The School of Arts & Sciences

Department of Natural Sciences

Research

Dr. Ralph Abi Habib’s research interests, for the past 10 years, have been in the field of cancer research, cancer therapeutics and cancer drug development, particularly of biologics and more specifically fusion toxins, at the R&D, pre-clinical and clinical levels. 

He has mostly been interested in characterizing different tumor types in an effort to identify potential selectable markers on tumor cells (e.g. receptor expression patterns, signaling pathway mutations, cell surface protease, etc.) and in developing novel fusion toxins and tumor protease-activated fusion toxins for the selective targeting of both hematologic and solid malignancies. Tumor types that he has extensively studied include acute myeloid leukemia (AML), melanoma, glioblastoma (GBM), prostate cancer, thyroid cancer, non-small cell lung cancer, colon cancer and pancreatic cancer. 

His previous work includes the development and characterization of the first tumor protease-targeted, dual-specific fusion toxin, DTU2GMCSF, a urokinase-activated fusion of diphtheria toxin and GMCSF, for the treatment of acute myeloid leukemia. I have also worked on the development and characterization of recombinant anthrax lethal toxin (LeTx) for the treatment of melanoma and other tumors carrying mutations in the MAPK pathway. I have also contributed to the development of a PSA-activated proaerolysin toxin (PRX302) for the treatment of prostate cancer and benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), a molecule now in Phase III clinical development. In addition, he has led several Phase I and Phase II clinical trials investigating the safety, tolerability and therapeutic activity of a PSA-activated proaerolysin toxin (PRX302) for the treatment of locally recurrent prostate cancer and benign prostatic hyperplasia and of a fusion of interleukin-4 (IL-4) and Pseudomonas aeruginosa exotoxin A (IL4-PE) for the treatment of glioblastoma (GBM).

Currently, his lab focuses on the selective targeting of signaling pathways and metabolic pathways in tumor cells. In particular we are attempting to target the MAPK pathway in AML cell lines and primary blasts from AML patients (both FLT-3 positive and negative) using a recombinant anthrax toxin and a urokinase-activated, dual selective recombinant anthrax toxin. He is also investigating the potential targeting of Arginine auxotrophy in AML cell lines and primary AML blasts using a pegylated recombinant human arginase. The current projects are carried out in collaboration with several institutions in the US, including the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious diseases (NIAID) at the NIH, the MD Anderson cancer center, Johns Hopkins school of Medicine and the Cancer Research Institute of Texas A&M School of Medicine. 

Dr. Sandra Rizk is working on three projects:

Dr. Mirvat El-Sibai  has several collaborators at Lebanese institutions and hospitals, such as AUB and Balamand and in the U.S. at institutions such as, Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Harvard Medical School. In her lab, Dr. El-Sibai runs many projects aimed at identifying the signaling pathways responsible for cancer metastasis and at finding new therapeutic targets to eliminate cancer malignancy. 

She is currently studying astrocytoma cell motility in order to understand brain tumor invasion, with a focus on signaling and the role of Rho GTPases and their regulators (GAPs) in actin polymerization leading to motility. She is studying cell motility and invasion doing time lapse movies and wound healing assays as well as Boyden chamber invasion assays and we also look into the adhesion characteristics of the tumor. She is also studying RhoA versus RhoC in breast cancer and brain tumor invasion and invadopodia formation and the antagonistic roles of RhoA and RhoC in metastasis, production of Metalloproteases, activation of the VEGF receptor and angiogenesis in astrocytoma cells and vascular endothelial cells. In addition, She is examining the effect of a protein called DJ-1 on lung cancer, breast cancer and astrocytoma cell malignancy and metastasis. 

Dr. Samira Korfali is working on two projects, one of which is funded by CNRS within the newly established Associate Research Unit, which involves collaboration of different university researchers and aims at national revenue. Title of Unit Research Project: Water Quality Assessment and Management Unit. Dr. Korfali’s work in the project involves metals in the alluvial systems in Lebanon, the speciation, modeling and interaction of these metals in water and sediment, as well as the effect of climate change on the metal interaction. The second project is concerned with the relation between metal toxicity in seawater and the free aqua ion model.

Dr. Ahmad Houri’s main fields of research revolve around environmental protection and conservation through chemistry, biodiversity, energy efficiency and renewable energy. More specifically he is working on:

Dr. Hussein Hassan received his Ph.D. in Food Process Engineering from McGill University, Canada. He is the recipient of the George Stewart International Competition Award (2011) by IFT, USA, in addition to the Stumbo Paper Competition Award twice (2010 & 2011) by IFTPS, USA. Dr. Hassan’s research interests revolve around the area of non-microbial food safety and processing, in specific controlling pathogens in Lebanese traditional food commodities, in addition to assessing and preventing toxic residues in foods. His research has been published and presented so far in more than fifteen international journals and scientific meetings.

Dr. Costantine F. Daher, in addition to his involvement in administration as a chairperson, has extensive interest in research in basic biomedical sciences. At the beginning, his principal research interest was focused on the assessment of the impact of dietary lipid saturation upon intestinal apolipoprotein B-48 synthesis and secretion in relation to atherogenecity. Also, he has investigated the effects of acute and chronic intake of a variety of alcoholic beverages, juices and phytochemicals upon cardiovascular disease risk markers, lipemia and glycemia. Lately, he was interested in the potential benefits of several Lebanese medicinal plants. He is currently testing a variety of plant extracts to find out their effects on lipemia, glycemia, inflammation, gastric ulcer and cancer.

