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Faculty Profiles

Yongho, Bae
Bae, Yongho, PhDAssistant Professor
Email: yonghoba@buffalo.edu
Phone: 716-829-3523

Specialty/Research Focus:
Apoptosis and cell death; Cell Cycle; Cytoskeleton and cell motility; Gene Expression; Genomics and proteomics; Molecular Basis of Disease; Molecular and Cellular Biology; Signal Transduction

Research Summary:
One third of our tissue mass is extracellular matrix (ECM). The ECM provides structural support for cells in tissues and varies from being stiff like bone to soft like skin. Importantly, the stiffness of the ECM affects how cells proliferate and migrate and this can be changed by injury or disease. My research is in blood vessels and particularly in arterial stiffening, which is a significant risk factor for the progression of cardiovascular disease, (leading worldwide cause of death). While medications reduce hypertension and cholesterol, none specifically treat arterial stiffness. My lab will identify what happens to cells when arteries become stiffened and determine how this contributes to cardiovascular disease. To understand how arterial stiffening affects cells, we will use mouse and cellular models to mimic the stiffening process in patients. We believe that cells within a stiffer matrix overproduce certain proteins that lead to uncontrolled cell growth, which then begets even more stiffening. Identifying and understanding the proteins in these pathways will allow the development of drugs to counteract their function. Our research will bring fundamental new knowledge about arterial stiffness and lead to new medications that help reduce a key cause of cardiovascular disease.

Caroline, Bass
Bass, Caroline, PhDAssistant Professor
Email: cebass@buffalo.edu
Phone: 716-829-3790

Specialty/Research Focus:
Drug abuse; Circadian Rhythm/Chronobiology; Gene Expression; Molecular and Cellular Biology; Neuropharmacology

Research Summary:
My laboratory seeks to understand the neurobiology of motivation and how these systems can be "highjacked" by abused substances. Substance abuse and addiction are wide-spread problems that have an enormous economic and emotional toll. Reports indicate that it costs the US upwards to $600 billion a year to deal with the health and criminal consequences and loss of productivity from substance abuse. Despite this, there are few effective treatments to combat this illness. The brain has natural systems responsible for motivating an organism to participate in behaviors that are necessary for survival, such as eating, exercise and reproduction. These same brain regions are highly sensitive to drugs of abuse, including cocaine, heroin and marijuana. My laboratory seeks to understand how these brain regions are affected by exposure to abused drugs, and in particular how the motivation to take drugs is altered by various molecular mediators in the neurons on these regions. The two basic questions we are interested in are 1) how projections from the cortex to the striatum influence drug seeking behaviors, and 2) how neurotransmitter receptors, particularly dopamine and cannbinoid receptors in these regions influence drug seeking. Our technical approaches include a number of basic behavioral models including measurements of locomotor activity, catalepsy, conditioned place preference and drug self-administration. In order to probe the circuitry of these brain regions, we use a number of advanced molecular techniques to activate and inactivate neuronal populations including optogenetics and artificial receptors. We probe the molecular pathways within the neurons by over expressing genes or knocking down expression using RNA interference. Gene delivery is accomplished using recombinant adeno-associated virus (rAAV) and several projects in the laboratory focus on improving this approach and exploring potential gene therapy applications for these vectors. The ultimate goal is to understand the basic neurobiology and molecular biology of addiction in order to develop more effective treatments for addiction.

Arin, Bhattacharjee
Bhattacharjee, Arin, PhDAssociate Professor
Email: ab68@buffalo.edu
Phone: (716) 829-2800

Specialty/Research Focus:
Ion channel kinetics and structure; Membrane Transport (Ion Transport); Molecular and Cellular Biology; Neurobiology; Pathophysiology; Gene Expression; Signal Transduction

Research Summary:
Neuronal firing patterns are highly diverse because neurons regulate a wide variety of different behaviors and physiological functions including cognition and memory. Whether a neuron exhibits regular spiking, burst firing, adaptation or high frequency firing will largely be determined by which specific ion channel genes a neuron chooses to express. I am interested in a class of potassium channels that are sensitive to intracellular sodium. There are two members in this family, known as Slack and Slick, and both channel subunits are expressed in many different types of neurons. I am particularly interested in how these channels contribute to the firing patterns of pain-sensing neurons and neurons of the cerebral cortex. Understanding when, where and how these channels are working should provide important information on sensory and cortical processing and will provide insights on nociception, psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and neurological diseases such as epilepsy.

Peter, Bradford
Bradford, Peter, PhDAssociate Professor
Email: pgb@buffalo.edu
Phone: 716-829-2110

Specialty/Research Focus:
Reproductive Endocrinology; Apoptosis and cell death; Cell growth, differentiation and development; Endocrinology; Gene Expression; Molecular genetics; Signal Transduction; Toxicology and Xenobiotics; Vitamins and Trace Nutrient

Research Summary:
I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology of the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. I have a secondary appointment as Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Oral Biology in the School of Dental Medicine. My research interests focus on the study of how hormones and nutrients affect cell growth, differentiation, and survival. I study these processes in bone osteoblasts and breast normal epithelial cells as well as cancers of both tissues. I have discovered how natural estrogens as well as dietary phytochemicals sustain osteoblast longevity and contribute to bone growth. In collaboration with Dr Atif Awad of the University at Buffalo School of Public Health, I have identified dietary factors that inhibit the growth of cancers of the prostate and breast. We have published primary research papers, significant review articles, and two books entitled "Nutrition and Cancer Prevention" and Adipose Tissue and Inflammation".

Michael, Buck
Buck, Michael, PhDAssociate Professor
Email: mjbuck@buffalo.edu
Phone: (716) 881-7569

Specialty/Research Focus:
Bioinformatics; Genomics and proteomics; Molecular and Cellular Biology; Molecular genetics; Gene Expression; Transcription and Translation

Research Summary:
Our research group is interested in how regulatory proteins are targeted to the correct DNA binding sites at the correct time. Transcription factors are directed to their genomic targets by DNA sequence, local chromatin structure, and protein-protein interactions. These modulators of transcription factor binding are not independent but function both cooperatively and competitively to regulate where transcription factors bind. Understanding how these modulators affect transcription factor binding in vivo remains a major unsolved biological problem. We use the model organism Saccharomyces cerevisiae to address the disconnect between the presence of the correct DNA binding sequence and true regulatory protein binding, integrating both experimental and computational approaches to: i) investigate transcription factor binding in response to environmental stress, ii) identify and characterize the mechanisms directing transcription factor target selection, and iii) and develop bioinformatics tools to analyze and interpret ChIP-seq experiments and chromatin structural patterns.

Terry, Connell
Connell, Terry, PhDProfessor of Microbiology and Immunology, Adjunct Professor of Oral Biology
Email: connell@buffalo.edu
Phone: (716) 829-3364

Specialty/Research Focus:
Allergy and Immunology; Medical Microbiology; Infectious Disease; Microbiology; Genomics and proteomics; Immunology; Microbial Pathogenesis; Molecular and Cellular Biology; Molecular Basis of Disease; Molecular genetics; Gene Expression; Signal Transduction; Protein Function and Structure; Bacterial Pathogenesis

Research Summary:
Research efforts in my laboratory are focused in the fields of immunology and bacterial pathogenesis, two diverse fields of biomedical research for which I have two separate research groups. Projects in both fields are performed by undergraduates, doctoral and master’s degree students, postdoctoral fellows and senior research associates. One major focus of my laboratory is studying the regulation of mucosal immune responses. We investigate the cellular and molecular events by which Type II heat-labile enterotoxins (HLTs), produced by certain strains of Escherichia coli, modulate immune responses. We have demonstrated that LT-Ilia, LT-IIb and LT-IIc, when co-administered with an antigen, have the capacity to enhance antibody and cellular immune responses to that antigen. Using a variety of immunological and cellular technologies, including flow cytometry, fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) detection, cytokine multiplex analysis, mutagenesis, quantitative Reverse Transcription PCR (qRT-PCR), RNA-sequencing (RNA-Seq) and a variety of transgenic mice, we are investigating the mechanisms by which these immunomodulators productively interact with various immunocompetent cells (T cells, B cells, dendritic cells, macrophages) to induce or suppress cytokine production, costimulatory ligand expression and cellular proliferation. A practical outgrowth of these experiments is the potential to engineer novel recombinant vaccines by genetically fusing antigens from different pathogens to the enterotoxins. Recent experiments have shown that these HLT are lethal for triple-negative breast cancer cells, which has opened a new area of oncological research for the lab. A second focus of my laboratory is to investigate the molecular mechanisms by which adherent-invasive Escherichia coli (AIEC) induce, exacerbate or prolong the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and Crohn’s disease, two acute and chronic inflammatory diseases of the human gut. In vitro, AIEC strains invade into the cytoplasm of several epithelial cell lines. Using recombinant screening methods and RNA-Seq technologies, we are identifying the genes of AIEC that are required to attach and to invade gut cells.

David, Dietz
Dietz, David, PhDAssociate Professor; Interim Chair
Email: ddietz@buffalo.edu
Phone: 716-829-2071

Specialty/Research Focus:
Addictions; Drug abuse; Behavioral pharmacology; Cytoskeleton and cell motility; Gene Expression; Gene therapy; Neurobiology; Neuropharmacology; Signal Transduction; Transcription and Translation

Research Summary:
Drug addiction is a disabling psychiatric disease leading to enormous burdens for those afflicted, their friends and family, as well as society as a whole. Indeed, the addict will seek out and use illicit substances even in the face of severe negative financial, family and health consequences. It is believed that drugs of abuse ultimately “hijack” the reward circuitry of the CNS leading to cellular adaptations that facilitate the transition to the “addicted” state As is the case with both rodent models of drug taking, and well as throughout the global human population, not all individuals exposed to drugs of abuse will meet the classical definition of being truly “addicted”. We are looking at how molecular and behavioral plasticity mediates susceptibility to drug abuse and relapse like behaviors.

