Vasilis Vasiliou, PhD

  • Department Chair and Professor of Epidemiology (Environmental Health) and of Ophthalmology and Visual Science

Vasilis Vasiliou, is Professor and Chair of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences. He received his BSc in Chemistry (1983) and PhD in Biochemical Pharmacology (1988) from the University of Ioannina, Greece. He then trained in gene-environment interactions, molecular toxicology and pharmacogenetics at the Department of Environmental Health in the College of Medicine at the University of Cincinnati (1991-1995). In 1996, he joined the faculty of the University of Colorado School of Pharmacy where he rose through the ranks to become Professor and Director of the Toxicology Graduate Program. Since 2008, he was also Professor of Ophthalmology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. In July 2014, he joined the faculty of Yale University in his new position.

Professor Vasiliou has established an internationally-recognized research program that has been continuously funded by NEI/NIH and NIAAA/NIH since 1997. His research interests include mechanisms of cellular responses to environmental stress, gene-environment interactions, alcohol toxicity, pharmacogenetics and the evolution of gene families. His research focuses on the role of aldehyde dehydrogenases, cytochrome P-450s and glutathione in metabolism and disease (specifically, alcohol-induced tissue injury, diabetes, gout and cancer).

Dr. Vasiliou has published over 140 papers and edited a book on Alcohol and Cancer. He has trained over twenty doctoral and post-doctoral students. Dr. Vasiliou is the editor of Human Genomics and serves on the editorial boards of several toxicology and visual sciences journals.

Research interests
Alcoholism; Aldehyde Dehydrogenase; Diabetes Mellitus; Environmental Health; Glutathione; Gout; Ophthalmology; Genomics
Research summary

Dr Vasiliou’s research interests include mechanisms of cellular responses to environmental stress, gene-environment interactions, alcohol toxicity, pharmacogenetics and the evolution of gene families.

His research focuses on the role of aldehyde dehydrogenases (ALDHs) and glutathione (GSH) in metabolism, cellular responses to environmental stress and disease. Currently, his laboratory studies the roles of: corneal crystallins (ALDH3A1 and ALDH1A1) in cellular defense mechanisms against UV-radiation, ALDH1B1 and other alcohol metabolizing enzymes in human colon cancer, ALDH16A1 in gout, and ALDH7A1 in pyridoxine-dependent adolescent epilepsy. Other areas of active research include delineation of the involvement of brain ethanol metabolism in alcohol drinking preference and examination of GSH as a signaling molecule in anterior eye development and in diabetes.

Drug discovery represents a newer area of active interest, emanating out of the recent identification of ALDHs as markers of cancer stem cells. In a multi-investigator collaboration with several universities and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), Dr. Vasiliou is developing small molecules that will enhance the efficacy of chemotherapy and radiotherapy of cancer.

Specialized Terms: Mechanisms of Cellular Responses to Environmental Stress, Gene-Environment Interactions; Alcohol and Disease; Aldehyde Dehydrogenases and Glutathione in Metabolism and Disease (specifically, diabetes, gout and cancer), Cancer Drug Discovery, and Evolution of Gene Families.

  • PhD, University of Ioannina, 1988
  • Lassen N, Bateman BJ, Estey T, Kuszak JR, Nees D, Piatigorsky J, Duester G, Day B, Huang J, Hines L, Vasiliou V. Cataract phenotype in Aldh1a1-/-/Aldh3a1-/- double knockout mice. J Biol Chem, 282: 25668-76, 2007. PMID: 17567582.
  • Brocker C, Lassen N, Estey T, Pappa A, Cantore M, Orlova VV, Chavakis T, Kavanagh KL, Oppermann U, Vasiliou V. Aldehyde dehydrogenase 7A1 (ALDH7A1) is a novel enzyme involved in cellular defense against hyperosmotic stress, J. Biol Chem, 285:18452-63, 2010, PMID: 20207735.
  • Chen Y, Orlicky DJ, Matsumoto A, Singh S, Thompson DC, Vasiliou V. Aldehyde dehydrogenase 1B1 (ALDH1B1) is a potential biomarker for human colon cancer. Biochem Biophys Res Commun, 405(2): 173-9, 2011, PMID: 21216231.
  • Luo Y, Dallaglio K, ChenY, Robinson WA, Robinson SE, McCarter MD, Gonzalez R, Norris DA, Roop DR, Vasiliou V, Fujita M. ALDH is a marker of human melanoma stem cells and a potential therapeutic target. Stem Cells, 30:2100-13, 2012, PMID: 22887839.
  • Singh S, Brocker C, Koppaka V, Chen Y, Jackson B, Matsumoto A, Thompson DC, Vasiliou V. Aldehyde dehydrogenases in cellular responses to oxidative/electrophilic stress, Free Radic Biol Med, 56:89-101, 2013, PMID: 23195683.
  • Vasiliou V, Sandoval M, Backos DS, Jackson BC, Chen Y, Reigan P, Lanaspa MA, Johnson RJ, Koppaka V, Thompson DC. ALDH16A1 is a novel protein that may be involved in the etiology of gout via protein-protein interactions with HPRT1. Chem Biol Interact, 202: 22-31, 2013, PMID: 23348497.
  • Chen Y, Dong H, Thompson DC, Shertzer HG, Nebert DW, Vasiliou V. Glutathione defense mechanism in liver injury: insights from animal models. Food Chem Toxicol, 60:38-44, 2013, PMID: 23856494
International activities
  • Alcohol and Colon Cancer
    Germany, Japan (2013-Present)
    Project with Drs. Helmut Seitz and Sebastian Mueller and Drs. Akira Yokoyama and Takesi Misukami that examines the role of genes encoding alcohol metabolizing enzymes in human colon cancer.

    University of Heidelberg, University of Heidelberg, NHO Kurihama Alcohol Center, NHO Kurihama Alcohol Center

  • Role of ALDHs in Diabetes
    Germany (2011-Present)
    Project with Dr. Antony Gavalas (University of Dresden) on the involvement of ALDH1B1 and other aldehyde dehydrogenases in diabetes.

    University of Dresden, University of Dresden

  • Structural/Chemical Biology of Aldehyde Dehydrogenases
    United Kingdom (2007-Present)
    Collaboration with Professor Udo Oppermann on elucidation of crystal structures of various aldehyde dehydrogenases, the results of which will be used in drug discovery.

    University of Oxford, University of Oxford

Current projects
  • Alcohol and Colon Cancer
  • Alcohol and Drinking Behavior
  • Corneal Crystallins as Cellular Response to UV radiation
  • Glutathione in Eye Development
  • Glutathione in Diabetes
  • Drug Discovery (Targeting Cancer Stem Cells)