Faculty and Trainee Accomplishments
2017 - 2018
2017 - 2018
Hillhurst Biopharmaceuticals, Inc. received a $1.3 million Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. With the support of this grant, Hillhurst Biopharmaceuticals will lead efforts to develop a new drug to prevent vaso-occlusive crises in sickle cell disease. The new drug, HBI-002, is an oral carbon monoxide (CO) therapeutic designed to inhibit hemoglobin polymerization and vascular inflammation and augment the protective cellular heme oxygenase metabolic pathway. As part of the SBIR-funded project, Drs. John Belcher and Greg Vercellotti will lead preclinical studies to evaluate the protective mechanisms of HBI-002. Other SBIR-funded researchers will evaluate the clinical safety, tolerability, pharmacokinetics, and pharmacodynamics of HBI-002 in normal healthy volunteers. If successful, this research will provide critical safety, dosing, mechanistic, and clinical proof-of-concept evidence for advancing HBI-002 into a phase 2 clinical trial in patients with sickle cell disease. Please join us in congratulating Drs. Belcher and Vercellotti for their dedicated efforts to develop new therapies for sickle cell disease. October 2018
Gregory Vercellotti, MD, FACP, received a supplemental grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to extend his R01-funded research into the role of the innate immune system in sickle cell disease. With the support of this supplemental grant, Dr. Vercellotti will collaborate with Dr. John Trent in the Institute for Molecular Diversity and Drug Design at the University of Louisville. Dr. Trent's team will perform a computational screening of an extensive small molecule database to identify drug candidates targeting the heme binding site. Dr. Vercellotti, Dr. John Belcher, and their team will then perform functional assays to evaluate the ability of candidate inhibitors to block heme-mediated inflammatory signaling in sickle cell disease. Please join us in congratulating Dr. Vercellotti on the receipt of this important grant to identify new agents for the treatment of sickle cell disease. October 2018
The Masonic Cancer Center at the University of Minnesota announced the recipients of the first Chainbreaker Breakthrough Cancer Research Grant. Awarded to a team of 13 Masonic Cancer Center faculty, the grant funds research to study the role of microorganisms as a cause of cancer and as important mediators of successful cancer therapy. The team includes two faculty members in the Division of Hematology, Oncology, and Transplantation: Shernan Holtan, MD, and Armin Rashidi, MD. With the support of this grant, Drs. Holtan and Rashidi will investigate whether disruption of indigenous microbiota and gut integrity during treatment for blood cancers is a major cause of treatment complications and clinical outcomes and whether restorative microbiota therapy can improve the treatment of blood cancers. Please join us in congratulating Drs. Holtan and Rashidi. August 2018
John Belcher, PhD, received a half-million-dollar grant from CSL Bering, a global leader in the plasma protein biotherapeutics industry. With the support of this grant, Dr. Belcher and his co-investigator Dr. Greg Vercellotti will conduct preclinical studies to evaluate the pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetics of purified human hemopexin in a transgenic mouse model of sickle cell disease. August 2018
John Belcher, PhD, received a small grant from Mitobridge, Inc., a biopharmaceutical company developing small molecule therapeutics. A small molecule licensed by Mitobridge has been found to induce heme oxygenase-1, a cytoprotective protein that is depleted in sickle cell disease. Dr. Belcher and his co-investigator Dr. Greg Vercellotti will conduct preclinical studies to determine whether this novel therapeutic is safe and biologically active in a transgenic mouse model of sickle cell disease. August 2018
David Potter, MD, PhD, received a Translational Product Development Fund (TPDF) grant from the Minnesota Partnership for Biotechnology and Medical Genomics. The TPDF Program--a collaborative grant initiative between the state of Minnesota, University of Minnesota, and Mayo Clinic--supports the advancement of projects that have the potential to be commercialized. With the support of this grant, Dr. Potter and his colleague, Dr. Robert Schumacher, will develop a novel class of breast cancer therapeutics. Please join us in congratulating them on their receipt of a TPDF grant. July 2018
David Potter, MD, PhD, and Michael Farrar, PhD, received a 2018 Brainstorm Award from the Masonic Cancer Center. The Brainstorm Award, designed to foster new interdisciplinary collaborations, will support Dr. Potter and Dr. Farrar in their efforts to develop a new approach to enhancing the effectiveness of immune checkpoint blockade therapy for breast cancer. Please join us in congratulating Dr. Potter and Dr. Farrar on their receipt of a Brainstorm Award. July 2018
Ying Wang, MD, PhD, received a Pathway to Independence (K99/R00) Award from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. The K99/R00 is designed to facilitate a timely transition from a mentored research position to a tenure-track faculty position with independent research support. Under the mentorship of Kalpna Gupta, PhD, at the University of Minnesota, Dr. Wang will study the mechanisms by which acupuncture achieves pain relief in experimental models and patients with sickle cell disease. Please join us in congratulating Dr. Wang on receiving this award. July 2018
Armin Rashidi, MD, PhD, received an Institutional Research Grant from the American Cancer Society. With the support of this grant, Dr. Rashidi will lead a translational study to determine whether genetic risk factors contribute to microbiota imbalances in patients who develop acute graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) after allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplantation. By identifying genetic risk factors for acute GVHD, Dr. Rashidi and his team will be able to use personalized genetic testing to identify transplant recipients eligible for novel clinical interventions to prevent acute GVHD. Please join us in congratulating Dr. Rashidi on receiving this award. May 2018
Please join us in welcoming two newly matched applicants to the Physician-Scientist Training Program: Zalaya Ivy and Onyinyechukwu (Onyi) Uchime. The Physician-Scientist Training Program offers rigorous research training, from internship through fellowship, in clinical and basic science. The two newly matched applicants will be eligible to join the Hematology, Oncology and Transplantation Fellowship Program in 2020 or 2021.
