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.
Marie Webster, Ph.D.
Filipe Almeida, Ph.D.
Stephen Douglass, Ph.D.
Mitchell Fane, Ph.D.
Jessie Villanueva, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Molecular & Cellular Oncogenesis Program
Member, The Wistar Institute Melanoma Research Center