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Saluja Lab

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Investigator / Contact Person Ashok Saluja


Dr. Saluja's research is primarily focused on pancreatic diseases and how it can be taken from bench to bedside. He has published more than 130 original articles in these areas, with many in high impact journals like PNAS, JCI, Gastroenterology, Gut, JBC and Cancer Research and Science Translational Medicine. His research has been funded by the National Institute of Health and several biotechnology companies in addition to philanthropic support. Dr. Saluja is also the past President of the American Pancreatic Association and International Association of Pancreatology and is currently the Secretary-Treasurer of APA. 

Over last 35 years he has been studying the biology of the pancreas and related diseases. Among these, the most devastating one is pancreatic adenocarcinoma. Pancreatic cancer is a devastating disease with a poor prognosis and is the third leading cause of cancer-related death in the US. Every year, more than 50,000 Americans succumb to this disease. The Saluja Laboratory is interested in the role played by heat shock proteins in the pathophysiology of this disease and the role it plays in tumor survival. They have demonstrated previously that HSP70 is overexpressed in pancreatic cancer cells and that its inhibition leads to apoptotic cell death. In collaboration with the Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Center for Translational Medicine, they have been successful in developing a small molecule, which they have named Minnelide. This compound is very efficacious in several models of pancreatic cancer. Their results thus far suggest that triptolide/Minnelide inhibit Sp1, resulting in inhibition of NFkB and subsequently decrease the activity of HSF-1 and HSP70.  Minnelide has just completed Phase I clinical trials against gastrointestinal cancers with promising results and is undergoing Phase II. 

Since monotherapy is not preferred as a treatment option in any cancer treatment regime, the Saluja Laboratory is also evaluating Minnelide in combination with a number of approved standards of care like Gemcitabine and Abraxane. Preliminary data from his laboratory suggests that Minnelide can be effectively combined with Gemcitabine /Abraxene at very low dose. At this dose, Minnelide is essentially anti-stromal and facilitates drug delivery to the tumor. We are evaluating the mechanism by which Minnelide synergizes with standard of care and actively working on the mechanism by which this drug induces tumor regression and pancreatic cancer cell death. 

In addition to pancreatic cancer, the lab is testing the efficacy of Minnelide in a number of other cancers. These include Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), castration resistant prostate cancer, gastric cancer and melanoma. 

Along with pancreatic cancer, the other major focus of the lab is in pancreatitis and finding other treatment options. Pancreatitis, in its acute and chronic forms, exerts significant morbidity and mortality, not only in the U.S., but also all over the world. While significant resources are expended in treating the disease, currently there is no specific therapy for either forms of the disease. Management of pancreatitis focuses on supportive measures and symptom control and pain management with narcotics is one of the major treatment strategies. Recently published study from his laboratory has shown that the main opioid (morphine) used for pain management in pancreatitis actually makes the disease worse.