Leadership and Staff

RNA Center Leadership:

The RNA Center is led by co-directors Anil K. Sood, M.D., Professor, Departments of Gynecologic Oncology and Cancer Biology, MD Anderson Cancer Center, and George A. Calin, M.D., Ph.D., Professor, Departments of Experimental Therapeutics and Cancer Genetics, MD Anderson Cancer Center. Dr. Sood and Dr. Calin are internationally recognized experts in the biology and translational applications of RNAi, miRNAs and other ncRNAs.  

Helping to lead the RNA Center is, associate director, Gabriel Lopez-Berestein, M.D., Professor, Department of Experimental Therapeutics, MD Anderson Cancer Center, whose expertise in cancer biology and drug development is well-recognized.

RNA Center Staff:

Xinna Zhang, Ph.D., Assistant Professor.  Dr. Zhang received her Ph.D. from Shanghai Institute of Biochemistry in 2001.  She received her postdoctoral training in the department of Human Genetics and Cell Biology at Baylor College of Medicine. From 2008 to 2010, she was appointed Research Assistant Professor at the Colon Cancer Center in the University of South Carolina.  In the last several years, she has been focusing on the function of microRNA in the DNA damage pathway and she has published many peer-reviewed articles. She has extensive experience in cell biology, molecular biochemistry, mouse models and microRNA analysis.  Dr. Zhang joined the RNA Center at the end of 2010 and is developing new technologies for microRNA analysis, including in-situ hybridization and shRNA array.

Selanere Mangala, Ph.D., Instructor.  Dr. Mangala received her Ph.D. from Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI), India in 1998. After continuing her research career as a postdoctoral fellow at Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Sweden and National Food Research Institute, Japan (1999-2003), she joined MD Anderson Cancer Center as a Research Investigator. During her stay at MD Anderson, she worked on Novel siRNA based therapeutic approaches for breast and ovarian carcinoma. Dr. Mangala published several articles in peer-reviewed journals and she has extensive experience in cancer biology, biochemistry and mouse models. From 2009 to 2012, she worked as a Research Assistant Professor at NASA Johnson Center and University of Houston-Clear Lake. Dr. Mangala joined the RNA Center in mid-2012 and her primary role is the development of targeted novel delivery system to deliver siRNA and miRNA effectively into ovarian tumors in vivo.

Cristina Ivan, Ph.D., Senior Data Analyst.  Dr. Ivan obtained a M.S. degree in Probability and Statistics from Transilvania University, Brasov, Romania and two Ph.D. degrees in Pure Mathematics in 2003 (from Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania and from University of Copenhagen, Denmark). She was appointed as a Research Associate at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark (2002-2003) and the Leibniz University Hannover, Germany (2004-2010), and as a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of California, Riverside (2003-2004). She has a broad background in pure mathematics and statistics, with specific training and expertise in Fourier analysis numerical analysis, approximation theory, fractal geometry and analysis as well as graph theory which have extensive applications in biology and bioinformatics. She has published in high-impact journals and has very good knowledge of programming: R, Perl and mySQL languages which are of great help in mastering bioinformatics.  Dr. Ivan joined the RNA Center in mid-2010 where she is responsible for collecting and reporting bioinformatics and statistics data within ongoing research projects.  She performs data collection, design, and analyses for clinical and research studies/projects. She maintains clinical and research data bases for assigned studies and makes necessary changes and enhancements required including coding, editing and data field conversation.  Dr. Ivan is also responsible for indentifying new methods for processing and analyzing high-throughput data.

Dahai Jiang, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow. Dr. Jiang received his M.Sc. in Pharmacy from National University of Singapore, and Ph.D. in Pharmacy from University of Iowa. He has been focusing on novel particulate delivery systems and published several articles in peer-reviewed journals. Dr. Jiang has extensive experience in drug delivery and liquid formulation development. He joined the RNA Center in late 2012 and is developing particulate formulations for siRNA delivery and processing techniques.

Rahul Mitra, Ph.D., Program Director.  Dr. Mitra has both research and entrepreneurial experiences of more than 14 years in the field of genomics and biotechnology.  He joined the RNA Center in early 2010 and has been an MD Anderson Cancer Center employee for more than 8 years.  He is also an adjunct faculty at Baylor College of Medicine (Department of Medicine) and University of Houston (Department of Computer Science). Dr. Mitra is responsible for business development and promoting the RNA Center both nationally and internationally to develop long-term collaborations with industry as well as academia.  He also assists with the selection and evaluation of technology, selection of patient studies, and drugs to be evaluated.

Ersulan Hampton, M.B.A., Program Manager.  Ms. Hampton is a graduate of Texas Woman's University MBA program and has been an MD Anderson Cancer Center employee for 15 years.  She has an extensive administrative/grants management background.  She joined the RNA Center at the end of 2009 and is responsible for the day-to-day operations, which includes the planning, implementation and management of all administrative activities.  She is the Center’s central point of contact.