James Welsh, M.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Radiation Oncology
I have had a singular focus in my life to help humanity, and during my college years I became intrigued by the power of the immune system and astonished that cancer cells could adapt by evading immune detection. This interest led to my first job at Genentech, where I witnessed the development of some of the first targeted therapies, including trastuzumab (Herceptin). During this time, I first learned of antibody-dependent cellular immunity and how a drug like trastuzumab could use it to influence an immunologic response. During my residency in Radiation Oncology, I began to realize that radiation has the ability to stimulate immune responses by killing cancer cells within the patient and that that process can produce an immunologic T-cell response. Also during my residency, I was lucky enough to run a lab that led to a patent on a novel c-Met kinase inhibitor, which we licensed to industry. Although it was rewarding to see a drug I developed enter into clinical use, I came to realize that blocking a single part of a signaling pathway was too simplistic an approach in cancer and could in fact facilitate treatment resistance. Thinking there must be a better way, I began to consider combining radiation therapy with immunotherapy as a potential opportunity to permanently control cancer. In my current position as a tenured Associate Professor at MD Anderson Cancer Center, I am fortunate to be able to realize my mission on a daily basis. Seeing first-hand the devastation that cancer causes only serves to galvanize my determination. An independent investigator, I am now focused on enhancing the effects of immunotherapy through its rational combination with radiation. This work includes running many of the first trials of anti-CLTA4 and anti-PD1 with radiation, as well as testing preclinical models of immunotherapy with radiation. Running a lab in addition to treating patients provides me with unique clinical insights that come from seeing firsthand how best to combine immunotherapies with radiation, with the ultimate goal of developing truly personalized therapeutic approaches.
Maria Angelica Cortez, Ph.D.
Instructor, Experimental Radiation Oncology
Maria Angelica received her master’s and Ph.D degree from University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 2009. She completed part of her thesis at the George Calin, M.D., Ph.D., Laboratory at MD Anderson, where she devoted her thesis to understanding the roles of noncoding RNAs, including microRNAs, in the molecular mechanisms underlying tumor progression. She joined Welsh’s lab as a postdoctoral fellow in 2011 and was appointed Instructor at the Department of Radiation Oncology in 2015. Cortez’s long-term career goal is to discovery novel therapeutic strategies to target immunotherapy resistant lung and breast cancer cells. Her current projects include: 1) understanding the mechanisms by which tumors evade the immune system, and 2) exploring the interaction between radiation and immunotherapies for the treatment of lung cancer.
Postdoc fellow, Ph.D. from Baylor College of Medicine
Xiaohong received her Ph.D. in Immunology from Baylor College of Medicine (2012), where her research was focused on lymphocyte signaling regulation and autoimmune diseases. She joined Welsh’s research group as a post-doctorate researcher in September 2013. Her research interests in this lab are combining different immunotherapy strategies with radiation to enhance the abscopal effect, a phenomenon of tumor regression outside of the radiation field, as well as overcoming anti-PD1/PDL1 resistance using existing and novel therapies. She is also involved in writing grants for the lab and coordinating collaboration with pharmaceutical companies.
DDS, MSc. in Biotechnology, Research Asst. Division of Experimental Radiation Oncology
Sharareh is currently a research assistant in the Department of Experimental Radiation Oncology at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. She obtained her Doctor of Dental Surgery degree from Tehran Azad University in Iran and completed her Master of Science degree in Biotechnology with concentration in Molecular Biotechnology at the University of Houston Clear Lake, TX, USA. She is adept in tissue culture and molecular biotechnology techniques. Her research goals both in vivo and in vitro are to illuminate the molecular mechanisms involving cancers cell lines and identifying possible signaling pathways and molecules in mediating tumor progression that could serve as biomarkers for early detection or potential targets.
Steven Seyedin, M.D.
