Sanjay Malhotra

Research interests

My research interests focus on the design and discovery of synthetic and natural product inspired small molecules, which can provide insight into biological mechanisms and disease targets. My laboratory employs the tools of synthetic medicinal chemistry, molecular modeling and chemical biology for translational research in drug discovery, development, imaging and radiation. The key aims of my research are (i) to design probe molecules that can be used to characterize the functions of particular proteins or drive specific cellular phenotypes, (ii) discover compounds that could be turned into drugs for human diseases and, (iii) educate the next generation of drug hunters.

Malhotra Lab

Arpit Dheeraj

Arpit Dheeraj, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Education: Ph.D., Cancer Biology, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India.

Scientific Interests: Arpit Dheeraj completed his Ph.D. in Cancer Biology in 2019 from Jawaharlal Nehru University, India under the guidance of Prof. Rana P. Singh. The primary focus of his dissertation work was to understand the role of IGFBP-3 (Insulin-like Growth Factor Binding Protein-3), an essential component of the IGF system, on prostate cancer progression. Objectives of the study were to identify the effects of IGFBP-3 on tumor angiogenesis and metastasis under normoxia and hypoxic conditions. His studies showed that IGFBP-3 inhibited the overall growth of prostate cancer cells, IGFBP-3 overexpression inhibited angiogenesis, and reduced endothelial cell growth and migration. IGFBP-3 modulated the expression of different mitogenic and pro-survival signaling mediators which resulted in the altered biological function of cancer cells. IGFBP-3 overexpression inhibited migration under normoxic conditions; however, within the hypoxic environment, IGFBP-3 overexpression increased cell migration. Overall, these findings show that IGFBP-3 targets different steps of prostate cancer growth and progression and it could be a potential therapeutic target.

Arpit is studying the mechanism of treatment resistance in Head & Neck, and Triple negative breast cancer using chemical probes developed in Malhotra lab.

Charles Dibb

Charles A. Dibb, B.A.
Graduate Student

Education: B.A., Biochemistry, Biophysics, Molecular Biology, Whitman College.
Graduate Student of Biomedical Engineering at OHSU.

Scientific interests: Charles Dibb is a graduate student in the Biomedical Engineering program.  After obtaining his B.A. at Whitman College working on a protein cryocrystallography process improvement project, he worked as a data manager for the Bone Marrow Transplant team at OHSU, working on the early human trials for CRISPR engineered autologous stem cell transplants.  He moved on to work as a research assistant at the Tyner Lab of the OHSU KCRB, where he studied targeted chemotherapies for AML, deciphering potential combinations (Palbociclib, Venetoclax, Ruxolitinib, etc.) to increase treatment efficacy and decrease toxicity.  After admission to the Biomedical Engineering program, his focus moved on to the highly conserved cold-shock domain protein YBX1 and its effects in multiple different cancers, as well as how it might be regulated with minimal off target effects to maintain chemosensitivity. 

Benedikt Grau

Benedikt Grau, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Scholar

Education: Ph.D., Chair of organic Chemistry II, Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nuernberg, Germany.

Scientific interests: Dr. Grau is interested in the development of novel synthetic methodologies and their utilization in the synthesis of natural product inspired small molecule scaffolds. With his colleagues in the biological department, he aims to identify correlations between bioactive molecule motifs and their bioactivity. His research expertise includes organic and medical chemistry, organocatalysis, multi-step synthesis, hybridisation, and drug discovery.

Dr. Grau completed his PhD under the supervision of Professor S. B. Tsogoeva in October of 2021 at Friedrich-Alexander University in Erlangen, Germany. His research mainly focused on the development of novel base or organocatalyzed one-pot procedures and domino-reactions towards novel terphenyl core structures. Triarylbenzenes (TAB), which bore three different functional groups and enabled the development of a multi-step synthesis route towards Hexaarylbenzene (HAB) with 6 different rings. This work identified novel scaffolds and hybrid-molecules exhibiting bioactivity in the treatment of diseases e.g., malaria, cancer, the coronavirus (COVID-19) and the human cytomegalovirus (HCMV).

