cancer biology division iitri

Member Profiles

Dr. Rajendra Mehta

Rajendra G. Mehta, Ph.D., is an Assistant Vice-President and Manager of the Cancer Biology Division at IITRI, in addition to being a Professor of Biology at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT). He has 35 years of experience both in the academic environment as well as with the contract research. He has spent 20 plus years at IITRI and 12 years as a tenured Professor in the departments of Surgical Oncology, Pharmacology, and Nutrition at the University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC). Dr. Mehta has been consistently funded from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the form of research grants and contracts for the past 30 years and has also provided services to small Biotech companies. He serves on review panels for the NCI, ACS, DOD, USDA, VA, and International Research Boards. Dr. Mehta's research involves international collaboration; he has presented his work at several institutes as an invited speaker over the years. His major research focus has been cancer chemoprevention and drug discovery—from bench to clinic. This work has led to identification of Fenretinide, non-toxic analog of vitamin D (1α-hydroxyvitamin D5), Resveratrol, Deguelin, Brassinin, and Zapotin. Dr. Mehta's staff is involved in evaluating efficacy and molecular mechanism(s) of action of chemopreventive and chemotherapeutic agents using both in vitro and in vivo models including xenograft models. He has been an author on more than 175 peer-reviewed publications, reviews, and book chapters. IITRI's Cancer Biology Division constitutes several research scientists, postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, and research technicians.

Dr. Raksha Mehta

Raksha Mehta, Ph.D., has 25 plus years of experience with cancer research. Dr. Mehta was at the University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC) Medical Center in the Department of Surgical Oncology as an Associate Professor, and joining IITRI as a Senior Scientist in 2010. Her major focus over the past years has been identifying efficacy of new drugs and preparing them for the clinical trials. She was instrumental in establishing vitamin D5 analog, as well as a 28 amino acid peptide (P28) of a bacterial protein (Azurin) as non-toxic possible chemotherapeutic agents for clinical trials. Her expertise also encompasses establishing new human breast cancer and melanoma cell lines and the growth properties of newly established cell lines in xenograft models. She has generated 28 breast cancer and melanoma cell lines as a part of an awarded NCI contract. Dr. Mehta's current research focus is to understand molecular signaling in cell invasion, angiogenesis, and metastasis. She has over 75 peer-reviewed publications. Her expertise on identification, validation, and evaluation of biomarkers for drug efficacy is especially useful to our clients.

Dr. Genoveva Murillo

Genoveva Murillo, Ph.D., R.D.,is a Research Biologist in the Cancer Biology Division at IITRI.  Additionally, she serves as a Research Assistant Professor of Biology at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT).  Dr. Murillo has a background in Clinical Dietetics and holds a doctoral degree in Nutritional Biochemistry.  The major focus of her research is to develop novel therapies for the prevention and treatment of colon cancer.  To this end, her research has centered on studying the role of plant-derived phytochemicals and the use of vitamin D and its analogs for the prevention of colon carcinogenesis.  Past work endeavors include investigating the chemopreventive potential of several phytochemcials including (1) the Mexican green tomato or tomatillo, which is used as the main ingredient in green salsa; (2) deguelin, a member of the rotenoid family isolated from an African plant; and (3) white zapote, a fruit commonly consumed in Central and South America.  More recently, she has been examining the molecular mechanisms of action of vitamin D and resveratrol, a compound produced by fungal infection in various species, including grapes, peanuts, and berries.  These studies seek to elucidate the efficacy of each of the two chemopreventive agents separately and in combination using both in vitro and in vivo experimental models for sporadic and inflammation-associated colon cancer.  Dr. Murillo work integrates techniques from cell biology, nutritional biochemistry, and molecular biology.  Currently, she serves as Study Director for IITRI's NCI-funded Xenograft Program.  The main aim of the Program is to support the identification and evaluation of agents that merit clinical evaluation.  Dr. Murillo is a member of several professional organizations including the American Association of Cancer Research and the American Dietetic Association.  She has authored over 20 peer-reviewed publications and has been the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships.

