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CT2 Program Faculty

All program faculty are members of Moores Cancer Center at UC San Diego Health. They represent 10 academic Departments (Cell & Molecular Medicine Program, Center For Marine Biotechnology & Biomedicine, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Division of Biological Sciences, Medicine, Nanoengineering, Pathology, Pediatrics, Pharmacology and Surgery) and 4 organized research units (the Cancer Center, The Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and the Center for Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence). The 20 participating faculty constitute a group of extremely productive investigators who are major leaders in their respective fields. This group includes 1 Nobel Prize winner (Tsien), 1 Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigators (Tsien), 1 Ludwig Institute investigators (Kolodner),  and 2 members of the National Academy of Science  (Karin, Kolodner). All faculty mentors have agreed to participate in the Program’s courses and seminars, to accept trainees into their laboratories and research programs and to provide career guidance to trainees. The faculty have been carefully selected so as to bring expertise in all phases of drug development to the Program.

Rafael Bejar, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine. Dr. Bejar is a cell/molecular biologist and medical oncologist who is Head of the Center of Excellence in Myelodysplastic Syndromes (MDS). His laboratory utilizes deep sequencing to identify clonal mutations in MDS patients which are then studied in laboratory models to identify the mechanisms by which they alter cellular function and to assess the impact of specific mutations on prognosis and response to targeted therapy with the goal of applying these to individualized care.

Michael Bouvet, MD, Professor of Surgery. Dr. Bouvet is a surgical oncologist with expertise in management of pancreatic, thyroid, parathyroid, adrenal and the major GI cancers. His research interests include the testing of novel drugs in orthotopic models of pancreatic cancer, as well as the use of novel fluorescent probes for intra-operative imaging these tumors. His laboratory developed and validated the use of fluorophore-conjugated antibodies for surgical navigation and laparoscopic localization of gastrointestinal tumors.

David Cheresh, PhD, Professor of Pathology. The Cheresh laboratory studies tumor angiogenesis and tumor cell invasion and metastasis. Most recently, Dr. Cheresh has identified a pathway of drug resistance leading to the development of cancer stem cells.  Integrin αvβ3 was identified as a marker and driver of both resistance and stemness based on its ability to potentiate KRAS activation of NFkB. His group has developed a JAK2 inhibitor that is in late Phase 3. His recent paper in Nature Cell Biol describes a novel mechanism of resistant to EGFR inhibitors that involves integrin β3-KRAS- RalB3 complex.

Ezra Cohen, MD, Professor of Medicine is a medical oncologist and expert in head and neck cancers. He is co-leader of the Solid Tumor Therapeutics Program (with Dr. Howell) and also directs the Cancer Center’s major immunotherapy program which includes translational and clinical studies of adaptive T-cell therapy, vaccines, immune modulators, and manipulation of the tumor microenvironment. He is orchestrating clinical trials aimed at defining neoantigens in different cancer types with the goal of identifying immunogenic peptides that can be presented in the context of MHC class I and II.

Sadik Esener, PhD, Professor of Bioengineering. Dr. Esener is Director of the Center for Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence at UCSD. He has an extraordinary history of using bioengineering principles to develop novel therapeutic approaches to cancer. His laboratory is currently focused on the use of nanotechology for the development of both novel diagnostic and imaging techniques as well as targeted drug delivery to tumors well supported by private funding.

William Fenical, PhD, Professor & Director, Marine Research Division, Scripps Institute of Oceanography, Center For Marine Biotechnology & Biomedicine and PI of several projects focused on the discovery and characterization unique natural product anti-cancer drugs produced by sea floor organisms. He has successfully isolated and characterized hundreds of novel compounds, and has advanced many of these through preclinical development and into clinical trials.

Napoleone Ferrara, MD, Professor of Pathology. Dr. Ferrara is the Senior Deputy Director for Basic Science at Moores Cancer Center. The Ferrara lab studies the biology of angiogenesis and the identification of its regulators. Dr. Ferrara is the scientist (then at Genentech) who reported the isolation and cDNA cloning of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) that led to the development of bevacizumab. The lab is now investigating mechanisms of tumor angiogenesis, alternatives to VEGF, in particular the role of factors produced by myeloid cells and fibroblasts.

Nathan Gianneschi, PhD, Assistant Professor of Chemistry. Dr. Gianneschi is developing techniques for controlling the assembly and morphology of nanoscale materials in response to specific biomolecular stimuli. He is able to incorporate enzymes, proteins, peptides and nucleic acids into novel polymeric synthetic materials with the aim of developing bioresponsive materials for use as drug delivery systems. This approach has resulted in the development of materials capable of targeting to sites of inflammation in vivo, including tumors, that are now being used as delivery vehicles for anticancer drugs.

