The Neuroendocrine Cancer Research Lab is jointly led by Principal Investigators in the Department of Surgery: Dr. Herbert Chen, Dr. Renata Jaskula-Sztul, Dr. J. Bart Rose, and Dr. Rachael Guenter. Their research focuses on the role of cellular signaling pathways in the differentiation and growth of neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) of the thyroid, lungs, gastrointestinal tract, and pancreas.  

Finding ways to help patients and advance neuroendocrine cancer research

Dr. Chen is Chair of the Department of Surgery at University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), the Surgeon-in-Chief of UAB Hospital and Health System, and the Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in the UAB Heersink School of Medicine.  He is a Professor of Surgery, Pediatrics, and Biomedical Engineering, and holds the Fay Fletcher Kerner Endowed Chair.  His clinical interests include endocrine surgery and he is a pioneer in radioguided parathyroid surgery.  Dr. Chen’s lab studies thyroid and neuroendocrine cancers and has been received over $35 million in extramural funding.  He is the American Cancer Society MEN2 Thyroid Cancer Professor.  Dr. Chen is the Editor-in-Chief of the American Journal of Surgery.  He has held several leadership positions in major academic societies including President of the Society of Asian Academic Surgeons Foundation, President of Association for Academic Surgery, President of the Society of Clinical Surgery, President of the American Association of Endocrine Surgeons, and President of Surgical Biology Club II.  Dr. Chen has mentored over 130 faculty, post-doctoral fellows, residents, medical students, and undergraduates in his lab.  He has published over 670 original research and review articles and has edited 28 textbooks.  He is well-known for his passion for teaching and mentoring the next generation of surgical leaders.  Dr. Chen has also been recognized as a champion for diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Dr. Jaskula-Sztul is an Associate Professor in the Department of Surgery at UAB, with a research program that focuses on neuroendocrine (NE) cancers and specifically the impact of signaling pathways and specific NE receptors facilitating targeted therapy and imaging. Her research program expands across several areas of NE cancers including (i) preclinical development of anti-cancer drugs, (ii) targeted therapeutics, (iii) imaging, and (iv) novel models of human tissue surrogates and liver metastasis. Dr. Jaskula-Sztul has participated in analyzing the compounds from the NIH library and conducted pre-clinical tests on the positive hits for Notch1 expression using different NE cancer models. She has also been interested in anticancer drug delivery systems based on targeted delivery to increase local drug efficacy and eliminate systemic toxicity. In collaboration with the Bioengineering Department, we have developed nanoparticles (nanopolymers, unimolecular micelles and upconversion nanoparticles), antibody drug conjugates (ADCs), and employed nontoxic heavy chain (rHCR) of Botulinum Neurotoxin Type A for preferential targeting of SSTR2 receptors in NE cancer cells. Dr. Jaskula-Sztul has shown that epigenetic modifiers, including HDAC inhibitors, robustly increase SSTR2 expression in NE cancers improving tumor detection and potential therapy. She has experience in therapeutics testing in multiple preclinical models such as orthotopic, liver metastasis and syngeneic mouse models. Her laboratory also developed NE patient personal testing of new therapeutics using ex vivo tissue surrogates.

Dr. Rose is an Associate Professor of Surgical Oncology in the Department of Surgery, a hepatopancreatobiliary surgeon, Director of the UAB Pancreatobiliary Disease Center, and Leader of our Pancreas Cancer Service Line. His research is focused on identifying biomarkers and mechanisms of cancer development in the liver, pancreas, and bile ducts. His previous work demonstrated the novel uses of established biomarkers in pancreatic cancer, was the first to report on the clinical utility of a bile-based biomarker in patients with bile duct cancer. Currently, Dr. Rose conducts clinical research on pancreatic cancer outcomes and surgical interventions. His basic/translational science research programs include: (i) understanding new ways to treat neuroendocrine tumors of the pancreas and GI tract by exploring the BORIS and Notch pathways, (ii) investigating calreticulin as a theragnostic target in pancreatic, colorectal, and breast cancers, and (iii) identifying molecular drivers of racial disparities in pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors. Dr. Rose was the first to show differential expression of MEN1 in Black patients with pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors. 

Dr. Guenter is an Assistant Professor in the division of Surgical Oncology in the Department of Surgery. Currently, her areas of focus include the development of novel theragnostic agents for pancreatic cancers, understanding the role of Notch signaling in gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine tumors, and the development a new preclinical models for neuroendocrine tumor research. She is particularly interested in developing new treatments for patients with unresectable, advanced disease. She also advocates to bring awareness to neuroendocrine cancer and aims to provide accurate information for patients and the general public.