NIH Awards LSUHSC $11 Million for Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) Focusing on Inflammation in Cancer and Infectious Diseases

On August 1, 2010, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded the LSU Health Sciences Center – New Orleans with a five-year, $11 million grant for the continuation of a Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) entitled “Mentoring Translational Researchers in Louisiana.” Currently in its sixth year of operation, this COBRE is led by Augusto C. Ochoa, M.D., Professor of Pediatrics, Director of the Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center, and Co-Director of the LCRC. With this new funding, the Center will further develop research infrastructure at LSU and will promote the career development of eight promising junior investigators by pairing them with established mentors, who will provide career as well as scientific guidance.

At NIH, the national COBRE program is designed to increase competitiveness of researchers in underfunded geographical areas by the establishment of multidisciplinary research centers that are each focused on a scientific theme. Louisiana institutions have received nine COBRE grants, more than those of any other state. Six of these Centers are housed at Louisiana State University institutions, including LSU-Baton Rouge (1), LSU-Shreveport (1), and LSUHSC-New Orleans (4); and two are located at Tulane University, including “Menoring a Cancer Genetics Program,” which is directed by Prescott Deininger, Ph.D., Director of the Tulane Cancer Center and Co-Director of the LCRC.

Dr. Ochoa established the “Mentoring Translational Researchers in Louisiana” COBRE in 2005, just days before Hurricane Katrina made landfall in New Orleans. Despite the destruction stemming from Katrina’s floodwaters and the chaos that ensued, this Center succeeded in producing nationally recognized research and in creating a foundation for retaining local clinical and basic scientists and recruiting additional talent to the greater New Orleans area.

During the first five-year cycle of this COBRE, participating researchers successfully competed for over $54 million dollars in extramural funding, which was brought into the New Orleans area to fund biomedical research. This program established 66 employment opportunities, including support for over 25 faculty and 30 laboratory support positions. These opportunities created substantial economic impact on the greater New Orleans area, as the research industry has been considered one of the most powerful drivers of the economic prosperity of communities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 17 of the 30 fastest growing occupations in the US are related to medical research or health care. According to BIO, in Louisiana a single life sciences job equals 5.19 jobs produced indirectly within the local economy.

Support from this grant is allowing LSUHSC to lead the scientific infrastructure recovery by establishing, completely or in part, several research cores at LSUHSC, which are available to researchers from other local universities as well. These facilities are the Immunology and Cell Analysis Core; the Genomics and Illumina Core, which provides high throughput sequencing and SNP analysis; the Biostatistics / Bioinformatics Core, being developed collaboration with the Louisiana Biomedical Research Network; the Faculty Development Core, which structures and organizes the mentoring activities for junior faculty; and the Grants and Development Core, which facilitates the strategic planning and preparation of grant applications and the management of awards.

The scientific focus of this COBRE is chronic inflammation and disease. Chronic inflammation is central to the development of multiple diseases, including cancer, chronic viral and bacterial infections, and cardiovascular (coronary) disease. The research stemming from this Center will be essential for developing novel concepts of prevention and treatment, which has a particular relevance in southern Louisiana. According to the CDC, this state ranks first in the U.S. in incidence of cardiovascular diseases, second in cancer, third in cerebrovascular diseases, fourth in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and tenth in diabetes—diseases which account for 70% of all deaths and more than 75% of the nation’s $2 trillion annual medical care costs in the U.S.

The five-year grant renewal will continue funding this successful COBRE through June of 2015. The original award, renewal, and supplements represent a total $14.5 million in direct federal funding. 


LSU Awarded $12 Million NCI Contract for Louisiana Tumor Registry

The Louisiana Tumor Registry (LTR) at the LSU School of Public Health has been awarded a $12 million, seven-year contract to continue operating as an NCI Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Program-designated cancer registry. According to Dr. Elizabeth Fontham, Dean of the School of Public Health, "the SEER Program is the most authoritative source of information on cancer incidence and survival in the United States." One of 18 SEER-funded registries in the U.S., the LTR systematically records the occurrence of cancer across the state. Louisiana hospitals, private pathology laboratories, radiation centers, and healthcare providers who treat cancer are required by law to report all cases to the LTR, and data from this registry are used by federal, state, and local agencies to establish programs and policies for reducing the burden of cancer on Louisiana residents.

Over the years, state and federal funding and the cooperation of state agencies has created an impressive infrastructure that includes regional registries, experienced editors who ensure data quality, and linked access to Medicare and Medicaid information as well as to the Health Care Services Division Disease Management Evaluation Database (DMED). According to Vivien Chen, M.P.H., Ph.D., LTR Director, this impressive infrastructure was pivotal to securing the largest SEER award ever received in Louisiana. In addition to the SEER contract, the LTR has obtained an additional funding by the CDC, which recognizes it as a Specialized Cancer Registry. The combined federal dollars account for approximately 75% of the registry’s current funding. Below, Dr. Chen answers some questions about the registry and its recent awards.

Why is SEER designation important to Louisiana?

The NCI-SEER program is recognized worldwide as the most resourceful data source for cancer statistics (incidence, mortality and survival) and the gold standard of data quality for cancer surveillance. Therefore, being a member of the SEER program reflects the level of excellence of LTR and of cancer surveillance of Louisiana. In November 2010, LTR received the most coveted SEER “First Place Award” for its 2007 data quality.

In addition, LTR is also getting recognition from CDC. Recently, we were funded by CDC to become a Specialized Cancer Registry in the CDC National Program of Cancer Registries. The purpose of this ARRA-funded award is to enhance the registry data systems for Comparative Effectiveness Research. Louisiana is one of the 10 states awarded.