Pradipta Ghosh, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine. The Ghosh lab investigates how rheostats serve as critical hubs within the pathologic signaling networks that drive most malignancies. Dr. Ghosh has helped identify nodes at which multiple signal pathways converge upon the multi-modular rheostat proteins which shape entire disease networks via modulation of trimeric G proteins. She has discovered novel interfaces assembled at the crossroads of G protein and growth factor signaling pathways, and assessed their significance as potential therapeutic targets. 

Olivier Harismendy, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine. Dr. Harismendy, trained in both molecular genetics and genomics, has recently joined the faculty. He uses Ultra Deep targeted sequencing (UDT-seq) to study the role of regulatory variants in the progression of glioblastoma, appendix cancer, mesothelioma and leukemia. His current research focuses on the development of genomic assays and computational approaches to predict drug response and understand the contribution of gene regulatory elements in cancer etiology and progression.

Stephen B. Howell, MD, Professor, Medicine. The overall goal of the Howell research program is to elucidate the mechanisms by which tumors become resistant to the platinum-containing drugs and to develop novel drug delivery systems that can overcome resistance by markedly and selectively increasing drug delivery to tumors. This includes molecular and genetic studies of resistance mechanisms and the development of novel nanoparticle Pt drug tumor targeting and delivery systems.

Trey Ideker, PhD, Professor of Medicine. Dr. Ideker is Co-Director of the Cancer Genomics and Networks program at Moores Cancer Center, and also Director of the San Diego Center for Systems Biology, which has a major cancer research component. His is an expert in the analysis of Big Data and research in his laboratory focuses on mapping the molecular networks underlying cancer and using these networks to guide the development of novel therapies and diagnostics.

Paul Insel, MD, Professor of Pharmacology and Medicine. Dr. Insel is Director of the UCSD Medical Scientist (MD/PhD) Training Program. Dr. Insel studies G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) and their signaling mechanisms in malignant cells with the goal of identifying previously unrecognized regulators of cell function and novel therapeutic targets. Studies of GPCR expression, signaling and responses pancreatic cancer cells and pancreatic cancer-associated fibroblasts have recently identified several GPCRs as potential therapeutic targets for in this disease.

Catriona Jamieson, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine. Dr. Jamieson is Director of the CIRM Alpha Stem Cell Clinic and Chief of the Division of Regenerative Medicine. She is also co-director of the Cancer Center’s Hematological Malignancies Program. She is a stem cell biologist and clinically active hematologist whose interest is in the events involved in the reprogramming of hematopoietic cell progenitors into self-renewing leukemia stem cells. Recent studies revealed that RNA splicing of pro-survival BCL2 family genes and ADAR1-mediated RNA editing functions are disrupted in leukemic progenitors. Her work has led to the discovery of small molecule and monoclonal antibody therapeutic inhibitors that are now being tested in clinical trials for three different hematologic malignancies.

Michael Karin, PhD, Professor, Pharmacology.  Dr. Karin is an expert on NFkB pathway signaling and cellular responses to stress and inflammation. His laboratory is elucidating how inflammatory cytokines drive malignant transformation and the progression of tumors, and the details of how signaling pathways activated by such cytokines operate. Recent discoveries include the finding of a key role of B cells as regulators of response to chemotherapy in prostate cancer.

Thomas Kipps, MD, PhD, Professor of Medicine. Dr. Kipps is Cancer Center Deputy Director for Research. He is a hematologist/oncologist and expert in chronic lymphatic leukemia (CLL). Dr. Kipps leads a large international collaborative group focused on this disease. His laboratory is studying the etiology and treatment of CLL including immunotherapies and genetically targeted vaccines. The anti-ROR1 antibody developed by his laboratory is now in clinical trials for CLL and has shown activity in preclinical models of ovarian cancer.  

Andrew Lowy, MD, Professor of Surgery. Dr. Lowy is Director of Surgical Oncology. He specializes in the treatment of pancreatic cancer and peritoneal metastasis from GI cancers. His laboratory focuses on the use of mouse models to study the RON receptor tyrosine kinase and other signaling molecules critical to the transformation of pancreatic cancer precursors. Dr. Lowy currently serves as co-chair of the Pancreas Intergroup Task Force which directs the design of large cooperative group trials in pancreatic cancer in the US, and he is the surgical principal investigator for the cooperative group trial ECOG/Intergroup E2204. 

Paul Mischel, MD, Professor of Pathology. In addition to his appointment in the Dept. of Pathology Dr. Mischel is a Member of the Ludwig Cancer Research Institute at UCSD. Dr. Mischel is an expert on the biology of glioblastoma. His laboratory studies the signal transduction and metabolic networks that promote tumor growth, focusing primarily on EGFR/PI3K/mTOR signaling and its biochemical consequences in glioblastoma. Studies include identification of the mechanisms of sensitivity and resistance to signal transduction inhibitors, the targetable metabolic circuitry activated by oncogenic signaling, and the role of intratumoral heterogeneity in the evolution of cancer drug resistance.

Quyen Nguyen, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Surgery. Dr. Nyugen is a head and neck surgeon who is working on the development of Live Molecular Navigation for fluorescent guided surgery also known as “color-coded surgery”. She holds R01 funding from the National Institute of Health (NIBIB) and private funding from the Burroughs-Wellcome Fund to support her basic research program. Dr. Nguyen was chosen by President Barack Obama to receive the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE, award date April 15, 2014), the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government to outstanding scientists and engineers beginning their independent careers.

Tariq Rana, PhD, Professor of Pediatrics. Dr. Rana is an expert in chemical and RNA biology whose research is focused on illuminating the function of regulatory RNAs. He has uncovered mechanisms by which small RNAs and RNA-protein complexes control gene silencing and regulating host-pathogen interactions. Since joining the faculty at UC San Diego in 2014, he has turned his attention to the control of KRAS expression by regulatory RNAs.

Tony Reid, MD, PhD, Professor of Medicine. Dr. Reid is a molecular biologist, medical oncologist and clinical trialist who is Director of the Early Phase Clinical Research Program at Moores Cancer Center and is responsible for managing an impressive portfolio of phase I and II clinical trials. His laboratory research interest is in the engineering of oncolytic viruses so that they will selectively replicate in and lyse tumor cells while sparing normal cells and potentially enhancing the presentation of tumor antigens. He has recently been awarded a patent on using this oncolytic vector to express genes and peptides.

David D. Schlaepfer, PhD, Professor of Reproductive Medicine. Dr. Schlaepfer is a cell and molecular biologist who works on the molecular mechanisms of cancer progression and metastasis. Using spontaneous and syngeneic mouse tumor models he is studying the role of FAK and Rgnef signaling in this disease, particularly in the context of chemotherapy resistance. He is collaborating on the development of small molecule FAK inhibitors, and on control of signals modulating cell migration and survival.

Stephen Schoenberger, PhD, Professor of Medicine, is an immunobiologist who is investigating the mechanism by which primary B and T cells induce a state of antigen-specific immune tolerance in CTL and the extent to which their transformed counterparts (lymphoma and leukemia) utilize the same pathway to purge the host repertoire of T cells capable of recognizing the numerous mutated antigens which arise as a consequence of neoplastic transformation.

Geoffrey Wahl, PhD, Adjunct Professor, Division of Biological Sciences, UCSD; Member, Salk Institute (former President, AACR). Dr. Wahl is a cell and molecular biologist who has played a major role in understanding the function of p53, and elucidating the genetic mechanisms by which tumor cells become drug resistant. His research is now focused on the stem cell state and the identification and function of stem cells in breast cancer with the major goal being to gain a greater understanding of the pathways that contribute to the growth and survival of the fetal mammary stem cells and to determine if human cancers share these pathways.

Jean Wang, PhD,  Professor of Medicine and Biology. Dr. Wang is a cell biologist who is internationally known for her pioneering work on the role of Rb, c-Abl and p73 in the control of DNA replication, cellular injury responses, transcription and apoptosis. Her current work is focused on the mechanism of cisplatin-induced apoptosis by the nuclear Abl tyrosine kinase and the development of drugs that interfere with the nuclear trafficking of Abl.

Jing Yang, PhD, Associate Professor of Pharmacology and Pediatrics. Dr. Yang is a cell biologist interested in the role of the TWIST transcription factor in cellular transformation and response to carcinogen exposure. Her current research focuses on dissection of the signaling pathways that regulate EMT and tumor metastasis and determinations of how activation of EMT promotes tumor metastasis in vivo. She uses genomic, cell and molecular approaches to understand the downstream targets and upstream regulators of Twist1 in promoting EMT and tumor metastasis. 

Liangfang Zhang, PhD, Professor of NanoEngineering. His research focus is on the design, synthesis, characterization and evaluation of biomimetic nanotechnologies for biomedical applications with a particular focus on drug delivery, biodetoxification and vaccination. One major research goal is to overcome the various therapeutic barriers in cancer treatments. Dr. Zhang recently invented a novel and robust cell-membrane-coated nanoparticle system for advanced drug delivery and anticancer vaccination. By cloaking synthetic drug nanocarriers with natural cell membranes, the resulting hybrid, biomimetic nanoparticles are disguised as natural cells and have shown many unique features for systemic anticancer drug delivery and vaccination.