Arthur, Edelman
Edelman, Arthur, PhDAssociate Professor
Email: aedelman@buffalo.edu
Phone: (716) 829-3491

Specialty/Research Focus:
Oncology; Cell Cycle; Cell growth, differentiation and development; Gene Expression; Molecular Basis of Disease; Molecular and Cellular Biology; Signal Transduction; Transcription and Translation

Research Summary:
Protein phosphorylation is an essential mechanism by which intercellular signals regulate specific intracellular events. Protein kinases, the enzymes catalyzing protein phosphorylation reactions, represent a major superfamily of genes, collectively representing 2% of the protein coding potential of the human genome. Current projects in Dr. Edelman‘s lab are devoted to the role of protein kinases in neuronal development and in specific types of cancer. These projects utilize a wide range of techniques and involve, in the case of the latter focus, a collaboration with investigators at Roswell Park Cancer Institute to develop a protein kinase-targeted therapy for prostate cancer.

Murray, Ettinger
Ettinger, Murray, PhDDistinguished Teaching Professor
Email: ettingem@buffalo.edu
Phone: (716) 829-3257

Specialty/Research Focus:
Cell growth, differentiation and development; Molecular Basis of Disease; Proteins and metalloenzymes; Gene Expression; Inherited Metabolic Disorders; Protein Function and Structure; Cell Cycle

Research Summary:
Protein Methylation in Growth and Differentiation. Protein methylation was recently found by systems biology approaches to play a major role in regulating yeast cell growth. Consistent with this finding, we found that disruption of the gene encoding S-adenosylhomocysteine (SAH1) hydrolase markedly inhibited growth. S-adenosylmethionine (SAM) is the universal methyl donor,and SAH1 is the product of all methyltransferase(MTase) reactions.The SAH1 disruption leads to a 50% decrease in protein synthesis which,in turn leads to major decreases in the levels of Cln3p.Unexpectedly,when cells were transfected with a modified gene for Cln3 ,that desreased its rate of degradation,growth rates were normal.This result was unexpected because the basic defect of lacking SAH1 remained.We are currently testing the hypothesis that normal rates of growth are due to increased gene expression for multiple enzymes known to be involved in Met and SAM synthesis. We are also identifying substrates for specific MTases in yeast. Copper deficiency is known to affect brain development, and Menkes disease is fatal due to impaired brain development from low brain copper. A reduction in (SAH1) levels, as occurs in copper deficiency, may affect brain development by inhibiting protein methylation.We demonstrated that inhibiting SAH1 maredly inhibited development of two nerve cell models.

Michael, Farkas
Farkas, Michael, PhDAssistant Professor
Email: mhfarkas@buffalo.edu
Phone: 716-834-9200 x5638

Specialty/Research Focus:
Bioinformatics; Eukaryotic Pathogenesis; Gene Expression; Gene therapy; Genomics and proteomics; Molecular Basis of Disease; Molecular and Cellular Biology; Molecular genetics; RNA; Stem Cells; Vision science

Jian, Feng
Email: jianfeng@buffalo.edu
Phone: (716) 829-2345

Specialty/Research Focus:
Neurology; Neurodegenerative disorders; Pathophysiology; Apoptosis and cell death; Cytoskeleton and cell motility; Molecular and Cellular Biology; Molecular genetics; Neurobiology; Protein Folding; Gene Expression; Transcription and Translation; Signal Transduction; Toxicology and Xenobiotics

Research Summary:
My research is aimed at finding the cause and a cure for Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s disease (PD) is defined by a characteristic set of locomotor symptoms (rest tremor, rigidity, bradykinesia and postural instability) that are believed to be caused by the selective loss of dopaminergic (DA) neurons in substantia nigra. The persistent difficulties in using animals to model this human disease suggest that human nigral dopaminergic neurons have certain vulnerabilities that are unique to our species. One of our unique features is the large size of the human brain (1350 grams on average) relative to the body. A single nigral dopaminergic neuron in a rat brain (2 grams) has a massive axon arbor with a total length of 45 centimeters. Assuming that all mammalian species share a similar brain wiring plan, we can estimate (using the cube root of brain weight) that a single human nigral dopaminergic neuron may have an axon with gigantic arborization that totals 4 meters. Another unique feature of our species is our strictly bipedal movement, which is affected by Parkinson’s disease, in contrast to the quadrupedal movement of almost all other mammalian species. The much more unstable bipedal movement may require more dopamine, which supports the neural computation necessary for movement. The landmark discovery of human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) made it possible to generate patient-specific human midbrain dopaminergic neurons to study Parkinson’s disease. A key problem for dopaminergic neurons is the duality of dopamine as a signal required for neural computation and a toxin as its oxidation produces free radicals. Our study using iPSC-derived midbrain dopaminergic neurons from PD patients with parkin mutations and normal subjects shows that parkin sustains this necessary duality by maintaining the precision of the signal while suppressing the toxicity. Mutations of parkin cause increased spontaneous release of dopamine and reduced dopamine uptake, thereby disrupting the precision of dopaminergic transmission. On the other hand, transcription of monoamine oxidase is greatly increased when parkin is mutated. This markedly increases dopamine oxidation and oxidative stress. These phenomena have not been seen in parkin knockout mice, suggesting the usefulness of parkin-deficient iPSC-derived midbrain DA neurons as a cellular model for Parkinson’s disease. Currently, we are using iPS cells and induced DA neurons to expand our studies on parkin to idiopathic Parkinson’s disease. We are also utilizing the molecular targets identified in our studies to find small-molecule compounds that can mimic the beneficial functions of parkin. The availability of human midbrain DA neurons should significantly speed up the discovery of a cure for Parkinson’s disease.

Lee Ann, Garrett-Sinha
Garrett-Sinha, Lee Ann, PhDAssociate Professor
Email: leesinha@buffalo.edu
Phone: (716) 881-7995

Specialty/Research Focus:
Autoimmunity; Cell growth, differentiation and development; Gene Expression; Immunology; Molecular and Cellular Biology; Molecular genetics; Signal Transduction; Transcription and Translation; Transgenic organisms

Michael, Garrick
Email: mgarrick@buffalo.edu
Phone: (716) 829-3926

Specialty/Research Focus:
Bioinformatics; Genomics and proteomics; Immunology; Membrane Transport (Ion Transport); Molecular and Cellular Biology; Molecular Basis of Disease; Molecular genetics; Neurobiology; Gene Expression

Research Summary:
The current focus of my lab is on iron metabolism in animals and humans. From the practical viewpoint, iron is an important nutrient, but its ability to act in the ferrous and ferric state also makes it toxic. Thus, iron deficiency is the most frequent disorder in the world and hereditary hemochromatosis (HH) is the most common Mendelian disorder in the United States. Our research is related to erythroid differentiation on the fundamental level and to genetic and acquired diseases on the applied level, with four long-term themes: 1.) analysis of the molecular basis of differential gene expression among tissues and during development, with hemoglobin synthesis and red blood cell (RBC) development as models; 2.) application of molecular and genetic advances to inherited diseases; 3.) iron metabolism; 4.) study of gene variation in populations and divergence of gene loci during evolution. New vistas have opened recently for the anemia of chronic diseases, leading us to re-exam how microbes and their human hosts fight for iron. We approach these issues by working on rodent models like the Belgrade rat, plus a series of genetically engineered mice. The rat has a hypochromic, microcytic anemia inherited as an autosomal recessive. The defect is in an iron transporter called DMT1 (or slc11a2, previously called Nramp2 or DCT1) that is responsible for iron uptake by enterocytes and is also responsible for iron exiting endosomes in the transferrin cycle. The rats appear to have a severe iron deficiency, and although dietary iron and iron injection increase the number of RBCs, they do not restore the RBCs nor the rat itself to a normal phenotype. Recent discoveries show that DMT1 is ubiquitous and responsible for transport of other metals such as Mn and Ni. It occurs in the kidney, brain and lung at even higher levels than in the GI tract or in erythroid cells. It also has multiple isoforms, and we have cloned them and developed cell lines that express high levels of particular isoforms. We have specific antibodies to the isoforms and assays for each of the mRNAs too. Future projects in my lab will continue to address whether DMT1 is dysregulated in HH. We will also tackle how DMT1 functions in neurons, pneumocytes and other tissues, look at isoforms of DMT1 under circumstances where we suspect that they must have different functions from one another, and examine DMT1’s relevance to iron metabolism and human disease. Because we cloned the gene and identified the mutation, a number of molecular and cellular approaches can now be used. As evidence indicates that metal ion homeostasis fails in Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and Huntington’s disease, research on DMT1 has opened new vistas for these disorders.

Richard, Gronostajski
Gronostajski, Richard, PhDProfessor of Biochemistry; Director of the Genetics, Genomics & Bioinformatics Graduate Program; Director, Western New York Stem Cell Culture and Analysis Center (WNYSTEM)
Email: rgron@buffalo.edu
Phone: (716) 829-3471

Specialty/Research Focus:
Bioinformatics; Cell growth, differentiation and development; Genomics and proteomics; Molecular and Cellular Biology; Molecular Basis of Disease; Molecular genetics; Neurobiology; Gene Expression; Stem Cells; Transgenic organisms

Research Summary:
My research goal is to gain a better understanding of how proteins that interact with DNA regulate RNA transcription, DNA replication and metazoan development. I mentor undergraduate and graduate students in my lab; we focus on the structure and function of the Nuclear Factor I (NFI) family of site-specific DNA binding proteins, and we are investigating their roles in development. Our work has been made possible by our development of loss-of-function mutations of the NFI genes in the mouse and C. elegans. We are addressing four major questions in my laboratory and in collaboration with a number of talented collaborators: What is the structure of the NFI DNA-binding domain? How does NFI recognize and interact with DNA? Does NFI change the structure of DNA when it binds? What proteins interact with NFI to stimulate RNA transcription and/or DNA replication? These research questions are explored in my lab through two major projects focused on the role of NFIB in lung development and the role of NFIX in brain development. When NFIB is deleted from the germline of mice the animals die at birth because their lungs fail to mature normally. This provides a good model for the problems that occur with premature infants, whose lungs also fail to mature normally. We are using this model to determine how NFIB promotes lung maturation with the goal of being able to stimulate this process in premature infants. In our NFIX knockout animals, the brains of the animals are actually larger than normal and contain large numbers of cells in an area known to be the site of postnatal neurogenesis. We have evidence that NFIX may regulate the proliferation and differentiation of neural stem cells, which produce new neurons throughout adult life. Our aim is to understand the specific target genes that NFIX regulates in the adult brain to control this process of neurogenesis.

