Speaker Bios for the Stem Cells in Cancer Symposium

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Tao Cheng, MD
Director of Stem Cell Biology
Associate Professor, Radiation Oncology

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Albert Donnenberg, PhD
Professor of Medicine
Director, UPMC HSC Laboratory
Director, UPCI Flow Cytometry Facility

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About Albert Donnenberg, PhD

Albert Donnenberg studied Philosophy at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He received his PhD in Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins University in 1980, studying cellular immunity to Herpes Simplex Virus and was elected to Delta Omega, the honorary Public Health Society. After a postdoctoral fellowship under the direction of Dr. George Santos at the Johns Hopkins Oncology Center, Dr. Donnenberg was appointed Instructor of Oncology in 1982, Assistant Professor in 1983, and Associate Professor in 1989. He worked on adoptive transfer of donor immunity during allogeneic bone marrow transplantation, and on the development and clinical implementation of T-cell depletion of bone marrow to prevent graft versus host disease. He also performed early studies on cellular immunity in HIV infection, and co-developed the concept of T-cell homeostasis. In 1991, Dr. Donnenberg was recruited to the University of Pittsburgh to serve as the Director of Laboratory Research in the Bone Marrow Transplant Program. He has also served as program Co-director, and as Interim Director. He has directed the UPMC Hematopoietic Stem Cell Laboratory and the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute's Flow Cytometry Facility since 1998. He was promoted to Professor of Medicine in 2001. His current research interests are in stem cell therapy and graft engineering, immunity after hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, and the role of stem cells in neoplasia, a project he pursues with his wife Dr. Vera Donnenberg. Dr. Donnenberg has co-edited the CRC Handbook of Human Immunology and has authored more than 150 scholarly publications. He is the proud father of 5 and lives on Pittsburgh's Southside where his hobbies are winemaking and art collecting.

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Eric Lagasse, PharmD, PhD
Associate Professor
Department of Pathology
Director of the Cancer Stem Cell Center
McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine

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Linheng Li, PhD
Stowers Institute for Medical Research
Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
University of Kansas School of Medicine

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About Linheng Li, PhD

Linheng Li graduated from Fudan University in 1985 PhD in New York University, in 1995. Now is an Investigator at Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, Dr. Li's research investigates the molecular mechanisms and genetic pathways that regulate adult stem cell development. He mainly focuses on the study of stem cell development in hematopoietic and intestinal tissues. Using a combination of genomic, developmental, and genetic-targeting approaches, Dr. Li's team investigates the roles of the BMP, PTEN, and Wnt signal pathways in regulation of stem cell development. Specific study areas include: 1) how the microenvironment (niche) maintains adult stem cells, controls stem cell number, and regulates stem cell properties, including self-renewal and fate determination; and 2) how normal stem cells convert to cancer stem cells when the key signaling pathways are deregulated intrinsically or extrinsically (cancer stem cell niche).

Dr. Li has a number of important findings:

  • cloning the human Jagged1 encoding a ligand for Notch
  • the human Jagged1 gene is a disease causal gene for Alagille syndrome
  • the Jagged-Notch pathway inhibits hematopoietic stem-progenitor cell differentiation
  • identification of the hematopoietic stem cell niche
  • Wnt and BMP signaling controls Yin-Yang balance of intestinal stem cells
  • PTEN, a tumor suppressor maintains normal and inhibits leukemia stem cells.
  • loss of PTEN leads to conversion of intestinal stem cells into cancer stem cells
  • Proposed a model of co-existing two sub-populations (reserve versus primed) of hematopoietic and intestinal stem cells in mammals.

Dr. Li received the 2003 Missouri Biotechnology Association Excellence in Life Sciences Award in Basic Research and the 2004 Hudson Prize for excellence in basic biomedical research.

Dr. Li serves on the editorial boards of Cell Stem Cell, Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC), Stem Cells, and Cancer Research.

