Major Projects

The role of L1 elements in cancer origins and progression

Victoria Belancio, PhD

Mentors: Astrid Engel, Brian Rowan, Prescott Deininger

Dr. Belancio studies the role of L1 elements - virus-like segments of DNA spread throughout the genome - in cancer growth and development. L1 activity is significantly increased in most human cancers, suggesting that mutations associated with the activity of this element can contribute to the progression of cancer. Her research seeks to characterize the impact of L1 expression on breast cancer progression to provide experimental support to the hypotheses that these elements are one of the driving forces of genomic instability in cancer.

Dr. Belancio is an assistant professor of structural and cellular biology at Tulane University. She can be reached at

Circadian rhythm signatures in gene expression regulatory elements

Aaron E Hoffman, PhD

Mentor: Prescott Deininger

Dr. Hoffman investigates the role of biological rhythms in shaping gene expression patterns, and the ways in which disrupted circadian rhythm can influence the physiological processes important for cancer. Previous research has shown that environmental circadian disruption, most notably through exposure to light at night, can lead to increases in cancer risk and tumor progression. Since light at night is ubiquitous and unavoidable in modern society, his research focuses on elucidating the mechanisms behind these associations, with the aim of developing novel intervention and/or treatment strategies.

Dr. Hoffman is an assistant professor of epidemiology. He can be reached at

Somatic variations of the human DNA polymerase genes polB, poln and polk and prostate cancer

Nick Makridakis, PhD

Mentors: Wanguo Liu, Oliver Sartor, Prescott Deininger

Dr. Makridakis's work involves identification and biochemical characterization of the frequent alteration of three human DNA polymerase genes that are involved in prostate cancer progression. Successful completion of this project may result in the discovery of important biomarkers (the identified alterations) of advanced prostate cancer that can be used pre-symtomatically to detect the disease early. Identification of men at risk pre-symtomatically can also eventually result in successful treatment or chemoprevention (following the identification of specific inhibitors of the variant DNA polymerases). This research is aimed at the discovery of a new and important mechanism of prostate cancer progression.

Dr. Makridakis is an assistant professor of epidemiology and can be reached at

The role of cytokine receptor interleukin-17RC in initiation of prostate cancer

Zongbing You, MD, PhD

Mentors: Asim Abdel-Mageed, Oliver Sartor, Steven Hill, Brian Rowan

Dr. You studies the role of inflammation in prostate cancer. Almost all specimens obtained from the prostate contain evidence of inflammation. However, whether inflammation plays any role in the formation and progression of prostate cancer is not clear. Dr. You's research focuses on interleukin-17, a key inflammatory factor that is found in human prostate cancer. He will investigate how interleukin-17 sends signals into the cells and how these signals help the normal cells become cancer cells in the prostate. If these details are understood, it is possible to design certain chemicals to interrupt the function of interleukin-17. Thus, new drugs may be developed for the prevention and treatment of prostate cancer.

Dr. You is an assistant professor of structural and cellular biology and can be reached at

Glyceollins as novel targeted therapeutics for the treatment of metastatic triple negative breast cancer

Bridgette Collins-Burow, MD, PhD

Mentor: Roy Weiner

Dr. Collins-Burow's research involves a novel genetic therapy to fight triple negative breast cancer, an aggressive type of breast cancer that is prevalent among African-American women. Her research is part of the 2009 ARRA supplemental funding. Triple-negative breast cancer does not respond to normal first-line cancer treatments. She is exploring a technique for modulating gene expression to potentially turn on a critical miRNA gene that influences cancer growth and could lead to an effective new therapy. Current therapies for this cancer involve cytotoxic chemotherapeutics that are very indirect in their action and highly toxic to patients.

Dr. Collins-Burow is an assistant professor of medicine, section of hematology and medical oncology and can be reached at






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