Clinical Research Intern, Department of Radiation Oncology, Thoracic Group
Raised in California, Steven attended the University of California, Berkeley where he obtained his B.A. in Molecular and Cell Biology with an emphasis in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. He then moved to Memphis to conduct research in a structural biology laboratory investigating the ubiquitination mechanism of the Anaphase Promoting Complex at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. He returned to California in 2010 to earn his medical degree at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Since then, Steven has been actively involved in oncology research with publications in the field of stomach and pancreatic cancers in The American Surgeon and Gastrointestinal Cancer Research. After graduating medical school in 2014, Steven moved to Houston to work with Welsh at MD Anderson Cancer Center focusing on Welsh’s clinical projects on lung and esophageal cancers. He has also published several reviews discussing the role of immunotherapy and radiation for solid malignancies in top-tier journals such as Cancer Immunology Research and Clinical Cancer Research. Following Welsh’s footsteps, he will be starting his residency in Radiation Oncology at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in 2016. When he is not working, Steven enjoys yoga, basketball, tennis, watching stand-up comedy and traveling.
Research Assistant, B.S. in Microbiology from Brigham Young University
Jonathan received his B.S. in Microbiology from Brigham Young University in April 2014. His interest in cancer research comes from a genetic condition in his family called von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) syndrome. He is especially interested in the role of the immune system in cancer therapy; through harnessing immune cells, he believes we will be able to cure cancer as well as other diseases that afflict the world. His current projects involve testing immunotherapy drugs in combination with radiation to stimulate immune response and immune memory. He also helps with grant writing.
Visiting Scientist, China Medical University/M.D., Ph.D.
Ailin is a visiting scientist in our lab and she is a Radiation Oncologist in China. The research she is engaged in is investigating the effects and mechanisms combining radiotherapy and Indoleamine-2,3-dioxygenase (IDO1) inhibitor including in animal models. IDO1 plays an important role in the induction of immune tolerance and has been associated with poor outcomes of cancer patients. In addition, IDO1 inhibitor has been verified to reactivate the suppressed immune responses and control tumor growth. As we have known, radiotherapy also may activate the immune system and the combination of radiotherapy and immune therapy may have the promise to improve both local and abscopal control of tumour. Here, the research aims to evaluate the combinated effects and potential mechanisms between IDO1 inhibitor and radiation in lung cancer models, which will bring advantageous evidence to further clinical research.
David R. Valdecanas
Experimental Radiation Oncology
David received his B.S. in Biology from University of Houston. He joined the Department of Experimental Radiation Oncology in 1999. In addition to working in the ERO department, David worked for eight years doing research at the UT Health Science Center in the Department of Anesthesiology. His interest in cancer research include, (1) pre-clinical evaluation of novel targeted agents for their radio-sensitizing effects using human cancer cell lines under in vitro and in vivo settings; (2) elucidation of molecular mechanisms of interaction between signal transduction pathways of investigational agents and radiation; and (3) identification of predictive markers of response/resistance to therapy.
Lab Student, Yale University
Alex is currently a summer student in the Welsh Lab and assists in research, lab work and building awesome lab websites. She is currently a rising junior at Yale University pursuing a joint B.S. degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and B.A. degree in Theatre Studies. Currently her focus is creating a niche that combines the arts and public health to better communicate health issues/treatments and to reduce stigma associated with mental health and women’s health. Her passion for combining these two fields has led her to direct an original musical that tackles university policies on mental health, which has been accepted into the NYC International Fringe Festival 2015. On campus she is involved with the HAPPY (Hypertension Awareness and Prevention Program at Yale) organization, which gives her the opportunity to do weekly volunteer shifts at New Haven soup kitchens to offer free blood pressure screenings and hypertension awareness to the public. Alex’s future plans include applying to the joint B.S./MPH program with the Yale School of Public Health to get her masters in Biostatistics and eventually going to medical school to pursue a career in radiation oncology. This fall semester she will begin research for her major thesis in a joint collaboration with post-doc fellows at the Yale School of Forestry to determine the effects of the invasive species, Chinese steel cut grass, on the speciation of earthworms in forest plots.