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Edward Prochownik, MD, PhD
The Paul C. Gaffney Professor of Pediatrics and Professor of Microbiology & Molecular Genetics Section of Hematology/Oncology Rangos Research Center, Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh

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About Edward Prochownik, MD, PhD

For nearly 25 years, my laboratory has been engaged in continuous, peer-reviewed studies of the c-Myc oncoprotein and the multiple phenotpypes its deregulated expression imparts to transformed and non-transformed cells. As a physician-scientist who also continues to treat pediatric oncology patients, I have become increasingly interested in the clinical implications of our work, thus explaining our recent focus on small molecule inhibitors of c-Myc and their therapeutic delivery. Our recent observations in cancer stem cells (CSCs) originate from similar considerations. As such, they represent two years of work between our laboratory and that of our long-time collaborator, Dr. John Lazo. Until now, we have not sought RO1 level support for this work. Although it represents a scientific departure, many of the techniques and principles we have applied during our studies with c-Mvc have been useful in this new endeavor. We are fascinated at the prospect of potentially being able to utilize the blocked breast CSCs described here as a novel means for identifying CSC-specific pathways that can potentially be harnessed for therapeutic gain.

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Clayton Smith, MD
Professor of Medicine
Director, Hematologic Malignancy Program

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About Clayton Smith, MD

Clayton A. Smith, MD is the director of the Hematological Malignancies Program and Leukemia and Stem Cell Clinical Transplant Services at UPMC Cancer Centers and University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute. Dr. Smith specializes in blood and marrow stem cell transplantation and his laboratory researches blood and leukemic stem cells.

Dr. Smith is board-certified in internal medicine and hematology. He received his medical degree from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, Dallas. His completed a residency at New York Hospital; Weill Cornell Medical College, and two fellowships, at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, N.Y. and the second at Stanford University Medical Center, Palo Alto, Calif. He was the director of the Leukemia and Bone Marrow Transplant Program of British Columbia before moving to Pittsburgh.

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Tom Smithgall, PhD
William S. McEllroy Professor and Chairman
Microbiology and Molecular Genetics
School of Medicine

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About Tom Smithgall, PhD

Thomas E. Smithgall, PhD, is the William S. McEllroy Professor and Chairman, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Dr. Smithgall received a BA in Biochemistry from the University of Pennsylvania and earned his PhD in Pharmacology from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Following postdoctoral training at the National Cancer Institute, NIH, he held faculty positions at Georgetown University and the University of Nebraska Medical Center before joining the faculty of the University of Pittsburgh in 1998. He served as Vice-Chair of MMG for two years before his appointment as Chairman in 2009. Dr. Smithgall's research interests are focused on the role of protein-tyrosine kinase signaling pathways in cancer, HIV/AIDS, and embryonic stem cell differentiation. He has authored or co-authored more than 100 publications, including recent studies in Science Signaling, ACS Chemical Biology and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. His research is currently supported by grants from the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the National Institutes of General Medical Sciences. He is an active member of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, the Pittsburgh Center for HIV-Protein Interactions as well as the University of Pittsburgh Drug Discovery Institute.

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Lei Yang, PhD
Assistant Professor
Director, Stem Cell Core
Department of Developmental Biology

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About Lei Yang, PhD

Dr. Lei Yang received his PhD in 2003 at Shanghai Institute of Cell Biology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, performed his postdoctoral studies at University of California, San Diego and Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York. He was research assistant professor before joining the Department of Developmental Biology, University of Pittsburgh in January 2010.

Dr. Lei Yang's research program utilizes a combination of human embryonic stem (ES) cells and human induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells to address early stage human heart development and investigate mechanisms of human inherited cardiovascular diseases. Dr. Yang has interest studying the developmental regulation of cardiomyocyte differentiation, with a special emphasis on investigating novel regulators in regulating the segregation of cardiac precursors from early mesodermal progenitors and the specification of the different cardiac lineages that contribute to formation of human heart. In addition, Dr. Yang's lab is using patient derived iPS cells to model human heart diseases, especially cardiac diseases involving arrhythmias and hypertrophy. Such cardiac diseases are uniquely suited for in vitro studies, given they can arise from cell intrinsic defects.

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Jian Yu, PhD
Assistant Professor of Pathology

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