Honors & Awards


  • SPARK Translational Research Program, Stanford School of Medicine and Weston Havens Foundation (2018 - Present)

Boards, Advisory Committees, Professional Organizations


  • Task Force Committee Member, Stanford School of Medicine Diversity Cabinet (2018 - Present)

Professional Education


  • Doctor of Philosophy, S.U.N.Y. State University at Stony Brook (2017)
  • Bachelor of Arts and Science, University of Florida (2012)

Patents


  • Jian Cao, Nicole S. Sampson, Iwao Ojima, Vincent M. Alford, Anushree Kamath, Xiaodong Ren. "United States Patent us 62/474,905 Novel Inhibitors of Matrix Metalloproteinase-9 (MMP-9) for Anti-cancer Drug Development", Stony Brook University, Mar 22, 2017
  • Jian Cao, Yizhi Meng, Vincent M. Alford. "United States Patent us 62/346,141 A Novel Tissue Culture Plate for a Throughput, 3-Dimensional Assay for Screening of Drugs with Anti-metastatic Activity", Stony Brook University, Jun 6, 2016

Current Research and Scholarly Interests


My interest in science and research was fostered at a young age after losing a family member to colorectal cancer. At that young age, it was made apparent to me that cancer remains poorly understood which is reflected in the total lack of target-specific treatment regiments available to this patient population. This disparity in patient care is what inspired me to pursue a Ph.D in Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology at Stony Brook University (SBU). During my time at SBU, my dissertation research focused on the development of a standard approach for rational drug design against the functional activity of individual matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs). Results from this work led to the successful development of the first small molecule inhibitor specifically targeting the hemopexin domain of MMP-9. Additionally, I was also given the opportunity to assist in the development of a cell based High-Throughput Screen assay for the identification of small molecules with activity against cancer cell invasion. This work was done in collaboration with large biotechnology companies such as Millipore.

After obtaining my Ph.D, I pursued a postdoctoral scholar position at Stanford University within the Institute of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine. Currently, my projects have slowly become broader and more focused around protein chemistry. More specifically, my research interest lies in identifying protein targets or cell populations responsible for chronic illnesses such as Triple Negative Breast Cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. After identifying the target, my passion lies in understanding the biological function of said target in various biological signaling cascades and cell niche population maintenance. Another area I specialize in is assigning function to the various domains of individual proteins and prioritizing drug development against the most promising targets. Upon identification of the target and validation of the domains responsible for protein activity- it becomes my mission to develop specific inhibitors against them. To this end, I use techniques such as protein mutagenesis, expression, and purification systems in addition to x-ray crystallography and chemical-protein structure activity relationships to understand, rationally design, and optimize these small molecule inhibitors for potential use in clinical trials.

All Publications


  • Matrix Metalloproteinases (MMPs) as Cancer Therapeutic Targets Matrix Metalloproteinases in Health and Disease, Sculpting the Human Body Cathcart, J., Alford, V. M., Cao, J. World Scientific Publishing. 2017: 157–185
  • Targeting the Hemopexin-like Domain of Latent Matrix Metalloproteinase-9 (proMMP-9) with a Small Molecule Inhibitor Prevents the Formation of Focal Adhesion Junctions. ACS chemical biology Alford, V. M., Kamath, A., Ren, X., Kumar, K., Gan, Q., Awwa, M., Tong, M., Seeliger, M. A., Cao, J., Ojima, I., Sampson, N. S. 2017; 12 (11): 2788–2803

    Abstract

    A lack of target specificity has greatly hindered the success of inhibitor development against matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) for the treatment of various cancers. The MMP catalytic domains are highly conserved, whereas the hemopexin-like domains of MMPs are unique to each family member. The hemopexin-like domain of MMP-9 enhances cancer cell migration through self-interaction and heterointeractions with cell surface proteins including CD44 and α4β1 integrin. These interactions activate EGFR-MAP kinase dependent signaling that leads to cell migration. In this work, we generated a library of compounds, based on hit molecule N-[4-(difluoromethoxy)phenyl]-2-[(4-oxo-6-propyl-1H-pyrimidin-2-yl)sulfanyl]-acetamide, that target the hemopexin-like domain of MMP-9. We identify N-(4-fluorophenyl)-4-(4-oxo-3,4,5,6,7,8-hexahydroquinazolin-2-ylthio)butanamide, 3c, as a potent lead (Kd = 320 nM) that is specific for binding to the proMMP-9 hemopexin-like domain. We demonstrate that 3c disruption of MMP-9 homodimerization prevents association of proMMP-9 with both α4β1 integrin and CD44 and results in the dissociation of EGFR. This disruption results in decreased phosphorylation of Src and its downstream target proteins focal adhesion kinase (FAK) and paxillin (PAX), which are implicated in promoting tumor cell growth, migration, and invasion. Using a chicken chorioallantoic membrane in vivo assay, we demonstrate that 500 nM 3c blocks cancer cell invasion of the basement membrane and reduces angiogenesis. In conclusion, we present a mechanism of action for 3c whereby targeting the hemopexin domain results in decreased cancer cell migration through simultaneous disruption of α4β1 integrin and EGFR signaling pathways, thereby preventing signaling bypass. Targeting through the hemopexin-like domain is a powerful approach to antimetastatic drug development.

    View details for DOI 10.1021/acschembio.7b00758

    View details for PubMedID 28945333

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5697452

  • A Novel Collagen Dot Assay for Monitoring Cancer Cell Migration. Methods in molecular biology (Clifton, N.J.) Alford, V. M., Roth, E., Zhang, Q., Cao, J. 2016; 1406: 181-187

    Abstract

    Cell migration is a critical determinant of cancer invasion and metastasis. Drugs targeting cancer cell migration have been hindered due to the lack of effective assays for monitoring cancer cell migration. Here we describe a novel method to microscopically monitor cell migration in a quantitative fashion. This assay can be used to study genes involved in cancer cell migration, as well as screening anticancer drugs that target this cellular process.

    View details for DOI 10.1007/978-1-4939-3444-7_15

    View details for PubMedID 26820955