Three doctors in the Division of Hematology, Oncology, and Transplantation (HOT) were recipients of a 2017 Marrow On The Move Research Award. With the support of this award, Drs. Mukta Arora, Shernan Holtan, and Armin Rashidi will conduct research to improve the safety and survival of patients who receive a blood or marrow transplantation. Marrow On The Move is an event of the University of Minnesota Adult Blood and Marrow Transplant Program. The event is held each year at Lake Nokomis in Minneapolis, where patients, families, and friends come together to celebrate a loved one fighting a life-threatening blood disease or in memory of a loved one. Please join us for the 2018 event, to be held on July 28, 2018. January 2018
Gregory Vercellotti, MD, FACP, was inducted into the Academy for Excellence in Health Research for his internationally recognized contributions to the fields of endothelial cell biology, inflammation, and sickle cell disease. Early in his research career, Dr. Vercellotti discovered that heme released from destabilized heme-containing proteins is a common pathway for cell injury irrespective of the original cellular insult. He then identified the cytoprotective pathways that defend cells against heme-mediated oxidative damage. This cytoprotective response is ubiquitous, occurring in diverse tissues and in response to disparate insults. Dr. Vercellotti extended these biological discoveries to sickle cell disease (SCD), which is caused by mutant sickle hemoglobin. He discovered that unstable sickle hemoglobin contributed to sickling pathologies via heme, defining for the first time the proinflammatory vasculopathy in SCD and heme’s contribution to this sickle phenotype. This work opened up new targeted therapeutic strategies that induce cytoprotective or block inflammatory responses in SCD. In recognition of his research achievements and dedication to advancing medical science, Dr. Vercellotti was inducted into the Academy for Excellence in Health Research, the highest recognition of achievement given by the University of Minnesota Academic Health Center, on November 9, 2017. In addition to lifetime membership in the Academy, an etched portrait of Dr. Vercellotti commemorates his outstanding record as a clinical investigator and is on display in the Malcolm Moos Health Science Tower. Please join us in congratulating Dr. Vercellotti for being awarded this high honor! November 2017
Erica Warlick, MD, was named the 2017 Woman of the Year by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Minnesota Chapter. The Man & Woman of the Year campaign is a fundraising competition in communities across the U.S. in which participants build fundraising teams to compete for the title of Man or Woman of the Year. Dr. Warlick and Randall Henkemeyer of Wells Fargo Wealth Management, who was named Man of the Year, were honored at a black tie Grand Finale Gala on May 20, 2017 at the Minneapolis Marriott City Center. Dr. Warlick raised over $50,000 with the help of colleagues, patients, and their family members. All funds raised through the campaign will be used for lifesaving blood cancer research. Please join us in congratulating Dr. Warlick on this well-deserved honor! June 2017
Greg Vercellotti, MD, FACP, received a five-year, $2.3 million T32 grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). This renewal of the T32 grant continues the support of the Hematology Research Training Program at the University of Minnesota, a specialized research training program designed to train physicians and scientists for careers in academic medicine and hematology-related research. Now in its 40th year, the Hematology Research Training Program is one of the longest-running, continuously funded training programs supported by the NHLBI and has provided training to more than 120 hematology research scientists since 1976. The initial program was directed by Harry Jacob, M.D., who led the program from 1976 to 1999. The program was subsequently directed by Robert Hebbel, M.D. (2000-2007) and is now directed by Greg Vercellotti, M.D. (2008-present). Although the program has evolved considerably during the past 40 years, the foundation on which the program was built remains the same: identify, recruit, and train successful hematology investigators. Trainees who became successful researchers and international leaders in hematology at the University of Minnesota include Robert Hebbel (1976), Wesley Miller (1978), Daniel Weisdorf (1980), Greg Vercellotti (1980), Arne Slungaard (1981), Kathleen Watson (1982), Jeffrey Miller (1987), Edward Greeno (1989), and Mark Reding (1996). Recent trainees who are rising stars and now on the faculty at the University of Minnesota include Troy Lund (2002), Sarah Cooley (2004), Mark Klein (2004), Veronika Bachanova (2005), Manish Patel (2007), Anne Blaes (2007), Naomi Fujioka (2008), Gautam Jha (2009), Zohar Sachs (2010), Craig Eckfeldt (2010), Frank Cichocki (2010), Martin Felices (2011), and Fatima Khan (2013). Many other trainees are successfully pursuing research careers as leaders in hematology at regional, national, and international academic institutions and in industry, thanks in part to the Hematology Research Training Program and its continued funding by NHLBI. We are delighted to congratulate Dr. Vercellotti on having been awarded a T32 grant to support the Hematology Research Training Program in years 41-45 of the grant and the efforts of its faculty and staff to train the next generation of hematology investigators. May 2017
