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MICaB Faculty

Ashok K. Saluja
Ashok K. Saluja, Ph.D.

Professor and Vice Chair

Department of Surgery

Washington State University,1980, Ph.D.

612-624-8108 office

Research Interests:

Pancreatic Cancer Research

Pancreatic cancer is a devastating disease with a poor prognosis and is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related death in the US. Every year, more than 36,000 Americans succumb to this disease. Pancreatic cancer is so difficult to treat because its cells are highly resistant to apoptotic cell death. Our laboratory is interested in the role played by heat shock proteins in the pathophysiology of this resistance. In recent studies published in Cancer Research, we demonstrated that HSP70 is overexpressed in pancreatic cancer cells and that its inhibition leads to apoptotic cell death. Inhibiting HSP70 expression is also very effective at reducing the growth of pancreatic tumors in orthotopic models of pancreatic cancer, where it markedly reduces loco-regional spread. We are currently developing strategies to extend these findings into the clinical setting, which include creating novel pharmacologic inhibitors of HSP70 expression as well as developing nanoparticles capable of delivering HSP70 siRNA selectively to cancer tissue. In other studies, we are evaluating novel strategies (also involving death receptors and HSP70) to treat otherwise non-responsive and very aggressive pancreatic tumors.

Another important area in pancreatic cancer research is the mechanism by which HSP70 inhibits apoptosis in cancer cells. We have demonstrated that HSP70 inhibits apoptosis by two independent yet simultaneous means: by attenuating intracellular calcium and by stabilizing the lysosomes. We are currently investigating how HSP70 influences calcium homeostasis and lysosomal stability. We are also evaluating various naturally-occurring compounds as potential therapies for this deadly disease.

Pancreatitis is the other devastating disease of the exocrine pancreatitis for which currently there are no treatments other than supportive care. Like that of pancreatic cancer, the pathophysiology of pancreatitis is not well understood. While it is generally believed that the premature activation of digestive enzyme zymogens in the pancreatic acinar cells initiates the onset of pancreatitis, the intraacinar activation by which this occurs is still under intense investigation. We have set forth a colocalization hypothesis, which proposes that during the early stages of pancreatitis, digestive enzyme zymogens and lysosomal enzymes are colocalized in acinar cells, and that this results in activation of trypsinogen by the lysosomal hydrolases – particularly cathepsin B. Recent findings from our group suggest that HSP70 is protective in pancreatitis and that its upregulation should be beneficial against pancreatitis. One of the high-priority areas in our laboratory is to study the mechanisms by which HSP70 protects against pancreatitis and the ensuing inflammatory response.

Another area of interest in our group is to ascertain and evaluate the mechanisms and treatment strategies for the excruciating pain associated with the pancreatic diseases, with particular emphasis on opioid receptors.

Selected Recent Publications:

  • Dawra R, Ku Y, Sharif R, Dhaulakhandi D, Phillips P, Dudeja V, and Saluja AK. An improved method for extracting myeloperidase and determining its activity in the pancreas and lungs during pancreatitis. Pancreas. In press, 2008.
  • Vallera DA, Stish BJ, Shu Y, Chen H, Saluja A, Buchsbaum DJ, Vickers SM. 2008. Genetically designing a more potent anti-pancreatic cancer agent by simultaneously cotargeting human IL-13 and EGF receptors in a mouse xenograft model. Gut.57(5):634-41.
  • Bhagat L, Singh V, Dawra R, Saluja A. 2008. Sodium arsenite Induces Heat Shock Protein 70 Expression and Protects Against Secretagogue-Induced Trypsinogen and NF-kB Activation. J. Cell Physiol. 215(1):37-46.
  • Rakonczay Z, Hegyi P, Takács T, McCarroll J and Saluja AK. 2008. The Role of NF-kB Activation in the Pathogenesis of Acute Pancreatitis. Gut. 57(2):259-67.
  • Phillips PA, Dudeja V, McCarroll J, Borja-Cacho D, Dawra R, Grizzle W, Vickers S and Saluja A. 2007. Triptolide Induces Pancreatic Cancer Cell Death via Inhibition of Heat Shock Protein 70. Cancer Research. 67(19):9407-16.
  • Aghdassi A, Phillips P, Dudeja V, Dhaulakhandi D, Sharif R, Dawra R, Lerch M, Saluja A. 2007. Heat Shock Protein 70 Increases Tumorgenicity and Inhibits Apoptosis in Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma. Cancer Research. 67: 616-625.