Dr. Sima T. Tokajian The recent revolution in genomics is already having a profound impact on our ability to distinguish in a rapid and reliable way between epidemiologically related bacterial pathogens. This genomic revolution was the catalyst for the development of bioinformatics and high-throughput experimental approaches that will soon be part of the routine personalized clinical practice. My lab studies the genomics of bacteria and addresses important questions such as understanding: the enormous range of microbial capacities, mechanisms of microbial pathogenesis, multidrug resistance and evolution, and virulence determinants. The advent of next generation sequencers has greatly enhanced our ability in addressing those as well as many epidemiological questions paving the way towards personalized and public healthcare.   We have so far sequenced more than 100 organisms using genomic technologies such as high-throughput sequencing. Genetic relatedness among emerging pathogenic strains, genomic elements that vary in rates of mutation, serotype and antimicrobial resistance and in silico prediction of clinically important phenotypic traits were all determined using bioinformatics tools.

She is particularly interested in a number of human pathogens including Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Streptococcus pyogenes and Acinetobacter baumanii and currently we are trying to determine the type of clones disseminating in the Middle East and linking that to global transmission on one hand, and on the other to pathogenesis, resistance patterns and looking into differences at the molecular level between clones commonly seen in this area as compared to those recovered elsewhere in the world.

She is additionally collaborating with colleagues at the American University of Beirut to identify Leishmania strains present in our area for better diagnosis and more rapid and accurate treatment. Leishmania is a parasitic protozoan with a number of species causing the disease leishmaniasis. It is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected female phlebotomine sand fly. In the past two years, the incidences of leishmaniasis have been drastically increasing in parallel to the incoming migration of Syrian refugees and their stay in often poor and unsanitary conditions. They are in the process of developing markers to be used for multi-locus sequence typing (MLST).

Dr. Roy A. Khalaf joined LAU as an assistant professor of biology, after completing a one-year post-doctoral fellowship at the Georgetown University Medical Center.His research interests revolve around the opportunistic filamentous fungal pathogen, Candida albicans, one of the leading causative agents of death in immunocompromised individuals.

His team is currently working on identifying key genes that confer virulence to this organism. Many of these factors they are currently studying are cell wall proteins involved in adhesion and degradation of the host tissue for successful infection. They are currently generating homozygous null mutants by marker cassette recombination and integration and comparing the mutant phenotype to the wild type as far as filamentation ability, antifungal drug resistance, virulence in a mouse model, adhesion to epithelial and endothelial cells, and macrophage interaction. Furthermore, they are genotyping various C. albicans isolates from Lebanese hospital patients by MLST and testing the susceptibility of these isolates to novel antifungal drugs in an effort to improve treatment of candidiasis and the well-being of these patients. In addition, and through collaborative efforts with other faculty members within the department his team is applying mass spectrometry to analyze the cell surface architecture of cell wall mutants, studying host pathogen interaction through co-incubation of C. albicans with macrophages, examining the genetic basis of drug resistance by performing whole genome sequencing of drug resistant isolates, and identification and phylogenetic analysis of marine algae off the Lebanese coast. Through additional collaborative efforts, this time with the AUBMC, he is also working on genotyping killer cell immunoglobulin like receptors (KIR) from Lebanese patients and assessing the role they play in diseases common to the Mediterranean region.

Dr. Nadine Zeeni joined LAU as a full-time assistant professor of nutrition in December 2009. During her graduate studies, she was part of the NuSISCO (Nutrient Sensing in Satiety control and Obesity) project funded by the European Union and aimed at better understanding the growing obesity problem in Europe. As part of her PhD, Dr. Zeeni demonstrated, using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) that the long term intake of a high-fat diet leads to a desensitization of the brain to cholecystokinin, a gut peptide that modulates satiety.

Recently, Dr. Zeeni is involved in animal studies investigating the relationship between dietary intake and stress parameters, in collaboration with AgroParisTech, Paris. She is also involved in multiple inter-disciplinary studies aiming at assessing the prevalence and determinants of eating disorders in Lebanon. Dr. Zeeni is also collaborating with other LAU faculty in exploring the nutritional and medicinal effect of Lebanese wild plants.

Dr. Brigitte Wex has research activities in chemistry and biology. She has 16 peer-reviewed publications in international high-impact journals. Her research expertise is in the syntheses and purification of polycyclic aromatic sulfur heterocycles as well as the development, preparation and characterization of materials for optoelectronic device applications (OLED, OFET and OPV), using wet and dry processing techniques. In addition, Dr. Wex has a wide range of experience in spectroscopic analytical techniques such as the characterization of excited states using steady-state and time-resolved spectroscopy. With her background in molecular biology, Dr. Wex maintains active research projects in genomics and proteomics as applied on the quantization and identification of microbes (Cyanobacteria, Staphylococcus) using quantitative, real-time PCR as well as the expression and characterization of indicative proteins using MALDI-TOF-TOF.


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