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Research Team

Jenny_Blythe_Permuth Jan 2016Dr. Jennifer Permuth – Co-Principal Investigator
Moffitt Cancer Center

Dr. Jennifer Permuth completed a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish at the University of South Florida (USF, Tampa) and then earned a Master of Science degree in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology and Genetics with specialization in Genetic Counseling at the University of Minnesota (Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN). She then worked as a genetic counselor and clinical researcher in Moffitt’s Cancer Screening and Prevention Center for nearly 7 years, and received a PhD in Epidemiology at the University of South Florida’s College of Public Health in the Fall of 2010.   She joined as an Assistant Member in Moffitt’s Departments of Cancer Epidemiology and Gastrointestinal Oncology in March of 2015.

Pancreatic cancer has touched her life professionally and personally, and she is committed to fighting this disease and waging hope through her collaborative research, government advocacy, and community outreach. Her research goals center on developing and implementing prevention, early detection, and treatment strategies to personalize care and improve outcomes for individuals affected by or at-risk for pancreatic cancer. One of her most recent achievements is establishing the Florida Pancreas Collaborative, a state-wide multi-academic cancer center partnership dedicated to conducting translational research to reduce disease burden and personalize care for those affected by pancreatic cancer, with an initial emphasis on early detection and prevention.

Jose Trevino croppedDr. Jose Trevino – Co-Principal Investigator
University of Florida

Dr. Jose Trevino is dedicated to the development of therapeutic targets for pancreatic cancer.  He has a background in pancreatic tumor signaling and chemoresistance with expertise in xenograft pancreatic tumor models.  He has formal clinical training in surgery and oncology with a focus on pancreatic cancer.  Additionally, he has completed two postdoctoral research fellowships in pancreatic cancer tumor biology. Thus, he has the unique opportunity of understanding and evaluating pancreatic cancer from a variety of perspectives.  One clinical obstacle associated with pancreatic cancer is the heterogeneous nature of the disease among patients which emphasizes the need for more personalized care.  Due to his clinical appointment and therefore immediate access to resected pancreatic tumor tissues, we are capable of studying a more representative model of pancreatic cancer for a given individual patient.   We will study pancreatic cancer in its intact tumor microenvironment which will allow more clinically representative investigations on stromal-tumor interaction, tumor progression and drug resistance in vitro and vivo.  Fresh pancreatic tumor specimens will establish patient specific tumor xenografts and also isolate tumor-derived cancer cells as well as pancreatic cancer associated stromal components. He has a fully supported laboratory for continued work in translational biology with access to resected pancreatic tumor tissues and proficiency in a variety of pancreatic xenograft tumor models.

Mokenge MalafaDr. Mokenge Malafa – Co-Principal Investigator
Moffitt Cancer Center

Dr. Mokenge Malafa’s research group focuses on vitamin E signaling pathways and biomarkers in pancreatic cancer. Previously his group demonstrated vitamin E succinate inhibition of oncogenic Ras signaling pathways (Donapaty et al, Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, 2006). Following up on this work, his group identified the most bioactive vitamin E analogue, delta-tocotrienol, in pancreatic cancer cells and reported that therapeutic levels of delta-tocotrienol was achieved in mice pancreas following oral administration. Dr. Malafa and his collaborators have embarked on a strategy to comprehend signaling pathways active in pancreatic cancer cells and targeted by vitamin E delta-tocotrienol, employing affinity chromatography, chemical proteomics, and mass spectrometry to identify direct interacting proteins. They identified nearly 20 different protein targets of delta-tocotrienol.  One of the targets, hCAS, was shown to be is a relevant target of delta-tocotrienol action and a valid novel target in pancreatic and colorectal cancers. Future directions in the lab consist of using small molecule-protein binding interactions to define the biochemical target(s) of vitamin E tocotrienol anticancer activity and thereby identify novel targets for the prevention of malignancy.

