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Christopher Porada, PhD

Christopher Porada, PhD, Associate Professor

Dr. Christopher Porada received his Bachelor’s degree in Molecular Biology from Colgate University in 1991 (magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa) and his PhD in Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology from the University of Nevada in 1998 (summa cum laude), focusing on fetal gene therapy for the treatment of hematologic diseases. After completing his PhD, he conducted a post-doctoral fellowship in the Department of Medicine at the VA Medical Center in Reno, focusing on stem cell biology and the immune aspects of gene delivery. In 2001, he joined the Department of Animal Biotechnology at the University of Nevada, Reno as an Assistant Professor, and was subsequently promoted to an Associate Professor at the same Institution. He has authored over 125 scientific abstracts, over 60 full-length manuscripts, and has written chapters in nearly a dozen books. He serves on the Editorial Board for several international journals, and is a member of several international societies. Dr. Porada regularly serves as a reviewer for NIH, NYSTEM, several other international grant agencies, and over 40 international journals focused on gene therapy, gene and drug delivery, stem cell biology, cancer, and stem cell transplantation. Dr. Porada joined the faculty at WFIRM in 2011.

Dr. Porada’s research is broadly focused on the development of safer, more cost-effective treatments that could offer a permanent cure for a variety of genetic disorders. Specifically, he is exploring the use of a variety of stem cells as vehicles for delivering therapeutic genes to specific sites of disease/injury prior to and following birth. In addition, Dr. Porada is working with NASA to define the effects of space radiation on the hematopoietic system of astronauts, assessing the risk of leukemogenesis as a result of space travel.

Gene therapy promises to offer a precise means of permanently curing a wide range of inherited and acquired diseases, once it has been fully optimized. Current methods rely on splicing the desired genetic material into a suitable virus and then harnessing the innate ability of the virus to deliver the genetic payload to the appropriate cells within the patient. Vectors based upon various viruses, in particular the retroviruses, have been used successfully to provide long-term correction in numerous animal models and in a limited number of human clinical trials. Despite these successes, however, existing vectors have often proven relatively inefficient at delivering genes to desirable targets such as hematopoietic stem cells, and they harbor certain risks, by virtue of their being derived from viruses that permanently integrate into the host cell genome. Further complicating treatment with gene therapy is the barrier posed by the recipient’s immune system, which frequently recognizes not only the viral-based gene delivery vehicle, but also the potentially curative gene product, as a foreign entity to be eliminated. We are currently focused on developing novel means of safely and efficiently delivering the corrective gene to the desired cell type(s) within the body early in life, including before birth, thus side-stepping the immune hurdles which are present later in life and correcting the genetic lesion prior to the onset of disease and resultant tissue damage. Following development and optimization, hemophilia A is being used as a paradigm disease for proof-of-principle testing of these technologies.

Our laboratory is also interested in radiobiology, and is actively studying the effects of radiation upon the hematopoietic system. Hematopoietic stem cells (HSC) comprise less than 0.1% of the bone marrow of adults, yet they produce all blood cells that are responsible for constant maintenance and immune protection of the body. The high sensitivity of HSC to ionizing radiation forms the basis of the use of total body irradiation to ablate the recipient’s bone marrow prior to clinical HSC transplantation, but little is currently known about the effects ionizing radiation may exert upon the cells that comprise the niches within the marrow that support/drive hematopoiesis. In studies supported by NASA, we are currently testing the effects of galactic cosmic ray (GCR) and solar particle event (SPE) radiation on primitive HSC and on bone marrow microenvironmental cells that regulate hematopoiesis. It is hoped that these ongoing studies will provide an accurate picture of the effects on the hematopoietic system as a result of the type/dose of GCR/SPE radiation that would occur during a deep space mission. 



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