What is the most alarming trend you have noticed over recent years?

In the late 1990s, Louisiana's incidence rates for colorectal cancer, for both men and women, started rising. During that period, incidence rates for the U.S. combined were declining. This trend is especially alarming because many cases of colorectal cancer can be prevented through primary prevention (reducing risk factors, such as a seditary lifestyle and high-fat diet) and secondary prevention (early detection). At present, the incidence rates for Louisiana are declining, but our rates remain significantly above the national averages, except for African American women, where rates are similar.

What is the most satisfying trend you have noticed in recent years?

Mortality rates for breast cancer among Louisiana women have gradually but continuously declined. The most encouraging trend is the sharp decline in breast cancer mortality among Louisiana African women beginning in 2006. This no doubt reflects the impact of the Louisiana Breast and Cervical Cancers Early Detection Program, which provides free mammograms to uninsured or under-insured women and arranges for access to treatment, if necessary.

Has the LSU School of Public Health used the SEER data to created or redesign programs or strategies?

Yes, the Louisiana Comprehensive Cancer Control Program developed its plan and programs based on data from LTR, which is totally data-driven. There are many examples:

1. LTR cancer data and financial data helped lead the legislature to approve funding for colorectal screening equipment and personnel for the Colorectal Screening Program (LA FIT), which is directed by Donna Williams, Dr.P.H..

2. The Louisiana Breast and Cervical Health Program, which is led by,Dr. Williams, continually uses LTR data to document advanced stage of breast cancer at diagnosis in populations without health insurance and to evaluate the success of its program (stage shift to early disease at diagnosis and reduction in mortality).

Does the NCI use SEER-derived information to create programs or strategies?

Absolutely! An example of such information is the survival disparity observed among cancer patients with same cancer and stage, even after adjusting for patient and basic tumor characteristics, such as histology and grade. This finding has led to the need to collect additional tumor biomarkers, such as HER/2 data, to identify triple-negative breast cancer patients for targeted therapy.

The SEER program also recognizes the need to enhance “routine” registry data in order to assess quality of cancer care and evaluate the dissemination of treatment guidelines and equality. As a result, it continues to conduct Pattern of Care studies and to develop strategies for capturing treatment information that are provided outside of hospital settings by linkages with Medicare and other data sets and for capturing co-morbidities (factors that can impact treatment choice).

Is the Louisiana population unique? In what ways?

Yes, the Louisiana population is unique— unfortunately. in negative ways.

Louisiana is a state in the Deep South and is a land of diversity, both culturally and racial/ethnically. Louisiana includes special populations targeted by NCI and CDC for cancer control and reduction in cancer burden and disparities. These populations include rural residents (26%); African Americans (about 32%); an increasing Hispanic population post-Hurricane Katrina; people who are living below poverty level and medically uninsured; populations with poor general health, advanced cancer at diagnosis, low survival rate, and high overall cancer mortality rates; as well as populations working or residing in an industrial corridor and in hurricane- and oil spill-impacted areas. Studying these populations provides an opportunity to increase our understanding of cancer biology and to address disparities associated with the cancer burden.

How many people work on the LTR?

Fifty. The dedicated team includes 25 staff members working within the LSU Health Sciences Center and 25 additional members from the regional registries. In addition to Dr. Chen, its leadership includes Xiao-Cheng Wu, M.D., M.P.H., Associate Director;
Edward Peters, D.M.D., D.S.c., Epidemiologist; Patricia A. Andrews, M.P.H., Registry Liaison; Meichin Hsieh, M.S.P.H., Data Manager; and Dean Fontham, who provides this program with strong support.


LSU Faculty Member Secures Three NIH Independent Research Grants in Six Months

On September 23, Shahriar Koochekpour, M.D., Ph.D., a member of the Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center and an Associate Professor of Urology at the LSU Health Sciences Center – New Orleans, was awarded a four-year $1.42 MM research grant from the NIH for the project “Prosaposin: A Novel Biomarker of Prostate Cancer Progression in African Americans.” In itself, this accomplishment is noteworthy, as the success rate for NIH R01-type grant applications, like Dr. Koocherkpour’s, is only 13.7%. What is more impressive is the fact that this award is the third NIH research grant that Dr. Koochekpour has received since March of this year.

All three grants support Dr. Koochekpour’s prostate cancer research program, which focuses on male hormone factors contributing to prostate cancer, the genetics underlying the disease, and the disparity between its aggressiveness in African Americans and Caucasians. The prosaposin grant was awarded by the NIH National Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities. Specifically, this project was funded by the Health Disparities Research on Minority and Underserved Populations program, an initiative supporting innovative research to eliminate health inequities racial, ethnic, sexual orientation and socioeconomic groups.

This project will investigate whether the protein prosaposin (PSAP) contributes to prostate cancer progression and whether it can be used to develop a reliable test for detecting clinically significant tumors and for determining the level of tumor aggressiveness in African Americans. According to the American Cancer Society, prostate cancer is the most commonly occurring cancer among U.S. men and the second most deadly. Further, the prostate cancer incidence rate among African American men is 55% greater than that for Caucasian men, and the African American death rate is two-and–a-half times that of Caucasians. Dr. Koochekpour’s research is particularly relevant to Louisiana, where the death rate from prostate cancer is 19% higher than the national average. In this state alone, 194 black males die each year from this disease, according to Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program 2006 data.

