Dr. Richard Heller, PhD
Professor, Medical Laboratory and Radiation Sciences, College of Health Sciences
Adjunct Professor, Microbiology and Molecular Cell Biology, Eastern Virginia Medical School
Frank Reidy Research Center for Bioelectrics
4211 Monarch Way,
Norfolk, VA 23508
Tel.: (757) 683-2690
Richard Heller received his BS in Microbiology (Oregon State University), MS in Health Sciences with a specialization in Medical Microbiology (Long Island University), and PhD in Medical sciences with a specialization in Medical Microbiology and Immunology (University of South Florida) in 1989.
A major focus of Dr. Hellerís research is to develop in vivo delivery procedures for non-viral gene therapy. The approach utilizes pulsed electric fields to facilitate targeting and uptake of the molecules to be delivered. The current gene therapy approach is geared toward the development of therapies for cancer and vascular diseases (peripheral or coronary ischemia) as well as vaccine and immunotherapy protocols for cancer or infectious disease. Recently, this gene therapy approach was translated into the clinic and represents the first-in-human study utilizing in vivo electrogene delivery of a plasmid.
Specific projects currently active in his laboratory include:
1. Electroporation System for Cutaneous Gene Transfer. The goal of this specific project is the development of an improved electroporation system for the delivery of plasmid DNA to the skin. Important elements for such a system are its portability, reproducibility and ability to perform multiple applications to the same subject. The skin is an attractive target for gene therapy protocols for cutaneous diseases, vaccines and several metabolic disorders because it is easily accessible for both delivery and monitoring. This work will determine if an applicator containing a microarray of nonpenetrating electrodes can be used to obtain reproducible and maintainable expression levels of a delivered plasmid systemically and to cells within the skin.
2. Therapeutic Potential of IL-15 Plasmid Delivery to Tumors Using Electroporation. The major focus of this study is to examine the use of non-viral gene transfer approach for immunotherapy protocols and its potential as a treatment of solid tumors. We have previously shown that delivering a plasmid coding for a cytokine in combination with electroporation can elicit an anti-tumor response in both preclinical and clinical studies. The specific research proposed in this application is intended to determine if using in vivo electroporation to deliver plasmid DNA coding for the cytokine IL-15 can be effective in treating metastatic melanoma.
3. Electro Gene Transfer for Coronary Artery Disease. The major focus of this study is the use of electrically mediated non-viral gene delivery for the induction of angiogenesis as a potential treatment of coronary artery disease and ischemic myocardial disease. Angiogenesis will be induced by delivering plasmid DNA encoding vascular endothelial growth factor. Instrumentation and protocols are being developed to safely and effectively delivery the DNA directly to the cardiac muscle.
4. Efficient Delivery of DNA Vaccines. The major focus of this study is to establish criteria for delivering DNA vaccines to the skin. Work has evaluated the use of electroporation to effectively deliver plasmid DNA encoding Hepatitis B surface antigen or protective antigen from Bacillus anthracis.
5. Wound Healing. The goal of this research is to optimize the plasmid DNA delivery protocol for VEGF to enhance the survival of large flaps and facilitate the healing of wounds. A safe, reproducible and effective delivery is critical to this gene therapy approach. The selection of the appropriate instrumentation and the delivery parameters are critical. We have previously reported that healing can be significantly accelerated when plasmid DNA encoding VEGF is delivered with electroporation. The work is now focused on refining this approach and accumulating the necessary preclinical data to translate this potential therapy to the clinic.