I am the director of the Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute Eye Program, professor of biomedical sciences and neurosurgery and professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. My research has been fully funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) since 1995, with two current R01 grants. My background is in cancer research, and I have studied ocular diabetes for the past 25 years. My main scientific interests include using gene and nano therapy to restore normal stem cell functions in diabetic corneas and studying innovative tumor cell-targeted nano drugs for brain and breast cancer.
My Ljubimov Laboratory has identified new markers for diabetic corneal diseases and uncovered stem cell dysfunction in diabetic corneas. The lab has developed viral and nanopolymer-based gene therapy to correct the expression of these markers and alleviate symptoms of corneal diabetes including impaired wound healing.
In my lab, we have generated induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) from corneal epithelial cells. We have found that DNA methylation patterns of certain genes in diabetic iPSC are more similar to normal cells than to parental diabetic cells. The lab is working on normalizing diabetic corneal cells through generation of iPSC and differentiating them back to the corneal epithelium.
My lab is collaborating with the lab of Zahra Ghiasi, MD, on herpes virus immunology and on alleviating herpetic eye disease using immunological approaches. Another collaboration is with the lab of Julia Ljubimova on the design and development of versatile polymeric nanodrugs that showed efficacy in preclinical studies of brain and breast cancer. These studies center around inhibiting tumor-microenvironment crosstalk by suppressing laminin-411 expression and on blocking other tumor markers, such as epidermal growth factor receptor and protein kinase CK2.
I serve on numerous NIH study sections and was a grant reviewer for various agencies in U.S., U.K., France, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Australia and the Netherlands. I am an editorial board member of 13 scientific journals, including Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science, Progress in Retinal and Eye Research, Experimental Eye Research, Molecular Vision, Cells, Experimental Biology and Medicine, PLOS One, Scientific Reports and Current Gene Therapy. I am a Gold Fellow of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology.