Dr. Augusto Ochoa served as Head of the Immunotherapy Laboratory for the National Cancer Institute (NCI) from 1989 to 1996 and Head of the NCI Signal Transduction Laboratory from 1996 to 1997 where he designed and led several clinical trials using the patient’s own immune system to treat cancer. At LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans, Dr. Ochoa started and leads the cancer immunology program. A professor of Pediatrics and an adjunct associate professor of Biochemistry, Dr. Ochoa is also a practicing physician, specializing in the field of Allergy/Immunology. His research interests include T-cell function, cytokine production, macrophage T-cell interaction, immune regulation, immune dysfunction and disease, as well as tumor immunology. He was named to the Al Copeland/Cancer Crusaders Chair in Neuroendocrine Cancer in September, 2013. Since then, Dr. Ochoa was selected as one of ten recipients nationally of the 2013 National Institutes of Health Transformative Research Award. Awarded by NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins, the award comes with a $2.5 million grant over five years to LSUHSC to support the development of new treatments for severe viral diseases, including herpes infections, pandemic influenza and cancers caused viruses, by manipulating how the immune system responds to severe viral and inflammatory infections.
Dr. Michael Hagensee helped develop the virus-like particles that are the basis of the current human papilloma virus, or HPV, vaccines. He also conducted clinical trials on the Gardasil and Cervarix vaccines which led to their approval by the FDA. It’s already been shown that these vaccines can cut the number of cervical cancers in women by more than half. HPV vaccines are now also being considered to prevent head and neck cancers. Dr. Hagensee continues to study the structure of human papillomaviruses, HPV detection and immune response against HPV. He is board certified in both internal medicine and infectious diseases.
Dr. Christopher Parsons leads the group studying HIV and cancer. HIV, the Kaposi Sarcoma Virus and the Epstein Barr Virus can cause lymphoma in AIDS patients. The goal of his research group is to bring promising laboratory research related to HIV and cancer to patients, and to increase enrollment of underrepresented HIV patients in clinical trials for cancer treatment and prevention. These efforts serve HIV patients receiving care at one of several medical homes in the New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and other surrounding areas, which have some of the highest incidence and prevalence rates for HIV infection per capita in the U.S. The first clinical trials have opened.
Dr. Krzysztof Reiss studies a range of neurological cancers, from childhood brain tumors, to Merkel Cell Carcinoma, a rare and very aggressive cancer in which neuroendocrine tumor cells develop on or just beneath the skin and or in hair follicles. His group is working to increase our understanding of how viruses, in particular the Merkel Cell virus, damage the DNA of cells and cause cancer. By promoting active collaborations between basic researchers and clinicians, his program emphasizes translational research, which is research designed specifically to decrease the time required for a scientific discovery made in a laboratory to reach and positively affect the lives of cancer patients.
Dr. Luis Del Valle collaborates with Dr. Reiss researching Merkel Cell Polyomavirus as well as another polyomavirus, JCV. Dr. Del Valle’s research is focused on discovering how these viruses cause cancer, the DNA damage that precedes it, as well as repair mechanisms. His is a neuropathologist, concentrating on diseases affecting the brain including brain cancers and a progressive brain disease called PML caused by JCV.
Dr. Jennifer Cameron continues her interest in unraveling the mechanisms by which DNA tumor viruses such as HPV and EBV interact with the host and promote cancer. Her ultimate goal is to translate her findings into improved diagnostic and prognostic cancer screening tests, cancer prevention, and cancer treatment. Research projects include the evaluation of miRNAs as diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers for cervical pre-cancer lesions, and determining the molecular targets of human cellular miRNA-146, an important mediator of immune responses and cancer progression. MicroRNAs, or MiRNAs, are a new class of small RNA molecules that play an important regulatory role in cell biology. They prevent the production of a particular protein by binding to and destroying the messenger RNA that would have produced the protein.
Dr. Paulo Rodriguez studies cancer immunology, chronic inflammation and immunotherapy. His research has included the role of amino acids like L-Arginine in cell signaling in leukemias as well as how tumors suppress of one of the body’s key protective immune system cells, T cells.