Infectious Disease

Infectious Disease

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Yizhou Dong
Yizhou Dong, PhD, Associate Professor

Yizhou Dong, PhD

Dr. Dong’s research, cell-specific and multifunctional drug delivery in vivo, has been regarded as one of the most challenging issues in the field of drug delivery. A wide variety of cell types in humans still cannot be efficiently and specifically reached by delivery systems such as lung epithelial cells, metastatic tumor cells, and immune cells. An even more formidable task is delivering multiple payloads into specific cells and tissues. In order to address these challenges, Dr. Dong’s Drug Discovery and Delivery Laboratory focuses on the following research areas, developing cell specific drug delivery systems, constructing multifunctional drug delivery systems and demonstrating therapeutic efficacy of these systems in animal models for treating genetic disorders, infectious diseases and cancers.

Platform biotechnologies under development in the Drug Discovery and Delivery Laboratory include:

  • Developing new biomaterials for therapeutic and diagnostic applications
  • Engineering RNA molecules including mRNAs and the CRISPR systems
  • Constructing targeted drug conjugates such as antibody/ligand drug conjugates.

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Kou-San Ju, PhD
Kou-San Ju, PhD, Assistant Professor

Kou-San Ju, PhD

Dr. Ju is broadly interested in metabolic diversity of microbes and their application to solving modern day challenges in human health and the environment. Working at the interface of chemistry and biology, the Ju laboratory utilizes an interdisciplinary approach to conduct genomics-guided discovery of microbial natural products, decipher the molecular basis of their activity, and to reveal the genetic and biochemical principles governing their biosynthesis. In addition to obtaining insights into the evolution and function of natural product pathways, the results from these studies enable the development of new antibiotics and engineered biocatalysts with biotechnological applications.

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 Ross Larue, PhD
Ross Larue, PhD, Research Assistant Professor

Ross Larue, PhD

The Larue lab focuses on infectious diseases with the goal of bridging the discovery of novel drugs to translating these emerging therapies for the treatment of patients in the clinic. It is through efforts involving an understanding of the biology behind current and emerging viral pandemics that it will be possible to successfully prevent, treat, and potentially cure these rapidly emerging worldwide outbreaks. Our laboratory is directed towards human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which is the causative agent of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), with ~36.7 million people worldwide infected. In particular, the Larue lab focuses on investigating the biology of HIV-1 and how its viral components interact with human host proteins. Currently, the laboratory is working on novel inhibitors that target integrase, a key HIV viral protein responsible for the permanent incorporation of its viral genetic material into infected individuals. Also, they are focused on structural studies to address how this and other viral proteins interact with host proteins. His lab’s overall goal is to overcome significant issues with novel therapies, such as viral drug resistance and the deleterious side effects seen when treating HIV/AIDS in the clinic.

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Tom Li, PhD
Tom Li, PhD, Associate Professor

Tom Li, PhD

Dr. Li‘s lab focuses on the design, synthesis and biochemical testing of small molecules for cancer and infectious diseases. For the cancer area, his lab focuses on prostate cancer, the second most common cancer in the U.S. Androgen deprivation therapy (ADT) has been the mainstay of prostate cancer therapy. However, most patients will progress to castrate resistance prostate cancer (CRPC) after several years of treatment. The survival rate of CRPC is only 30%. Dr Li’s research effort focuses on the design of several classes of agents to treat CRPC. In the area of infectious disease, his lab focuses on the design of agents for the treatment of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection, which causes 20,000 U.S. deaths per year. The agents his lab is designing target metabolic pathways unique to bacteria. In both the prostate cancer and MRSA areas, they have generated several series of compounds and are currently undertaking active testing.

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mitton-fry photo
Mark Mitton-Fry, PhD, Assistant Professor

Mark Mitton-Fry, PhD

Dr. Mitton-Fry’s research team is dedicated to inventing cures for multidrug-resistant bacterial infections. The lab focuses primarily on the discovery of Novel Bacterial Topoisomerase Inhibitors (NBTIs), compounds which can overcome resistance by means of their differentiated binding mode. The lab uses the tools of synthetic medicinal chemistry to design and prepare innovative new molecules, and collaborates broadly to evaluate their biological, pharmaceutical, and toxicological properties.

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werbovetz photo
Karl Werbovetz, PhD, Professor

Karl Werbovetz, PhD

The primary focus of research in Dr. Werbovetz’s group is the discovery and development of new drug candidates and drug delivery strategies against leishmaniasis, a protozoan parasitic disease that mainly affects developing areas of the world. The Werbovetz lab is involved in the synthesis of new drug candidates as well as the in vitro and in vivo antileishmanial evaluation of molecules made in house and by collaborators. The lab is also interested in pursuing other interesting biological activities displayed by molecules from the lab.

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Jack Yalowich
Jack Yalowich, PhD, Professor

Jack Yalowich, PhD

Dr. Yalowich’s lab focuses on the mechanisms of action and resistance to a class of anticancer agents known as DNA topoisomerase II (topo IIα) inhibitors, such as the anticancer agent etoposide; a natural product analog. Ongoing projects characterize alternative RNA processing of topo IIα pre-mRNA that results in decreased expression of topo IIα in acquired resistance to etoposide. Strategies to circumvent  drug resistance involve CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing to restore proper RNA splicing function in resistant cells.  In addition, the role of micro-RNAs as determinants of anticancer drug resistance is under investigation. A variety of natural products are also under study as new and effective anticancer agents. Finally, members of the Yalowich lab actively collaborate with Dr. Mark-Mitton-Fry to evaluate the mechanisms of action and efficacy of newly synthesized Novel Bacterial Topoisomerase Inhibitors (NBTIs).

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