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Maria Dulfary Sanchez-Pino, PhD
LSU Health-New Orleans

Dr. Maria Dulfary Sanchez-Pino, a native of Colombia, received her Bachelor of Medical Laboratory Scientist (MLS) at Antioquia University – Colombia. After one year serving as MLS in the clinic, she returned to Antioquia University and earned her Master's degree, and thereafter her Ph.D. cum laude degree in Biomedical Sciences with an emphasis on Immunology. In 2013, Dr. Sanchez-Pino moved to New Orleans to pursue her post-doctoral training at LSUHSC-NO under the mentorship of Dr. Augusto Ochoa. In 2017, she became an Assistant Professor with the award of her first pilot study entitled “Effect of Bariatric Surgery on Obesity, Weight Loss and New Inflammatory Pathways” which was initially supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) COBRE program grant “Mentoring Translational Researchers in Louisiana” (PI: Dr. Augusto Ochoa), an NIH miniSPORE pilot grant “Understanding and Addressing Cancer Health Disparities in Louisiana (PIs: Drs. Lucio Miele and A. Ochoa) and then in 2021 through the Louisiana Clinical and Translational Science (LA CaTS) Center (PI: Dr. John Kirwan). To refine her clinical professional developmental benchmarks and to expand her efforts to include more clinically focused translatable research, she was awarded a LA CaTS Roadmap Scholarship in 2021 for which she recently earned her second Master's degree in Clinical and Translational Science at Tulane University.

Maria Sanchez-Pino is a member of the Department of Interdisciplinary Oncology – Cancer Center and the Department of Genetics within the LSUHSC-NO School of Medicine and her lab is located in the Louisiana Cancer Research Consortium (LCRC) building. Dr. Sanchez-Pino is a member of the American Association of Immunologists (AAI), and The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR). She is a US resident that fulfills two criteria defined by the National Institutes of Health as an Underrepresented Minority (URM) in U.S. biomedical research: A Hispanic/Latin and a Woman Scientist. Accordingly, she was a recipient of an AACR Minority and Minority-Serving Institution Faculty Scholar (MMSIF) in Cancer Research award in 2022.

Research Goals & Impact 

Her research goal is to decipher obesity-associated mechanisms influencing immunosuppressive factors, specifically, myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSC), and their contribution to malignancies related to obesity. MDSC are immune cells that promote tumor progression through both immunological and non-immunological activities. In addition, she is assessing how different weight loss regimens affect these immune cells which, in part, could explain the reduced cancer risk observed in subjects achieving long-lasting weight loss. By characterizing the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying cancer development and progression, Dr. Sanchez-Pino envisions identifying strategies to prevent and/or diminish the severity of obesity-related cancers.

Success Spotlight 

Dr. Sanchez-Pino, in collaboration with a phenomenal clinical team from Ochsner Clinic Foundation, especially Dr. William Richardson, published her initial findings in the medical Journal EBioMedicine, part of The Lancet family of journals. This work was featured in a Journal Commentary that highlighted the importance of their findings in the identification of an immune cell type named low-density neutrophils (LDNs) that is significantly increased in patients with severe obesity (BMI > 40) compared to normal-weight subjects and dramatically decrease after bariatric surgery-induced weight loss. Interestingly, by transcriptomic profiling, she showed that these LDNs are primarily pro-inflammatory cells but also, although at moderate levels, express genes associated with MDSC. Therefore, Dr. Sanchez-Pino is striving to prove her premise that LDNs, phenotypically shaped by the dysfunctional metabolism in patients with severe obesity may be acting as precursors of the granulocytic subtype of MDSC, which could be fostering the cancer initiation or progression.