Marc, Halfon
Email: mshalfon@buffalo.edu
Phone: (716) 829-3126

Specialty/Research Focus:
Bioinformatics; Cell growth, differentiation and development; Gene Expression; Genomics and proteomics; Molecular genetics; Signal Transduction

Research Summary:
Research in my laboratory investigates the genetic regulatory circuitry that controls how cell fates are determined during development. We focus on two key aspects, intercellular signaling and transcriptional regulation, using primarily the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster due to its extremely well-annotated genome and amenability to experimental manipulation. All conclusions, however, are expected to relate directly to mammalian (including human) gene regulation. Recently, we have also started investigating the regulatory genomics of other insect species of both medical and agricultural importance, beginning with the development of methods for regulatory element discovery in species with fully sequenced genomes but little functional, experimental data. A defining feature of my laboratory is that it takes both wet-lab and computational/bioinformatics approaches to studying the same set of problems about development and transcriptional regulation; hypotheses and ideas generated using one set of methods are tested and explored using the other. Current research in the laboratory falls into two main areas: 1) discovery and characterization of transcriptional cis-regulatory modules (CRMs), and 2) mechanisms of specificity for receptor tyrosine kinase (RTK) signaling. The combined results of these studies will provide insight into gene regulation, genome structure, intercellular signaling, and the regulatory networks that govern embryonic development. My group is also heavily involved in biocuration through our development and maintenance of REDfly, an internationally-recognized curated database of known Drosophila transcriptional cis-regulatory modules (CRMs) and transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs). Despite more than 25 years of experimental determination of these elements, the data have never been collected into a single searchable database. REDfly seeks to include all experimentally verified fly regulatory elements along with their DNA sequence, their associated genes, and the expression patterns they direct. REDfly is by far the most comprehensive database of regulatory elements for the higher eukaryotes and serves as an important resource for the fly and bioinformatics communities.

Tracey, Ignatowski
Ignatowski, Tracey, PhDAssistant Professor
Email: tai1@buffalo.edu
Phone: 716-829-3102

Specialty/Research Focus:
Neuroimmunology; Behavioral pharmacology; Gene therapy; Immunology; Molecular and Cellular Biology; Molecular Basis of Disease; Neurobiology; Gene Expression; Signal Transduction; Protein Function and Structure; Neuropharmacology

Research Summary:
My research spans three interrelated fields: chronic pain, depression and inflammation. Experiments in my laboratory focus on how brain-derived pro-inflammatory cytokines, such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF), function as modulators of brain-body interactions during neuropathic pain and how brain-TNF is involved in the mechanism of action of antidepressant drugs. My overall goal is to advance knowledge of, and therapeutic efficacy for pain, depression, neuro-inflammation and drug addiction. This research is based on my earlier work showing that neurons produce the pro-inflammatory cytokine TNF and that the production of TNF by macrophages is regulated by neurotransmitters. Cytokines and neurotransmitters are principal signaling molecules that mediate bidirectional communication between the nervous and immune systems--the crosstalk important in maintaining homeostasis. Consequently, aberrant production of either of these two classes of mediators could profoundly affect signaling by the other, thereby impacting health. A shift in balanced cytokine-neuron interactions that regulate neurotransmitter release in the central nervous system (CNS), and that have potential behavioral consequences, manifest themselves as states of depression and chronic pain. My research uses both cell systems and animal models to test these hypotheses. Colleagues and I use a combination of imaging techniques to localize cytokine production, bioassays and ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays) for pharmacological and functional analyses, electrophysiological (brain slice stimulation) and molecular methods for our studies. In addition to investigating neuron functioning in the brain, trainees in my laboratory also study the peripheral macrophage, a major source of TNF during inflammation. Specifically studying neurotransmitter regulation of TNF production in the periphery is enhancing our knowledge of how the brain controls a peripheral inflammatory lesion. Our studies are designed to investigate the mechanisms of centrally mediated pain as associated with immune dysfunction and to elucidate mechanisms of drugs used to treat such pain states. My projects are evolving to investigate the mechanisms and neural pathways involved in TNF neuromodulator functions during chronic pain (due to peripheral nerve injury and diabetes) and stress-induced depressive behavior. We also study mechanisms contributing to the comorbidity of chronic pain and depression. I collaborate with researchers in several UB departments and at other institutions. Our projects include using noninvasive methods for delivery of anti-TNF therapeutics for chronic pain, elucidating the neural-immune mechanisms involved in the rapid recovery afforded by centrally administered anti-TNF therapy and using nanotechnology-mediated, targeted gene silencing within the CNS. I am invested in helping my undergraduate and graduate students, medical residents and postdoctoral fellows realize their potential and achieve their goals. Previous students have advanced professionally and hold clinical, academic and industrial positions.

Raymond, Kelleher
Kelleher, Raymond, PhDResearch Associate Professor
Email: rjk6@buffalo.edu
Phone: (716) 829-2558

Specialty/Research Focus:
Gene Expression; Immunology; Molecular and Cellular Biology; Molecular genetics; Signal Transduction

Research Summary:
I am the administrator for flow cytometry in the Confocal Microscopy and Flow Cytometry Core Facility that serves investigators throughout the university. In that role, I oversee the use of the LSRFortessa and the FACSCalibur analytical flow cytometers, providing instruction on their use and the analysis of acquired data and serving as a consultant on the design and interpretation of experiments. I also operate the FACSAria cell sorter, providing sterile live cell sorting. In addition, I operate and provide assistance to users on the application of cytometric bead array analysis on the FACSArray, as well as Elispot analysis using the Zeiss KS-ELISPOT microscope. My own research centers on investigating the responsiveness of human T cells in the tumor microenvironment of lung and ovarian cancer and lymphomas. In that research, I am a coinvestigator in a collaborative group of oncologists and immunologists coordinated by Richard Bankert, PhD. We have observed that T cells in the tumor microenvironment are hyporesponsive to T cell receptor-mediated activation and that factor(s) present in ovarian tumors and associated ascites fluid can cause this hyporesponsiveness. We are investigating the mechanism(s) of this phenomenon. Also, as an approach to the in vivo study of the immune response to human tumor associated antigens, our group has established a novel xenograft model by injecting human tumor cell aggregates of solid ovarian tumor biopsies intraperitoneally into immune-deficient NSG mice. The result is a human tumor microenvironment in the greater omentum of the mice, i.e., the omental tumor xenograft (OTX) model. The progression of the human tumor xenograft closely approximates the characteristics of the tumor in cancer patients, and it is possible to quantify the presence of tumor cells and stromal cells in the OTX model. These findings have led to our program goals to: 1.) determine whether the OTX model can be used as a predictive tool of the outcome of therapeutic approaches for the treatment of human ovarian cancer and B cell lymphoma, and 2.) determine whether the inhibition of activation in the tumor microenvironment can be reversed so that the antitumor T cell response can be reactivated.

Stephen, Koury
Koury, Stephen, BS MT (ASCP), MS, PhDResearch Associate Professor
Email: stvkoury@buffalo.edu
Phone: (716) 829-5188

Specialty/Research Focus:
Microbiology; Cell growth, differentiation and development; Cytoskeleton and cell motility; Genomics and proteomics; Molecular and Cellular Biology; Molecular genetics; Gene Expression; RNA

Jennifer, Lang
Lang, Jennifer, MDResearch Assistant Professor
Email: jklang@buffalo.edu
Phone: (716) 829-6118

Specialty/Research Focus:
Cardiology; Cardiovascular Disease; Cell growth, differentiation and development; Gene Expression; Molecular and Cellular Biology; Signal Transduction; Stem Cells

Research Summary:
As a general cardiologist, I diagnose and treat a wide range of problems that affect the heart and blood vessels, including but not limited to coronary artery disease, valvular heart disease, heart failure, diseases of the myocardium and pericardium, cardiac arrhythmias, conduction disorders and syncope. I attend on the inpatient Coronary Care ICU (CCU), Cardiac Step-down Unit, and Cardiology Consult service at Buffalo General Medical Center as well as see patients in my outpatient clinic. In addition to treating pre-existing cardiac conditions, I also believe in strong preventive care and addressing modifiable risk factors for coronary disease. I take time to get to know my patients, and I talk with them about measures they can take to reduce their risk for cardiovascular disease and improve their health. As a clinician-scientist, I have a special interest in developing new stem cell based treatments for heart disease. My research is focused on understanding what stem cell secreted factors are responsible for improved heart function, what their targets are and how these can be modulated to develop new cell-free therapies that can help patients with a wide spectrum of coronary disease and heart failure. I welcome medical students, graduate students, residents and fellows to conduct research with me in my lab. As a native Buffalonian, I am honored to partner with the patients in our community to help improve their heart health and cardiac knowledge base. I am equally excited to be involved in shaping the next generation of physicians through the teaching I conduct at the medical student, resident and fellow level.

