Directors

Jan Kitajewski, PhD, Sweeney Basic Science Professor - Co-Director and Vascular Therapeutics Theme Leader
Dr. Kitajewski is Director of the University of Illinois Cancer Center, and a Professor and Head of the Department of Physiology and Biophysics. His research interests are in dissecting mechanisms of physiological and tumor angiogenesis, focusing on cell fate determination (Notch), GPCR signaling (CLIC), and ECM remodeling (MT-MMP/ANTXR). This research studies the impact of angiogenic pathways on development, physiological processes, ocular disease and cancer progression. He has several awarded patents that involve entities designed to disrupt pathological angiogenesis, notably the “Notch decoys”. Dr. Kitajewski’s vascular biology research focuses on angiogenic mechanisms and incorporates translational and drug discovery efforts. His lab developed Notch decoys which target Notch angiogenic function in tumor vasculature. Current work on these patent-protected entities is focusing on purifying and assessing clinically relevant Jagged inhibitors to test their efficacy against tumor angiogenesis in mouse models. The Kitajewski lab has research support from the pharmaceutical company Eisai to evaluate a novel antibody-based inhibitor to tumor angiogenesis and tumor stem cell function.

Kishore K. Wary, PhD, Associate Professor - Co-Director and Angiogenesis and Regeneration Theme Leader
Dr. Wary is a cardiovascular and regenerative biologist, with research studies on small molecules-mediated re-vascularization, vascular regeneration and angiogenesis. His multidisciplinary research is funded by American Heart Association (AHA) and National Institutes of Health (NIH). In collaboration with Drs. Malik and Rehman, he published on the regulation of endothelial differentiation from human and mouse stem and iPS cells. Dr. Wary has tuned his lab to produce high-quality iPS cells and test their efficacy in genetically engineered mouse models. He has also integrated his long-standing expertise in integrin signaling into ongoing projects studying vascular differentiation. Dr. Wary has served as a member of study sections including the NIH, AHA, NYSTEM Cell, Lupus, NASA, Fulbright and NSF. He chaired and co-chaired stem cell mini-symposia, and moderated poster and abstract sessions at EB and AHA meetings. Dr. Wary co-organized the Vasculata 2017 at UIC, sponsored by NHLBI/NIH grant (1R13 HL137360) and NAVBO . Vasculata 2017 was widely recognized as one of the most successful; the attendance was among the best achieved.

Andrius Kazlauskas, PhD, Professor - Co-Director and Vascular Signaling Theme Leader
Dr. Kazlauskas is a vascular biologist seeking to understand the pathogenesis of blinding eye diseases. He received his PhD in Chemistry from Cleveland State University, and was a postdoc at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, where he investigated signaling pathways by which receptor tyrosine kinase initiated cell proliferation in the context of cancer. As a faculty member at the University of Colorado and then Harvard Medical School, Dr. Kazlauskas interrogated signaling events underlying pathogenesis of cancer and retinal disorders such as proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR), age-related macular degeneration and proliferative vitreoretinopathy. Dr. Kazlauskas obtained first-hand experience and insight in translational research while working in the Ophthalmology Department of F. Hoffman-La Roche in Basel, Switzerland. He returned to academia to investigate the pathogenesis of diabetic retinopathy.

Theme 1: Vascular Signaling

Andrius Kazlauskas, PhD, Professor. Theme Leader
(see bio under Program Co-Director)

Andrei Karginov, PhD, Assistant Professor - Mentor
Dr. Karginov studies how endothelial barrier is regulated at the level of adherens junctions (AJs). He developed optogenetic and molecular tools to activate tyrosine kinases (e.g., Src) or phosphatases (PTPs and SHIP-1) at the single cell level, either promoting or disrupt VE-cadherin-mediated endothelial barrier function. Dr. Karginov expertise include developing biosensors, photo-activatable probes, and high-resolution imaging techniques.

Monica Lee, PhD, Assistant Professor - Theme Co-Leader, Mentor
The Lee Lab investigates how endothelial impairment triggers cardiovascular disease onset. We utilize high-content screening together with in vitro and in vivo techniques for a multi-tier, integrative approach toward translational research. We are focused on understanding how endothelial PI3K/Akt1 activity influences atherosclerotic disease progression with additional interest in novel downstream effectors of Akt.

Dolly Mehta, PhD, Professor - Mentor
Dr. Mehta laboratory investigates signaling mechanisms by which dysregulation of Ca2+-permeable TRP channels such TRPC6 and TRPC1 compromise endothelial barrier function in lungs and investigates how kinases, focal adhesion kinase and sphingosine kinase 1, stimulate endothelial barrier formation and restoration of lung fluid balance in models of inflammatory lung injury.