Alexander Honkala

Alexander Honkala
Senior Research Assistant

Education: B.Sc., Cell and Molecular Biology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Scientific interests: Alexander Honkala is a scientist and entrepreneur whose interests range from immunology to mathematical oncology with a passion for the complex systems of disease and translation of new drugs to the clinic. He earned his B.Sc. in Cell and Molecular Biology from the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor in 2008 and has gone on to found nonprofits and biotech start-ups. As a founder, director, consultant, and CEO, Alexander has played a wide variety of roles in the development of new projects across a wide range of interests. Alexander innately looks for the edges of any system he works with, trying to find the path from its well-known key principles to its various bleeding edges to imagine what may lie just around the corner. Oriented towards the next step, whatever it may be, Alexander is excited to keep working at the forefront of oncology, immunology, and drug development to tackle complex conditions with a balance of new drugs and incisive development strategy. When he’s not working on one of several projects, he can be found out on the hiking trails soaking in the forest, in the kitchen making a mess, or in the studio making noise.

Praveen Kumar

Praveen Kumar, PhD
Postdoctoral Scholar

Education: Ph.D., Organic Chemistry, Department of Chemistry, Indian Institute of Technology - Bombay, Maharashtra, India

Scientific interests: Dr. Praveen earned his PhD under the supervision of Professor R. A. Fernandes in March 2022 at Department of Chemistry, Indian Institute of Technology - Bombay, India. His research mainly focused on the development of novel methods for the synthesis of heterocycles and important biologically active molecules along with total synthesis of natural products which is titled as " Method Development for 4-Aryldihydrocoumarins and Cinnamaldehydes and Total Synthesis of Pyran Natural Products ". Just after his degree, he Joined Jubilant Biosys Limited at the position “Research Scientist” for a year. There he improved his skills on handling the kilogram scale multistep synthesis. He has hands-on experience in handling milligram as well as multi-gram scale reactions under 'inert' and 'cryogenic' conditions.

His research expertise includes organic and medical chemistry, photocatalysis, asymmetric multi-step synthesis, milligram scale to kilogram scale synthesis, and drug discovery.

Wendy Li

Wendy Li, M.S.
Research Assistant 2

Education: M.S., Toxicology, University of Kentucky.

Scientific interests: Wendy is a research assistant, interested in biochemistry and biology in oncology, and the transformations under treatments. After obtaining her Master’s degree of Toxicology from University of Kentucky, Wendy studied the effects of heavy metals as carcinogen in skin, lung and colon cancer. She joined OHSU in 2017 to work with the Bergan lab, on novel compounds for experimental prostate cancer treatments. Wendy joined Malhotra group in 2021. She is working with the team on discovery and development of small molecules for experimental therapeutics.  

Jee Min Lee

Jee Min Lee, MS
Graduate Student

Education: M.S., Bioinformatics, Johns Hopkins University

Scientific interests: Jee Min is a graduate student in the Biomedical Engineering Program. After Obtaining her B.S. (Neuroscience, Biology and Physiology) from University of Toronto in Toronto, Canada, she worked as a research technician at California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute where she supported many research projects for melanoma research and treatment under the guidance of Dr. Mohammed Kashani-Sabet and Dr. Kevin Kim. She expanded her career to cancer clinical research at Stanford University where, as the team lead, she supported many clinical trials investigating novel therapeutics in various phases for many solid tumors and acute myeloid leukemia under the guidance of Dr. Shivaani Kummar and Dr. Gabriel Mannis. Her experience with handling large laboratory and clinical data piqued her interest in pursuing a Master’s Degree in Bioinformatics at Johns Hopkins University during which she studied various computational tools to understand complex biological and clinical data. Having worked at the forefront of clinical research witnessing the power of novel therapeutics in improving patient outcome and now equipped with bioinformatics skillsets, she joined Dr. Malhotra’s lab at the Center for Experimental Therapeutics to study cancer biology and understand how current standard of care treatments can be improved. Jee Min has started her thesis work in understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying the effect of Y-box binding protein 1 (YBX1) on cancer progression, chemotherapy response and resistance. She hopes that her research will contribute to discovering new treatment strategies for cancer that are both effective and safe.

Annah Rolig

Annah Rolig, Ph.D.
Scientific Writer

Education: PhD., Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology, University of California, Santa Cruz; BSc., Biology and Biochemistry, Colorado State University

Scientific interests: Dr. Rolig is interested in translational biology and moving drugs from bench to bedside, she joined CET in 2024 to pursue these interests. Her PhD focused on the pathogenesis of the gastric cancer-causing pathogen, Helicobacter pylori. She continued her interest in microbial-immune interactions in a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Oregon, identifying a novel bacterial secreted protein that controls intestinal inflammation. From there, she transitioned her career to focus on cancer biology as a Senior Scientist at the Earle A. Chiles Research Institute, where she applied her training in immunology to study mechanisms of response and resistance to immunotherapy.

