Highlighted Labs

Adam M. Brufsky, MD, PhD

Dr. Brufsky’s research interests include novel clinical therapeutics for breast cancer, bone-breast cancer interactions and therapeutics, molecular biology of metastatic breast cancer, and novel man­agement strategies for metastatic breast cancer.

Ronald J. Buckanovich, MD, PhD

Dr. Buckanovich’s research interests are ovarian cancer stem cells, mesenchymal stem cells, tumor vascular niche, ovarian cancer therapeutics, and ovarian cancer clinical trials.

Timothy F. Burns, MD, PhD

The research and clinical interests of Dr. Burns revolve around the development of targeted therapies for KRAS-mutant NSCLC as well as novel strategies to overcome resistance to targeted therapies for EGFR-mutant and MET-altered NSCLC. His two main research themes are 1) novel pre-clinical target validation and drug development (TWIST1 in oncogene driven NSCLC and TKI resistance); and 2) elucidating mechanisms of resistance for targeted inhibitors to develop rationale therapeutic combinations that can be tested in the clinic (Hsp90 and ERK1/2 inhibitors). The first line of research in Dr Burns’ laboratory focuses on the role of the EMT transcription factor TWIST1 in oncogene-driven NSCLC. His team has demonstrated that TWIST1 is essential for lung tumorigenesis for KRAS mutant, EGFR mutant and MET mutant/amplified NSCLC and that TWIST1 overexpression leads to resistance to EGFR and MET TKIs. His lab is examining the mechanism(s) through which this occurs and developing therapeutic combinations to overcome this resistance. Furthermore, the lab is exploring whether targeting the HGF-MET-TWIST1 pathway can be an effective strategy for preventing or treating lung brain metastases. Importantly, Dr. Burns developed a novel TWIST1 inhibitor which serves a tool compound for our therapeutic studies and serves as the basis for our current drug screening efforts to develop a clinical TWIST1 inhibitor. The second line of research in his lab focuses on studying the mechanisms of resistance to targeted agents currently in phase 1 and 2 trials to develop rationale therapeutic combinations in the clinic. This is typified by his previous work with Hsp90 inhibitors and ongoing work on ERK inhibitors.

Yu-Chiao Chiu, PhD

Dr. Chiu’s research interests include bioinformatics, machine learning, cancer genomics, and pharmacogenomics. The goal of his research is to systematically model genomics and pharmacogenomics to study cancer biology and improve cancer therapy.  He is the recipient of a NIH K99/R00 Pathway to Independence Award for his work to develop deep learning methods that extract multi-omic signatures to predict the responses of pediatric cancer cells to chemical and genetic perturbations.

Lan G. Coffman, MD, PhD

Dr. Coffman’s research focuses on understanding and targeting the cancer supporting stromal tissues which are critical to the survival, growth and spread of ovarian cancer. Specifically, Dr, Coffman’s lab studies a critical non-malignant component of the ovarian cancer microenvironment, the carcinoma-associated mesenchymal stem cell (CA-MSC). CA-MSCs are stromal progenitor cells which significantly increase cancer growth, enrich the cancer stem cell pool and increase chemotherapy resistance.

The lab studies how CA-MSCs are formed and develop tumor supporting properties. The lab also focuses on identifying important tumor cell:CA-MSC interactions which mediate CA-MSC’s pro-tumorigenic functions and have potential for translation into new therapeutic targets. Additionally, the lab studies how CA-MSCs impact the development of ovarian cancer metastasis and the metastatic microenvironment.

The ultimate goal of this research is to translate novel laboratory findings into powerful therapeutic approaches for the prevention and treatment of ovarian cancer.