Armin Rashidi, MD, PhD received an Innovation Research Grant from the University of Minnesota Medical School. With the support of this grant, Dr. Rashidi will conduct a pilot clinical study in acute leukemia patients to determine whether protecting the gut microbiota decreases bloodstream infections (BSIs). Patients with acute leukemia receive strong and broad-spectrum antibiotics to prevent BSIs; however, many patients still develop this life-threatening complication. Dr. Rashidi hopes to demonstrate that protection of the gut microbiota can prevent BSIs and improve the lives of patients with acute leukemia. Please join us in congratulating Dr. Rashidi on receiving this award. April 2017
Gregory Vercellotti, MD, FACP, was appointed to a two-year term on the Sickle Cell Disease Advisory Committee of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. As a member of the Committee, Dr. Vercellotti will provide scientific guidance on matters relating to the cause, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of sickle cell disease and help to shape federal policy and guidelines aimed at improving the lives of patients with this genetic blood disorder. The Committee reviews research, research training programs, and cooperative agreements that show promise in helping to enhance the prevention or treatment of sickle cell disease. During his 37 years as a researcher and clinician, Dr. Vercellotti has focused on the mechanisms by which hemolysis, oxidative stress, and inflammation drive the vascular pathobiology underlying sickle cell disease. Supported by multiple research grants, Dr. Vercellotti's laboratory is conducting research to find new ways to treat sickle cell disease and test new therapies to prevent the blood vessel blockage that causes the devastating organ damage and pain in patients with the disease. Please join us in congratulating Dr. Vercellotti on his appointment to the prestigious Sickle Cell Disease Advisory Committee. March 2017
John Belcher, PhD, and Greg Vercellotti, MD, received a $316,060 grant from CSL Bering, a global leader in the plasma protein biotherapeutics industry. With the support of this grant, Drs. Belcher and Vercellotti will continue to investigate the efficacy of purified human haptoglobin and hemopexin in a murine model of sickle cell disease. March 2017
Six faculty members in the Division of Hematology, Oncology, and Transplantation (HOT) were awarded grants from the Randy Shaver Cancer Research & Community Fund. With the support of these grants, Drs. Veronika Bachanova, Emil Lou, Manish Patel, David Potter, Deepali Sachdev, and Zohar Sachs will conduct innovative cancer research at the University of Minnesota. February 2017
Gregory Vercellotti, MD, FACP, received a $2 million R01 grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. With the support of this renewed grant, Dr. Vercellotti, Dr. John Belcher, and their research team will investigate the role of the innate immune system in sickle cell disease. These studies may lead to identification of new therapeutic targets for treating the devastating clinical symptoms of sickle cell disease. Please join us in congratulating Dr. Vercellotti, Dr. Belcher and their research team on their receipt of this prestigious, highly competitive award. January 2017
Shernan Holtan, MD received a 2017 Research Award for a clinical trial grant from Regenerative Medicine Minnesota, a state-wide initiative to improve the health of Minnesotans by advancing regenerative medicine therapies. With the support of this grant, Dr. Holtan will conduct a phase I/II clinical trial of a new regenerative therapy for patients with high-risk or steroid refractory acute graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). Acute GVHD is a frequent complication of allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplantation in which donor T cells attack the host's tissues, especially skin, intestine, and liver. Immunosuppressive therapy is the standard treatment for acute GVHD; however, it is ineffective in many patients. Dr. Hotlan will lead a clinical trial to determine whether growth factor supplementation in patients receiving standard immunosuppressive therapy is safe and more effective than immunosuppressive therapy alone. Please join us in congratulating Dr. Holtan on this important award. January 2017
Armin Rashidi, MD, PhD received a grant from the University of Minnesota Foundation to investigate the role of the gut microbiome in graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). GVHD is a frequent complication of allogeneic stem cell transplantation, a treatment given to patients with life-threatening blood diseases, such as leukemia, lymphoma, myeloma, and aplastic anemia. In allogeneic transplantation, stem cells are collected from a donor and transplanted into a patient to restore the patient's blood and immune system. In patients who develop GVHD, the donor's immune cells attack the patient's organs and tissues, impairing their ability to function. Dr. Rashidi and an interdisciplinary team of colleagues at the University of Minnesota will investigate whether a patient's gut bacteria protect them from developing GVHD. Please join us in congratulating Dr. Rashidi on receiving this award. January 2017
2014 - 2016
2014 - 2016
Zohar Sachs, MD, PhD received a Mentored Research Scholar Grant from the American Cancer Society. This award will provide Dr. Sachs with five years of support for training and research into the role of leukemia stem cells in patients whose acute myelogenous leukemia relapses after hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. The goal of the award is to enable full-time junior faculty to become independent researchers as either clinician scientists or cancer control and prevention researchers. Please join us in congratulating Dr. Sachs on being one of this year's recipients of a prestigious Mentored Research Scholar Grant. August 2016
