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CT2 Program Faculty

All program faculty are members of  Moores Cancer Center at UC San Diego Health. They represent 13 academic Departments (Bioengineering, Cell & Molecular Medicine Program, Center For Marine Biotechnology & Biomedicine, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Division of Biological Sciences, Medicine, Nanoengineering, Pathology, Pediatrics, Pharmacology, Radiology, Reproductive Medicine and Surgery) and 4 organized research units (Moores Cancer Center, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, and the Center for Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence). The following participating faculty constitute a group of extremely productive investigators who are major leaders in their respective fields. 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. Jeremy Rich, 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.

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. 

Kun-Liang Guan, PhD, Professor of Pharmacology. Research in the Guan lab is focused on the TSC-mTOR and Hippo pathways that effect organ size and tumorigenesis. Dr. Guan has made seminal discoveries in biomedical sciences spanning a wide range of disciplines, including bacterial and viral pathogenesis, cancer biology, and metabolism. Currently, the lab is working to identify the novel upstream regulators which may contribute to dysregulation of YAP/TAZ during pathogenesis.

J. Silvio Gutkind, PhD, Professor of Pharmacology, Associate Director for Basic Science. The Gutkind lab focuses on the study of growth-promoting signal transduction pathways, the nature of the dysregulated signaling networks in cancer, and on the use of genomic, proteomic, and system biology approaches to study cancer initiation and progression. The lab is now investigating the effectiveness and mechanism of action of PI3K/mTOR inhibitors for oral cancer prevention and treatment, as single agents and as part of novel signal transduction-based co-targeting strategies.

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, 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 of 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. 

Quyen Nguyen, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Surgery. Dr. Nguyen 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.

Tannishtha Reya, PhD, Professor of Pharmacology, studies the signaling pathways that regulate the choice between stem cell renewal and commitment, and how these pathways are subverted in cancer. These studies have implications for not only understanding the basic mechanisms that regulate normal and oncogenic self-renewal, but also for enhancing stem cell based therapies for human diseases.

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 p190RhoGEF 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.

Jason Sicklick, MD, FACS, Professor of Surgery, is an general surgeon and surgical oncologist who specializes in treating hepatobiliary diseases and sarcomas, including gastrointenstinal stromal tumors (GIST). He has a special interest in abdominal and retroperitoneal sarcoms, primary liver tumors and colorectal and neuroendocrine cancers that have metastasized to the liver. He instructs medical students, residents and fellows and his translational and clinical research interests include molecular mechanisms of GIST and hepatocellular carcinoma, and precision medicine approaches to cancer therapy. In 2016 he was honored with the GIST Clinician of the Year by the Life Raft Group.

Nicole Steinmetz, PhD, Professor of NanoEngineering. Dr. Steinmetz is leading an interdisciplinary research program interfacing bio-inspired, molecular engineering and nanotechnology approaches with biomedical research. Her mission is the development and testing of biology-inspired nanotechnologies targeting human health applications. Nanoscale self-assembly is a technique that nature masters with atomic precision; therefore, she turned toward the study and application of biology-inspired nanomaterials, specifically plant viruses. Plant viruses come in many shapes and sizes but most species form highly uniform structures. Through structure-function studies, her lab is now beginning to understand how to tailor these nanoscale materials appropriately for biomedical applications, such as molecular imaging, drug delivery and immunotherapy.

Pablo Tamayo, PhD, Professor of Medicine. Dr. Tamayo has an extensive background in computational methods, probability and statistics, data analysis, machine learning, computational biology and cancer research. Dr. Tamayo has previously been involved in the development of numerous analysis methodologies, including the first use of Self-Organizing maps for clustering gene expression data, the first classification algorithm for Leukemia subtypes, the Metagene Projection method, Gene Set Enrichment Analysis, the Molecular Signatures Database, and Bayesian patient stratification models. His most recent work has been focused on the development of analysis methods for the functional characterization of cancer genomes including RNAi and CRISPR genetic dependencies.

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.

Peter Yingxiao Wang, PhD, Professor of Bioengineering. Dr. Wang focuses on developing molecular biosensors based on fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) to visualize signaling molecules and hierarchies in live cells at subcellular compartments. His lab is particularly interested in engineering integrated machinery molecules which can provide a surveillance of intracellular space for the recognition and eradication of tumors. Dr. Wang is the recipient of the Wallace H. Coulter Early Career Award (both Phase I and Phase II), the National Science Foundation CAREER Award, and the National Institutes of Health Independent Scholar Award.

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. 

Maurizio Zanetti, MD, Professor of Medicine. The Zanetti lab is interested in investigating the immune system using immunochemical and cellular immunology tools, together with molecular biology and gene analysis techniques to develop principle-based new ways to regulate the immune responses against cancer and viral pathogens. The lab has developed the first physiological and genetically programmable, cell-based method to immunize against cancer cells and pathogens, discovered the cooperative interaction between two CD4 T cells, discovered the immunogenicity of telomerase reverse transcriptase in humans, and also found that endoplasmic reticulum stress is transmissable from tumor to myeloid cells.

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.