Chris LaPensee, Ph.D.
I am a Research Investigator in the laboratory of Dr. Gary Hammer at the University of Michigan. I received my Ph.D. in Neuroscience in the laboratory of Dr. Nira Ben-Jonathan at the University of Cincinnati, and completed my Postdoctoral training with Dr. Jessica Schwartz at the University of Michigan. I was appointed a research faculty member in the Department of Internal Medicine and the division of Metabolism, Endocrinology, and Diabetes (MEND) at the University of Michigan in 2013.
Adrenocortical cancer (ACC) is a rare cancer of the adrenal cortex with limited treatment options. There exists an unmet need for new drugs or drug combinations that target key regulatory pathways in ACC cells, with the goal of decreasing tumor growth and, ultimately, increasing survival of patients with ACC. My recent studies of ATR-101, a novel oral ACC drug candidate currently in development, identified the mechanism by which this drug induces death in an ACC cell line and in the adrenal cortex of dogs. I am currently working on follow-up studies aimed at assessing synergistic effects between ATR-101 and other chemotherapeutic compounds for the treatment of ACC. I am also collaborating with Dr. Ariella Shikanov, a biomedical engineer at the University of Michigan and leader in the design of biomaterials, to create an in vitro 3-dimensional model system for the study of ACC.
In addition to exploring molecular pathways that can be targeted for the treatment of adrenal diseases, my research focuses on the orphan nuclear receptor SF-1, an important mediator of normal growth and homeostasis in the adrenal gland. This transcription factor regulates steroidogenesis in differentiated adrenal tissue but also is essential for adrenal development. Adrenal glands and gonads do not develop in SF-1 deficient mice, highlighting the importance of SF-1 expression during development. My research focuses on the mechanisms by which Sf-1 expression is regulated in a temporospacial manner during adrenal gland development. I am currently working to identify the genomic location of the DAdE of Sf1 and characterize its regulation using BAC transgenesis and complimentary in vitro approaches.