Suzanne, Laychock
Laychock, Suzanne, PhDProfessor and Senior Associate Dean For Faculty Affairs & Facilities
Email: laychock@buffalo.edu
Phone: (716) 829-2808

Specialty/Research Focus:
Apoptosis and cell death; Endocrinology; Molecular and Cellular Biology; Gene Expression; Regulation of metabolism; Signal Transduction

Research Summary:
Suzanne Laychock, PhD, is senior associate dean for faculty affairs and facilities, and professor of pharmacology and toxicology. She is responsible for overseeing faculty development, space management, and undergraduate biomedical education programs. Dr. Laychock earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Brooklyn College, a master’s degree in biology for the City University of New York and a doctorate in pharmacology from the Medical College of Virginia. An accomplished scientist, Dr. Laychock’s research focuses on endocrine pharmacology with an emphasis on signal transduction mechanisms involved in insulin secretion and models of diabetes mellitus. The author of numerous journal articles, she has served as associate editor of the research journal LIPIDS, and on the editorial boards of Diabetes and the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. She is the recipient of research grants from, among others, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the American Diabetes Association. Dr. Laychock is Council Member and has chaired the Women in Pharmacology Committee of the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. She has served the university as a member and chair of the President’s Review Board, and as co-director of the Institute for Research and Education on Women and Gender.

Tao, Liu
Liu, Tao, PhDAssistant Professor
Email: tliu4@buffalo.edu
Phone: 716-829-2749

Specialty/Research Focus:
Bioinformatics; Gene Expression; Genomics and proteomics

Research Summary:
My research is focused on developing bioinformatics algorithms especially through sequencing analysis and data integration, to understand better transcriptional and epigenetic regulation. Transcription factor often binds to DNA and interferes with transcription machinery to enhance or repress gene expression. Epigenetic features such as histone modification, chromatin remodeling factor binding, DNA methylation, and chromatin 3D organization add yet another layer of information, making it more complex to understand the regulation dynamics within the nucleus. With advancing sequencing technology, however, such information now can be measured and quantified in genome scale, though the growing number of big genomic datasets creates challenges as well as opportunities for bioinformatics methodologies. The focus of our lab is to build algorithms, analysis platforms and databases to integrate big datasets from the public domain into various biological questions and disease models. The MACS (Genome Biology 2008) algorithm, on which I worked to develop, is one of the most widely-used algorithms for predicting cis-regulatory elements from Chromatin Immunoprecipitation with high-throughput sequencing (ChIP-seq). The algorithm has been evolving over years to accommodate various factor types from punctuate transcription factor binding to long-range histone modifications. It has been used to process hundreds of publicly-available datasets in the mod/ENCODE project, and it continues as a focus of my lab. I also worked to build an integrative platform for ChIP analysis based on Galaxy framework, named Cistrome (Genome Biology 2011). This platform provides both a user-friendly interface and rich functionality for biologists to manage and process their high-throughput genomic data and to publish the results conveniently over the Internet. The Cistrome platform will continue as a collaborative project between my UB lab and research partners at Harvard University. I have also been involved in many collaborative research projects, such as circadian binding of histone deacetylase and nuclear receptor Rev-Erba in mouse liver (Science 2011), and the modENCODE consortium project to elucidate chromatin factor functions of C. elegans (Genome Research 2011 and Science 2010).

Supriya, Mahajan
Mahajan, Supriya, PhDResearch Associate Professor
Email: smahajan@buffalo.edu
Phone: (716) 888-4776

Specialty/Research Focus:
Apoptosis and cell death; Bioinformatics; Endocrinology; Gene Expression; Gene therapy; Genomics and proteomics; Immunology; Molecular Basis of Disease; Molecular and Cellular Biology; Neurobiology; RNA; Viral Pathogenesis

Research Summary:
Dr. Mahajan has established herself as an investigator in the area of neuropathogenesis of HIV-1 in the context of drug abuse. She has initiated several new projects that investigate the role of a unique key signaling molecule in the dopaminergic pathway that impacts drug addiction, depression and other neurological disorders. Her focus has always been on collaborative, interdisciplinary partnerships between various Departments within UB that include the Institute of Lasers, Photonics and Biophotonics, Research Institute of Addiction, Dept of Computer Science and Engineering, Dept of Pharmaceutical sciences and the Department of Bioengineering. This inclusive strategy has facilitated the emergence of a robust, innovative clinical translational research program for our Division that continues to grow steadily. Dr Mahajan has obtained independent research funding from NIDA, the pharmaceutical Pfizer, US- Fulbright and other Private Foundations such as Dr. Louis Skalrow Memorial trust to conduct some of these research projects. Dr. Mahajan is Director of Research of the Division of Allergy, Immunology & Rheumatology. She supervises the research training of the Allergy fellows,Medical residents, graduate and undergraduate students. Dr. Mahajan has presented her research work at National and International conferences and was an invited speaker at several seminars and colloquiums. She has authored over 95 publications in several top quality peer reviewed journals and has thus demonstrated a high level of scholarly productivity. She is a reviewer and an adhoc member of the editorial board of several journals in her field. The following is a brief synopsis of her research interests. HIV neuropathogenesis in the context of drug abuse: We proposed that Opiates act as co-factors in the pathogenesis of HIV-1 infections by directly suppressing immune functions of the host through interactions with mu-opioid receptors on lymphocytes. Exacerbation of HIV encephalopathy (HIVE) is observed with opiate abuse. The mechanisms underlying HIVE are currently undetermined however, they likely to include the generation of endogenous neurotoxins combined, perhaps synergistically, with bioreactive HIV-1 envelope proteins. We believe that these proposed mechanisms may work through a common signal transduction mechanism activating dopamine D1 receptors in the nucleus accumbens of the brain. Opiate abuse by HIV-1 infected subjects may exacerbate the progression of HIVE as a consequence of the combined effects of HIV-1 induced neurotoxins plus opiate induced increases in the D1 receptor activation. We hypothesize that the dopaminergic signaling pathway is the central molecular mechanism that integrates the neuropathogenic activities of both HIV-1 infections and the abuse of opiate drugs. In this context our investigation is focused on the DARPP-32 signalling pathway. Addictive drugs act on the dopaminergic system of the brain and perturb the function of the dopamine- and cyclic-AMP-regulated phosphoprotein of molecular weight 32 kD (DARPP-32). DARPP-32 is critical to the pathogenesis of drug addiction by modulating both transcriptional and post-translational events in different regions of the brain. DARPP-32 is localized within neurons containing dopamine receptors and is a potent inhibitor of another key molecule in the dopaminergic signaling pathway, protein phosphatase 1 (PP-1). We propose that the sustained silencing of DARPP-32 gene expression using specific siRNA delivered to the brain is an innovative approach for the treatment of drug addiction. The specific challenge of the proposed project is the non-invasive delivery of biologically stable, therapeutic siRNA molecules to target cells within the brain. We are developing biocompatible nanoparticles to both protect DARPP-32 specific siRNA against degradation and deliver it from the systemic circulation across the BBB to specific dopaminergic neurons in the brain of patients with opiate addictions. BBB Research: While examining neuropathogenesis of HIV, we became interested in the role of the blood-brain barrier (BBB) in HIV neuropathogenesis with the objective of developing therapeutic interventions to prevent and limit the progression of HIV associated neurological disease. The blood-brain barrier is an intricate cellular system composed of vascular endothelial cells and perivascular astrocytes that restrict the passage of molecules between the blood stream and the brain parenchyma. We evaluated and validated both the 2 and 3 dimensional human in-vitro BBB models in my laboratory, that allowed examining permeability of virus, effects of drugs of abuse on BBB permeability, mechanisms of BBB transport, and tight junction modulation. Our goal remains to determine the impact of current and potential CNS antiretrovirals, psychopharmacologic, and other medications on the integrity of the BBB in HIV associated neurological disorder and other neurodegenerative diseases. Additionally, We also investigate mechanisms that underlie drugs of abuse induced neuronal apoptosis. Systems biology approach: We expanded our investigation to include functional genomic/proteomic analyses that allowed characterization of gene/ protein modulation in response to a drug stimulus or under a specific disease condition. We developed an expertise in these large-scale genomic and proteomic studies and the genomic studies helped identify key genes that underlie molecular mechanisms in drug addiction, HIV diseases progression, and allowed examination of the interplay of genes and environmental factors. The proteomic studies confirmed the presence of specific proteins that regulate key biological processes in drug addiction and HIV diseases progression. Recently, We have expanded my research program to include microbiome analyses and incorporated the utility of the computational drug discovery platform (CANDO) model that allows studying interaction between protein structures from microbiome genomes and determine the interactions that occur between them and small molecules (drugs and human/bacterial metabolites that are already a part of or continue to be added to the CANDO library. Using the CANDO Platform we are able to do the hierarchical fragment-based docking with dynamics between those compounds/drugs and the microbiome proteins/proteomes to determine which ones of the drugs and metabolites will work most efficaciously in patients using specific drugs. NanoMedicine: Over the last couple of years, We have become increasingly interested in nanomedicine and have developed several interdisciplinary clinical translational research focused collaborations that include 1) Nanotechnology based delivery systems to examine antitretroviral transport across the BBB; 2) Nanotherapeutics using siRNA/Plasmid delivery to specific regions in the brain to target various genes of interest specifically those pertaining to the dopaminergic pathway that includes a phosphor protein called “DARPP-32”. Targeting various key genes in the dopaminergic pathway results in the modulation of behavioral response which we observed in animal models of addiction/depression, 3) Biodistribution studies of various nanotherapeutic formulations using PET small animal imaging. Additionally, We are also focused on exploring epigenetic mechanisms that under drug addiction and mechanisms that underlie oxidative stress in neurodegenerative diseases.

