Sylvester Recruits Expert to Head New Pancreatic Cancer Research Institute

Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine has announced the appointment of Ashok K. Saluja, Ph.D., as the inaugural Director of the new Sylvester Pancreatic Cancer Research Institute at the Miller School of Medicine (SPCRI) and associate director for research innovation, senior associate dean for research, as well as professor and vice chair of surgery at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. Saluja joins Sylvester from the Department of Surgery at the University of Minnesota, where he was the Eugene C. and Gail V. Sit Chair in Pancreatic and Gastrointestinal Cancer Research, the McKnight Presidential Chair, and professor and vice chair of research.

“We are incredibly pleased to have Ashok Saluja on the Sylvester team,” said Sylvester Director Stephen D. Nimer, M.D. “Ashok is a luminary in the field of pancreatic disease and cancer. He has been conducting cutting-edge research into the causes of pancreatitis and pancreatic tumors for more than 30 years and, most recently, has been focused on developing new potential treatments for these diseases. Together with Dr. Nipun Merchant, medical director at the SPCRI, we strive to better understand the disease as well as discover and develop effective treatments.”

Saluja’s research focuses on understanding the pathophysiology of pancreatic diseases. He is internationally renowned for his work on the pathogenesis of pancreatitis and has made seminal observations in pancreatic cancer. Saluja and his team have recently shown that pancreatic tumors overexpress a certain protein – Heat Shock Protein 70 – and its inhibition causes death of these cancer cells not only in cell culture but also in animal models of pancreatic cancer. Saluja’s group has developed a novel drug named Minnelide – which has been found to be effective against pancreatic and several other cancers in the lab. Minnelide entered Phase I clinical trials in 2013.

“Sylvester is at the forefront of research to find novel cures for cancer and I am excited to join the cancer center,” said Saluja, who will have a team of faculty members, postdoctoral fellows, and research associates. “Pancreatic cancer is one of the most dreadful diseases known to humans. We are setting up the Sylvester Pancreatic Cancer Research Institute with the goal to develop and provide novel treatments for patients with pancreatic cancer and to change the face of this formidable disease.”

Saluja received his Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Washington State University and did his postdoctoral training at Cornell University. Before joining the University of Minnesota in 2006, he was professor and director of the Pancreatic Diseases Center at UMass Medical School and, before that, at Harvard Medical School for 20 years. Saluja has published more than 130 papers in high-impact journals and will bring with him five National Institutes of Health R01 grants that fund cutting-edge research into the pathobiology of pancreatic diseases. Past president of the American Pancreatic Association and International Association of Pancreatology, Saluja is the current secretary-treasurer of the American Pancreatic Association head office, which will move to Sylvester with him.

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