Richard Minshall, PhD, Professor - Mentor
Dr. Minshall’s research program focuses on cellular signaling mechanisms that regulate vascular homeostasis, and how disruption of “normal” contributes to cardiovascular, cerebrovascular, and pulmonary vascular disease. These efforts are leading to novel insights into the pathophysiological protein-protein interactions that give rise to reduce NO bioavailability, increased permeability, microvascular thrombosis, and vascular remodeling which they are trying to target therapeutically.

Dan Shaye, PhD, Assistant Professor - Mentor
The Shaye lab is focused on deciphering the genetic and cell biological regulation of tubulogenesis; the process of biological tube formation and maintenance. We use C. elegans and vertebrate models of tubulogenesis to discover and understand genes involved in this process.

Theme 2: Angiogenesis & Regeneration

Kishore Wary, PhD, Associate Professor - Theme Leader
(See description under Program Co-Directors)

Eden Alsberg, PhD, Professor – Mentor Eben Alsberg holds the Richard and Loan Hill Chair Professorship in the Departments of Biomedical Engineering, Pharmacology and Regenerative Medicine, Orthopaedics, and Mechanical and Industrial Engineering. His laboratory focuses on engineering functional biologic replacements to repair damaged or diseased tissues in the body. Complex signals implicated in tissue morphogenesis, repair, and homeostasis are used as inspiration for the development of innovative biomaterials for driving tissue regeneration and angiogenesis / vasculogenesis.

Luisa DiPietro, DDS/PhD, Professor - Mentor
Dr. DiPietro explores the mechanisms of angiogenesis in relation to skin/dermal wound healing. A major focus in her laboratory is to address the question why some blood vessels regress. In this regard, DiPietro lab is exploring the mechanism by which apoptotic endothelial cells might influence fibroblast function, thereby connecting vascular overgrowth, vascular regression, EC apoptotic load, and fibrosis/scar formation.

Irena Levitan, PhD, Professor - Mentor
Dr. Levitan studies mechanisms that underlie endothelial dysfunction with focus on biophysical properties of endothelial membranes and sub-membrane cytoskeleton and shear stress mechano-transduction mechanisms. She is defining how lipids in plasma membranes, such as cholesterol and phosphoinositides, regulate ion channels. She addresses the role of membrane lipids in the generation of sphingosine-1-phosphate.

Alexandra Naba, PhD, Assistant Professor - Theme Co-Leader, Mentor
Dr. Naba is an Associate Professor in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics. She is a pioneer in the development of proteomic and computational approaches to study the extracellular matrix (ECM). Her laboratory applies those technologies to elucidate the mechanisms of ECM assembly and homeostasis and to decipher how the ECM governs cell adhesion and migration in development, health, and diseases such as cancer and fibrosis.

Jalees Rehman, PhD, Associate Professor - Mentor
Dr. Rehman is a physician scientist, his lab investigates the biology of angiogenesis and regeneration using human endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs). He also studies the role of mitochondria in human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) with the goal of enhancing their differentiation potential. He is identifying distinct subsets of EPCs, using computational approaches for transplantation and regeneration of ischemic/injured blood vessels.

Kaori Yamada, PhD, Assistant Professor - Mentor
Dr. Yamada investigates the regulation mechanisms of vascular permeability and angiogenesis based on the polarized trafficking of VEGFR2 by a molecular motor kinesin KIF13B. She was trained by Athar Chishti and then Asrar Malik. She had an AHA Scientist Development Grant, R56 from NHLBI, and is currently a recipient of an R01 award from NEI entitled "Role of VEGFR2 trafficking in pathological angiogenesis in age-related macular degeneration" and the Discovery Boost Grant from the American Cancer Society entitled "Developing preventive strategy for uveal melanoma metastasis."

Theme 3: Vascular Therapeutics

Jan Kitajewski, PhD, Sweeney Basic Science Professor - Theme Leader
(See description under Program Co-Directors)

Yulia Komarova, PhD, Associate Professor - Mentor
Dr. Komarova’s research focusses on the cross-talk between microtubule cytoskeleton and VE-cadherin-mediated adhesions in microvascular endothelial cells, critical for maintenance of basal endothelial barrier permeability. Using the knowledge of microtubule-mediated lung vascular permeability allowed her lab to develop novel therapeutic targets to treat inflammatory diseases. Dr. Komarova has support from the Vascular Interventions/Innovations and Therapeutic Advances (VITA) to identify promising drug candidates that have the highest potential in combating acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and to promote translational studies and clinical validation. This grant is entitled “Novel Drug-Based Therapy for Treatment of Vascular Leakage.