Xiuqian, Mu
Mu, Xiuqian, PhDAssociate Professor
Email: xmu@buffalo.edu
Phone: 716-881-7463

Specialty/Research Focus:
Bioinformatics; Cell growth, differentiation and development; Gene Expression; Genomics and proteomics; Molecular genetics; Stem Cells; Transcription and Translation; Transgenic organisms; Vision science

Research Summary:
My lab is interested in how global gene expression advances from one state to the next in time and space during development to promote the specification and differentiation of individual retinal cell types from multi-potent neural progenitor cells. We focus on the gene regulatory network (GRN) involved in the formation of one retinal cell type, retinal ganglion cells (RGCs). RGCs are the only projection neurons in the retina and connect the retina to the brain through the optic nerve. Death of RGCs is cause of vision loss in glaucoma and other retinal diseases. Several key transcription factors (TFs) functioning at different stages of RGC development have been identified; Math5 is essential for RGC fate specification, whereas Pou4f2 and Isl1 are required for their differentiation. Our previous study has established a tentative model for the RGC GRN, in which these TFs occupy key node positions. Current projects in the lab are aimed at further understanding how these transcription factors specifically regulate their target genes and how they interact with each other. Considerable efforts are also placed on identifying novel key regulators in the GRN. Our studies employ a combined approach of genetics, genomics and bioinformatics. Our eventual goal is to use the knowledge learned from our studies to develop new therapies for various retinal diseases.

Mark, O‘Brian
O‘Brian, Mark, PhDProfessor and Chair
Email: mrobrian@buffalo.edu
Phone: (716) 829-3200

Specialty/Research Focus:
Microbial Pathogenesis; Molecular and Cellular Biology; Gene Expression; Regulation of metabolism

Research Summary:
The adaptive success of bacteria depends, in part, on the ability to sense and respond to their environment. Metals such as iron and manganese are important nutrients that can often be limiting, and therefore cellular metabolism must be modified to either scavenge the nutrients or use alternative processes that do not require the metal. Bradyrhizobium japonicum belongs to a group of related organisms that form close or intracellular and related bacteria that form an intracellular relationship with eukaryotes in a pathogenic or symbiotic context. This bacterium serves as a model to study related pathogens that are refractive to genetic and biochemical study. One project involves understanding the mechanisms by which cells maintain iron homeostasis at the level of gene expression. We discovered the global transcriptional regulator Irr that controls iron-dependent processes. Irr is stable only under iron limitation, where it positively and negatively controls target genes. We are interested in understanding the mechanism of this conditional stability, how Irr regulates genes, and the functions of numerous genes under its control. We initiated a new project to understand the requirement for manganese in cellular processes, how it is acquired from the environment, and how manganese controls gene expression. Also, we identified cross-talk between regulators that control iron and manganese homeostasis and are pursuing this unique mechanism.

John, Panepinto
Panepinto, John, PhDAssociate Professor
Email: jcp25@buffalo.edu
Phone: (716) 829-2090

Specialty/Research Focus:
Eukaryotic Pathogenesis; Gene Expression; Infectious Disease; Microbial Pathogenesis; Microbiology; RNA; Signal Transduction

Research Summary:
There are estimated to be over one million species of fungi on the earth, yet very few of these species are capable of causing deadly systemic infections in humans. One of the major limiting factors for most fungi is their inability to grow at mammalian core body temperature. We utilize the fungal pathogen Cryptococcus neoformans var. grubii as a representative fungal pathogen to understand how these few fungi have adapted to growth at mammalian body temperature. C. neoformans is a worthy pathogen, as it is estimated to cause over 500,000 deaths from meningoencephalitis per year, primarily in Africa and Southeast Asia as an HIV/AIDS comorbidity. We use the temperature-limited Cryptococcus amylolentus as a comparator; it is an environmental strain that produces similar virulence factors to C. neoformans and is fully virulent in surrogate invertebrate hosts at permissive temperatures. We have discovered that host temperature adaptation in C. neoformans is accompanied by a reprogramming of gene expression at the level of messenger RNA (mRNA) stability. In response to temperature stress, C. neoformans rapidly degrades mRNAs that encode energy consuming machinery such as ribosomes. At the same time, it prioritizes the translation of stress-responsive mRNAs on existing ribosomes. Because mRNA synthesis and decay are coupled processes, we seek to identify the protein components of mRNA complexes that mediate the specificity of this decay process and posttranslational modifications, such as arginine methylation and phosphorylation, that modify their function. In addition, we are investigating the signaling pathways that accelerate or slow mRNA decay in response to specific environmental stimuli such as host temperature and nutrient deprivation. Finally, mRNA decay not only alters gene expression at the posttranscriptional level, but the degradation of abundant mRNAs during stress releases nucleotide intermediates that can be utilized by the stressed cell to promote genome stability. We are investigating the process of mRNA degradation as well as nucleotide metabolic pathways as drug targets in C. neoformans and other fungal pathogens. Our goal is to define the unique attributes of C. neoformans that confer pathogenicity and to identify potential targets for novel therapeutics. Each of my students has a project that contributes to the overall goals of my research team. Students in my laboratory work independently, though with frequent interaction with me regarding the direction of investigation and interpretation of data. Regular meetings allow us to provide input on each other’s projects. I expect my students to present their work at least once per year at a national or international meeting, and I expect them to do the bulk of the work in writing papers describing their findings for publication.

Alfred, Ponticelli
Ponticelli, Alfred, PhDAssociate Professor
Email: asp@buffalo.edu
Phone: (716) 829-2473

Specialty/Research Focus:
Gene Expression; Molecular Basis of Disease; Molecular and Cellular Biology; Molecular genetics; Protein Function and Structure; Transcription and Translation

Research Summary:
Our laboratory utilizes combined genetic, biochemical and molecular biological approaches to investigate the molecular mechanisms involved in the initiation and regulation of eukaryotic transcription. Previous work in our laboratory utilizing both the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae and human cells resulted in the identification and biochemical characterization of mutants of nuclear RNA polymerase II (RNAPII) and the general transcription factors TFIIB and TFIIF that coordinately affect transcription start site utilization and transcript elongation. These studies supported a model where yeast and human TFIIF induce global conformational changes in RNAPII that result in structural and functional changes in the polymerase active center. Our current studies are focused on elucidating the mechanisms of kinetoplast transcription by the mitochondrial RNA polymerase of Trypanosoma brucei. T. brucei is a protozoan parasite that is the causative agent of African sleeping sickness (trypanosomiasis) in humans and nagana in animals. Procyclic trypanosomes growing in the midgut of the tsetse fly have a fully functional mitochondrion whereas trypanosomes in the mammalian bloodstream exhibit repressed mitochondrial function. The mitochondrial DNA in trypanosomes is unusual in its structure, comprising a highly catenated network of maxicircles and minicircles termed kinetoplast DNA (kDNA). Surprisingly, very little is known about the cis-acting elements and the trans-acting factors governing the transcription of maxicircles and minicircles. Our objective is to elucidate the mechanisms and regulation of T. brucei kDNA transcription with the ultimate goal of developing therapeutic agents.

David, Poulsen
Poulsen, David, PhDProfessor of Translational Neuroscience
Email: davidpou@buffalo.edu
Phone: (406) 360-0338

Specialty/Research Focus:
Gene Expression; Gene therapy; Molecular Basis of Disease; Molecular and Cellular Biology; Neurobiology; Neuropharmacology; Transcription and Translation

Research Summary:
The efforts in my lab are broadly directed at the translational research of neuroprotective/neurorestorative agents. Specifically, I am focused on the preclinical and clinical development of therapies used to prevent behavioral and cognitive deficits following traumatic brain injury (TBI) and stroke. Over 800,000 patients each year in the US suffer stroke and more than twice that number suffer TBI. Unfortunately there are currently no FDA approved therapies for TBI. TPA is the only therapy approved for stroke but is only applied in about 4% of stroke patients. Furthermore, while TPA is thrombolytic, it does not limit the cascade of pathology initiated by the original occlusion. We have demonstrated that low dose methamphetamine is highly neuroprotective when administered as an acute treatment (within 12 hours after injury) following severe stroke or TBI. We have show that treatment with methamphetamine significantly improve cognition and functional behavior in rat models of these injuries. This effect is primarily mediated through the activation of a dopamine/PI3K/AKT signaling cascade and results in the preservation of primary neurons, and axons, as well as enhanced granule cell neurogenesis and white mater track remodeling. Furthermore, gene expression analysis suggests methamphetamine treatment significantly reduces pro-inflammatory signals and stabilizes the blood brain barrier. These observations led us to further investigate the potential of low dose methamphetamine to reduce or prevent post-traumatic epilepsy. Using long-term video/EEG monitoring, we determined that methamphetamine treatment significantly reduces the incidence and susceptibility to post traumatic epilepsy/seizures after severe TBI in rats. This becomes quite relevant when one considers that many patients with post-traumatic epilepsy are pharmacoresistant. We are continuing to use the TBI model to investigate the causes of post-traumatic epilepsy and test novel therapeutics. In addition to single severe injury, we are also very interested in the effects of repeated mild TBIs. It has now been observed that multiple mild TBIs can cause clinical seizures in about 50% of rats. Therefore, we are also using this model to investigate the causes of post-traumatic epilepsy and potential therapeutic interventions. We have now completed a phase I human trial of methamphetamine in healthy volunteers and are moving to conduct a phase IIa dose escalation safety study in TBI patients. In addition, we are currently using NGS to examine plasma miRNA changes as potential biomarkers and objective measures of activity to support the phase IIa study. In addition to small molecules, my lab also is investigating the development of Adeno- associated virus (AAV) vector based gene therapy approaches to the treatment of CNS injuries such as post-traumatic epilepsy. Specifically, we are using recombinant AAV vectors to modulate targeted gene expression in a temporal, tissue-specific and cell type-specific manner within the CNS.