Dr. Kirsten Stefan

Kirsten Stefan, Ph.D.
Research Associate

Scientific Interests: Dr. Stefan is interested in drug discovery for sarcomas in a bench to bedside approach to help bring novel therapies to patients. Her Ph.D. work was focused on the effects of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on T cell function as it relates to inflammation and autoimmunity. Her post-doctoral training in the Department of Immunology at Baylor College of Medicine explored detailed mechanisms of autoimmunity, with particular focus on T cell and B cell involvement. Most recently, Dr. Stefan served as research scientist at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center discovering means of immunotherapy for osteosarcoma including investigation of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapies. Prior to her focus in osteosarcoma, she worked at M.D. Anderson to help bring CD19-CAR T cells into clinical trial.

Julia Stokes

Julia Stokes, B.S.
Graduate student

Education: B.S., Cellular, Molecular, & Developmental Biology, University of Washington Seattle. Graduate Student in Program for Biomedical Science at OHSU

Scientific interests: Julia Stokes is a graduate student in the Program for Biomedical Science. After obtaining her B.S. (Cellular, Molecular, Developmental Biology) at University of Washington, she worked at Seattle Children’s Research Institute under the guidance of Dr. Simon Johnson, studying underlying mechanisms of Leigh’s Syndrome progression through mTOR signaling pathways using FDA approved pharmacological treatments (Rapamycin, Pexidartinib, etc..). Due to her research experience, she developed a strong interest in translational medicine and developing small molecule targeted therapies for various complex genetic dysfunctions. Since joining Malhotra’s Lab, Julia has started her thesis work studying small molecules that could potentially target Melanocortin-4 Receptor (MC4R) for therapeutic purposes. After graduate school, her goal is to pursue her postdoc and eventually open her own lab with a focus in translational medicine for genetic diseases caused by immune or mitochondrial disorders.

Dhanir Tailor

Dhanir Tailor, Ph.D.
Assistant Staff Scientist

Education: Ph.D., Cancer Biology, Central University of Gujarat, India.

Scientific interests: Dhanir Tailor earned his Ph.D. in Cancer Biology from Central University of Gujarat, India in 2016. A primary focus of his thesis work was directed towards understanding the effect of physiological concentrations of butyric acid on human colorectal cancer (CRC) cell death and mitochondrial dynamics. Short-chain fatty acids including butyric acid, propionic acid, and acetic acid are present in millimolar concentrations in gastrointestinal tract, which are mainly synthesized by our gut microbiome. These short-chain fatty acid molecules have been shown to affect biological events such as cell cycle progression, differentiation and programmed cell death. Initially, he screened various short chain fatty acid (SCFA) for their cancer preventive efficacies, among which, he found Butyric acid (BA) to be a potential candidate with chemo-preventive role. His studies showed that BA decreased the overall population/mass of active mitochondria in CRC cells, which could be an indicator of mitochondrial fusion. BA mediated effect is brought about by its reduction of Dynamin related protein 1 (DRP1) protein, which is a key regulator of mitochondrial fission and fusion processes. These findings suggest that DRP1 could be a potential molecular target to induce mitochondrial fusion and inhibition of mitochondrial fission mediated by BA treatment in CRC cells. Furthermore, overexpression of DRP1 in CRC cells enhanced the rate of cell proliferation and migration. This study is the first molecular and cell culture based evidence which sheds light on the ‘Role of DRP1 in CRC cancer growth, survival and progression’.

After three years of research at Stanford University, Dhanir joined the Department of Cell, Developmental & Cancer Biology at Oregon Health & Science University in August 2020 as Postdoctoral Research Fellow and is currently working to develop radio-sensitizers, and small molecule probes to study treatment resistance. 

Ryan Gordon, Ph.D.
Sreenu Jennepalli, Ph.D.
Marie Foss, Ph.D.
Mallesh Pandrala, Ph.D.

Pearce Hyatt ('21 intern)
Tori Lopez ('21 intern)
David Stull ('22 intern)