Research Faculty

An ongoing commitment to finding new hope.

At MCI, our researchers stand on the front lines in the fight against cancer. It is through their tireless quest for knowledge that we are able to innovate new treatments and new prevention techniques. 


Principal Investigators

Erin Eun-Young Ahn, Ph.D.
Casey L. Daniel, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Natalie R. Gassman, Ph.D.
Chaitanya Nirodi, Ph.D. 
Laurie Owen, Ph.D.
Komaraiah Palle, Ph.D.
Lewis Pannell, Ph.D.
Gary A. Piazza, Ph.D.
Aishwarya Prakash, Ph.D.
Rodney P. Rocconi, M.D.
Jennifer Scalici, M.D.
Ajay P. Singh, Ph.D.
Seema Singh, Ph.D.
Robert W. Sobol, Ph.D. 
Ming Tan, M.D., Ph.D.


2016-02-26 MCI Erin Ahn resized.jpg Erin Eun-Young Ahn, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Oncologic Sciences 

Dr. Erin Eun-Young Ahn joined MCI in 2012 after serving as Assistant Project Scientist at the Moores Cancer Center of the University of California San Diego. With a special interest in regulation of gene expression in cancer development and progression, she heads a lab working on transcription factors, RNA-binding proteins and non-coding RNAs in cancer development and progression, with the goal of identifying novel drug targets for cancer therapy. After completing her undergraduate work in Seoul, South Korea, Dr. Ahn received her Ph.D. from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She is the recipient of numerous professional awards, including international awards for research in leukemia and allied conditions from Lady TATA Memorial Trust, United Kingdom. Learn more about the Molecular Genetics and Cancer Genomics Lab.


2016-03-09 MCI Casey Daniel resized.jpgCasey L. Daniel, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Assistant Professor of Oncologic Sciences

Dr. Casey Daniel serves as Assistant Professor of Oncologic Sciences, working on strategies to prevent and control cancer. A Birmingham native, she is a graduate of Birmingham-Southern College with a master's degree in public health and a Ph.D. from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Daniel completed a post-doctoral research fellowship at the Harvard School of Public Health and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Her research focuses on cancer prevention, early detection, and survivorship with emphases on pediatric, colorectal and skin cancers.



2016-03-09 MCI Natalie Gassman resized.jpgNatalie R. Gassman, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Oncologic Sciences

Dr. Natalie R. Gassman joined MCI in July 2015 as an Assistant Professor of Oncologic Sciences. Her work examines the response of DNA repair pathways to damage induced by exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). EDCs have been demonstrated to alter DNA repair capacity, induce epigenetic changes, and promote resistance to chemotherapeutics. Gassman and her colleagues will apply interdisciplinary research techniques in molecular biology, toxicology, and biophysics to examine the gene-environment interactions of EDC exposure. Understanding the underlying mechanisms modulating DNA damage response and repair will provide insight into future therapeutic intervention for EDC exposed individuals. Learn more about Environmental Modulation of DNA Repair.


2016-03-22 MCI Chaitanya Nirodi MK2_8081 resized.jpgChaitanya Nirodi, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Oncologic Sciences

Prior to joining MCI in 2012, Dr. Chaitanya Nirodi served as Assistant Professor with the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, and as a Research Instructor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. At MCI, Dr. Nirodi’s areas of special research interest include understanding the mechanisms underlying tumor resistance to ionizing radiation in non-small cell lung carcinoma (NSCLC) and translating this knowledge toward the development of effective therapies. His lab is focused on elucidating the cellular and molecular mechanisms through which the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), which is widely over-expressed in NSCLC tumors. Dr. Nirodi received his Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the Indian Institute of Science in India and has authored numerous scientific articles. He is also the recipient of a research grant from the National Cancer Institute.


2016-02-26 MCI Laurie Owen resized.jpgLaurie Owen, Ph.D.
Barbara Colle Chair, Associate Director of Basic and Translational Sciences
Professor of Oncologic Sciences

Dr. Laurie Owen joined MCI in 2008 after a distinguished career as an investigator, professor and research director with several prestigious institutions, including the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, the University of California-Riverside, and BioLegend (San Diego, CA). Under Dr. Owen’s leadership, MCI’s research efforts have grown significantly and continue to expand. Her own special areas of interest include ultraviolet-induced skin cancers and the role of pro- and anti-apoptotic factors in tumor outgrowth and progression. Dr. Owen is a member of the American Association for Cancer Research and Women in Cancer Research. She has published several articles and received numerous awards throughout her career.