JP Jin, MD, PhD, Professor - Mentor
Dr. Jin is currently Professor of Physiology and Biophysics and Associate Director of the Center for Cardiovascular Research at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  He comes to us from Wayne State University School of Medicine where he served as Professor and Chair of the Department of Physiology (2009-2020).  Perhaps many remember Dr. Jin from his tenure at Northwestern University and Evanston Northwestern Healthcare (2004-09). Muscle contractility, cell motility and cardiovascular health and diseases with a focus on the structure-function relationship of troponin and calponin, two regulatory proteins in muscle and non-muscle cells.

Terry Vanden Hoek, MD, Professor - Mentor
Dr. Vanden Hoek is the Head of Emergency Medicine and an NIH funded researcher focused on improving survival after cardiac arrest, who has a strong record of training physician scientists. He is a member of the National Academy of Medicine. Dr. Vanden Hoek is an expert in the biology of the heart and in preventing and treating cardiac arrest. His current NIH funded research investigates a novel therapeutic, a cell permeable PHLPP inhibitory peptide (TAT-PHLPP9c) and exploring whether rapid and transient PHLPP inhibition with onset of action within minutes of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is highly protective of cardiac arrest survival and neurologic function. He has been funded by several commercial grants that support the development of first-it-kind medications for treating cardiac arrest. Dr. Vanden Hoek is a strong advocate of public health education activities and leads the Illinois Heart Rescue program, which teaches CPR in the community and promotes data-driven process improvement activities by emergency medical systems and hospitals. This work has improved cardiac arrest survival in Illinois more than 3-fold. Dr. Vanden Hoek has also helped develop CPR guidelines for the American Heart Association.

Jae-Won Shin, PhD, Assistant Professor - Mentor
Dr. Shin is an NIH funded scientist focused on treatment of vascular injuries after tissue damage by combining multidisciplinary approaches in mechanobiology, biomaterial design, microtechnology, and nanotechnology. He has extensive experience in training postdoctoral researchers and doctoral students, 3 of whom have secured extramural funding including K99/R00 and AHA awards. His team's research effort has led to a number of developments in the field, including the digital design of engineered niches to direct single cell functions, pioneering single cell encapsulation therapy, and elucidating extracellular vesicle-matrix interactions. These advancements have the potential to make an impact on vascular biology and contribute significantly to the development of innovative therapeutic strategies for vascular disorders.

Beata Wolska, PhD, Professor - Mentor
Dr. Wolska’s laboratory is interested in mechanisms regulating cardiac function both in physiological and pathological conditions, focusing on the role of Ca2+ delivery to and from myofilaments, and the myofilament response to Ca2 in genetically linked cardiomyopathies (CM). Her work provided evidence indicating the hypertrophic CM (HCM) phenotype can be rescued through modifications at the level of the myofilaments or through alterations promoting Ca2+ homeostasis. The current focus of the lab is the study of Pak1 (a pleiotropic kinase) and the sphingosine-1-phosphate receptor agonist, FTY720/fingolimod, as potential anti-hypertrophic and -arrhythmic targets for HCM, and small-molecular inhibitor of myofilaments activity, developed by MyoKardia, as a target for HCM.

Theme 4: Neurovascular Biology

Orly Lazarov, PhD, Professor - Theme Leader
Dr. Lazarov investigates molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying cognitive decline during aging and disease, with an emphasis on neurogenesis and hippocampal plasticity in learning and memory, and its dysfunction in Alzheimer’s disease. She studies the process of learning and memory, neurogenesis, the roles of familial Alzheimer’s disease-linked proteins, and cognitive failure and memory loss. The Lazarov lab collaborates with Dr. Rich Minshalll to examine type-2-diabetes associated damage to brain vasculature and cerebrovascular dysfunction as a contributor to cognitive decline, in collaboration with Dr. Kitajewski.

Ali Djalilian, MD, Associate Professor - Mentor
Dr. Ali Djalilian is a physician scientist and ophthalmologist with an NIH/NEI funded program investigating the mechanism by which Notch1 regulates corneal epithelial barrier repair. He is also an expert on treatment of corneal neovascularization (CVN), including novel and experimental therapeutics targeting VEGF, and has studied the role of macrophages and mesenchymal stromal cells in cornea-specific angiogenesis. Thus, he has extensive experience conducting research on corneal disease prevention and treatment.

Michael Grassi, PhD, Associate Professor - Mentor
Dr. Grassi is a physician-scientist with clinical expertise in genetic aspects of diabetic retinopathy. In his research he uses cell-based models of retinal disease in genomic and chemical high throughput studies to identify key pathways and novel therapeutic targets for vascular retinopathies. Thus, Dr. Grassi’s clinical background in treating patients with ocular vascular disease, his translational research focus, and a demonstrated ability in participating on interdisciplinary scientific teams attest to his strength as a VBST member.