Dr. Xinjian Peng

Xinjian Peng, Ph.D., is a Research Biologist in IITRI's Cancer Biology Division.  He received his Ph.D. from the Kobe University School of Medicine in Japan and postdoctoral training at the Medical Center of University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC).  Dr. Peng has 15 years of experience with cellular and molecular biology studies and has generated more than 25 peer-reviewed publications.  His work has led to several important findings that include the following:  (1) identification of RARβ5, a novel RARβ isoform; (2) observation that the splicing of CYP24 RNA, a target gene for vitamin D, is actively regulated by the hormone; and (3) discovering that 25(OH)D3, considered as a prohormone, has a direct role in cancer chemoprevention without being converted to 1,25(OH)2D3.  Dr. Peng has expertise in multiple molecular biology techniques including cloning, transfection, reporter gene assay, siRNA, EMSA, qRT-PCR, MicroRNA analysis, etc., to identify new target genes and signaling pathways in order to understand the mechanism of new cancer chemopreventive/treatment agents.

Dr. Fatouma Alimirah

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Diana Saleiro

Diana Saleiro, M.S., is a Ph.D. student working within the Cancer Biology Division at IITRI.  Ms. Saleiro has a Licenciatura (M.S.) in Biology from the Faculty of Sciences, University of Porto, Portugal, and has been working on colon cancer research since 2007.  The main focus of her current research is to evaluate the protective effects and mechanism of action of estrogen receptor beta (ERβ) against colon carcinogenesis using in vivo and in vitro models.  In addition to this focus, she has been actively involved in various other colon cancer projects involving in vitro and in vivo evaluation of different compounds with potential to be used as colon cancer chemopreventive or chemotherapeutic drugs.  She is a recipient of the "Programa Operacional Ciência e Inovação 2010" scholarship awarded to support her trainee period at the department of Cellular and Applied Microbiology at Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IBMC) in Porto, Portugal.  Ms. Saleiro was awarded an additional scholarship from the "Business Development Agency—Global Portugal" for her international internship, as part of the INOV-Contacto Program, within IITRI.  Recently, she received two Ph.D. scholarships from the Fulbright Program and from the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) (SFRH/BD/33544/2008) through the Graduate Program in the areas of Basic and Applied Biology (GABBA).

Akash Gupta

Akash Gupta is a PhD student in the Cancer biology Division at IITRI. He received his BS in Microbiology and MS in Biotechnology from University of Madras, India. Before joining Dr Mehta's lab at IITRI in 2007, he had worked as intern Microbiologist at National Centre for Food Safety (NCFST/IIT) Moffet campus (2005-2006). He is a recipient of Departmental scholarship from the Biology Chemistry Physical Sciences Department (BCPS) at Illinois Institute of Technology towards his PhD in Biology. At IITRI, he is actively involved in the drug discovery and mechanism studies for breast cancer. Recently, he finished a project from Repros Therapeutics, in which he studied the efficacy and mechanism of action of Antiprogestin, Proellex in breast cancer cells. Also, he had established an aromatase over expressing and aromatase inhibitors resistant breast cancer cell lines. Currently, in collaboration with Dr Raksha Mehta he is developing an ex-vivo breast cancer model using human breast cancer cells in Mouse Mammary Organ culture (MMOC)

Amit Kalra

Dr. Amit Kalra M.B.B.S., is a MS student at Illinois Institute of Technology and working as a Research Assistant at IIT Research Institute. He has an MD from Grant Medical College, J.J. group of Hospitals, Mumbai, INDIA. His research focuses  at development of Deguelin, a potential chemopreventive agent in combination to Taxol for better and effective therapy of triple negative breast cancer.  Taxol, which is currently used for the chemotherapy of metastatic breast cancer patients, is toxic and most patients are unable to tolerate a high dose.  The main aim of his project is to develop a combination drug therapy constituting a low dose of taxol with a rotenoid ‘Deguelin’ so that metastatic and triple negative breast cancers can be treated effectively while reducing the toxicity of the treatment for the patient.  His work involves the use of techniques like Cell proliferation assays, Immunofluorescence labeling of proteins, Western blot etc.  His work also involves the use of In-vivo breast cancer models and Histopathological techniques with the tissues derived from the In vivo experiments and Mouse Mammary Gland organ culture(MMOC).