Lawrence Afrin, MD received a Grant-in-Aid of Research, Artistry, and Scholarship grant from the Office of the Vice President for Research at the University of Minnesota. With the support of this grant, Dr. Afrin and colleagues will perform genetic analyses of patients with mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS) to determine whether genetic aberrations in mast cells commonly underlie MCAS, findings which may provide insights into other chronic inflammatory diseases as well. Dr. Afrin's collaborators include Frank Cichocki, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Division of Hematology, Oncology, and Transplantation; Kevin Silverstein, PhD, Scientific Lead at the Minnesota Supercomputing Institute; and Kenneth Beckman, PhD, Director of the Biomedical Genomics Center. May 2016
John Belcher, PhD and Greg Vercellotti, MD, FACP received a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Institutes of Health. The SBIR program was established to encourage domestic small businesses to engage in research and development that has the potential for commercialization. With the support of this SBIR grant, Drs. Belcher and Vercellotti will collaborate with Hillhurst Biopharmaceuticals Inc. to test an oral carbon monoxide (CO) therapeutic for the prevention of vaso-occlusion in mice with sickle cell disease (SCD). Successful completion of this project will provide information on optimal dosing of the CO therapeutic for phase 1 clinical trials in patients with SCD. April 2016
Martin Felices, PhD received a Peer Reviewed Cancer Research Program (PRCRP) Career Development Award from the Department of Defense. The PRCRP Career Development Award provides mentorship and funding to independent, early-career investigators to establish productive careers at the forefront of cancer research. The PRCRP Award will provide Dr. Felices with $360,000 to develop natural killer cell-mediated therapies for myeloid leukemias in collaboration with his mentor Dr. Jeffrey Miller, an internationally recognized researcher in natural killer cells. Please join us in congratulating Dr. Felices for receiving this prestigious career development award. March 2016
David Potter, MD, PhD received a $35,000 grant from the Randy Shaver Cancer Research & Community Fund to study metabolic reprogramming in breast cancer. February 2016
David Potter, MD, PhD received a $100,000 grant from the University of Minnesota Medical School Research Renewal Program. The Research Renewal Program will support a collaborative research project between Dr. Potter and Carol Lange, PhD. Together, Dr. Potter and Dr. Lange will explore the mechanisms by which cytochrome P450 epoxygenase enzymes modulate hormone signaling in breast cancer. The long-term goal of this study is to develop novel and effective therapeutic strategies for hormone-dependent breast cancer. February 2016
Emil Lou, MD, PhD received a $30,000 grant from the Randy Shaver Cancer Research & Community Fund to support his research into intercellular communication in colorectal cancer. February 2016
Anne Blaes, MD was chosen by the University of Minnesota Medical Center as one of four Department of Medicine faculty to receive a 2015 Clinical Excellence Award. The Clinical Excellence Award was established to recognize outstanding clinical skills and commitment to the care of patients. This award will be presented at the upcoming Fall Faculty Recognition Reception at the Campus Club in Coffman Union from 5 to 7 PM on November 12, 2015. Please join us in congratulating Dr. Blaes on this well-deserved achievement. Posted November 2015
Congratulations to Jeffrey Miller, MD on his induction into the AHC’s Academy for Excellence in Health Research. The awards ceremony and Carole Bland Memorial Reception honoring the 2015 inductees will be held Tuesday, November 16, 2015, 4:30-6 p.m. at the Academic Health Center Wall of Honor, second floor corridor of the Malcolm Moos Health Sciences Tower.Posted November 2015
Manish Patel, DO received a grant from the Lung Cancer Research Foundation (LCRF) to support his project titled “Combination oncolytic virotherapy and immune checkpoint blockade for non-small cell lung cancer.” The LCRF funds innovative research with the potential to make major contributions toward better prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of lung cancer. With the support of an LCRF grant, Dr. Patel will conduct animal studies to determine whether and how immune checkpoint blockade enhances therapeutic responses to oncolytic virotherapy. Posted October 2015
Carol Lange, PhD received a $1,799,000 five-year NIH grant for her project “Inducible PTK6 expression drives oncogenic signaling in breast cancer.” Dr. Lange’s study focuses on triple negative breast cancer, a sub-type of breast cancer that lacks the estrogen receptor, progesterone receptor, and the growth factor receptor Her2. Posted September 2015
Frank Cichocki, PhD received a Pathway to Independence (K99/R00) Award from the National Institutes of Health. The K99/R00 is designed to facilitate a timely transition from a mentored research position to a faculty position with independent research support. Under the mentorship of Jeffrey Miller, MD at the University of Minnesota and Yenan Bryceson, PhD at the Karolinska Institute, Dr. Cichocki will study the mechanisms by which natural killer cells develop long-lived and highly specific immunological memory against virally infected or malignant cells. Posted September 2015