Wei Du, MD, PhD

Dr. Du’s research is centered on pathophysiology of hematologic diseases such as bone marrow (BM) failure and leukemia. Dr. Du has a broad background in hematopoiesis, stem cell biology & aging, cellular metabolism and tumor microenvironment, with specific training and expertise in DNA damage response/repair, mouse modeling, metabolite profiling, and in vivo disease modeling. She has been investigating the mechanism of hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) mobilization and BM niche engraftment as well as the factors implicated in cell proliferation and apoptosis. She has identified functional interactions between certain factors implicated in cell polarity, adhesion/migration, stem cell metabolism and aging. These studies led to 48 peer-reviewed scientific papers in high-impact scientific journals, including Blood, JCI, Nat Communications, Leukemia and so on.

Her current research interests include: 1) Define the molecular and functional collaboration between a major cell signaling (FA) pathway and immunometabolic regulation in HSCs; 2) Target stem cell-niche interaction for improved therapy for patients with bone marrow failure and leukemia; 3) Study a novel interplay between DDR and immune responses in FA leukemogenesis; 4) Study on the systemic immune effects of persistent DNA damage using mouse and human models of DNA repair deficiency and aging; and 5) Mechanistic and functional elucidation of the role of a novel paracrine Wnt5a-Prox1 signaling axis in regulating HSC regeneration under conditions of injury and aging.

Deborah L. Galson, PhD

Dr. Galson investigates signal transduction pathways and gene regulation in osteoclasts (OCL) and osteoblasts (OB) both during normal differentiation and in pathological states. The goal is to better understand pathological changes in the bone microenvironment, particularly OCL and OB, in Paget’s disease of bone and Multiple Myeloma (MM) bone disease. Her current studies focus on four main areas: (1) Determine the mechanism by which Measles virus nucleocapsid protein (MVNP) alters expression of cellular genes and increases osteoclast differentiation in Paget’s disease of bone. Dr. Galson has shown that MVNP signals through interaction with the IKK family members TBK1 and optineurin to generate pagetic OCL. Additional studies aim to determine the mechanism of cooper­ation between MVNP and p62 (SQSTM1) with pagetic mutations to generate Paget’s lesions. (2) Determine the mechanism by which MM cells suppress the differentiation capacity of osteoblast progenitor cells, which persists even after removal of the MM cells. These MM-altered bone marrow stromal cells also enhance osteoclastogenesis and microenvironmental support of myeloma growth. The focus is on understanding signaling mechanisms and the epigenetic changes induced in BMSC by MM cells. (3) Determine the roles of Gfi1 and EZH2 in osteoclasts. These studies derive from finding a key role for these proteins in MM-induced epigenetic changes in BMSC. (4) De­termine if inhibition of TBK1/IKKe signaling is a useful therapeutic strategy to inhibit MM bone dis­ease. Inhibition of TBK1/IKKe signaling blocks OCL formation and slows MM growth in vitro. These studies are being extended to in vivo MM models. Dr. Galson is also involved in additional studies involving other cancers that invade the bone, such as breast cancer.

Nadine Hempel, PhD

Visit Dr. Hempel’s laboratory Website at hempellab.com

Dr. Nadine Hempel’s research interests center on understanding molecular mechanisms that regulate metastasis and tumor recurrence of ovarian cancer, with the ultimate goal of identifying novel targets for therapy of advanced-stage disease.

Her research group uses a variety of molecular, cellular, imaging and in vivo techniques to focus on two research areas in cancer biology: first, the role of mitochondrial antioxidants and reactive oxygen species during metastatic progression; and second, the regulation of mitochondrial dynamics and metabolism in ovarian cancer.

James G. Herman, MD

Dr. Herman’s research explores changes in DNA methylation in cancer, and his lab is the first to demonstrate that tumor suppressor genes are si­lenced by promoter region methylation. The Herman Lab has characterized changes in methylation associated with the development and progression of cancer, including the demonstration of changes in DNA methylation in premalignant lesions. Current research is aimed at utilizing these findings to improve the management of patients through the development of prognostic, predictive, and early detection epigenetic biomarkers, and in studies of epigenetic therapy. They have developed new methods for study of DNA methylation (methylation specific PCR, in Situ MSP, ERMA, and, more recently, nan­otechnology-based detection methods, included MS-QFRET and MOB, DREAMing). These sensitive methods have been used for the early detection of cancer and for developing predictive biomarkers.