Liang Yuan

Liang Yuan, B.S., received her degree in China in 2009; currently, Ms. Yuan is an M.S. student in cell and molecular biology at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT).  Her project focuses on the influence of vitamin D on cell proliferation and colony formation, as well as the role of Vitamin D and IL-1b in regulation of expression of selected genes in Caco-2 and HT-29 cells.  Co-culture experiments are also conducted using THP-1 cells to learn about macrophage-derived soluble factors that might induce Wnt signaling in colon cancer cells and promote cell proliferation and colony growth; 25D3 can repress this stimulation.  Her major research tools are real-time quantitative PCR, Western blot analyses, and the CV assay for cell proliferation.  She recently participated in a prostate project and, as part of her M.S. thesis, Ms. Yuan will be conducting experiments to check how Lipitor and bisphosohonate influence the proliferation of prostate cells.

Michael Hawthorne

Michael Hawthorne is Lab Biologist II at IITRI. He has worked with 125I in commercial applications at Abbott Labs. At University of IL at Chicago and IIT Research Institute he has worked with in vivo and in vitro chemoprevention studies. Specific applications in the studies includes GC , HPLC, and organ culture.

Eulenia Lim

Eulenia Lim B.S.,is currently a Lab Biologist in the Xenograft Program of the Cancer Biology Division at IITRI. She has a BS in Biological Sciences / Physical Sciences. She studied Graduate Courses in Marine Biology in the Philippines. She has been working for IITRI for 10 years and has experience in three Divisions (Inhalation Toxicology, Micro and Molecular Biology, and Chemoprevention and Carcinogenesis.) She has also spent 10 years as a Research Specialist at University of Illinois in two departments; Surgical Oncology (College of Medicine) and Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy (College of Pharmacy.) Her experiences include animal work and care (both small and large,) performing complete surgical and necropsy procedures, drug administration (SC, IG, IV, IP, IM) and tissue and fluid sample collection. She has also co-authored three publications.

Rutul Patel

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Mandar Mali

Mandar Mali M.S., is a Laboratory Biologist in The Cancer Biology Division at IITRI. He completed his Masters in Biotechnology from Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago and a Bachelor's degree in Pharmaceutical Sciences and Technology from the Institute of Chemical Technology, Mumbai. Currently, he is working for a NCI-funded Xenograft Program. The main aim of the project is to support the identification and evaluation of agents that merit clinical evaluation. His focus is the human renal cancer and melanoma xenograft models.  As part of this program, he has been actively involved in the propagation of tumors in the various models, test article preparation, and administration of the agents via various routes including intravenous, intraperitoneal, intramuscular and subcutaneous injections. He is also responsible for creating and maintaining studies using the Study Director software.

Jessica Sizemore

Jessica Sizemore B.S., is a Laboratory Biologist for the Cancer Biology Department at IIT Research Institute and has been there since September 2010. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Zoology from The Ohio State University and is currently working on her Professional Master's of Science in Biology at Illinois Institute of Technology. Jessica presently works for a NCI-funded Xenograft program where the main aim of the project is to support the identification and evaluation of agents that merit clinical evaluation for use as chemotherapy agents in various cancers. Her focus is the colon cancer xenograft model. As part of this program, she has been actively involved in the propagation of tumors in the various models, test article preparation, and administration of the agents via various routes including intravenous, intraperitoneal, and subcutaneous injections.

Sara Davis

Sara Davis B.S.,Sara Davis is a Laboratory Biologist for the Xenograft facility at IIT Reasearch Institute. Sara has a Bachelors of Science in Biology from the University of Wisconsin- Parkside. She is pursuing a Masters Degree in Microbiology from the Illinois Institute of Technology. Sara has been with the Xenograft group since January 2011.

Janelle Kish

Janelle Kish B.S.,is a Laboratory Biologist for the Xenograft facility at IIT Research Institute. Janelle has a Bachelors of Science in integrative biology with a minor in chemistry from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She has been with the Xenograft group since February 2011.

Elisa Dunkin

Elisa Dunkin B.S.,is a laboratory biologist in the Xenograft facility of the Cancer Biology division.  She is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a BS in Genetics.  During college, she worked as a laboratory assistant in a colon cancer research lab headed by Dr. William Dove.  There she was trained in mouse and rat care and husbandry as well as genetics lab techniques.