2016-03-09 MCI Kumar Palle.jpgKomaraiah Palle, Ph.D.
Abraham Mitchell Cancer Research Scholar
Assistant Professor of Oncologic Sciences

Dr. Komaraiah Palle (Kumar) has been an Abraham Mitchell Cancer Research Scholar and Assistant Professor of Oncologic Sciences at MCI since 2012. His special areas of interest include DNA damage response and repair pathways, special focus is on Fanconi anemia pathway and homologous recombination. Dr. Palle’s lab is focused on identifying novel therapeutic targets to selectively kill tumor cells by combination therapies and identify novel tumor suppressive mechanisms. Dr. Palle received his Ph.D. in Genetics from Osmania University, India, and previously served as Research Associate/Assistant Professor in the Department of Pathology at UNC-Chapel Hill. Learn more about the Genome Instability and Molecular Cancer Therapeutics Lab.


2016-03-09 MCI Lewis Pannell.jpgLewis Pannell, Ph.D.
Professor of Oncologic Sciences and Head, Proteomics and Mass Spectrometry Laboratory
Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of South Alabama

Dr. Lewis Pannell, who received his Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand, is head of the Proteomics and Mass Spectrometry Laboratory at MCI. Prior to joining MCI, he served as Senior Investigator with the National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, NIH, Bethesda, Md. Dr. Pannell’s research team is currently focused on several areas of research such as: 1) improving the early detection of late stage cancers such as pancreatic cancer, 2) determining new biomarkers for gynecological cancers, 3) developing new screening methods for non-cancer related issues such as pregnancy complications, 4) improving methods for the testing of prostate cancer. 


2016-03-09 MCI Gary Piazza resized.jpgGary A. Piazza, Ph.D.
Leader, Cancer Chemoprevention and Experimental Therapeutics Programs
Professor of Oncologic Sciences and Pharmacology

As Chief of MCI’s Drug Discovery Research Center, Dr. Gary Piazza oversees operations of this important research facility. Prior to joining MCI in 201, Dr. Piazza served as Director of Southern Research Molecular Libraries Screening Center and Principal Scientist at UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center. His current scientific focus is on cancer drug discovery and development, cancer chemoprevention, NSAIDs, high throughput screening, and colorectal, lung, and breast cancer. Dr. Piazza, who earned his Ph.D. in Pharmacology from University of Alabama at Birmingham, is a member of the American Association for Cancer Research and is listed as inventor on more than 45 patent applications. Learn more about the Drug Discovery Lab.


2016-03-09 Aishwarya Prakash resized.jpgAishwarya Prakash, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Oncologic Sciences 

Dr. Aishwarya Prakash joined MCI in March 2016 as an Assistant Professor of Oncologic Sciences after completing her post-doctoral research at the University of Vermont. Prakash’s work focuses on DNA repair mechanisms in the mitochondria. She earned her Ph.D. in cancer research at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in 2010. She received specialized training in Crystallography at Brookhaven National Labs in Long Island, N.Y.



2016-03-09 MCI Rocconi resized.jpg Rodney P. Rocconi, M.D.
Chief of Gynecologic Oncology Service
Associate Director for Clinical Research

Abraham A. Mitchell Clinical Cancer Research Scholar
Professor of Interdisciplinary Clinical Oncology

Dr. Rodney P. Rocconi joined MCI as a physician-scientist in the Gynecologic Oncology Service in 2007. He specializes in the management of cancers of the ovary, uterus, cervix and lower genital tract. As the Associate Director for Clinical Research, Dr. Rocconi provides leadership and medical expertise to the clinical trials department, reviews and designs clinical research protocols, evaluates safety and efficacy data, analyzes and summarizes data for presentation to regulatory agencies, and provides strategic guidance on non-regulatory clinical trial plans. He is the recipient of the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation Ovarian Cancer Research Award and the Gynecologic Oncology Young Investigator Research Award. Dr. Rocconi also serves as a Scientific Expert Reviewer for the U.S. Department of Defense Ovarian Cancer Research Program.


Scalici resized 2014-02-28 10.jpgJennifer Scalici, M.D.
Associate Professor of Oncologic Sciences

Dr. Jennifer Scalici joined MCI in 2012 after completing a fellowship in gynecologic oncology at the University of Virginia. While a fellow, she developed an investigator-initiated clinical trial evaluating the use of a novel biomarker for ovarian cancer. Upon her arrival at MCI, she built a busy clinical practice with an emphasis on minimally invasive and robotic surgery. She is currently participating in research to evaluate a novel, minimally invasive procedure to improve the prognostic value and decrease the morbidity of lymph node dissections in gynecologic malignancies. Dr. Scalici also continues to conduct basic and translational research in collaboration with other members of the MCI gynecologic team, Dr. Rodney Rocconi and Dr. Luciana Madeira da Silva. Her active areas of interest are ovarian carcinogenesis and the development of a novel animal model of ovarian cancer with the goal of improving early detection and prevention strategies. She is also evaluating the role of estrogen metabolism and obesity in the development of endometrial cancer. Dr. Scalici has presented five abstracts and three oral presentations at national meetings since her arrival at MCI, including a Poster of Exceptional Merit at the American College of Surgeons Annual Congress in 2013.