Dr. Koochekpour is the first researcher to investigate the link between the protein PSAP and prostate cancer in African Americans. In fact, Dr. Koochekpour was the first to hypothesize and find an association between PSAP and prostate cancer in any population. His published studies found that PSAP, which is present in nearly all cell types, is overly abundant in metastatic prostate cancer cells and tissues and that serum levels of this protein are higher for Caucasians with more aggressive forms of prostate cancer than for those with primary prostate cancer or a normal prostate. In studies of prostate cancer cell lines originating from Caucasian populations, Dr. Koochekpour found that PSAP stimulates the migration and invasion of prostate cancer cells, promotes prostate cell survival, and otherwise facilitates carcinogenesis. At the time, no data existed on PSAP and prostate cancer in African Americans.

Initially, this research—the association between prostate cancer and PSAP—met with resistance from the scientific community. Since then, an increase in PSAP expression has been associated with other malignancies, including breast and pancreatic cancer. Dr. Koochekpour’s original discoveries have been published in several journals, including Genes, Chromosomes & Cancer; Prostate; Journal of Cellular Biochemistry; and Molecular Cancer.

The recently funded study will build upon a pilot project in which Dr. Koochekpour found that PSAP in African American cell lines contains extra copies of functional genes and that PSAP is expressed at higher levels in African Americans with metastatic prostate cancer than with primary prostate cancer. This research has a strong translational component, because it will involve both cancer biology with clinical data, in attempt to correlate PSAP expression with cancer prevalence and aggressiveness in patients.

In addition to the PSAP grant, Dr. Koochekpour has received two NCI-funded R21 grants to for the projects “Prognostic Value of AR Mutation in Primary African American Prostate Cancer” ($359,214) and “Significance of a Novel Germline AR Mutation in Black Men with Prostate Cancer” ($339,735).

The prognostic-value study will test the two-fold hypothesis that 1) androgen receptor (AR) mutations are more common in African Americans with prostate cancer than in either African Americans with normal prostate or Caucasians with prostate cancer, and 2) these mutations can be used to assess the aggressiveness of prostate cancer and thereby serve as a prognostic factor for African American men. The goal of this study is to find a biomarker that can be used to develop a more powerful diagnostic test for prostate cancer. The current standard, the prostate specific antigen (PSA) test, is less specific than desired, leading to many false positives, and does not distinguish between slowing growing cancers and the more aggressive variety more common in African Americans. Ideally, Dr. Koochekpour’s study will lead to a new biomarker that can accurately detect a malignancy and also provide information as to the type and stage of the cancer

In contrast, the germline-AR-mutation project will focus on a particular genetic change that Dr. Koochekpour discovered while studying an African American family with a particularly strong history of prostate cancer. Published earlier this year in the Asian Journal of Andrology and featured on the Nature Publishing Group website, Dr. Koochekpour’s pilot study was the first to identify a novel inheritable mutation in African American men with a family history of prostate cancer. Dr. Koochekpour believes that this mutation facilitates the development and progression of this disease in familial prostate cancer.

In addition to these projects, Dr. Koochekpour is the lead investigator on two five-year projects that are funded through NIH-funded multi-project, multi-institutional centers: The Center of Biomedical Excellence “Mentoring Translational Researchers in Louisiana,” which is led by Augusto C. Ochoa, M.D., who directs the Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center; and the Dillard-LSUHSC Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center, which is co-directed by Betty Dennis, Ph.D., at Dillard University and John Estrada, M.D., at LSUHSC.

In total, Dr. Koochekpour’s five projects have led to the hire of five employees, two postdoctoral associates, and three research assistants. Dr. Koochekpour is in the process of hiring an additional three laboratory members.

Prior to this year, Dr. Koochepour’s research had been supported by a two-year NCI grant, which expired in 2008, by Dr. Ochoa’s Center of Biomedical Excellence award, and through start-up funding provided by the Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center and the LCRC, of which he is a member of the Molecular Signaling program. His research was and continues to be supported as well by the consortium’s biospecimen repository, which is directed by Arnold Zea, Ph.D., an Assistant Professor of Microbiology, Immunology, and Parasitology, member of the Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center, and member of the LCRC Immunology, Infection and Inflammation program. The familial prostate cancer samples for the germline-AR-mutation studies were collected by Diptasri Mandal, PhD, an Associate Professor of Genetics, who is also a member of the Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center and the LCRC Molecular Genetics research program. In 2006, the LCRC post-Katrina Immediate Response Program provided Dr. Mandal with $21K in partial support for recruiting families with prostate cancer and collecting samples from them. The amount of the R21 award that Dr. Koochekpur received for his germline-AR-mutation study is sixteen times the amount of this LCRC investment.


LSU Cancer Center Expanding Research Program to Include Neurological Cancer


This year, the Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center welcomed three internationally recognized, NIH-funded researchers specializing in brain cancer and neurovirology.

