Elias Sayour, M.D., PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery, and Pediatrics and Principal Investigator of the RNA Engineering Laboratory within the Preston A. Wells, Jr. Center for Brain Tumor Therapy and UF Brain Tumor Immunotherapy Program. He completed his pediatric hematology-oncology fellowship at Duke University in 2013. During his fellowship training, he completed a two-year NIH research fellowship in cancer biology and developmental therapeutics, under the direction of Dr. Duane Mitchell, developing an ‘off the shelf’ vaccine formulation utilizing RNA-loaded nanocarriers to induce immunity against cancer cells. He has presented his work at several national meetings while working on novel targeted vaccine strategies against malignant brain tumors. His current interests include developing innovative immunotherapeutics for pediatric tumors and invasive central nervous system malignancies.
Dr. Cascio is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Principal Investigator of the UF Comparative Oncology Group. He completed his pediatric hematology-oncology fellowship at the University of Florida in 2017. During his fellowship training, he began developing immunotherapies against osteosarcoma. He is pioneering novel adoptive cell therapies, including Chimeric Antigen Receptor T cells against sarcomas. Together with Dr. Rowan Milner, they are conducting clinical trials in dogs with spontaneously-occurring osteosarcoma. His current interests include developing effective immunotherapies for pediatric cancers and certain cancers in dogs.
Dr. Castillo is a board certified physician, member of the Children’s Oncology Group, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Society of Hematology, and the American Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation. Since his recruitment by the University of Florida, his current research interests include developing innovative immunotherapeutics for pediatric T cell hematological malignancies targeting unique tumor antigens. He has also been recently awarded by the Hyundai Hope on Wheels 2018 as Young Investigator that will support his research endeavors.
Dr. Ostrov has been a member of the University of Florida since 2002. Dr. Ostrov’s particular interests include T-cell immunobiology, structure-based drug design, and X-ray crystallography. Dr. Ostrov’s group utilizes methods in structure-based drug design to discover and develop novel therapies for preventing and treating human diseases. His team focuses on developing novel therapeutic approaches to treat breast, colon, esophageal, lung, lymphoma and prostate cancer, drug-resistant childhood leukemia, Type I diabetes, graft-versus-host disease, rheumatoid arthritis, autism spectrum disorders and drug-resistant pathogens. such as HIV.
Dr. Cogle is a professor of medicine, and a physician-scientist with clinical and research expertise in the myelodysplastic syndromes, acute leukemias, and bone marrow failure syndromes. He uses bone marrow transplantation as a treatment option for patients who need more than chemotherapy to eradicate disease. Dr. Cogle runs a stem cell research laboratory where he dissects the mechanisms of bone marrow-derived blood vessels. His research has made significant impact in the fields of cancer and cardiology. Dr. Cogle’s overall goal is to design safer and more effective methods of treating diseases by tapping into the potential of hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells.
Dr. Licht is the Director of the University of Florida Health Cancer Center, holding the Marshall E. Rinker, Sr. Foundation and David B. and Leighan R. Rinker Chair. NCI funded for nearly 25 years, Dr. Licht is Principal Investigator of a Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Specialized Center and a Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation program grant both in epigenetics. He is an investigator in the Dana-Farber SPORE in myeloma and co-leader in a NCI-funded Chicago Physical Sciences Oncology Center. His laboratory studies aberrant gene regulation, specifically the role of abnormal function of histone methyl transferases and histone demethyalses in diseases such as multiple myeloma and is developing small molecule strategies to normalize gene regulation and treat disease.
Dr. Chang’s is a professor of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology in the College of Medicine. His lab studies the life cycle of retroviruses, in particular, the retrovirus which causes AIDS, also known as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The current research is focused on the development of novel gene transfer tools, experimenting with small animal models, and developing HIV and cancer vaccines and immuno-therapeutic strategies. The lab is interested in characterizing cellular and immune modulatory factors that are essential to the development of protective immunity targeting HIV and cancer. His laboratory has established reagents and protocols for improved lentiviral vector gene transfer, siRNA delivery and high-titer vector production.
Dr. Scott and his team study the role of adult stem cells in both normal repair processes and disease states such as cancer and blindness. The hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) has the desired properties of a stem cell-the capacity to differentiate into multiple diverse cell types that make up the blood and lymph coupled with the ability to self-renew and maintain overall numbers of HSC. One major research arm of the Scott lab examines the role of the HSC/progeny in healing. A second arm is concerned with the deleterious effects of HSC/immune failures leading to leukemia and the role of chronic inflammation in inducing solid tumors such as colon and lung cancer. The Scott lab also demonstrated that the HSC can also help form new blood vessels in addition to making blood. They were the first to discover the role of the oncogene PU.1 in HSC development, in myeloid cells, and dendritic cells. They were also the first to describe stem cell fusion leading to unexpected cell phenotypes.