How LA CaTS Helped

Additional unpublished data related to the obese-related factors influencing the epigenetic and metabolic changes in MDSC was obtained through the LA CaTS Center Pilot Project Award and the LA CaTS Center Roadmap Scholarship Program, which led to her most recently granted awards. In November 2022 and January 2023, Dr. Sanchez-Pino was granted the LSU Collaborative Cancer Research Initiative (CCRI) by the LSU system and the Louisiana Center for Advancing Underrepresented Scientists Careers in Health, Nutrition, Obesity, and Disparities Research (LAUNCHED) Program by Pennington Biomedical Research Center (PBRC), respectively. The purpose of the CCRI multi-PI project with Dr. Justin Brown from the PBRC is to determine the impact of obesity and weight loss by bariatric surgery on insulin-regulated lipolysis and the lipid excess exposure on LDNs/MDSC function and breast cancer cell phenotype. Whereas, the main objective of the LAUNCHED grant in collaboration with Dr. Vivian Fonseca at Tulane University is to evaluate the impact of weight loss induced by pharmacotherapy with medications such as the GLP-1 agonists, on inflammation including the number and phenotype of LDNs/MDSC in peripheral blood. As a young investigator, the near-future goal of Dr. Sanchez-Pino is to build the necessary training and pilot data to support a competitive R01 application focused on metabolically and epigenetically manipulation of LDNs/MDSC to reduce cancer risk in individuals with excessive weight.

Highlighted Publications & Presentations

Maria Dulfary Sanchez-Pino, et al. Increased inflammatory low-density neutrophils in severe obesity and effect of bariatric surgery: Results from case-control and prospective cohort studies. eBioMedicine 2022;77:103910

Maria Dulfary Sanchez-Pino, Linda Anne Gilmore, Augusto Ochoa, Justin C. Brown. Obesity-associated chronic inflammation, myeloid immunosuppressive cells, and cancer risk. Obesity. (2021). doi: 10.1002/oby.23108

Maria Dulfary Sanchez-Pino, Matthew Dean, Augusto Ochoa. Myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSC): When good intentions go awry. Cellular Immunology. (2021): Vol 362. 104302.

Sanchez-Pino Maria D. Detection of Circulating and Tissue Myeloid-Derived Suppressor Cells (MDSC) by Flow Cytometry. Methods Mol Biol. 2022;2422:247-261. doi: 10.1007/978-1-0716-1948-3_17. PubMed PMID: 34859411.

Sanchez-Pino, Maria Dulfary PhD; Thylur Puttalingaiah, Ramesh PhD; Garai, Jone PhD; Zabaleta, Jovanny PhD; Mynatt, Randall PhD; Richardson, William MD, FACS, FASMBS; Ochoa, Augusto MD. Gene expression and functional characterization of obesity-induced MDSC to uncover the link between obesity and cancer risk. Presented at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) annual meeting, New Orleans, LA, April 2022

Sanchez-Pino, Maria Dulfary PhD; Thylur Puttalingaiah, Ramesh PhD; Garai, Jone PhD; Zabaleta, Jovanny PhD, Richardson, William MD, FACS, FASMBS; Ochoa, Augusto MD. Revealing the epigenetic signature in obesity-induced MDSC and its association with weight loss by bariatric surgery. Presented at the Association for Clinical and Translational Science (ACTS) meeting. Chicago, IL. 2022

Sanchez-Pino, Maria D. PhD; Kim, Yonghyan DVM; Liu, Jiao MD; Ponder, Michell PhD; Richardson, William MD, FACS, FASMBS; Wooldridge, James MD, FACS; Chapple, Andrew PhD; Rodriguez, Paulo PhD , and Augusto Ochoa MD. Changes in Obesity-induced Chronic Inflammatory Cells by Bariatric Weight Loss Surgery_ Potential impact on promoting pro-tumor microenvironment. Presented at the NIH/Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities (CRCHD). Washington DC. June 3-4, 2019

Sanchez-Pino, Maria Dulfary PhD; Kim, Yonghyan DVM; Liu, Jiao MD; Wyczechowska, Dorota PhD; William Richardson MD, FACS, FASMBS; James Wooldridge MD, FACS; Randall Mynatt PhD, Rodriguez, Paulo PhD and Augusto Ochoa MD. Changes in Chronic Inflammatory Cells by Bariatric Weight Loss Surgery. Presented at the Immunology 2018, Annual Meeting AAI. Austin, TX. May 4-8, 2018