  • Krysztof Reiss, Ph.D., (left) is a Professor within the Hematology/Oncology section of the Department of Medicine and the director of neurological cancer research at the Cancer Center. He earned his doctorate in molecular biology from the prestigious Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, in 1989. An NIH-funded investigator, he has co-authored 123 peer-reviewed publications in the areas of cancer research and molecular biology. He has served as a reviewer for the NCI as well as the American Heart Association.
  • Luis Del Valle, MD, (right) is a neuropathologist with appointments as an Associate Professor of the Departments of Pathology and Medicine (Hematology/Oncology) as well as in the Cancer Center. He received his medical degree from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, School of Medicine, Mexico City, in 1990, after which he completed a residency program in anatomic pathology and fellowships in neuropathology and neurovirology at Thomas Jefferson University and Drexel University in Philadelphia, respectively. He has published 114 peer-reviewed articles in high-impact journals, including Lancet, Journal of the NCI, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Oncogene, Annals of Neurology, Cancer Research, and American Journal of Pathology. In addition to being an NIH-funded investigator, he has reviewed grant applications for the NCI at the NIH, and serves as an ad hoc reviewer for several professional journals.
  • Francesca Peruzzi, Ph.D, (center) is a neurobiologist specializing in neurovirology and an Associate Professor within the Hematology/Oncology section of the Department of Medicine. She earned her doctorate in biology from Siena University, Italy, in 1992, and completed postdoctoral fellowships in microbiology and immunology at each the Kimmel Cancer Center at Thomas Jefferson University and the School of Medicine at Temple University. An NIH-funded investigator, she has published research in and served as an ad hoc reviewer for numerous professional journals, including Oncogene, Blood, Cancer Research, and the Journal of Neuroviology. She has also been managing editor for the special issue of Frontiers in Biosciences, “Molecular Basis for Neural Dysfunction in AIDS (May 1, 2008).”

All three investigators were recruited from the Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where they were highly regarded, active researchers within the Department of Neuroscience and the Center for Neurovirology.

This group of investigators is the first interdisciplinary research team recruited by the Cancer Center since before Hurricane Katrina. The new neurological cancer program they are developing will cut across disciplinary as well as institutional boundaries to pursue a range of neurological malignancies. By promoting active collaborations between basic researchers and clinicians, it will emphasize translational research, which is research designed specifically to decrease the time required for a scientific discovery made in a laboratory to reach and positively impact the lives of patients.

Some research highlights:

  • Dr. Reiss investigates molecular pathways involved in the development of cancer, particularly brain tumors. His laboratory investigates the roles of various proteins -including growth factors, viral proteins, cell cycle regulators, and proteins associated with cell signaling- in the development of brain tumors, including medulloblastomas, the most common brain tumors in children. These highly malignant tumors originate from poorly developed early-stage neurons in the cerebellum and brain stem. A major discovery made by his research group is that the accumulation of mutations found in tumor cells is associated with translocation of a cellular signaling molecule (Insulin Receptor Substrate 1) from the cytoplasma to the nucleus, where it disrupts DNA repair. This finding is important, because increasing our understanding how tumors are formed may lead to the discovery of ways to prevent cancer. For example, Dr. Reiss’ findings of pathologic changes in cellular pathways caused by viral proteins have led to the development of novel protein-based strategies for preventing the growth and decreasing the survival of brain tumor cells. One current line of research tests the hypothesis that medulloblastomas are caused by disruptions in the natural DNA repair process of brain cells that lead to mutations.
  • Dr. Del Valle investigates the relationship between brain tumors and the human polyomavirus JCV, a common virus which is present in 70-90% of the population and is known to cause an opportunistic disease in immunodeficient patients, especially those with AIDS. His group has discovered an association between the presence of JCV and the development of human brain tumors. One area of current focus is the manner by which this virus may disrupt the natural death mechanisms of brain cells. Infection with JCV extends the life of oligodendrocytes, which are the myelin (insulation)-producing cells of the brain. The increased lifespan leads to active viral replication and the development of Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy (PML), a fatal demyelinating disease of the central nervous system. In astrocytes, which are supportive brain cells, JCV is believed to promote transformation, extending their lifespan much further beyond their natural cycle, thereby allowing for mutations to accumulate and malignancies to form. Understanding of these mechanims is crucial for the development of new treatments against these thus far uncurable diseases.
  • Dr. Peruzzi investigates molecular mechanisms of neuronal dysfunction due to the HIV-1 infection and the role of microRNAs in the control of tumor growth. While the antiretroviral therapy has greatly improved the survival of HIV-infected people, it has not prevented neurological disorders associated with the presence of the virus in the brain. To pave the way for more targeted and successful therapies, Dr. Peruzzi is investigating the mechanisms by which viral and host proteins interact. Already, her laboratory has identified several mechanisms by which the viral protein Tat can interfere with and deregulate cellular processes that result in neuronal malfunction and/or degeneration. Through another project, she has demonstrated the effect of HIV infection in deregulating expression and function of non-coding RNAs (microRNAs) in neuronal cells. microRNAs have emerged as key molecules regulating a variety of cellular processes. One characteristic of these small nucleic acids is that they can be secreted by the cells as free molecules or within microvesicles. Indeed, a variety of tumor cells, including aggressive brain tumors (glioblastomas), utilize microvesicles to exchange "information". This observation has launched a new line of research that includes investigating of the role of microRNAs in the control of tumor growth and metastatic dissemination.
  • Current collaborators include Frank Culicchia, MD, who directs the Neurosurgery program at the LSU School of Medicine and who will be supplying the new investigators with tumor samples, and the Cancer Center Illumina/Genomics core laboratory director Jovanny Zabaleta, PhD, who will be performing the first-ever comparative genomic profiling of Grade II (astrocytomas, which are benign tumors), Grade III (anaplastic astrocytomas), and Grade IV (Glioblastoma multiforme) brain tumors, in an attempt to correlate patient status to changes at the molecular level. Understanding this correlation could be a first step in developing new therapies to prevent tumor progression. As it is difficult to surgically remove brain tumors in their entirety, this type of therapy could prove to be pivotal in the treatment of brain cancer.
  • Additional areas of interest include Merkel Cell Carcinoma (MCC), a rare and very aggressive cancer in which malignant cancer cells develop on or just beneath the skin and or in hair follicles. These neuroendocrine tumor cells originate from the neural crest and therefore share various properties in common with brain cells. The majority of MCCs are believed to be caused by the Merkel cell virus, a newly discovered member of the polyomavirus family, which also includes the previously discussed JCV. Notable people who had MCC include the entrepreneur and Popeye’s Chicken & Biscuits creator, Al Copeland; the Nobel Prize-winning chemist Dr. Max Perutz, who shared the award for his contributions to the structures of hemoglobin and other globular proteins and who supervised the doctoral research of Watson and Crick as they discovered the structure of DNA; and Edward Utley, former president of Geico insurance company. This team’s groundbreaking research may result in the development of new strategies for the prevention and cure of MCCs and other aggressive skin tumors, such as melanomas.