Jeffrey Miller, MD was awarded over $6 million by the National Cancer Institute’s Outstanding Investigator program. Dr. Miller is one of only 21 researchers selected from U.S. academic institutions, and the only one in the state of Minnesota, to receive this award. The award provides seven years of financial support to give outstanding researchers the freedom to take more risks, to be more adventurous in their line of inquiry, and to provide a sufficient amount of time to develop new techniques. Dr. Miller’s research is focused on developing new immunotherapies using natural killer (NK) cells to treat cancer. Dr. Miller is internationally known for pioneering the basic research and clinical investigation of NK cell-based immunotherapy. NK cells, which have the ability to target cancer cells while leaving normal cells unharmed, are expected to result in far fewer side effects than chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Posted August 2015
Anne Blaes, MD was awarded a Dissemination and Implementation Award (DIA) from the Clinical and Translational Science Institute. The DIA program awards up to $20,000 to collaborations between University researchers and Minnesota-based community organizations to support the dissemination and implementation of evidence-based health strategies. Dr. Blaes will collaborate with Trudi Meloche, Development Director of Gilda’s Club Twin Cities, a local affiliate of the Cancer Support Community, an international non-profit dedicated to providing support, education, and hope to people affected by cancer. Dr. Blaes and Ms. Meloche will collaborate on a project titled “Survivorship Care for Cancer Survivors: Disseminating the Findings.” Posted August 2015
Fate Therapeutics, a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company, entered into research collaborations with Jeffrey Miller, MD, and Dan Kaufman, MD, PhD, to develop natural killer (NK) cell-based cancer immunotherapeutics. Under the collaboration, Dr. Miller will lead efforts to optimize NK cells by enhancing their in vivo persistence and cytotoxicity when used in combination with tumor-specific monoclonal antibodies. Dr. Kaufman’s team will develop genetically engineered induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) that express tumor cell-targeting receptors. These cells could ultimately be used as an immune-engineered pluripotent cell source for the derivation of “off-the-shelf” NK cell-based targeted immunotherapies. Located in San Diego, California, Fate Therapeutics will fund the research conducted at the University of Minnesota and retain the option to secure exclusive patent rights to all intellectual property arising under the collaboration. Posted July 2015
Dan Kaufman, MD, PhD participated in a panel discussion for international journalists entitled “Promise, Progress, and Hype” at the annual meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR). Held in Stockholm, Sweden, the ISSCR meeting is the largest international interdisciplinary forum dedicated to stem cell science. Dr. Kaufman and his co-panelists explored the complex issues around the marketing and sale of experimental stem cell treatments.Posted June 2015
Kalpna Gupta, PhD, along with colleagues from the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research in the Department of Radiology, received a 2015 Institute for Engineering in Medicine (IME) Group Program Grant. The grant provides seed funding to develop multidisciplinary collaborative research programs with the potential to create major contributions to medicine using engineering approaches. Drs. Wei Chen and Xiao-Hong Zhu will collaborate with Dr. Gupta to study electroacupuncture-induced neuromodulation. This non-narcotic approach to pain management has the potential to be highly effective for treating chronic pain in sickle cell disease. Patients with sickle cell disease suffer from debilitating pain that can start early in life, increases in severity with age, and is particularly difficult to treat. Posted May 2015.
Emil Lou, MD, PhD was the 2015 recipient of a Featured New Investigator Award. He accepted the award from Jeffrey Laurence, MD, Editor-in-Chief of Translational Research. The Featured New Investigator Award, a $1500 prize plus travel stipend to attend the CSCTR meeting, is given to a promising new investigator who is the first or senior author of the best paper published in Translational Research during the preceding year. Dr. Lou’s paper, “Tumor-stromal cross talk: direct cell-to-cell transfer of oncogenic microRNAs via tunneling nanotubes” was published in the November 2014 issue of Translational Research. During his presentation at the CSCTR/MWAFMR meeting, Dr. Lou reviewed the history and latest developments in efforts to understand the role of tunneling nanotubes in solid tumor progression. See photos.Posted May 2015.
Gregory M. Vercellotti, MD, FACP delivered the 2015 Hickam Lecture at the Combined Annual Meeting of the Central Society for Clinical Research and the Midwestern Section of the American Federation for Medical Research (CSCTR/MWAFMR), held in Chicago, Illinois. Established in 1981, the Hickam Lecture is delivered each year at the plenary session of the CSCTR/MWAFMR meeting in honor of John B. Hickam, MD (1914-1970), former Chairman of the Department of Medicine at Indiana University School of Medicine and widely considered to be responsible for helping to establish the Department of Medicine as a research-intensive department. In his Hickam Lecture, Dr. Vercellotti addressed recent insights into the pathophysiology of vaso-occlusion in sickle cell disease and novel therapies for treating the disease. Dr. Vercellotti’s discussion combined a historical review of the long line of physician scientists who, through investigations beginning at the patient’s bedside, have carried out research in an organized and planned way and a discussion of new targets that his research has identified for mitigating the vaso-occlusion in sickle cell disease.See photos. Posted May 2015.