Merchant_Nipun 2016 SuitDr. Nipun Merchant – Co-Principal Investigator
University of Miami

Dr. Nipun Merchant is currently the Alan S. Livingstone Endowed Professor of Surgery at the University of Miami Medical Center where he is the Vice Chair of Surgical Oncology Services and the Chief of the Division of Surgical Oncology in the Department of Surgery. He also serves as the Chief Surgical Officer and is the Director of Surgical Oncology Research of the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. He is a recognized leader in the clinical management of hepato-pancreatico-biliary and neuroendocrine malignancies. Dr. Merchant has an active basic science and translational research laboratory investigating signal transduction and tumor-stromal interactions in pancreas cancer and has maintained extramural research support for over 10 years as a Principal Investigator on a NIH P50 grant project and an R-01 grant and is also an investigator on a T32 training grant in Surgical Oncology.  He is actively involved in clinical and translational research and is also the PI of several clinical trials in pancreas cancer. Dr. Merchant has served on several study sections for the NIH and currently chairs the NCI-F Study Section. Currently, he is on the External Advisory Board for the Pancreas SPORE from Washington University Medical Center. He is very active in student and resident education, and has been a mentor to many medical and graduate students, residents and junior faculty.

Dr. Merchant also holds leadership roles in prestigious scientific and surgical societies including the Executive Council of the Society of Surgical Oncology and the Board of Governors of the American College of Surgeons and Chairs the Health Policy and Advocacy Working Group of that organization. He is a member of the Pancreas Task Force of the GI Steering Committee of the National Cancer Institute, the Commission on Cancer and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma Panel Member. He serves on the Editorial Boards of the Annals of Surgery, Annals of Surgical Oncology, Surgery, American Journal of Translational Research and is an Associate Editor for BMC Cancer.

Daniel Abate-DagaDr. Daniel Abate-Daga
Moffitt Cancer Center

Dr. Daniel Abate-Daga’s research is focused on the development of T cell-based immunotherapies for the treatment of cancer, and the translation of those preclinical findings into clinical application. The effort in my lab spans a wide process: starting with the identification of tumor-associated antigens, generation of the appropriate targeting receptor for genetic modification of T cells, in vitro and in vivo validation of immune receptors, and, ultimately, the implementation of those treatments in phase I clinical trials. A special emphasis is put on the use of gene therapy technologies, involving the expression of chimeric antigen receptors (CAR) and traditional T-cell receptors (TCR) to “train” the patient’s own immune system to detect and kill cancer cells. The gene transfer of immune receptors is accomplished by retroviral transduction of primary human lymphocytes, and has proven efficacious in the induction of clinical remissions of patients with B cell malignancies. Beyond its therapeutic potential, this technology can be used in the laboratory setting to pursue basic scientific research leading to a better understanding of tumor and immune cell biology. Active and prospective projects in the laboratory include the study of antigen recognition, by tumor-infiltrating T cells from pancreatic cancer, bladder cancer and melanoma, geared towards the isolation of TCRs that recognize cancer/testis antigens of therapeutic interest. In parallel, CARs with specificity for IL13RA2 (melanoma, glioma, cervical cancer), TLR2, ABCC3 (pancreatic cancer) and FGFR3 (bladder cancer) are part of the developmental pipeline. Finally, a basic study of the physical and functional interactions of CARs with endogenous T cell molecules will be performed, utilizing gene expression, protein biochemistry and high throughput phosphopeptidome analyses. From this project, Dr. Abate-Daga expects to gain insight into the structure-function correlates associated with different CAR designs; with the ultimate goal of learning how to design safer and more potent receptors for therapy.

Amber Bouton
University of Florida

Amber Bouton is the Clinical Research/IRB Director for the Department of Surgery at UF Health/Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Florida.  She has been at UF Health for over 10 years and has extensive research experience including research on pancreatic illnesses.  She is a Certified Clinical Research Professional (CCRP) and Certified Clinical Research Coordinator (CCRC).