The arrivals of Drs. Reiss, Del Valle and Peruzzi will have considerable economic impact on the area. Already, Drs. Reiss and Del Valle have brought three postdoctoral researchers to LSU. They are creating new jobs as well. Just this year, they will hire four additional postdoctoral researchers, a research associate, and a laboratory technician. Based on the average size of an NCI R01 research grant awarded in FY 2009, each R01 grant that the neurological cancer research team brings to LSU will generate $386,000 in annual federal funding. 


NIH Funds Dillard-LSUHSC Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center

The National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities awarded $6.8 million in grant funds to Dillard University and the LSU Health Sciences Center to establish a Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center in New Orleans. Betty Dennis, PhD, Dean of Nursing at Dillard, and John Estrada, MD, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at LSU, will co-direct the center, which will create new infrastructure at Dillard to conduct integrated research, training, and community engagement aimed at better understanding and ultimately diminishing inequities in health.


John Ruffin, PhD, who directs the NIH Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities Research, announcing the award at Dillard University, June 10, 2010.

On June 10, John Ruffin, PhD, Director of the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities, arrived in New Orleans to award the grant in person. "This is a multidisciplinary center which focuses on a number of disease areas that disproportionately impact minorities in particular, but not only minorities in particular, but it also centers around issues that impact poor white throughout our country disproportionately. And so to a large extent this center could serve as a (national) model," said Ruffin. He also commented that he was pleased to be able to provide such an award in Louisiana, where health disparities are substantial.

Compared to White Americans, African Americans have a 10% higher incidence of cancer, and Latinos have approximately twice the risk of developing diabetes. Minorities also have higher rates of cardiovascular disease and infant mortality. A recent study of 20,000 US cancer patients in the found African Americans are less likely than European Americans to survive breast, prostate, and ovarian cancer, even when provided with equal care.


John Estrada, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, one of the Principal Investigators.

"Research suggests biology may factor into the high rates of some diseases in minority populations,” said Dr. Estrada. “This center will contribute to more active participation of these groups in order to reduce this major health inequality."

“This is an exciting opportunity for Dillard,” said Dr. Betty Dennis. “We will be able to partner with communities to better understand the role of biological as well as socio-cultural determinates that factor into health inequalities.”

The center will feature a range of programs:

  • A Clinical Research Associate training course is being offered at the Dillard School of Nursing and will include an experiential component through which students work alongside nurses associated with the LSU Minority-Based Community Clinical Oncology Program, which provides NCI-sponsored clinical trials within communities throughout South Louisiana, and those associated with the Community Clinical Oncology Program at the Ochsner Medical Center.
  • An extensive community engagement initiative, co-led by Dr. Estrada and John Wilson, PhD, Dean of Natural Sciences and Public Health at Dillard. A particular emphasis will be the inclusion of underrepresented groups in clinical trials.
  • Undergraduate research experiences through which exceptional students at Dillard University will perform research in biomedical laboratories during the summer.
  • Biomedical research focusing on diseases that disproportionately affect minority and underserved populations. For these projects, faculty members at Dillard Universities will collaborate with and work within the laboratories of funded investigators at the LSU Health Sciences Center.

The research core is being led by Augusto Ochoa, MD, Director of the Stanley. S. Scott Cancer Center, and Dr. Wilson. Initially, this core will focusing on three projects. Conducted in the laboratory of Shahriar Koochekpour, MD, PhD, the first study investigates why some African American males have a genetic makeup that increases their risk for developing aggressive prostate cancer. The second study, led by Michael Hagensee, MD, PhD, attempts to understand why the Human papillomavirus (HPV) virus is more likely to result in cervical cancer in African American women than in Caucasians. The third investigation, led by Melinda Sothern, PhD, focuses on the contribution of genetics to the development of asthma and obesity in minority children.

(Watch video from the press conference at WWL-TV Channel 4's official Web site.)


LSU Researcher Identifies New Mutation in Familial Prostate Cancer

Shahriar Koochekpour, MD, PhD

On February 22, 2010, the Nature Publishing Group posted an advanced online publication of a groundbreaking discovery led by Shahriar Koochekpour, MD, PhD, a member of the Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center at the LSU Health Sciences Center – New Orleans and the Louisiana Cancer Research Consortium (LCRC). According to the report published in the Asian Journal of Andrology, a novel inheritable mutation has been observed for the first time in African American men with a family history of prostate cancer.

This genetic change was discovered by testing the DNA from white blood cells of African Americans and their family members, with and without cancer. Obtained from thirty families affected by prostate cancer, the DNA cells were provided by Diptasri Mandal, PhD, Associate Professor of Genetics at the LSU School of Medicine. The mutation was detected in only those men with prostate cancer and was found in the cell’s androgen receptor (AR), a protein responsible for sensing the presence of male sex hormones. Dr. Koochekpour believes that this mutation facilitates the development and progression of prostate cancer, in part by altering the receptor’s DNA-binding ability and by regulating the activities of other genes and proteins involved in the growth and aggressive behaviour of tumors.