Frank Cichocki, PhD was selected as a 2015 Scholar in the Amy Strelzer Manasevit Research Program by the Be The Match Foundation. As a 2015 Scholar, Dr. Cichocki will receive a $240,000 grant, distributed over three years, to continue his research on the role of natural killer cells in controlling viral infections and preventing relapse after hematopoietic cell transplantation. The Amy Strelzer Manasevit Research Program develops the next generation of physicians and scientists by supporting the discovery of new ways to treat and prevent post-transplant complications.Posted March 2015.
Emil Lou, MD, PhD received an Early Career Development Award from the Central Society for Clinical and Translational Research, one of the oldest and largest academic medical societies in the Midwest. The award entitles Dr. Lou to a $10,000 grant to be used to supplement any combination of salary and/or lab support. Posted March 2015.
Daniel Weisdorf, MD received the 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation (ASBMT). The award, presented at the ASBMT annual meeting, recognizes Dr. Weisdorf for the continuing contributions he has made throughout his career to the field of blood and marrow transplantation. See photos. Posted March 2015.
Zohar Sachs, MD, PhD received a KL2 Career Development Award from the University of Minnesota Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI). The KL2 award will provide Dr. Sachs with three years of support to develop her translational research and to receive mentorship from Drs. David Largaespada, Jeffrey Miller, Yen-Yi Ho, and Karen Sachs. With the support of her KL2 Award and mentors, Dr. Sachs will investigate the molecular mechanisms of leukemia stem cell persistence in acute myelogenous leukemia. The goal of the KL2 award is to support junior faculty in their transition to independent research careers sustained by extramural funds. Please join us in congratulating Dr. Sachs on being this year’s recipient of the prestigious KL2 award.
Emil Lou, MD, PhD received a $25,000 grant from the Randy Shaver Cancer Research & Community Fund. With the support of this grant, Dr. Lou and his team will explore the role of intercellular communication in chemotherapy-resistant colorectal cancer. They will conduct preclinical studies to determine whether cancer-related components in a chemotherapy-resistant cell are shuttled to chemotherapy-sensitive cells via tunneling nanotubes (TnTs). TnTs are long, narrow tubes that allow for the direct transfer of material (proteins, microRNA, cell organelles) from one cell to another. By determining the biological function of TnTs in colorectal cancer, Dr. Lou and his team hope to establish a rationale for a new therapeutic approach of treating chemotherapy-resistant colorectal cancer with TnT inhibitors.
Robert Hebbel, MD – along with Michael DeBaun, MD of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine – presented the 2014 Ernest Beutler Lecture in recognition of their important contributions to the science and treatment of sickle cell disease. The Ernest Beutler Lecture was held at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology (ASH) in December 2014. Dr. Hebbel delivered his half of the lecture on the pathophysiological steps that induce vaso-occulsion in sickle cell disease. Dr. Hebbel is credited with redefining the study of sickle cell disease, broadening our understanding from a narrow look at the biophysics of hemoglobin to include an appreciation of vascular endothelial pathobiology. His observation that red blood cells are abnormally adherent to endothelial cells in patients with sickle cell disease, first reported at the Plenary Scientific Session at the 1978 ASH Annual Meeting and Exposition and later published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation in 1980, led to many additional discoveries. This work, largely done in the lab of Dr. Hebbel, culminated in an understanding of sickle cell disease as a unique vascular disorder. “The work of Drs. DeBaun and Hebbel has allowed for a vastly improved understanding of sickle cell disease and exemplifies translational research at its very best,” said ASH President Linda Burns, MD, of the University of Minnesota. “Their research has allowed for the translation of basic laboratory insights to the patient bedside and has resulted in better care for millions of patients with sickle cell disease around the world.
Zohar Sachs, MD, PhD and David Largaespada, PhD received a Translational Working Group Pilot Award from the Masonic Cancer Center. With the support of this award, Drs. Sachs and Largaespada will investigate the molecular mechanisms that allow leukemia stem cells to evade chemotherapy and reemerge as a malignant tumor. Using a unique mouse model of acute myelogenous leukemia, they will characterize the signaling and transcriptional profiles of leukemia cells that persist in vivo during disease remission by using ultra-high parameter flow cytometry (mass cytometry) and single-cell RNA sequencing. Please join us in congratulating Dr. Sachs and Dr. Largaespada on receipt of this award.
Emil Lou, MD, PhD received a Mezin-Koats Colon Cancer Research Award from the Masonic Cancer Center. The Mezin-Koats Colon Cancer Research Award, designed to support research that advances the treatment of colon cancer, will support Dr. Lou and his research team in their efforts to determine whether tunneling nanotubes act as a physical conduit for intercellular transfer of oncogenic components in colon cancer. Long and narrow, tunneling nanotubes are membrane structures that provide a physical channel for the transfer of cellular contents from one cell to another. Dr. Lou’s studies will examine the role of tunneling nanotubes in mediating direct intercellular transfer of oncogenic components and their effects on recipient tumor cells. The ultimate goal of Dr. Lou’s project is to establish a novel biologic mechanism of cancer cell communication that can be targeted with inhibitors of tunneling nanotubes. Please join us in congratulating Dr. Lou and his research team on their receipt of a Mezin-Koats Colon Cancer Research Award.
