Laura Z. Rassenti, Ph.D.
Project Involvement: Director–Tissue Core/Biorepository
Dr. Laura Rassenti, born in Florence, Italy received her PhD in Molecular Genetics from the University of Arizona, in Tucson Arizona. She proceeded to study the molecular aspects of Multiple Sclerosis as a postdoctoral student at Stanford University under the guidance of Dr. L. Steinman. Subsequently, she has been working in the laboratory of Dr. Thomas Kipps at the University of California, San Diego for the past 25 years.
Dr. Rassenti’s research focuses on the biology of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL). CLL is the most common form of adult leukemia in the Western hemisphere, representing about 30% of all leukemias. It is characterized by the accumulation of mature monoclonal B-lymphocytes in the blood, marrow and lymphoid tissue. The clinical course of patients with CLL is heterogeneous. While some patients have aggressive disease requiring therapy within a relatively short time after diagnosis, others have indolent, asymptomatic disease that might not require therapy for many years. Several CLL cell characteristics are associated with relatively aggressive disease. These include absence of IgVH somatic mutations, expression of CD38, or multiple cytogenetic abnormalities. The two CLL subtypes can be distinguished from each other through the differential expression of a small number of genes, one of which encodes ZAP-70, an intracellular tyrosine kinase that plays a critical role in T-cell receptor signaling. Studies published by Dr. Rassenti & co-investigators found that ZAP-70 is associated with enhanced Ig-receptor signaling in leukemic B-cells irrespective of IgVH mutational status and that expression of ZAP-70 can be used as a surrogate for IgVH gene mutational status to predict the clinical outcome of CLL patients. Dr. Rassenti has also contributed in studies on the role of MicroRNA genes in CLL with Dr. Croce’s lab at Ohio State University.
Dr. Rassenti has been the Director of the Tissue Core of the CLL Research Consortium (CRC) at the Moores UCSD Cancer Center since 1999. The CRC is a multi-institutional program that collects & stores blood specimens from CLL patients from six national acclaimed medical centers and allows for interactive research to study of the biological basis of this leukemia. Dr. Rassenti been managing a team of technicians and scientists who process, distribute, and perform assays on all the CLL samples received by the CRC. This has resulted in the collection, storage and distribution of over 5,000 CLL patients samples. In addition, Dr. Rassenti oversees the web-based interactive database system that stores the cytogenetics, clinical, and demographic data from these CLL patients and allows for the retrieval of this information by the CRC investigators for hypothesis driven studies.
Dr. Rassenti has contributed to many peer reviewed articles, including papers in Blood, Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences and Cancer Cell.