This discovery is significant because it may lead to a genetic test capable of identifying African Americans who have a family history of prostate cancer. The need for such a biomarker is urgent. According to the American Cancer Society, prostate cancer is the most commonly occurring cancer among US men and the second most deadly. Further, the prostate cancer incidence rate among African American men is 55% greater than that for Caucasian men, and the African American death rate is two and a half times that of Caucasians. Dr. Koochekpour’s study is particularly relevant to Louisiana, where the death rate from prostate cancer is 19% higher than the national average. In this state alone, 194 black males die each year from this disease, according to Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program 2006 data.

Studies linking inheritable mutations to prostate cancer are rare, and this is the first one that focuses on African American populations. Prior to this study, Dr. Koochekpour’s research program brought national attention to the role of another protein, prosaposin, in prostate cancer biology. At LSU, he is an Assistant Professor of Urology and leads research projects for two major initiatives, the Dillard-LSUHSC Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities Research, which is funded by the NIH National Center for Health Disparities Research, and the Center for Biomedical Excellence (COBRE) “Mentoring Translational Researchers in Louisiana,” which is designed to create research infrastructure in Louisiana and, more specifically, to accelerate the progression of biomedical research from the laboratory to the patient. Funded by the NCI, additional studies are underway in Dr. Koochekpour’s laboratory to determine the biological significance of the recently discovered mutation and most importantly investigating the genetic instability in African Americans with prostate cancer. This investigation is an expansion of the recently published study that includes testing white blood cells from ten additional families in which prostate cancer is present and comparing these to four hundred controls. The next step will be to define prognostic significance of these mutations in primary prostate cancer.

The samples used in this study were obtained, in part, with funding from the LCRC. The familial prostate cancer samples that Dr. Mandal provided for the both published study and the expanded project were collected with the financial support of the LCRC Immediate Response Program (2006-7), and the control samples, which are maintained by Jovanny Zabaleta, PhD, Assistant Professor of Microbiology, Immunology and Parasitology, were collected with the assistance of seed funding (2006) provided L. Joseph Su, PhD, a former faculty member within the School of Public Health. 


March 24, 2010

LCRC Announces Ochsner Health System as a New Partner

NEW ORLEANS – The Louisiana Cancer Research Consortium (LCRC) ( today announced the inclusion of the Ochsner Health System as a new partner. The decision to bring Ochsner into the Consortium was made by the members of the LCRC – LSU Health Sciences Center, Tulane University and Xavier University of Louisiana – with the goal of expanding the LCRC’s cancer research activities, particularly increasing the potential for patient participation in clinical trials through access to Ochsner’s extensive health network.

”Ochsner is a valuable addition to the LCRC partnership,” said Dr. Larry H. Hollier, chairman of the board of the Louisiana Cancer Research Consortium. “Collaboration with Ochsner and its local researchers, physicians and neighborhood clinics will further enhance the efforts of our existing LCRC partners to develop a world-­‐class coordinated cancer research and education resource for this region.”

“Ochsner’s involvement in the Louisiana Cancer Research Consortium will have a direct and immediate impact on the lives of the people of Louisiana," says Dr. Patrick J. Quinlan, CEO of Ochsner Health System. "We feel that our participation can only strengthen the existing LCRC team of cancer care experts, clinical experts and research leaders."

For the past eight years, through the work of its university partners, the LCRC has developed a collaborative cancer alliance that has built successful programs in cancer prevention and control, cultivated state-of-the-art basic research and treatment options, and created cancer education programs for the citizens of Louisiana. LCRC researchers attract over $30 million in federal cancer research grant funding per year to the region, despite decreased federal research budgets and sharply increased competition.

The addition of Ochsner will further enhance and complement the Consortium's current clinical research efforts through expanded availability of National Institutes of Health, pharmaceutical, and investigator-initiated clinical trials. The eventual goal is to combine the clinical research programs of all partners and provide common access to the LCRC's cancer trials through all of the Consortium's clinical outlets.

Funding for the Consortium comes largely from the 2002 legislative session, which dedicated three cents of the tobacco tax to fund infrastructure and cancer research development for the Consortium. With the assistance of Louisiana State Senator John A. Alario, Jr., and others, an amount of $102 million for planning and construction of an LCRC cancer research facility came from the Blanco administration and the Louisiana Legislature in 2007.

Upon completion, the LCRC's new building, scheduled for a fall 2011 opening, will serve as the physical embodiment of the Consortium's work. LCRC scientists will be housed under one roof and will be able to continue working side-by-side to jointly study a variety of cancers while designing new ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat them.

The new Louisiana Cancer Research Center is located in what is known as the Greater New Orleans Biosciences Economic Development District, an area that will include the BioInnovation Center on Canal Street, the proposed University Medical Center and the new VA Medical Center, a teaching and research medical complex that will serve the area's medical and allied health schools.

"With the addition of Ochsner and the growth and development of the city's biosciences and biomedical industries, the LCRC will be in a better position to achieve NCI (National Cancer Institute) designation," says Steve Moye, president and CEO of the Louisiana Cancer Research Consortium.

Louisiana Cancer Research Consortium (LCRC) Mission:
To develop a coordinated cancer research and education program that will optimize discovery and development of innovated cancer therapies; lead to innovated clinical treatment programs offering new opportunities for early detection, treatment, and prevention of cancer in our region; and promote regional economic growth.


