Dr. Venkata Lokesh Battula
The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
Department of Leukemia
My research is focused on understanding the role of stem cells in disease. Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSCs) with multi-lineage differentiation potential reside in several parts of human body including bone marrow, adipose tissue, umbilical cord blood etc. In solid tumors, MSCs support tumor growth by forming stroma and help cancer cells to metastasize. MSCs also induce chemo-resistance in leukemia cells which is the primary cause of relapse in most leukemia patients. My research is focused on understanding tumor-stroma interactions and identification of novel targets in development of therapeutic strategies for cancer patients. Our group is also interested in cancer stem cells (CSCs) which are a rare population of cells present in the primary tumor. These cells are slow-dividing, self-replicating and are resistant to conventional chemotherapy. We have discovered unique markers to identify CSCs form breast tumors (Battula et al., JCI, 2012) and potentially applicable to other solid tumors. These markers give us the opportunity to purify CSCs from primary tumors and identify genomic and proteomic signatures that are unique for them. We are interested in developing tools for targeting these unique markers which could be used for therapy in future. In addition, I am also interested in understanding the origin of CSCs in primary tumor as processes such as epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) induces non-CSCs to CSCs. Over all, I am interested in understanding the mechanisms contributing chemo-resistance, self-renewal and metastasis of cancer and role of tumor-stroma interaction that influence stem cell characteristics of cancer cells.