2016-03-09 MCI Ajay Singh 2 resized.jpgAjay P. Singh, Ph.D.
Professor of Oncologic Sciences

Dr. Ajay Singh is a tenured Professor of Oncologic Sciences. He also leads a multi-disciplinary research program in Cancer Health Disparities. His laboratory primarily focuses on the molecular mechanisms involved in cancer progression and chemoresistance, and development of novel mechanism-based approaches for cancer therapy and prevention. He received his Ph.D. in Life Science from Devi Ahilya University, India, and postdoctoral training in Cancer Biology at UNMC/Eppley Cancer Institute, Omaha, Neb. He has received numerous honors and awards, both in India and the U.S., for his scientific accomplishments. Research programs in his laboratory have been supported through funding from NIH/NCI, DOD, and Nebraska and Alabama’s health departments. He also serves as a Co-PI on a NSF-MRI project that established TEM core facility at the University to benefit ongoing research programs and training of next-generation biomedical engineers and research professionals. Dr. Singh actively serves on DOD and NIH study sections, and has been on the review panel boards of other national and international funding agencies, and private foundations that provide support for cancer research. Learn more about the Tumor Microenvironment Lab.


2016-03-09 MCI Seema Singh 3.jpgSeema Singh, Ph.D. 
Associate Professor of Oncologic Sciences

Dr. Seema Singh joined MCI in 2009 as Instructor of Oncologic Sciences. She quickly established a robust, independent laboratory program and was promoted to Assistant Professor in 2012 and then to Associate Professor in 2016. Her primary areas of interest include the role of inflammatory signaling in cancer progression, angiogenesis and metastasis, cancer stem cells and cancer health disparities. After obtaining a Ph.D. in India in 2001, she received postdoctoral training at University of Nebraska Medical Center in the area of tumor microenvironment, and breast and melanoma pathobiology. She is currently focused on the identification of novel targets in melanoma, and investigating the role of inflammatory and DNA damage pathways in the etiology and progression of non-melanoma skin cancer. Her team has discovered a novel role of silver nanoparticles (AgNPs) in the protection of keratinocytes from UV radiation-induced DNA damage and apoptosis. She is also exploring the role of differential tumor microenvironment in breast cancer racial disparity. Her research programs have been funded through NIH/NCI, and she has also served on peer review committees to evaluate grant applications. Learn more about the Imflammation and Immunobiology Lab.


2016-03-09 MCI Robert Sobol resized.jpgRobert W. Sobol, Ph.D. 
Chief of the Molecular and Metobolic Oncology Program

Dr. Robert W. Sobol joined the MCI faculty in 2014 as the Chief of the Molecular & Metabolic Oncology Program. He also serves as the Point Clear Charities Professor of Oncologic Sciences and an Abraham A. Mitchell Distinguished Investigator. The Molecular & Metabolic Oncology Program focuses on the cellular mechanisms of DNA repair and metabolism and how these processes impact cancer development and the response to cancer treatments. Serving as Program Director, Sobol works with eight labs, including his new lab, two current MCI labs and five others to be added in the coming years. Learn more about the DNA Damage and Repair Lab.


2016-02-26 MCI Ming Tan resized.jpgMing Tan, M.D., Ph.D.
Director, Cancer Biology Graduate Studies
Vincent F. Kilborn, Jr. Cancer Research Scholar

Associate Professor of Oncologic Sciences

Dr. Ming Tan has been Associate Professor of Oncologic Sciences and Vincent F. Kilborn, Jr. Cancer Research Scholar at MCI since 2007. His laboratory focuses on the molecular mechanisms of tumor progression, metastasis, and therapeutic resistance of human breast cancer, melanoma, and other cancer types. The ultimate goal of Dr. Tan’s research is to translate the knowledge acquired in the laboratory into future novel therapeutics. Prior to joining the staff at MCI, Dr. Tan served as Assistant Professor (Research) with the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and Health Science Center and his M.D. from West China University of Medical Sciences Chengdu, China. Dr. Tan is the author of numerous articles in scientific and medical journals. 


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