Charles C. Horn, PhD

Dr. Horn’s primary research is the neurobiology of vagus nerve signaling. This research uses neuro­modulation devices to control nerve-organ communication for the treatment of cancer, inflamma­tion, gastrointestinal motility, and side effects of cancer therapies.

Yufei Huang, PhD

Dr. Huang’s research focuses on

1. m6A methylation and its role in cancer. His lab uses a combination of computation/AI and high throughput profiling technologies to 1) delineate regulation of m6A deposition; 2) determine the mechanisms by which m6A regulates gene expression and downstream functions; 3) m6A’s role in cancer and viral infection. His lab developed many computation tools and resources for analyzing m6A profiling data and predicting m6A functions including the exomePeak pipeline for detecting m6A and differential m6A sites from MeRIP-seq, m6A-express for predicting m6A-regulation of gene expression, FunDMDeep-m6A for prioritizing functional differential m6A sites, and the MeT-DB database.

2. AI for precision oncology. Develop novel deep learning and AI models that can 1) perform cancer phenotype predictions and, at the same time, 2) identifying markers and generate explainable mechanisms. His lab has developed several genomics-based deep learning/AI tools for cancer prognosis and survival analysis, drug response prediction, and cancer gene dependence prediction.

John M. Kirkwood, MD

Dr. Kirkwood’s research focuses on melanoma immunobiology, therapy, and prevention. His trans­lational laboratory studies have shown the immunological basis of IFN adjuvant benefits in the first neoadjuvant immunotherapy trial for melanoma. His research is now expanding these studies at Hillman and through ECOG-ACRIN, probing the role of molecularly targeted agents (BRAF, MEK, and PI3Kδ/γ inhibitors) that may improve upon the efficacy of anti-PD1 immunotherapy for adju­vant therapy of operable high-risk melanoma and treatment of advanced melanoma. His studies of monoclonal antibodies to the gangliosides of melanoma—and peptide differentiation antigens of melanoma alone and in combination with cytokine and growth factor immunomodulators—paved the way for the recent progress with immunotherapies in multiple other cancers. He has advanced the multimodal therapy of melanoma with surgery, stereotactic radiotherapy, and molecular antitu­mor agents.

Enrico M. Novelli, MD, MS

The Novelli Lab focuses on elucidating the fundamental mechanisms underlying vascular dysfunc­tion in sickle cell disease (SCD). Dr. Novelli’s initial research sought to clarify the mechanisms under­lying pulmonary hypertension in sickle cell disease. Most recently, his research has focused on the risk factors and mechanisms of cognitive impairment in sickle cell disease.

Solomon F. Ofori-Acquah, PhD

Dr. Ofori-Acquah has a research interest in molecular hematology, endothelial barrier function, sickle cell disease (SCD), and global health. His basic science research is on the mechanisms of neutralizing erythroid danger associated molecular pattern (eDAMP) molecules. This work encom­passes studies of developmental, genetic, and epigenetic regulation of hemopexin and heme oxy­genase-1—the key neutralizing molecules of extracellular heme the prototypical eDAMP. His basic research is translated to understanding the role and mechanism of extracellular heme in the patho­biology of vascular complications in SCD. A major translational focus is acute chest syndrome, the leading cause of premature death in SCD. The Ofori-Acquah lab developed the first mouse model of acute chest syndrome. This preclinical model is currently being used to find targeted therapies for this syndrome. His global health research centers on a longitudinal observational study of a large newborn cohort in Ghana to define markers of end-organ damage in SCD. Additional global health work focused also on SCD is performed under the auspices of the H3Africa consortium with a multi-disciplinary team of collaborators in Cameroon, Tanzania, and South Africa.