Kalpna Gupta’s work on pain in sickle cell disease was highlighted in a news article published in a November 2014 issue of Nature. The article, titled “Neurobiology: Life beyond the pain,” is part of a special supplemental issue of Nature covering sickle cell disease.
Dan Kaufman, MD, PhD was a featured speaker at the 2014 International Stem Cell Forum (ISCF), held in Tianjin, China on November 1-3, 2014 (see photo). Organized by the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and several other Chinese research institutes, the ISCF aims to foster international collaborations and multi-disciplinary stem cell research. This year’s ISCF featured internationally renowned stem cell researchers discussing hematopoietic stem cell development and transplantation, along with other topics related to hematopoietic stem cell biology. Dr. Kaufman was the co-chair of the session on stem cell reprogramming and gave a presentation entitled “Use of human pluripotent stem cell-derived blood cells for anti-cancer therapy.”
Jeffrey Miller, MD is one of two recipients of the Dean’s Distinguished Research Lectureship. Founded in 2013 as part of the University of Minnesota Medical School’s 125th anniversary celebration, this honor celebrates outstanding research achievements in the Medical School. Dr. Miller is receiving this honor for his studies on the role of natural killer cells in blood/marrow transplantation and leukemia immunotherapy. His work exemplifies the high level of commitment to excellence and scholarship that is the cornerstone of the Medical School. Please plan to attend his lecture at 5:00 p.m. on October 1, 2014, at the McNamara Alumni Center. Learn more.
Carol Lange, PhD is the recipient of the Fall 2014 Ada Comstock Distinguished Women Scholars Award Lecture. This prestigious award/lecture was established to honor the scholarly accomplishments and leadership of distinguished women faculty at the University of Minnesota and to offer a forum for them to share their insights and ideas with a campus and community audience. Dr. Lange’s impressive record of scientific accomplishments includes numerous awards for her research and mentorship. She has been a pivotal member of the Masonic Cancer Center leadership, serving as a Program Leader for the Cell Signaling Program (formerly the Women’s Cancer Program) since 2009. Her patented studies have furthered the development of diagnostic tests to identify breast cancer patients most likely to benefit from anti-progestin drugs. Dr. Lange’s lecture will present an overview of her latest research on women’s hormones and breast cancer, in particular how estrogen and progesterone receptors act differently in breast cancer cells versus how they act in normal breast tissue and how this information can be used to develop improved treatments for breast cancer. Please join us for the Fall 2014 lecture featuring Dr. Lange, Monday, October 27, 2014 at 4:00 p.m. in the Cowles Auditorium, Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
Congratulations to Jeffrey Miller, MD, deputy director of the Masonic Cancer Center and member of the Immunology and Transplant Biology and Therapy Programs, who is one of two recipients of the 2nd Annual Dean’s Distinguished Lectureship, for his studies on the role of natural killer cells in blood/marrow transplantation and leukemia immunology.
Robert Hebbel, MD is the 2014 winner of the American Society of Hematology (ASH) Ernest Beutler Lecture and Prize. This award, one of the highest honors bestowed by ASH, recognizes that Dr. Hebbel's long scientific career studying the biology of sickle cell disease has enabled major advances in the clinical care of patients with this debilitating condition. We are proud of Dr. Hebbel’s wonderful scientific accomplishments and pleased that he has been given this prestigious honor. Please congratulate him on his success and plan on attending his lecture at the 2014 ASH annual meeting, December 6-9, 2014. ASH Press Release.
A $9.5 million grant from the NIH’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute was awarded to faculty members in the Division of Hematology, Oncology and Transplantation. Read more.
Kalpna Gupta, PhD, along with a team of researchers from the University of Minnesota, was awarded a UO1 grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute to study the mechanisms, quantification, and therapy for pain in sickle cell disease (SCD). Patients with SCD suffer from debilitating pain that starts early in life, increases in severity with age, and is particularly difficult to treat. Opioid treatment remains a suboptimal approach because of serious side effects, including tolerance and addiction, that lead to high rates of morbidity and mortality.
“This grant is important because it addresses a major cause for the suffering of sickle patients, many of whom are under-represented minorities” said Dr. Gupta, lead principal investigator of the project.
The multidisciplinary project brings together scientific experts from engineering, biology, neuroscience, hematology, and integrative medicine to study SCD-related pain and its treatment. Other principal investigators on the project include University of Minnesota researchers Bin He, PhD (Biomedical Engineering); Donald Simone, PhD (Diagnostic and Biological Sciences); and Robert Hebbel, MD (Medicine) and University of California at San Francisco researcher Donald Abrams, MD. Please join us in congratulating these researchers on receipt of this highly esteemed award of $9.5 million.