Laurie, Read
Email: lread@buffalo.edu
Phone: (716) 829-3307

Specialty/Research Focus:
Eukaryotic Pathogenesis; Gene Expression; Genomics and proteomics; Infectious Disease; Microbial Pathogenesis; Microbiology; Molecular and Cellular Biology; Molecular genetics; Protein Function and Structure; RNA

Research Summary:
Trypanosoma brucei is a eukaryotic pathogen that causes human African trypanosomiasis, a disease that is invariably fatal if not treated. Essential and novel processes in this parasite may serve as starting platforms for new chemotherapeutics, which are urgently needed. Our laboratory combines biochemical, genetic, genomic and proteomic approaches toward understanding gene regulation and protein modification in this pathogenic eukaryote. One focus in my laboratory is RNA editing, a novel mechanism for regulating mitochondrial gene expression in which sequence information is added to mRNAs after transcription by specific insertion and deletion of uridine residues. RNA editing is essential for creating translatable open reading frames (ORFs). We are performing functional and biochemical characterization of the large, dynamic RNA-protein complex termed MRB1, which coordinates multiple aspects of the RNA editing process. A second focus is on regulating RNA stability and translational control in T. brucei, which constitute the major methods of gene regulation in this organism. We identified an RNA binding protein, DRBD18, that impacts the stabilities of hundreds of mRNAs. Our data support a model in which posttranslational modification of DRBD18 by arginine methylation acts as a switch to change DRBD18 from an mRNA destabilizer to an mRNA stabilizer by regulating specific protein-protein and protein-RNA interactions. We are testing this model in vitro and in vivo using reporter assays, in vivo protein-RNA cross-linking and protein-protein interaction assays. A third focus is on understanding the mechanisms by which protein arginine methylation modulates trypanosome biology.  We performed a global proteomic analysis of the arginine methylome of T. brucei, identifying >1100 methylproteins spanning most cellular compartments and a wide array of functional classes. We are now analyzing novel mechanisms of protein arginine methyltransferase regulation and defining the physiological and molecular functions of arginine methylmarks on selected proteins. I foster a collaborative and flexible laboratory environment, and I encourage my students to explore the research topics that interest them.

Christine, Schaner Tooley
Email: ceschane@buffalo.edu
Phone: (716) 829-2978

Specialty/Research Focus:
Cell growth, differentiation and development; DNA Replication, Recombination and Repair; Gene Expression; Molecular and Cellular Biology; Proteins and metalloenzymes; Signal Transduction; Transcription and Translation

Research Summary:
The main goal of my research group is to understand the role of N-terminal methylation on human development and disease. I identified the first eukaryotic N-terminal methyltransferases, NRMT1 and NRMT2, and am now working to identify how these enzymes and this new type of methylation affect cancer development and ageing. Our laboratory has shown that NRMT1 functions as a tumor suppressor in mammary glands, and its loss sensitizes breast cancer cells to DNA damaging chemotherapeutics. We have also created the first NRMT1 knockout mouse and shown it to have developmental defects, as well as, exhibit phenotypes of premature ageing. Currently, we are working to understand the exact biochemical pathways that lead from loss of N-terminal methylation to these phenotypes. We are also studying how post-translational modifications on the N-terminus of proteins may interact and dictate protein function, similar to the post-translational modifications found on histone tails.

Umesh, Sharma
Sharma, Umesh, MD, PhDAssistant Professor
Email: sharmau@buffalo.edu
Phone: 716-829-2663

Specialty/Research Focus:
Cardiology; Cardiovascular Disease; Internal Medicine; Radiology; Cardiopulmonary physiology; Immunology; Gene Expression; Cardiac pharmacology; Stem Cells

Research Summary:
I am a cardiologist with specialized training in advanced cardiac imaging. I see outpatients at the Heart and Lung Center of Buffalo General Medicine Center (BGMC), and I care for inpatients through the cardiology consult and inpatient services at BGMC. As an advanced imaging cardiologist, I am responsible for developing and advancing the cardiac computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) programs at the Gates Vascular Institute (GVI) and providing these services to patients. These advanced, noninvasive imaging techniques allow physicians to perform in-depth, 3-D evaluation of the coronary tree, myocardium, heart valves, pericardium and great vessels. These imaging tools allow for the best possible diagnoses and care of patients. My research spans basic science, translational and clinical fields and combines the cross-discipline expertise on magnetic resonance (MR) technology with molecular biology. My overall goal is to study the consequences of ischemia-induced myocardial injury, with a focus on their therapeutic reversal. My research laboratory at UB’s Clinical and Translational Research Center (CTRC) is devoted to the development of novel time-and-tissue-targeted MRI methods for integrative understanding of cardiovascular pathophysiology in preclinical models. We have several interesting research projects, e.g., we have recently discovered that the presence of high-risk plaques in the carotid arteries predict future incidence of myocardial infarction and stroke. The results emphasize that the nature of atherosclerosis and the use of comprehensive non-invasive computed tomography angiography (CTA) will help identify patients who are at higher risk of developing ischemic stroke. These research results will help physicians employ early therapeutic strategies for these high-risk patients. I mentor medical students, residents and fellows both in clinical and research settings, and I precept cardiology fellows at the Heart and Lung Center at BGMC. In addition, I am deeply engaged in furthering the research and clinical education of our house staff. Our trainees have published their research in highly esteemed peer-reviewed journals, and many have routinely presented their work at national and international scientific conferences. I am committed to facilitating the career goals of my mentees while I continue to advance my own career as a clinician, researcher and mentor.

Animesh, Sinha
Sinha, Animesh, MD, PhDRita M. and Ralph T. Behling Professor and Chair of Dermatology
Email: aasinha@buffalo.edu
Phone: 716-204-8730

Specialty/Research Focus:
Dermatology; Autoimmunity; Gene Expression; Genomics and proteomics; Immunology

Satrajit, Sinha
Sinha, Satrajit, PhDAssociate Professor
Email: ssinha2@buffalo.edu
Phone: (716) 881-7994

Specialty/Research Focus:
Genomics and proteomics; Molecular and Cellular Biology; Gene Expression

Research Summary:
My laboratory is interested in understanding the transcriptional control mechanisms that dictate epithelial cell development and differentiation. Specifically, we seek to understand the functional role of a p53-family member, p63 and Ets family of proteins in epithelial cells such as those of the skin and mammary glands. Towards this end, we have developed and characterized transgenic mice in which the normal expression pattern of these crucial factors is altered by both gain-of-function (Tet-inducible transgenic system) and loss-of-function (knockout) experiments. Our broad objectives are to elucidate the molecular mechanism by which transcription factors such as p63 and Ets proteins regulate their target genes and how such regulation of specific pathways dictate cell fate, development and differentiation. We utilize broad biochemical and genetic approaches, cell culture systems and state of the art genome-wide interrogation techniques to answer questions about differentiation of progenitor/stem populations and to examine molecular consequences of altered expression of transcription factors. These studies will not only help better understand the normal physiological processes but also lead to novel mechanistic insights into the pathophysiology of wide range of disease including cancer.

Ewa, Stachowiak
Stachowiak, Ewa, PhDAssistant Professor
Email: eks1@buffalo.edu
Phone: 716-829-5210

Specialty/Research Focus:
Cell growth, differentiation and development; Gene Expression; Molecular and Cellular Biology; Neurobiology; Signal Transduction

Research Summary:
The long term mission of my research has been to understand developmental and regenerative processes within the mammalian CNS. Towards these goals I have employed stereological and microscopic imaging techniques, stem cell cultures and in vivo models to analyze brain development, regenerative capacity, etiology of neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative diseases. I have established a quantitative Neuroanatomy Stereology laboratory within a multi-disciplinary Molecular and Structural Neurobiology and Gene Therapy Program. Current projects: Developmental disorder- Schizophrenia The studies that I have been engaged in the last several years have addressed fundamental aspects of organismal development, their pathological disruptions and their targeting for regenerative medicine. With the advent of multicellular organisms, mechanisms emerged that imposed new controls which limited the natural propensity of organisms composed of single cells to proliferate, and to invade new locales, which ultimately results in the formation of tissues and organs. How such an immense task is accomplished has been largely unknown. Our collaborative studies have revealed a pan-ontogenic gene mechanism, Integrative Nuclear Fibroblast Growth Factor Receptor 1 (FGFR1) Signaling (INFS), which mediates global gene programing through the nuclear form of the FGFR1 receptor (nFGFR1) and its partner CREB Binding Protein, so as to assimilate signals from diverse signaling pathways[1]. My work, which has contributed to these findings, has been focused on the role of INFS in cellular development. I have shown that INFS is central to the development of neural cells and that pluripotent ESC and multipotent NPCs can be programmed to exit from their cycles of self-renewal, and to undergo neuronal differentiation simply by transfecting a single protein, nFGFR1. Using viral and novel, nanotechnology based gene transfers, I have demonstrated that it is possible to reactivate developmental neurogenesis in adult brain by overexpressing nFGFR1 in brain stem/progenitor cells. We have shown that similar effects can be produced by small molecules that activate the INFS. These findings may revolutionize treatments of abnormal brain development, injury and neurodegenerative diseases by targeting INFS to reactivate brain neurogenesis. Schizophrenia (SZ) has been linked to the abnormal development of multiple neuronal systems, and to changes in genes within diverse ontogenic networks. Genetic studies have established a link between FGFs and nFGFR1 with these networks and SZ[1]. nFGFR1 integrates signals from diverse SZ linked genes (>200 identified) and pathways[2-6] and controls developmental gene networks. By manipulating nFGFR1 function in the brain of transgenic mice I have established a model that mimics important characteristics of human schizophrenia: including its neurodevelopmental origin, the hypoplasia of DA neurons, increased numbers of immature neurons in cortex and hippocampus, disruption of brain cortical layers and connections, a delayed onset of behavioral symptoms, deficits across multiple domains of the disorder, and their correction by typical and atypical antipsychotics[6, 7]. To understand how SZ affects neural development, I have begun to generate induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) using fibroblast of SZ patients with different genetic backgrounds. In my studies I employ 3-dimensional cultures of iPSCs, co-developmental grafting of the iPSCs neural progeny into murine brain, FISH (Fluorescent In Situ Hybridization), gene transfer and quantitative stereological analyses. I am testing how genomic dysregulation affects the developmental potential of schizophrenia NPCs (formation of 3D cortical organoids, in vivo development of grafted iPSCs) which may be normalized by correcting nFGFR1 and miRNA functions. In summary, my studies are aimed to develop to new treatments for Schizophrenia and other neurodevelopmental disorders including potential preventive therapies. Effect of maternal diet and metabolic deficits on brain development (collaboration with Dr. Mulchand Patel, Department of Biochemistry, UB) Approximately 36% of the adults in the US are classified as obese. Available evidence from epidemiological and animal studies indicate that altered nutritional experiences early in life can affect the development of obesity and associated metabolic diseases in adulthood and subsequently in the offspring of these people. Furthermore, there is an increased risk for mental health disorders that is associated with these conditions. Our studies show that an altered maternal environment in female rats produced by consuming a high fat (HF) or high sugar diet (HS) negatively impacts the development of brain stem cells and fetal brain circuitry in the offspring[8, 9]. Increased numbers of immature, underdeveloped neurons are found in the hypothalamus, which controls feeding behavior. Similar changes are found in areas of the cerebral cortex involved in other diverse behavioral functions. These changes reveal an alarming predisposition for neurodevelopmental abnormalities in the offspring of obese female rats. Blast induced brain injury and regeneration (collaboration with Dr. Richard Salvi, Department of Communicative Disorders and Sciences, UB) Sound blast induced brain injury is a major concern in military exposure to excessive noise. In mice exposed to the sound blast we found marked loss of myelinated fibers and neuronal apoptosis in brain cortex. These degenerative changes were accompanied by increased proliferation of brain neural progenitor cells in the subventricular zone of the lateral ventricles. Immunohistochemical and stereological analyses reveal that these initial changes are followed by the gradual reappearance of myelinated cortical fibers. This is accompanied by increased proliferation of oligodendrocytic progenitors. I found that these progenitors also differentiate to mature oligodendrocytes in brain cortex. Our findings show that the blast-induced activation of the brain neural stem/progenitor cells generates predominantly new oligodendrocytes. The capacity of these new cells to myelinate damaged and regenerating neurons will be addressed in my planned future investigation.