Jeffrey A. Loeb MD/PhD, Professor - Mentor
Dr. Loeb is the Head of the Department of Neurology & Rehabilitation. Dr. Loeb has been the recipient of research and teaching awards, including one of the Best Doctors in America 2007-2013. He is a member of the American Academy of Neurology, American Epilepsy Society, Society for Neuroscience, and American Neurological Association. Dr. Loeb’s research focuses on neuregulins in development and has been actively translating these basic discoveries into novel therapeutics for neurological disorders ranging from multiple sclerosis, ALS, epilepsy, and brain vascular malformations. He is the recipient of NIH, NSF, and many private foundations grants and continues to excel in the arena of translational medicine.

Mark Rosenblatt, MD, Professor - Mentor
Dr. Rosenblatt, Head of the Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences, is a clinician scientist with interest in corneal regenerative medicine who is developing novel regenerative treatments for ocular surface and corneal disease, including programs in ocular surface tissue engineering, corneal epithelial stem cells, and the repair of corneal nerves and sensation after injury. Dr. Rosenblatt has embarked upon an ocular surface tissue engineering project which uses surface modified silk films to optimize outcomes of ocular surface reconstruction. He translates these findings to clinically relevant models of corneal disease as a prelude to treating patients with potentially blinding corneal disease.

Leon Tai, PhD, Assistant Professor - Mentor
Dr. Tai’s research examines the blood-nerve, blood-spinal cord and blood-brain barrier. These barrier interfaces function in homeostasis and neuronal activity, through preventing the uptake of unwanted molecules, removing waste products, supplying essential nutrients and signaling molecules, and modulating inflammation. His goal is to identify and therapeutically target mechanistic pathways that underlie barrier and neuronal dysfunction in aging and neurodegenerative disorders, particularly Alzheimer's disease, chronic pain, ALS and metabolic dysfunction.

Sarah Lutz, PhD, Assistant Professor - Mentor
Influx of toxic macromolecules and cells across the blood brain barrier (BBB) promotes neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration. Dr. Lutz studies the mechanisms of BBB damage and strategies for repair in autoimmune and infectious disease. Current projects focus on Wnt/beta-catenin regulation of T cell migration across the BBB in multiple sclerosis, COVID-19, and vascular dementia.

Associate Mentors

Among the key elements of the VBST training program is the development of new mentors. We view this as an ancillary component of our training program and highly relevant as a result of UIC’s extensive recruitment of new junior and senior faculty who are vascular biologists. The VBST will make use of an Associate Member designation as a means of assuring we are recruiting and advancing potential new Mentors in the field of vascular biology. Several UIC departments are actively recruiting in the area of vascular biology, notably Physiology and Biophysics, Pharmacology and Anatomy and Cell Biology is recruiting neurovascular biologists. Associate members typically fall into the following categories: 1) recognized experts in vascular biology research who are in the process of securing grants, 2) senior researchers with strong training experience, newly entering the field of vascular biology and securing vascular biology relevant funding, and 3) junior faculty in the process of obtaining their first NIH NHLBI grant (R01, R21) and starting their roles as mentors in the UIC environment. Associate members can join on the mentorship team of primary and secondary mentors in a more limited capacity, if their expertise is pertinent to the trainee project or as part of a collaborative effort. Associate members participate in all activities of the VBST, such as the annual retreat, seminar series, and CCVR functions.
Associate Mentors who are included on the T32 and would elevate to a full mentor if they receive vascular-focused external funding. An associate member could only participate in a co-mentor arrangement to support a student, the other mentor would have to be a full mentor. This is designed to assure we meet NIH guidelines for full mentors but invite “mentors in development”. If this is of interest, please send your NIH biosketch and a brief list of pre-docs and postdocs you have trained or are currently training.
We also have a vehicle for inviting K awardees to join the VBST. The primary mentors need to have external R funding on work that is clearly vascular biology and should have a training history.

David Eddington, PhD, Professor
David Eddington has done work on hypoxia modeling and is currently working with Dr. Kitjewski on a project focused on pressure-response in ECs.

Suellen D. Oliveira, MS PhD FAHA, Assistant Professor
Dr. Oliveira’s lab focuses on uncovering the pathophysiology of vascular endothelium due to inflammatory cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases, including pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), schistosomiasis, sepsis, and acute lung injury. Her team investigates how innate and acquired microbes impact endoprotective signaling pathways, such as those mediated by BMPR2, IAPs, and purinergic signaling, leading to vascular injury and remodeling.

The VBST-TP is funded by training grant (T32 HL144459) from the National, Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).