Dan Kaufman, MD, PhD and Bruce Walcheck, PhD were recipients of a Brainstorm Award from the Masonic Cancer Center. The Brainstorm Award, designed to foster new interdisciplinary collaborations, will support Dr. Kaufman and Dr. Walcheck in their efforts to develop a novel immunotherapy for ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer cells commonly express the epidermal growth factor receptor HER2. Although the monoclonal antibody trastuzumab specifically binds to HER2, it fails to robustly activate natural killer (NK) cells. NK cells can recognize cancer cells via anti-tumor antibodies binding to the CD16a cell-surface receptor, but CD16a is rapidly shed from the surface of NK cells upon immune stimulation, a process that impairs the ability of NK cells to use antibodies to target tumor cells. Dr. Kaufman and Dr. Walcheck, along with their research teams, will produce genetically modified NK cells that express high surface levels of a modified CD16a receptor that is resistant to shedding. The ultimate goal of their project is to develop engineered NK cells that can be used in combination with monoclonal antibodies for ovarian cancer and other cancers. Please join us in congratulating Dr. Kaufman and Dr. Walcheck on their receipt of a Brainstorm Award.
Julie Ostrander, PhD was the recipient of a Translational Breast Cancer Research Award from the Masonic Cancer Center.
Craig E. Eckfeldt, MD, PhD received an Equipment Grant from the University of Minnesota Foundation to support the purchase of a fluorescent inverted microscope with an integrated digital imaging system. Dr. Eckfeldt and researchers at the Masonic Cancer Center will use the fluorescent microscope to study live cells that have been genetically modified to express fluorescent proteins or are stained with fluorescent dyes. These studies will allow for a better understanding of cancer genetics, cancer signaling, and tumor immunology, with the goal of identifying novel druggable targets and ways to harness the immune system for cancer treatment. The University of Minnesota Foundation Equipment Grant is meant to provide funds to purchase equipment that is truly needed for cutting-edge medical research at the University of Minnesota and that will be shared by a large group of collaborative investigators.
Emil Lou, MD, PhD received a prestigious KL2 Career Development Award from the University of Minnesota Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI). The KL2 award will provide Dr. Lou with three years of clinical and translational research training and mentored support from Drs. Melissa Geller, Clifford Steer, Gregory Vercellotti, Chap Le, and Richard King. With the support of his KL2 mentors and research funds provided by the KL2 award, Dr. Lou will investigate potential cellular and molecular biomarkers of resistance to platinum chemotherapy in ovarian cancer. The KL2 award will also support Dr. Lou in his transition to an independent research career by providing him with advanced research training and the protected time to engage in research and grant and manuscript writing. Please join us in congratulating Dr. Lou on receiving this award and wishing him continued success in his research career.
Mukta Arora, MD, MS received a Translational Research Program Award from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. The Translational Research Program is designed to fund new and innovative research that shows high promise for translating basic biomedical knowledge to clinical application. The award provides funds ($200,000/year for 3 years) to support Dr. Arora’s research to develop clinical tools to predict the likelihood of severe toxicities in older patients receiving hematopoietic cell transplants (HCT) for hematologic malignancies. HCT is an aggressive treatment that can result in life-threatening complications for patients 60 years or older. The goals of Dr. Arora’s research are to develop a frailty index to assess which older patients can tolerate HCT and to identify whether leukocyte telomere length can serve as a biomarker of frailty and HCT outcomes. By defining a new clinical assessment tool and biomarker of frailty, older patients at high risk of developing severe complications as a result of HCT can instead be offered modified treatments. Please join us in congratulating Dr. Arora on receipt of this highly competitive award!
Anne Blaes, MD successfully competed for a BIRCWH Program award. The "Building Interdisciplinary Research Careers in Women's (BIRWCH) Program is an internal K-12 grant sponsored by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The grant provides three years of support to foster career development of junior faculty members engaging in research relevant to women's health. With support from this award, Dr. Blaes will continue an ongoing research project examining the effects of aromatase inhibitors on the cardiovascular endothelium of women receiving treatment for breast cancer. Her mentor for this training award is Doug Yee, MD.
Greg Vercellotti, MD, FACP received a $2.5 million R01 grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to support research into a new biological mechanism that might underlie the devastating clinical symptoms associated with sickle cell disease. Sickle cell disease is a red blood cell disorder caused by an inherited defect in the hemoglobin protein of red blood cells. Fragile and prone to rupture, sickle red blood cells can release vast amounts of hemoglobin into the bloodstream, a process known as hemolysis. The biological effects of "free" hemoglobin and its molecular component, heme, are the focus of Dr. Vercellotti's research project. Over the next four years, his research team will examine in mouse models of sickle cell disease how "free" heme might disrupt the normal function of endothelial cells, which form the inner lining of blood vessels. This research project will also evaluate several approaches to detoxifying heme in sickle cell disease, which could potentially lead to new therapies for the disease and other hemolytic disorders, such as malaria, sepsis, atherosclerosis, trauma, and stroke.