Michal, Stachowiak
Stachowiak, Michal, PhDProfessor, Director Molec. and Structural Neurobiol. Gene Therapy Prog. Director Stem Cell SCEF
Email: mks4@buffalo.edu
Phone: (716) 829-3540

Specialty/Research Focus:
Bioinformatics; Cell growth, differentiation and development; Gene Expression; Gene therapy; Genome Integrity; Genomics and proteomics; Molecular Basis of Disease; Molecular and Cellular Biology; Neurobiology; Signal Transduction; Stem Cells; Transcription and Translation

Research Summary:
The long term mission of our laboratory, which I co-direct with Dr. Ewa Stachowiak, is to understand the principles governing molecular control of neural development, the implications for developmental- and aging-related diseases and the wide ranging effects on brain functions including behavior. The main achievement of our program has been the discovery of “Integrative Nuclear FGFR1 Signaling”, INFS a universal signaling mechanism which plays a novel integral role in cell development and complements other universal mechanisms such as mitotic cycle and pluripotency .Based on these revolutionary findings we have formulated a new theory called “Feed-Forward End-Gate Signaling” that explains how epigenetic factors either extracellular like neurotransmitters, hormonal or growth factors or intracellular signaling pathways control developmental gene programs and cellular development. This discovery is a product of our twenty-year multidisciplinary research that has been reported in several peer-reviewed papers in major journals including Proc. Natl. Acad. of Science (USA), Integrative Biology, Molecular Biology of the Cell, Journal of Cell Biology, Journal of Biological Chemistry, Journal of Physical Chemistry (etc.). In addition, we have applied this theory to analyze the etiology of neurodevelopmental /neurodegenerative disorders, and cancer in order to utilize it in new potential therapies. Towards these goals we have employed new technologies for an in vivo gene transfer, developed new transgenic mouse models for Schizophrenia and Parkinson-like diseases and established an interdisciplinary Molecular and Structural Neurobiology and Gene Therapy Program which has o engaged researchers from the different UB departments, other universities in the US as well as foreign institutions including Hannover Medical School (Germany), Gdansk Medical University, and Polish Academy of Science. Detailed research activities and future goals of our research program: 1. Molecular mechanisms controlling development of neural stem and related cells. In studying molecular mechanisms controlling development of neural stem and related cells we have established a novel universal signal transduction mechanism -Feed-Forward-And Gate network module that effects the differentiation of stem cells and neural progenitor cells. In the center of this module is the new gene-controlling mechanism "Integrative Nuclear Fibroblast Growth Factor Receptor-1 (FGFR1) Signaling" (INFS), which integrates diverse epigenetic signals and controls cell progression through ontogenic stages of proliferation, growth, and differentiation. We have shown that, Fibroblast Growth Factor Receptor-1 (FGFR1) a protein previously thought to be exclusively involved with transmembrane FGF signaling, resides in multiple subcellular compartments and is a multifactorial molecule that interacts with diverse cellular proteins In INFS, newly synthesized FGFR1 is released from the endoplasmic reticulum and translocates to the nucleus. In the nucleus, FGFR1 associates with nuclear matrix-attached centers of RNA transcription, interacts directly with transcriptional coactivators and kinases, activates transcription machinery and stimulates chromatin remodeling conducive of elevated gene activities. Our biophotonic experiments revealed that the gene activation by nuclear FGFR1 involves conversion of the immobile matrix-bound and the fast kinetic nucleoplasmic R1 into a slow kinetic chromatin binding population This conversion occurs through FGFR1’s interaction with the CBP and other nuclear proteins. The studies support a novel general mechanism in which gene activation is governed by FGFR1 protein movement and collisions with other proteins and nuclear structures. The INFS governs expression of developmentally regulated genes and plays a key role in the transition of proliferating neural stem cells into differentiating neurons development of glial cells, and can force neoplastic medulloblastoma and neuroblastoma cells to exit the cell cycle and enter a differentiation pathway and thus provides a new target for anti-cancer therapies. In our in vitro studies we are using different types of stem cells cultures, protein biochemistry, biophotonics analyses of protein mobility and interactions [Fluorescence Recovery after Photobleaching (FRAP), Fluorescence Loss In Photobleaching (FLIP), and Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer (FRET)] and diverse transcription systems to further elucidate the molecular circuits that control neural development. 2. Analyses of neural stem cell developmental mechanisms in vivo by direct gene transfer into the mammalian nervous system. An understanding of the mechanisms that control the transition of neural stem/progenitor cells (NS/PC) into functional neurons could potentially be used to recruit endogenously-produced NS/PC for neuronal replacement in a variety of neurological diseases. Using DNA-silica based nanoplexes and viral vectors we have shown that neuronogenesis can be effectively reinstated in the adult brain by genes engineered to target the Integrative Nuclear FGF Receptor-1 Signaling (INFS) pathway. Thus, targeting the INFS in brain stem cells via gene transfers or pharmacological activation may be used to induce selective neuronal differentiation, providing potentially revolutionizing treatment strategies of a broad range of neurological disorders. 3. Studies of brain development and neurodevelopmental diseases using transgenic mouse models. Our laboratory is also interested in the abnormal brain development affecting dopamine and other neurotransmitter neurons and its link to psychiatric diseases, including schizophrenia. Changes in FGF and its receptors FGFR1 have been found in the brains of schizophrenia and bipolar patients suggesting that impaired FGF signaling could underlie abnormal brain development and function associated with these disorders. Furthermore the INFS mechanism, integrates several pathways in which the schizophrenia-linked mutations have been reported. To test this hypothesis we engineered a new transgenic mouse model which results from hypoplastic development of DA neurons induced by a tyrosine kinase-deleted dominant negative mutant FGFR1(TK-) expressed in dopamine neurons. The structure and function of the brain’s DA neurons, serotonin neurons and other neuronal systems including cortical and hippocampal neurons are altered in TK- mice in a manner similar to that reported in patients with schizophrenia. Moreover, TK- mice express behavioral deficits that model schizophrenia-like positive symptoms (impaired sensory gaiting), negative symptoms (e.g. low social motivation), and impaired cognition ameliorated by typical or atypical antipsychotics. Supported by the grants from the pharmaceutical industry we are investigating new potential targets for anti-psychotic therapies using our preclinical FGFR1(TK-) transgenic model. Our future goals include in vivo gene therapy to verify whether neurodevelopmental pathologies may be reversed by targeting endogenous brain stem cells. Together with the other researchers of the SUNY Buffalo we have established Western New York Stem Cells Analysis Center in 2010 which includes Stem Cell Grafting and in vivo Analysis core which I direct. Together with Dr. E. Tzanakakis (UB Bioengineering Department) we have written book “ Stem cells- From Mechanisms to Technologies’ (World Scientific Publishing, 2011). Educational Activities and Teaching: I have participated together with the members of our neuroscience community in developing a new Graduate Program in Neuroscience at the SUNY, Buffalo. I am teaching neuroanatomy courses for dental students (ANA811) and for graduate students (NRS524). At present I participate in team-taught graduate courses in Neuroscience and Developmental Neuroscience (NRS 520, 521 and NRS 524). I am serving as a mentor for several undergraduate, graduate (masters and doctoral students) and postdoctoral fellows in the Neuroscience Program, Anatomy and Cell Biology Program and in the IGERT program in the Departments of Chemistry and Engineering. Additionally to mentoring master and Ph.D. students at the UB, I have helped to train graduate students in the University of Camerino (Italy) and Hannover Medical School (Germany). The works of our graduate students have been described in several publications.

John, Sullivan
Sullivan, John, MD, PhDAssociate Professor of Ophthalmology
Email: js354@buffalo.edu
Phone: (716) 862-6533

Specialty/Research Focus:
Retina; Gene therapy; Neurodegenerative disorders; Pathophysiology; Protein Folding; Gene Expression; Signal Transduction

Research Summary:
I am a Clinician Scientist working in the field of hereditary retinal and macular degenerations. I direct a regional referral service for these diseases at the Ross Eye Institute. My NIH- and VA-funded laboratory is focused on the development of gene-based therapeutics for hereditary retinal degenerations and common age-related macular degeneration.

Yijun, Sun
Sun, Yijun, PhDAssistant Professor of Bioinformatics
Email: yijunsun@buffalo.edu
Phone: 716 - 8811374

Specialty/Research Focus:
Bioinformatics; Gene Expression; Genomics and proteomics

Research Summary:
The recent development of high-throughput genomics technologies is revolutionizing many aspects of modern biology. However, the lack of computational algorithms and resources for analyzing massive data generated by these techniques has become a rate-limiting factor for scientific discoveries in biology research. In my laboratory, we study machine learning, data mining and bioinformatics and their applications to cancer informatics and metagenomics. Our work is based on solid mathematical and statistical theories. The main focus of our research is on developing advanced algorithms to help biologists keep pace with the unprecedented growth of genomics datasets available today and enable them to make full use of their massive, high-dimensional data for various biological enquiries. My research team is working on two major projects. The first is focused on metagenomics, currently funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Women’s Health Initiative. Our goal is to develop an integrated suite of computational and statistical algorithms to process millions or even hundreds of millions of microbial genome sequences to: 1) derive quantitative microbial signatures to characterize various infectious diseases, 2) interactively visualize the complex structure of a microbial community, 3) study microbe-microbe interactions and community dynamics and 4) identify novel species. We collaborate with researchers throughout the University at Buffalo, notably those in the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, the School of Public Health and Health Professions and the College of Arts and Sciences. The second project focuses on cancer progression modeling. We use advanced computational algorithms to integrate clinical and genetics data from thousands of tumor and normal tissue samples to build a model of cancer progression. Delineating the disease dynamic process and identifying the molecular events that drive stepwise progression to malignancy would provide a wealth of new insights. Results of this work also would guide the development of improved cancer diagnostics, prognostics and targeted therapeutics. The bioinformatics algorithms and software developed in our lab have been used by more than 200 research institutes worldwide to process large, complex data sets that are core to a wide variety of biological and biomedical research.

Mark, Sutton
Email: mdsutton@buffalo.edu
Phone: (716) 829-3581

Specialty/Research Focus:
DNA Replication, Recombination and Repair; Gene Expression; Genome Integrity; Microbiology; Molecular and Cellular Biology; Protein Function and Structure; Signal Transduction

Research Summary:
We are interested in developing an integrated mechanistic view of how organisms coordinate the actions of their DNA replication machinery with those of other cellular factors involved in DNA repair and damage tolerance. Failure to properly coordinate these functions leads to mutations, genome instability, and in extreme cases, cell death. We utilize a combination of biochemical, biophysical, and genetic approaches to investigate the molecular mechanisms of DNA replication, DNA repair, and error-prone DNA damage tolerance functions in Escherichia coli. The primary mechanism for damage tolerance involves direct bypass of damaged bases in the DNA. This process is inherently error-prone, and is the basis for most mutations. Current efforts are focused on understanding the mechanisms by which the actions of high fidelity and error-prone lesion bypass DNA polymerases are coordinated with each other, as well as other proteins involved in DNA metabolism. Our goal in this work is to develop methods that enable us to control the fidelity of DNA repair for therapeutic gain. We are also interested in understanding the mechanisms that contribute to DNA mutagenesis in the opportunistic human pathogen, P. aeruginosa. P. aeruginosa is a particular problem for individuals afflicted with cystic fibrosis. Persistent colonization of cystic fibrosis airways with P. aeruginosa serves as a major source of morbidity and mortality for these patients. The ability of P. aeruginosa to persist in the airways relies in part on its ability to adapt to the continuously changing environment within the diseased airways. We are particularly interested in determining the contribution of mutagenesis and DNA repair to adaptive mutations that contribute to clonal expansion and pathoadaptation of P. aeruginosa during colonization of cystic fibrosis airways.

Noreen, Williams
Email: nw1@buffalo.edu
Phone: (716) 829-2279

Specialty/Research Focus:
Infectious Disease; Microbiology; Microbial Pathogenesis; Molecular and Cellular Biology; Gene Expression; Transcription and Translation; Protein Function and Structure; RNA; Eukaryotic Pathogenesis

Research Summary:
In my laboratory, we use molecular biological and biochemical approaches to study Trypanosoma brucei, the causative agent of African sleeping sickness, and Trypanosoma cruzi, which causes Chagas disease in South and Central America. Treatment for these diseases is severely limited due to increasing drug resistance and lack of available drugs. The goal of our work is to discover and exploit critical events that occur in the parasite life cycle that may be used to prevent growth or transmission of the parasite. The major project in my laboratory examines the ribosome, the complex molecular machine that drives protein synthesis. While many features of the ribosome and its assembly pathway are conserved in the parasites we study, we have identified features that are very different from the human host. Our laboratory discovered a pair of trypanosome-specific RNA binding proteins, P34 and P37, that are part of a unique preribosomal complex that is essential for ribosomal biogenesis and survival of trypanosomes. This may suggest that the interaction of these proteins with other components of the ribosomal assembly pathway can be developed as targets for chemotherapy. We are developing a high-throughput screen for small molecules that disrupt the complex in trypanosomes and do not harm the human host. My team and I also collaborate with Dr. Joachim Frank at Columbia University on a project to examine the structure of the ribosome and intermediates in the pathway of assembly using cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM). These experiments will provide important information about the unique features of the structure and function of the trypanosome ribosome and further our discovery of potential drug targets. In addition, we continue in a long-standing collaboration with Dr. Beatriz Garat at the Universidad de la Républica in Uruguay, examining both DNA and RNA binding proteins which regulate gene expression in Trypanosoma cruzi. The balance of graduate, undergraduate and medical students and postdoctoral researchers I mentor changes from year to year, though the international quality I strive to maintain has distinguished my laboratory for years: I enjoy having students from around the world as part of my research team. I am the course director for, and lecture in Critical Analysis and Eukaryotic Pathogens. I am also the course director for Eukaryotic Gene Expression and the co-course director for Molecular Parasitology. Additionally, I lecture in Microbiology for Undergraduates.

Sarah, Zhang
Zhang, Sarah, MDAssociate Professor
Email: xzhang38@buffalo.edu
Phone: 716-645-1808

Specialty/Research Focus:
Ophthalmology; Retina; Apoptosis and cell death; Gene Expression; Gene therapy; Molecular Basis of Disease; Molecular and Cellular Biology; Neurobiology; Protein Folding; Regulation of metabolism; Signal Transduction; Vision science

Research Summary:
The research in my lab has focused on two main areas: 1). molecular mechanisms of inflammation, angiogenesis, vascular and neuronal degeneration in retinal diseases; 2). potential roles of angiogenic inhibitors in obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes. The first line of research centers on gene regulation and signal transduction pathways underlying the neurovascular injury in diabetic retinopathy, retinopathy of prematurity and age-related macular degeneration. In recent years, we are focusing our efforts on the function and mechanism of the UPR signaling in normal and diseased retinal cells. The latter one combines basic and clinical research to study biomarkers and mechanism of type 2 diabetes. 1. ER stress and the UPR signaling in retinal neurovascular injury and diabetic retinopathy. The endoplasmic reticulum (ER) is the primary site for protein synthesis and folding. Failure of this machinery to fold newly synthesized proteins presents unique dangers to the cell and is termed “ER stress.” In response to the stress, cells have evolved an intricate set of signaling pathways named the unfolded protein response (UPR) to restore the ER homeostasis. In addition, the UPR is known to regulates many genes involved in important physiological processes to modulate cell activity and cell fate. The project in my laboratory is aimed to understand the role of ER stress and the UPR in retinal vascular endothelial cell dysfunction and neuronal degeneration in diabetic retinopathy. Our previous work has implicated several key UPR branches such as IRE-XBP1 and ATF4-CHOP in retinal inflammation and vasculopathy in diabetes. Currently, we are employing integrated genetic tools and animal models to study the function of UPR genes in the retina and to dicepher the molecular links between the UPR signaling and inflammatory pathways in retinal cells. Findings from these studies are anticipated to identify novel therapeutic targets and develop new treatments for diabetic retinopathy. 2. Mechanisms and potential therapies for RPE death in age-related macular degeneration. The retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) plays an essential role in maintaining the normal structure and function of photoreceptors. RPE dysfunction and cell death is a hallmark pathological characteristic of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a disease that accounts for the majority of vision impairment in the elderly. Using transgenic mouse models, we discovered that the transcription factor XBP1 is a critical regulator of oxidative stress and cell survival in RPE cells. Genetic depletion or inhibition of XBP1 sensitizes the RPE to stress resulting in cell death. Our ongoing studies focus on identifying the target genes of XBP1 in RPE cells through which the protein regulates cell survival. We are also investigating if these proteins could offer potential salutary effects to protect RPE cells from oxidative injury and degeneration in disease conditions such as AMD. 3. Roles and mechanisms of angiogenic/anti-angiogenic factors in obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes. Obesity, insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes are clustered as the most important metabolic disorders, substantially increasing morbidity and impairing quality of life. Excess body fat mass, particularly visceral fat, leads to dysregulation of adipokines (proteins secreted from fat cells), resulting in higher risk of cardiovascular diseases. Our recent findings indicate that angiogenic/anti-angiogenic factors are associated with obesity, diabetes and diabetic complications. For example, pigment epithelium-derived factor (PEDF), a major angiogenic inhibitor, is an active player in adipose tissue formation, insulin resistance and vascular function. In the future, we hope to futher understand the functions and mechanisms of these proteins in lipid metabolism and adiposity. In collaboration with a number of clinical investigators, we are exploring the physiological application of these factors as novel biomarkers and therapeutic targets in the diagnosis and treatment of diabetes, metabolic disorders and peripheral vascular diseases.