spatial relevance in prostate tissues. Dr. Schafer has also had the opportunity to collaborate on several other CPDR research projects including p53 and lymphatic vessel invasion, ETV antibody characterization in prostate cancer, and the genomic sequencing of aggressive Renal Medullary Carcinoma.

Dr. Schafer has an academic faculty appointment as an Assistant Professor within USU Walter Reed Surgery. She is also a Staff Scientist at the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine (HJF) in support of the Murtha Cancer Center Research Program and the CPDR. Dr. Schafer has a profound interest in translational cancer research. Her projects revolve around studying the tumor microenvironment as well as the immunologic and genetic underpinnings in prostate cancer, especially as it relates to health disparity. She has also served as a mentor to summer students, graduate students, medical students, and fellows over the years.

Dr. Schafer is a recipient of a Department of Defense CDMRP PCRP Health Disparity Fellowship Award, an HJF Superior Performance Award, and a USUHS VPR Intramural Discovery Award.

Professional activities:
Chair, APOLLO New Platforms Working Group
Member, NIH/NCI Cancer Screening Research Network (CSRN) Technology Evaluation Committee
Active Member, American Association of Cancer Research (AACR)
Scientific Peer Reviewer, DoD Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP) Prostate Cancer Research Program

Career Highlights: Positions, Projects, Deployements, Awards and Additional Publications

Schafer CC, Jiang J, Elsamanoudi S, Nousome D, Young DY, Song Y, Sesterhenn IA, Chesnut GT, Tan SH. Immunologic Assessment of Tumors from a Race-matched Military Cohort Identifies Mast Cell Depletion as a Marker of Prostate Cancer Progression. Cancer Res Commun. 2023 Aug 1;3(8):1423-1434. doi: 10.1158/2767-9764.CRC-22-0463. PMID: 37534375; PMCID: PMC10392708.

Schafer C, Young D, Singh H, Jayakrishnan R, Banerjee S, Song Y, Dobi A, Petrovics G, Srivastava S, Srivastava S, Sesterhenn IA, Chesnut GT, Tan SH. Development and characterization of an ETV1 rabbit monoclonal antibody for the immunohistochemical detection of ETV1 expression in cancer tissue specimens. J Immunol Methods. 2023 Jul;518:113493. doi: 10.1016/j.jim.2023.113493. Epub 2023 May 16. PMID: 37196930.

Jayakrishnan R, Schafer C, Tan SH. Prostate cancer autoantibodies - applications in diagnosis, prognosis, monitoring disease progression and immunotherapy. Am J Clin Exp Urol. 2023 Apr 15;11(2):79-102. PMID: 37168942; PMCID: PMC10165224.

Gesztes W, Schafer C, Young D, Fox J, Jiang J, Chen Y, Kuo HC, Mwamukonda KB, Dobi A, Burke AP, Moul JW, McLeod DG, Rosner IL, Petrovics G, Tan SH, Cullen J, Srivastava S, Sesterhenn IA. Focal p53 protein expression and lymphovascular invasion in primary prostate tumors predict metastatic progression. Scientific Reports 2022 Mar 30;12(1):5404. PMID: 35354846; doi: 10.1038/s41598-022-08826-5.

Wang Y, Schafer CC, Hough KP, Duncan S, Ponnazhagan S, Kearney JF, Hsu HC, Deshane JS. Myeloid-derived suppressor cells impair B cell responses in lung cancer through IL-7 and STAT5. Journal of Immunology 2018 Jul 1;201(1):278-295. PMID: 29752311; doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.1701069.

Schafer CC, Wang Y, Hough KP, Sawant A, Grant SC, Thannickal VJ, Ponnazhagan S, Zmijewski J, Deshane JS. Indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase regulates anti-tumor immunity in lung cancer by metabolic reprogramming of immune cells in the tumor microenvironment. Oncotarget 2016 September 26;7(46): 75407-75424. PMID: 27705910; doi: 10.18632/oncotarget.12249

Sawant A, Schafer CC, Jin TH, Zmijewski J, Tse HM, Roth J, Sun Z, Siegal GP, Thannickal VJ, Grant SC, Ponnazhagan S, Deshane JS. Enhancement of antitumor immunity in lung cancer by targeting myeloid-derived suppressor cell pathways. Cancer Research 2013 Nov 15;73(22):6609-6620. PMID 24085788; doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-13-0987

Sawant A, Schafer CC, Ponnazhagan S, Deshane JS. The dual targeting of immunosuppressive cells and oxidants promotes effector and memory T-cell functions against lung cancer. OncoImmunology 2014 Jan 1;3(1):e27401. PMID: 24711958; PMCID: PMC3976979; doi: 10.4161/onci.27401

Heckler MM, Thakor H, Schafer CC, Riggins RB. ERK/MAPK regulates ERRγ expression, transcriptional activity, and receptor-mediated Tamoxifen resistance in ER+ breast cancer. FEBS Journal 2014 Mar 29; 281(10):2431-42. PMID: 24684682; PMCID: PMC4079056; doi: 10.1111/febs.12797

Representative Bibliography