Dr. Mitchell joined the University of Florida in 2013 and leads a comprehensive brain tumor program focused on translational research to see improvements in patient outcomes using novel approaches that stimulate immune responses against malignant brain tumor cells in combination with current standard treatments. Immunotherapy, also called biologic therapy, is a type of cancer treatment designed to boost the body’s natural defenses to fight the cancer. In one type of immunotherapy, some T cells are removed from a patient’s blood. Then, the cells are changed in a laboratory so they have specific proteins called receptors. The changed T cells are grown in large numbers in the laboratory and returned to the patient’s body. Once there, they seek out and destroy cancer cells. This type of therapy is called chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy. Another type of immunotherapy is a vaccine. A vaccine exposes the immune system to an antigen. This triggers the immune system to recognize and destroy that protein or related materials.
Catherine T. Flores, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurosurgery and Principal Investigator of the Hematopoietic Stem Cell Engineering Laboratory within the Preston A. Wells, Jr. Center for Brain Tumor Therapy and UF Brain Tumor Immunotherapy Program. She has developed a pre-clinical platform that utilizes tumor-specific autologous immune cells to efficiently target intracranial tumors. Her research interests are primarily in determining biological interactions between various cellular compartments involved in adoptive immunotherapy. Her studies also focus on leveraging systemic toxicity of frequently practiced clinical treatments in order to further enhance anti-tumor efficacy of immunotherapy.
Dr. Jianping Huang joined the faculty of the University of Florida in 2013 as an Associate Professor in the Department of Neurosurgery and as Director of Clinical Laboratory Operations for the UF Brain Tumor Immunotherapy Program. Before moving to Florida, Dr. Huang served for more than a decade at the National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, in Bethesda, Maryland. Dr. Huang’s research focus during the past decade has been on cancer immunotherapy, an approach that stimulates the patients’ own immune system to attack cancer cells. Her key research into the phenotype and function of human T cells for use in adoptive immunotherapy for cancer, as well as research that identified tumor-specific antigens associated with clinical response, led to eight published articles during her tenure with the Surgery Branch at the NCI. Dr. Huang will focus on combining both active and passive immunotherapies for brain tumors, with the goal of achieving positive and enduring clinical outcomes. She believes that exploring these approaches at the cellular and molecular levels will improve our understanding of basic immunology and enhance the clinical practice of cancer immunotherapy.
For over three decades, Dr. Srivastava’s research has been focused on two parvoviruses, the non-pathogenic adeno-associated virus (AAV) and a common human pathogen, the parvovirus B19, and the development of recombinant parvovirus vectors for human gene therapy. His laboratory has made seminal contributions to the field of parvoviruses, which include: identification of cellular co-receptors for AAV as well as parvovirus B19; elucidation of various steps involved in parvovirus trafficking in the cell and nuclear transport; identification of cellular proteins involved in the regulation of AAV DNA replication and encapsidation; development of recombinant AAV and parvovirus B19 vectors; transgenic and knockout mouse models to study parvovirus-induced pathogenicity, and the use of parvovirus vectors for gene transfer and gene therapy. The current emphasis is on developing recombinant parvovirus vectors for gene therapy for genetic diseases such as beta-thalassemia and sickle cell disease, and malignant disorders such as hepatoblastoma and hepatocellular carcinoma.
Jörg Bungert earned his Ph.D. degree in Molecular Genetics from Philipps-University (Marburg, Germany) for his work on the characterization of erythroid specific transcription complexes. Dr. Bungert joined the faculty at the University of Florida in 1998. His work focuses on analyzing the regulation of globin gene expression in red blood cells. They use a combination of genetic and biochemical approaches to analyze the structure and function of the human b-globin locus control region (LCR), a powerful regulatory genetic element located far upstream of the globin genes.
Dr. Hoffman’s research is particularly interested in the mechanisms surrounding the generation of antigen-specific regulatory T-cells (Tregs), and the role they have in tolerance induction following gene transfer. Our major focus is aimed at exploiting the unique molecular and cellular mechanisms of liver-directed AAV gene therapy in order to re-establish immunological self-tolerance to a protein through the induction and expansion of antigen-specific regulatory T-cells. Through an innovative strategy, our group seeks to develop a clinically relevant therapy that will abrogate the progression of autoimmune neurological diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis.
