Ashani Weeraratna, Ph.D.

Ashani Weeraratna, Ph.D.


The Weeraratna Laboratory



Ira Brind Professor

Professor & Co-Leader, Immunology, Microenvironment & Metastasis Program

Member, The Wistar Institute Melanoma Research Center

About the Scientist

Weeraratna studies the molecular mechanisms involved in melanoma metastasis with particular emphasis on the Wnt signaling pathway. She is also interested in examining the changes in the tumor microenvironment and how they affect melanoma progression and therapy resistance.

Born in Sri Lanka and raised in Southern Africa, Weeraratna first came to the United States in 1988 to study biology at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. She then earned a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Oncology at the Department of Pharmacology of George Washington University Medical Center. From 1998 to 2000, she was a post-doctoral fellow at The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins Oncology Center, before joining the National Human Genome Research Institute as a staff scientist. In 2003, she moved to the Laboratory of Molecular Biology and Immunology at the National Institute on Aging as a staff scientist and later became head of the laboratory’s Cancer Biology Unit. Weeraratna joined The Wistar Institute in 2011 as an assistant professor. In 2014 she was promoted to associate professor and two years after was appointed as the Ira Brind professor. In 2018, she was promoted to professor, and serves as the co-program leader of the Immunology, Microenvironment & Metastasis (IMM) Program. She is also a member of the Wistar Melanoma Research Center. 

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The Weeraratna Laboratory

The primary focus of the Weeraratna laboratory is the study of how melanoma spreads, or metastasizes. The progression of melanoma from early to late stage involves a series of signaling changes within the cell, often described in terms of “pathways.” In particular, the lab studies the non-canonical Wnt signaling pathway, which comprises a family of proteins with great implications in fetal development as well as cancer. Changes in genes and their protein products involved in this pathway affect how malignant cells multiply, move throughout the body, and invade other tissues.

Another major interest of the laboratory lies in exploring how changes in the microenvironment, or the cellular environment in which the tumor exists, including immune cells, fibroblasts, blood vessels, and signaling molecules, contribute to both tumor progression and therapy resistance. These changes may be induced by external factors, such as chemotherapy or irradiation, or naturally occurring phenomena, such as hypoxia and aging. Melanoma incidence is increased in elderly patients, who also have a worse prognosis, and this could be due to a number of age-related factors, such as a lower immunity, but may also be due to changes in the aging microenvironment. Using melanoma cells and both young and old normal skin cells as a model, the lab is trying to unravel what these changes may be, and how they affect tumor progression.


Staff Scientist

Marie Webster, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellows

Filipe Almeida, Ph.D.
Stephen Douglass, Ph.D.
Mitchell Fane, Ph.D.

Graduate Students

Gretchen Alicea
Gloria Marino

Research Assistant

Jessicamarie Morris

Selected Publications

Kugel, C.H., Douglass, S.M., Weeraratna, A.T., et al. (in press) "Age-related differences in intra-tumoral Tregs dictate response to anti-PD1." Clinical Cancer Research

Behera, R., Kaur, A., Weeraratna, A.T., et al. "Inhibition of Age-Related Therapy Resistance in Melanoma by Rosiglitazone-Mediated Induction of Klotho." Clin Cancer Res. 2017 Jun 15;23(12):3181-3190. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-17-0201. Epub 2017 Feb 23.

Kaur, A., Webster, M.R., Weeraratna, A.T., et al. "sFRP2 in the aged microenvironment drives melanoma metastasis and therapy resistance." Nature. 2016 Apr 14;532(7598):250-4. doi: 10.1038/nature17392. Epub 2016 Apr 4.

Webster, M,R., Xu, M., Kinzler, K.A., Weeraratna, A.T., et al. "Wnt5A promotes an adaptive, senescent-like stress response, while continuing to drive invasion in melanoma cells." Pigment Cell Melanoma Res. 2015 Mar;28(2):184-95. doi: 10.1111/pcmr.12330. Epub 2014 Dec 29.

O'Connell, M.P., Marchbank, K., Weeraratna, A.T., et al. "Hypoxia induces phenotypic plasticity and therapy resistance in melanoma via the tyrosine kinase receptors ROR1 and ROR2." Cancer Discov. 2013 Dec;3(12):1378-93. doi: 10.1158/2159-8290.CD-13-0005. Epub 2013 Oct 8.

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