March 10, 2010

LSUHSC Researcher Finds First Inherited Prostate Cancer Genetic Mutation in African-American Men

New Orleans, LA – Shahriar Koochekpour, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Microbiology and Immunology, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and Genetics at LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans, led research that has discovered, for the first time, a genetic mutation in African-American men with a family history of prostate cancer who are at increased risk for the disease. Dr. Koochekpour, who is also a member of the LSUHSC Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center, identified an inheritable genetic defect in the receptor for the male hormone, androgen (testosterone), that may contribute to the development of prostate cancer and its progression. Scientific reports linking inheritable androgen receptor mutations to prostate cancer in Caucasians are rare, and this is the first one that focuses on the African-American population. The study is available in the advance online publication of the Nature Publishing Group's Asian Journal of Andrology.

Dr. Koochekpour and his laboratory discovered this genetic change by testing DNA extracted from white blood cells of African-American and Caucasian men from Louisiana who had a proven medical history of prostate cancer in their families.

"We detected this mutation only in African-American men with prostate cancer," notes Dr. Koochekpour. "We found it in the cell's androgen receptor (AR), a protein which interacts and responds to male sex hormones. This protein is profoundly involved in prostate cancer formation and its progression to an advanced metastatic, incurable stage. We believe that this mutation increases the risk of the development and progression of prostate cancer, in part by altering the receptor's DNA-binding ability, and by regulating the activities of other genes and proteins involved in the growth and aggressive behavior of tumors."

African-American men have a higher incidence and death rate from prostate cancer, as well as clinically more aggressive disease than Caucasians. According to the American Cancer Society's most current data for 2009-2010, prostate cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death among American men. Between 2001 and 2005, the prostate cancer incidence rate was 59% higher in African-American men. African-American men also have the highest mortality rate for prostate cancer of any racial or ethnic group in the US. The death rate for prostate cancer is 2.4 times higher in African-American men than white men in the US.

"We are hopeful that this discovery will eventually lead to a simple genetic test for prostate cancer for African-American men who are at high risk for developing prostate cancer, allowing genetic counselling and earlier, potentially life-saving treatment" said Dr. Koochekpour.


Funding for this research was provided by the National Institutes of Health's Center for Biomedical Excellence and the Louisiana Cancer Research Consortium.

Prior to this study, Dr. Koochekpour's research program brought national attention to the role of another protein, prosaposin, in prostate cancer biology. Funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), additional studies are currently underway in Dr. Koochekpour's laboratory to determine the biological characteristics and relative incidence of the mutation. These efforts could not only advance our knowledge, but also can be used in the early detection and treatment of prostate cancer.

Dr. Koochekpour is also a project leader for the Center for Biomedical Excellence (COBRE) grant to LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans, "Mentoring Translational Researchers in Louisiana," a major initiative supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to create research infrastructure in Louisiana and, more specifically, to accelerate the progression of biomedical research from the laboratory to the patient.

LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans educates Louisiana's health care professionals. The state's academic health leader, LSUHSC comprises a School of Medicine, the state's only School of Dentistry, Louisiana's only public School of Public Health, and Schools of Allied Health Professions, Nursing, and Graduate Studies. LSUHSC faculty take care of patients in public and private hospitals and clinics throughout the region. In the vanguard of biosciences research in a number of areas in a worldwide arena, the LSUHSC research enterprise generates jobs and enormous economic impact, LSUHSC faculty have made lifesaving discoveries and continue to work to prevent, advance treatment, or cure disease. To learn more, visit and .


March 5, 2009

LSU Health Sciences Center Receives a Prestigious Award for Cancer Research

At a national meeting this week in Bethesda, MD, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) recognized the LSU Health Sciences Cancer-New Orleans with the Harry Hynes award, which honors outstanding commitment to clinical oncology research in communities. Specifically, the award recognizes the LSU Health Sciences Center Minority Based Community Clinical Oncology Program (MB-CCOP) for its efforts after Hurricane Katrina, on behalf of patients with cancer and for its cancer prevention and control efforts. This program is funded by the NCI and the School of Medicine at LSU Health Sciences Center, and is housed at the Stanley S Scott Cancer Center. The MB-CCOP is lead by Robert Veith, MD, Director and Augusto Ochoa, MD, Associate Director. In issuing this award, the NCI is honoring the life and accomplishments of Harry Hynes, MD, an oncologist who promoted the participation of minorities and underserved populations in cancer clinical research.

This year, the NCI issued two Harry Hynes awards. On behalf of LSU Health Sciences Center, a special award received by Augusto Ochoa, MD, director of the Stanley S Scott Cancer Center, John Estrada, MD, director of education and community outreach for the Cancer Center: Alicia Connelly, MB-CCOP Coordinator; and Heidi Davis, PhD, the Cancer Center’s coordinator of grants and development. In issuing this award, Worta McCaskill-Stevens, MD PhD, the program director within the NCI Division of Cancer Prevention who manages the MB-CCOP initiative, and Lori Minasian, chief of the NCI Community Oncology And Prevention Trials Research Group, specifically acknowledged additional members of the LSUHSC MB-CCOP team, Sara Moody-Thomas, Ph.D., who co-directs community outreach efforts with Dr. Estrada, Jill Gilbert, MD, former director of the LSUHSC MB-CCOP, and Tasha Moore, former program coordinator. Another member of the team who has been crucial for the successful rebuilding and restructuring of the LSU Health Sciences Center MB-CCOP is Cindy Edwards, who coordinates clinical research associates. The other award was provided to former Ochsner oncologist, Carl Kardinal, MD (who was valuable in helping LSUHSC rebuild its program) for his many years of community service.