Dr. Dung-Tsa Chen
Moffitt Cancer Center

Dr. Dung-Tsa Chen has been on numerous NCI grants as a co-investigator involving in the design, conduct, and analysis of research projects in cancer and has over 40 peer-reviewed publications. His key areas of expertise include microarray data analysis, mixed models, survival data analysis, biomarker analysis and clinical trials. His work involves the identification of novel biomarker strategies using genomics and other emerging technologies to guide clinical decision making. He has developed a statistical outlier approach to derive a malignancy-risk gene signature in breast cancer. This statistical outlier method has potential unique applications in cancer research, such as improved prediction of cancer risk, thereby providing better individualized therapy. Statistical outlier methods could be useful tools to help identify subgroups of individuals who may have high risk of cancer development and need special chemopreventive treatments. For example, an outlier gene signature to identifying high-risk normal breast tissue could improve the potential for breast biopsy to identify at-risk patients and refine the current practice of intraoperative assessment of the margins of the resected breast tissues based on histology alone, and may prove useful in guiding treatment choices after lumpectomy.

Michelle FournierMichelle Fournier
Moffitt Cancer Center

Michelle is a biomedical scientist and manager of the Tissue Core (TC) at Moffitt. The TC is the central biorepository for Moffitt Cancer Center. The overall goal of the TC is to collect, process, store, and release high-quality, well-annotated biospecimens in support of research and it offers 81 distinct biobanking and biospecimen-related services.




Robb LamontRobb Lamont
Pancreatic Cancer Survivor

Robb Lamont is a pancreatic cancer survivor and Moffitt patient who was diagnosed in 2009 at the age of 36.  Robb’s pancreatic cancer treatments have included surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, and a clinical trial.   Robb is passionate about making a difference in the fight against pancreatic cancer.  As a volunteer for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, Robb speaks with fellow pancreatic cancer survivors and their families about his experiences with the disease.  Robb also helps bring awareness to pancreatic cancer by making speeches, writing articles and appearing on television.  Robb and his family and friends continue to raise money to help support pancreatic cancer research.  Robb lives in Tampa, Florida with his wife Lori and sons Ryan and John.


Suzanne C. LechnerDr. Suzanne Lechner
University of Miami

Suzanne Lechner’s research program focuses on adaptation to cancer among cancer survivors and newly diagnosed individuals, with a particular focus on populations that suffer from health disparities. Dr. Lechner leads biobehavioral clinical intervention trials to examine whether psychological, physical and physiological adjustment is modifiable using stress management and other biobehavioral interventions. Using a psychoneuroimmunology approach, Dr. Lechner’s survivorship laboratory is currently examining the effects of stress management and cancer wellness interventions for Black women with breast cancer who have recently completed treatment. This research program, dubbed Project CARE, is supported by the National Cancer Institute (NIH). The goal of this line of research is to test theoretically-driven and empirically-supported psychosocial interventions for underserved women with breast cancer within a community setting. In addition to her work in the various Black communities of South Florida, her research in health disparities extends to Hispanic Spanish-speaking women and young adults (who are a recognized health disparities population). Dr. Lechner favors community-engaged research methods to ascertain the needs and preferences of populations by directly seeking input from members of the community and engaging stakeholders and health professionals in the process. Armed with information from these groups, she designs psychosocial oncology interventions based on evidence-based behavioral medicine practice. An expert on the topic of benefit-finding and post-traumatic growth, Dr. Lechner’s research program also examines the development of positive perceptions of cancer, such as deepened personal relationships, enhanced personal strength, or clearer priorities. Her work has shown that benefit-finding and post-traumatic growth.


XIa WangDr. Xia Wang
Moffitt Cancer Center

Dr. Xia Wang received her MD from Peking Union Medical University, Beijing, China and her PhD in Biochemistry at Wayne State University. She completed an Internal Medicine Residency at William Beaumont Hospital at Grosse Point, Michigan and a Clinical Medical Genetics Residency at Detroit Medical Center.  Dr. Wang’s clinical interests are in hereditary cancer risk assessment, cancer syndrome diagnosis and genetic testing. Her research interests include Neurofibromatosis type 1 as a hereditary cancer syndrome and exploration for high or low penetrance germline hereditary cancer risk.



Danny_Yakoub (UM)Dr. Danny Yakoub
University of Miami

Dr. Danny Yakoub is a surgeon and assistant professor at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami.