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Lab Members

Gabriel Lopez-Berestein, M.D.

ProfessorGabriel Lopez-Berestein, MD

Dr. Gabriel Lopez-Berestein is a professor in the Department of Experimental Therapeutics at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Dr. Lopez-Berestein has been with MD Anderson since 1979 and has more than 30 years of experience in cancer research. He has published more than 200 research articles, reviews and book chapters, and has edited books in the area of cancer research. His two major areas of interest are nanoparticulate carriers for the delivery of nucleotides and small molecules in the treatment of cancer, and cell differentiation and apoptosis signaling in acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL).

Dr. Lopez-Berestein’s research efforts concentrate on the development of nanoliposomes and nanoparticles for the delivery of siRNA to target major signaling pathways in cancer. Several of these targets were identified to play a prominent role in cell growth in his laboratory. He brought from concept to clinic, seven different antimicrobial and antitumor agents. Of those seven, one, Abelcet, reached the market and the other six continue in different stages of clinical development.

As part of his interest in apoptosis and differentiation in cancer, Dr. Lopez-Berestein characterized the role of post-transcriptional events in the ATRA-induced differentiation in leukemia cells. These findings led to the identification of several proteins involved in key regulatory pathways of cell growth – both in solid and hematologic malignancies. He also demonstrated that retinoic acid (RA) induces post-transcriptional suppressive pathways during differentiation. These processes involve eukaryotic initiation, elongation factors and protein phosphatases 2A, which were found to function in pre-mRNA processing, splicing and export. More recently, he showed that one of the apoptotic proteins, DAP5/86, was involved in the repression of translation, thus playing a potential role in differentiation and resistance in APL cells. These findings provide potential, novel, post-transcriptional regulatory mechanisms in APL and may serve as a model for differentiation induction in other cell types. Dr. Lopez-Berestein’s laboratory exploited the use of lipid-based carriers for the delivery of antifungal and anticancer agents.

Burcu Aslan

Graduate Research AssistantBurcu Aslan

Burcu received both her Bachelor of Science (Biology, 2007) and Master of Science (Nanotechnology and Nanomedicine, 2009) degrees from Hacettepe University in Ankara, Turkey. Her master’s thesis focused on the preparation and characterization of nanoparticles for receptor-mediated cancer therapy to achieve both controlled drug release and tumor-targeting via fine-tuning structural and electronic properties of polymers. She joined Dr. Lopez-Berestein's laboratory in 2009 and is a graduate student at The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston. Her research focus is siRNA delivery with polymeric nanocarriers in cancer therapy.

Vianey Gonzalez-Villasana, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral FellowVianey Gonzalez-Villasana, PhD

Vianey is a postdoctoral fellow from Mexico and joined Dr. Lopez-Berestein’s lab in 2008. She received her Ph.D. in Biotechnology from the Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León in Nuevo León, Mexico, in collaboration with MD Anderson Cancer Center, in 2010. Her research focus is Gene Programmed Cell Death 4 (PDCD4) and leptin-induced breast tumor progression. She is interested in this gene because it could be a novel therapeutic target to inhibit leptin-induced breast cancer progression.

Bulent Ozpolat, M.D., Ph.D.

Assistant ProfessorBulent Ozpolat, MD, PhD

Dr. Bulent Ozpolat earned his M.D. in 1989 from Dokuz Eylül University in Izmir, Turkey. He moved to Houston in 1994 and enrolled in The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston where he obtained a Ph.D. in Immunology (1999), concentrating his efforts on the development of gene vaccines against breast cancer, immunoliposomal delivery systems for nucleic acids, cytokines, peptides and vaccine adjuvants. In 2000, he joined the laboratory of Immunobiology and Drug Carriers as a postdoctoral fellow under the mentorship of Dr. Gabriel Lopez-Berestein at MD Anderson where he furthered his career in cancer biology, particularly in the areas of leukemia and breast cancer, targeted therapies and nanovector delivery systems. He was promoted to the faculty position of Instructor in 2003 and Assistant Professor in 2008 in the Department of Experimental Therapeutics. In the past five years, Dr. Ozpolat has contributed to more than 20 manuscripts in peer-reviewed journals focusing on autophagic cell death (Type II programmed cell death), differentiation therapy, signal transduction and the development of targeted therapies. He has made significant contributions to the field through describing a new posttranscriptional mechanism of cell differentiation induced by retinoids; the mechanisms of autophagic cell death in breast and pancreatic cancers cells; and novel tumor-targeted carrier systems for siRNA, peptides for cancer therapy.

Cristian Rodriguez-Aguayo, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral FellowCristian Rodriguez-Aguayo, PhD

Cristian is a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Lopez-Berestein's laboratory. He received his Ph.D. from the Centro de Investigacion y Estudios Avanzados Del Instituto Politecnico Nacional (CINVESTAV) in Mexico City. His research focuses on understanding new mechanisms developed by cancer cells to become resistant to various chemotherapy drugs. In this particular project, they are testing Liposomal siRNA against Survivin that produces a downregulation of the protein expression in ovarian cancer in vitro and in vivo tumor models. Survivin is overexpressed in several types of cancer and increased survivin expression is associated with chemotherapy resistance and poor survival.

In the second project, they are testing Focal Adhesion Kinase (FAK) small molecule inhibitors, which is overexpressed in many tumors and, in ovarian cancers, is predictive of poor clinical outcome. FAK has been shown to play a significant role in cell survival, migration, and invasion.. In this study, they are characterizing the biological and therapeutic effects of a novel FAK inhibitor. 

Cristian also is working on Cisplatin-induced autophagy-like protective mechanisms and targeting autophagy molecules as a new therapeutic approach.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center