Taofeek K. Owonikoko, MD, PhD

Dr. Owonikoko’s research interests are in pre-clinical biomarker discovery in lung cancer and other solid tumor types, and translation of promising laboratory findings into clinical trials in collaboration with academic and industry partners. He has received extramural grant funding in support of his laboratory and translational research from the National Institutes of Health, Department of Defense and private foundations.

Margaret Ragni, MD, MPH

Dr. Ragni’s research studies were among the first multi-center NIH-funded investigator-initiated studies in hemophilia malignancy, hemophilia inhibitor for­mation, hemophilia HIV/HCV infection, hemophilia AIDS therapy, and hemo­philia adult prophylaxis . She has also collaborated on multi-center organ transplant HIV trials, hemophilia gene therapy trials, VWD genotype-phenotype studies, novel therapeutics for hemophilia, and rhIL-11 and recombinant VWF for VWD.

Jeremy Rich Dr., MD, MHS, MBA

Dr. Rich is the Deputy Director of Research at the Hillman Cancer Center and a board-certified neuro-oncologist and physician-scientist specializing in diagnosing and treating brain tumors, with a focus on brain metastases. His research focuses on brain tumor biology, studying cancer stem cells’ clinical relevance and how they interact with the tumor microenvironment to help the cancers grow and resist current treatments.

Warren D. Shlomchik, MD

Dr. Shlomchik’s research program is dedicated to understanding the complex immunology of allo­geneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. His research has primari­ly taken genetic approaches with mouse models to test fundamental hypotheses regarding alloSCT immunology, in particular mechanisms of graft-vs-host disease (GVHD), graft-vs-leukemia (GVL) and GVL-resistance. A goal of these studies is to make discoveries that can be translated in the clinic. One such discovery resulted in co-developing a reagent to deplete naïve T cells (TN) from stem cell products, thereby allowing the transfer of only memory phenotype T cells. The results of the first-in-human trial of this approach in patients with acute leukemia suggest that the depletion of naïve T cells results in a remarkably low rate of chronic GVHD without an increase in relapse or infections. This approach is now being examined in a 4-arm clinical trial that includes high or lower intensity conditioning and grafts that are from HLA-matched related HLA-matched unrelated donors.

Jing Hong Wang, MD, PhD

Dr. Jing Hong Wang’s research focuses on understanding how the immune system behaves within the microenvironment of a tumor in head and neck cancer and B cell lymphoma. She also studies how changes in the DNA of B cells alter how the body produces antibodies that are used to fight pathogens and cancer cells. Her research will shed light on how cancer cells evade detection by the immune system, findings that will help develop new immunotherapies and improve existing treatments.

Antoinette Wozniak, MD

Dr. Wozniak’s research focuses on lung cancer, including small cell, non-small cell, and mesothelio­ma, as well as thymus gland cancer.

Hassane M. Zarour, MD

Dr. Zarour’s research interests include the identification of novel MHC class II epitopes derived from tumor antigens expressed by melanoma. His laboratory has successfully developed the approach to identify T-helper epitopes derived from a number of human tumor antigens and capable of stimulation antigen-specific CD4+ T cells in patients with advanced cancer. A second interest is the development of novel melanoma vaccines trial with T-helper epitopes and adjuvants. His lab has performed clinical trials with MHC class I and MHC class II epitopes derived from the cancer/testis antigen NY-ESO-1 in combination with CPG in patients with advanced melanoma. The lab has also demonstrated the capability of CPG to stimulate potent and ex vivo detectable CD8+ T cell respons­es to NY-ESO-1. A third research focus is the study of the mechanisms of melanoma-induced T cell dysfunction, including the role of the PD-1, Tim-3, BTLA and TIGIT pathways. These studies serve as rationale for ongoing clinical trials with dual PD1/Tim-3 and PD-1/TIGIT blockade in cancer patients, including melanoma. Finally, Dr. Zarour studies the role of the gut microbiome in modulating clinical and immune responses to immune checkpoint blockade in the context of a novel clinical trial with fecal microbiota transplant and anti-PD-1 antibodies in patients with PD1 refractory melanoma.



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