The Harry Hynes awards were issued at the annual Community Clinical Oncology Program (CCOP) and MB-CCOP Principal Investigator and Administrator Meeting. The CCOP/MB-CCOP network composes a major delivery system for NCI clinical trials, allowing communities across the country access to state-of-the-art cancer treatment and prevention protocols. MB-CCOPs are CCOPs that serve at least 40% minorities, women, and underserved populations. Across the country and in Puerto Rico, there are 47 CCOPs and thirteen MB-CCOPs currently funded by the NCI. Through these programs, 6,000 patients were enrolled onto cancer treatment clinical trials and 8,000 individuals onto cancer prevention and control protocols in 2008.

Since Hurricane Katrina, the MB-CCOP at LSU Health Sciences Center has become a model multicenter program by including the participation of physicians from academic medical centers, private practice, not-for-profit hospitals, and community clinics. Participating physicians and nurses enroll patients onto clinical trials that are designed by oncology groups at the national level and offered to patients through centers NCI deems qualified to conduct clinical research. By comparing different therapies, the cancer treatment clinical trials develop improved therapies. Likewise, cancer prevention and control protocols are designed to decrease cancer incidence.

Providing services throughout most of South Louisiana, the LSU Health Sciences Center MB-CCOP includes the following partner institutions: LSU Interim Hospital, Children Hospital, New Orleans, Earl K. Long Medical Center, Baton Rouge General Hospital, Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center, Lallie Kemp Regional Medical Center, River Region Cancer Screening and Early Detection Center, Robert Veith, MD, LLC, and Hematology Oncology Specialists. In the future, the program will be expanded to eight more locations throughout South Louisiana.

Contact Information:
Augusto C. Ochoa, MD.
Director, Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center
Phone: (504) 568-2727

John Estrada, MD
Director Education and Community Outreach
Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center
Phone: (504) 858-1000

Worta McCaskill-Stevens, MD
Program Director, Community Oncology and Prevention Trial's Research Group
National Cancer Institute
Bethesda, MD
Phone: (301) 496-8541
Fax: (301) 496-8667


May 1, 2008


New Orleans – LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans and Ochsner Health System are joining forces to better provide for the treatment of cancer patients in greater New Orleans, now and in the future. Dr. Steve Nelson, Dean of the School of Medicine at LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans, has appointed Dr. John Cole as Acting Chief of the Section of Hematology/Oncology in the Department of Medicine chaired by Dr. Charles Sanders. The appointment is effective May 1, 2008. A 1981 graduate of the LSUHSC School of Medicine, Dr. Cole will also continue to serve as Section Head of Hematology/Oncology at Ochsner Medical Center.

Dr. Cole will lead the clinical component of a new joint oncology program, which will also include cancer care at the LSU Interim Hospital. Dr. Augusto Ochoa, Director of the Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center at LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans, will lead the research component. 

The partnership combines LSU Health Sciences Center’s strengths in medical education and cancer research with Ochsner Health System’s strengths in clinical cancer care. It will provide advanced prevention and treatment, develop novel clinical trials and new therapies, and educate clinical oncologists for the State of Louisiana.

“LSU Health Sciences Center and Ochsner have a long tradition of collaboration,” notes Dr. Larry Hollier, Chancellor of LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans. “Building upon that tradition, the new program will not only help save Louisiana lives, but leverage scarce human and financial resources to more quickly rebuild our training programs and Louisiana’s supply of oncologists.” 

"This partnership is a model of collaboration between the private, non-profit sector and public sector and draws upon the strengths of each institution to provide the best possible care for cancer patients. In the post-Katrina environment in New Orleans, working together is a priority when it comes to providing, excellent patient care closer to home,” said Dr. John Cole. “Cancer patients in New Orleans can have cutting-edge treatments right in their own neighborhood.”

“The combination of the clinical and basic research strengths of Ochsner and LSU will provide a unique environment to move research rapidly from the laboratory into new treatments for cancer,” said Dr. Augusto Ochoa. “This is the current emphasis at the National Institutes of Health and should strengthen our ability to compete for federal research grants.”

“As we continue to rebuild our region, we’re committed to delivering the most advanced, quality health care to our patients; and we’re excited about this partnership as it puts the community and patients first,” says Warner Thomas, President and COO for Ochsner Health System. 


LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans educates the majority of Louisiana’s health care professionals. Louisiana’s academic health leader, LSUHSC comprises a School of Medicine, the state’s only School of Dentistry, Louisiana’s only public School of Public Health, and Schools of Allied Health Professions, Nursing, and Graduate Studies. LSUHSC faculty take care of patients in public and private hospitals and clinics in many Louisiana communities. In the vanguard of biosciences research in a worldwide arena, the robust research enterprise at LSUHSC generates lifesaving discoveries, highly desirable jobs and an enormous annual economic impact. LSUHSC outreach programs bring services and support to people in the region, markedly improving the quality of life.

 Ochsner Health System ( is a non-profit, academic, multi-specialty, healthcare delivery system dedicated to patient care, research and education. The system includes seven hospitals and over 35 health centers located throughout Southeast Louisiana. Ochsner employs over 600 physicians in 80 medical specialties and subspecialties and 450 clinical research trials annually. Ochsner was ranked one of the “Best Places to Work” by New Orleans CityBusiness in 2005, 2006 and 2007 and received the Consumer Choice for Healthcare in New Orleans for 12 consecutive years. Ochsner was ranked as “Best” Hospital by U.S. News and World Report in July 2007. Ochsner has over 10,000 employees system-wide.