Dr. Li’s research focuses on molecular recognition, with a strong application to structure-based computer-aided drug design. He combines molecular simulation, synthetic chemistry, X-ray protein crystallography, thermodynamic measurements, cellular techniques and in vivo animal models to explore molecular interactions, especially protein-ligand interactions, at molecular, cellular and organismal levels. His current working projects include both computational method development and drug design applications, for example: 1) pioneering development of a novel Multiple Ligand Simultaneous Docking (MLSD) strategy, with great potential for Fragment-Based Drug Design (FBDD); 2) design and discovery of drugs targeting the IL-6/STAT3 inflammatory and oncogenic pathway for targeted therapy; 3) design and discovery of drugs targeting epigenetic histone arginine methylation enzymes, especially PRMT5; 4) design and discovery of drugs targeting specific nAChR and ASIC1 subtypes for drug addiction and neurodegenerative diseases; 5) design and discovery of “chemical chaperone” drugs targeting F508 NBD1 misfolding intermediates for potential cystic fibrosis therapy.
Dr. Sawyer has built one of the largest multidisciplinary Materials Tribology programs in the world. Materials Tribology is a field of study that is focused around the fundamental investigations of the molecular origins of friction and wear. Sawyer’s research activities are focused on Materials Tribology in extreme environments. This involves studies at high temperature, high vacuum, cryogenic temperatures, and other applications where the use of traditional fluid lubricants are excluded. Sawyer’s program is well known for the development and construction of unique laboratory instrumentation that is necessary to perform fundamental studies. Currently he is working on developing 3D culture models including 3D tumor biofabrication in collaboration with our Soft Matter Research Laboratory.
Dr. Milner is a professor of oncology at the UF College of Veterinary Medicine, as well as the Director for Clinical and Translational Research within the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences. Dr. Milner’s research has been focused on treatment for canine osteosarcoma and melanoma, including novel immunotherapy techniques such as cancer vaccines and targeted therapies. He currently has open canine studies in collaboration with members of our pediatric hematology/oncology team and UFHealth neurosurgery team.
Dr. Trevino’s research interests include pancreatic cancer biology, tumor signaling and chemoresistance. Dr. Trevino currently is investigating how pancreas cancer resists current chemotherapeutic strategies. He has discovered that exposure to nicotine, the addictive component of tobacco smoke, may contribute to pancreatic cancer resistance to chemotherapy by potentially increasing expression levels of certain oncoprotients, such as Src, a non-receptor tyrosine kinase and inhibitor of differentiation-1(Id-1), all of which have been demonstrated to contribute to pancreatic cancer tumor progression. This work, as well as other projects he is involved in, may lead to new treatment strategies against pancreatic cancer.
Dr. Gibbs is the Chief Medical Officer for UF Health Shands while working as the Division Chief of Orthopaedic Oncology. Hisclinical practice involves the treatment of bone and soft tissue sarcomas of the extremities and pelvis. He has published 7 book chapters and more than 56 scientific papers in journals such as Journal of Bone Joint Surgery, the American Journal of Clinical Oncology and the International Journal of Radiation Oncology Biology Physics. Dr. Gibbs directs the NIH funded Musculoskeletal Oncology Laboratory at the University of Florida. The research team studies the mechanisms that determine the malignant potential of Osteosarcoma cells.
Dr. Herzog’s research program seeks to develop gene therapy for hemophilia and to establish prophylactic immune tolerance protocols Severe hemophilia is characterized by frequent spontaneous bleeding. His work in canine hemophilia has shown that gene transfer can permanently correct this defect, and clinical trials have been ongoing to translate these successes to a therapy for humans. Using interdisciplinary approaches, the lab is also pursuing several alternative strategies to induce tolerance to therapeutic proteins such as hepatic gene transfer, mucosal tolerance, and immune modulation. Important mechanistic aspects of these studies include organ-specific immunity, innate immunity, and immune regulation/regulatory T cells. We are using small and large models of hemophilia to advance basic science toward clinical application.
Dr. Markusic’s lab is using novel adeno-associate virus (AAV) vectors for gene therapy to treat hemophilia. They wish to model and identify strategies to minimize immune responses against human factor IX protein and AAV following gene transfer. The lab also wishes to translate effective strategies in hemophilia models that induce tolerance and reverse pre-existing immunity to coagulator factor to treat autoimmune disease.