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Medicine - Cancer Biology E-Newsletter [Vanderbilt University]

February 2020

Getting to Know You…

Faculty Spotlight:

Barbara Fingleton, PhD, Associate Professor of Pharmacology and Medicine
Dr Fingleton’s research is in the area of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) and how they contribute to cancer development and progression. She is especially interested in testing drugs that inhibit MMPs in cancer models and in understanding why such drugs have not been effective in human cancer patients. Her lab also focuses on identifying functions of specific members of the MMP family in inflammation and cancer. Additionally, Dr. Fingleton works on the Th2 cytokines IL4 and IL13 and their receptors, and how these molecules can influence malignant progression of breast and colon cancers. Her lab uses multiple mouse models combined with in vitro approaches to address the pleiotropic functions of these cytokines, which affect both the epithelial cancer cells and the inflammatory infiltrate within tumors. METAvivor Announced the 2019 Grant Awards For Metastatic Breast Cancer Research and Dr Fingleton was one of 32 grant awards chosen!  Read More

Trainee Spotlight:

Shawna McLetchie, BA
(Boothby Lab)
Shawna is from Lexington, KY and received a BA in Biology from Hanover College. She worked as a research assistant in Dr. Janice Blum’s lab at Indiana University for three years after a year stint as a 5th – 8th grade science and math teacher in Indianapolis. Since entering the IGP at Vanderbilt in the fall of 2015, Shawna joined Dr. Mark Boothby’s lab for her thesis, she studied the role of the metabolic regulator AMPK on B cell biology. B cells and their progeny produce long-lasting humoral immunity against pathogens via production of neutralizing antibodies. Using genetic mouse models, Shawna’s findings reveal that AMPK supports memory B cell longevity potentially by promoting multiple aspects of mitochondrial homeostasis. Additionally, new insights on the regulation of rates of antibody synthesis are revealed from Shawna’s work. Her project has implications on ways to improve vaccine design in an effort to achieve long-lasting immunity. Shawna received a travel award from Vanderbilt Immunobiology Center (VCI) to attend the American Association of Immunology (AAI) conference on May 8-12, 2020 in Honolulu, Hawaii!!  Shawna’s work is currently in preparation for submission. In her spare time, Shawna’s enjoys working out on the track and running cross country. She also enjoys her fish collection.

Staff Spotlight:

Yingjun Yan, MS
(Lovly Lab)
Yingjun has worked  with Dr. Christine Lovly since the first day the lab opened! She conducts cell culture experiments, develops resistant cell lines, labels cell lines with bio markers, analyze’s single and combination drug efficacy, processes clinical samples, tests for mycoplasma, and optimize’s experimental protocols.  Working closely with lab members she assists them with research projects, checks the inventory, places orders, organizes cell lines and clinic samples stocks, and organizes cDNA genetic constructs with maps made or obtained by lab members.  VUMC research lab bio safety policies and regulations are part of Yingjun’s responsibilities too.  In her spare time, Yingjun enjoys hiking, social dancing, traveling, and sightseeing. She also enjoys spending time with her son, Kevin, who will be starting his undergraduate studies at Northwestern University this fall.  Dr. Lovly shared,  Yingjun is the heart of the lab. She is kind, friendly, and helpful to everyone. She works extremely hard and is always motivated for improvement. She has contributed to numerous publications. She is a pleasure to work with, and we are so very fortunate to have her as part of the team!”

Debra Friedman, MD, Associate Director for Community Outreach and Engagement at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center is bridging the gap in disparities of cancer outcomes between patients who are treated in rural communities versus urban communities.  “The distance between where a patient lives and a center that can treat their cancer is important for the results of their care.”  Read more

Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC) will host a two-day symposium for health care professionals working with rural populations on February 27th from noon to 4 pm and on Feb 28th from 8 am to noon in  the Preston Research Building conference room # 898J.  Register here 

Journey Home Project supports first CAR-T infusion at VA hospital
The Tennessee Valley Healthcare System performed its first CAR-T infusion recently at the Veterans Administration hospital in Nashville, an achievement made possible by collaboration with Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC) and support from the Journey Home Project.

CAR-T, which stands for chimeric antigen receptor T cell therapy, is a new immunotherapy. It entails removing a patient’s T cells, re-engineering them so they can target cancer and then infusing those cells back into the patient.

“This is the first CAR-T treatment to actually take place at a VA hospital. Having the treatment available will save time for veterans in gaining access to this immunotherapy. We’re very excited to be able to offer it,” said Stacey Goodman, MD, professor of Medicine at Vanderbilt and director of the bone marrow stem cell transplant program at Tennessee Valley Healthcare System. Read more 

Kristy Stengel, PhD a postdoc in the laboratory of Scott Hiebert (Biochemistry), led an investigation into the role of histone deacetylase 3 (HDAC3) in the formation of B cell germinal centers using a powerful combination of RNA-seq, ChIP-exome sequencing, and other technologies in human cell and mouse models. This work, published in Nucleic Acids Research, shows that HDAC3 plays a major role in determining B cell fate. Read More

Protein research seeks to induce tumor regression.

MYC is a family of three related proteins that are over expressed in cancer and which contribute to an estimated 100,000 cancer deaths annually in the United States. Efforts to block MYC directly have failed. Fortunately, these proteins have an Achilles’ heel – a chromosome-binding cofactor called WDR5. Understanding how MYC interacts with WDR5 and other cofactors could lead to the development of new drugs that can effectively block MYC and stop many cancers in their tracks. Reporting in the Proceedings of the National  Academy of Sciences, William Tansey, PhD and colleagues at Vanderbilt found that disrupting the interaction between MYC and WDR5 in cancerous growth causes “rapid and comprehensive tumor regression.” Read more 


Lots happening this month with trainees earning research funding from different institutions.
Lindsay Redman (Biochemistry, Pietenpol lab), Verra Ngwa (Cancer Biology, Jin Chen lab), and Margaret Axelrod (Cancer Biology, Justin Balko lab) earned awards from NCI. Jessie Perlmutter (Biological Sciences, Seth Bordenstein lab) and Lauren Williamson (PMI, James Crowe lab) received awards from NIAID.  Corey Bown (Neuroscience, Angela Jefferson lab) was awarded a grant from the NIH, Elizabeth Moore (Neuroscience, Jefferson lab) received a grant from the NIA, and Elizabeth Flook (Neuroscience, Jennifer Blackford lab) received funding from the NIAAA








Logan Northcutt, BS and David Taylor, BS are PhD Graduate students in the Program in Cancer Biology and  will be speaking with the Undergraduate Students from Tennessee State University about their career paths to becoming PhD’s. Logan’s research (Rafat Lab) asks the question why breast cancer cells Metastasis in the bone marrow? Although many mechanisms have been teased out regarding the process of bone destruction due to awakening cancer cells, little is understood regarding the biophysical cues that cause cancer cells to exit dormancy. We use material science, engineering approaches and imaging to investigate tumor cell behavior at different stiffness’s that mirror the bone marrow and better understand cancer cell dormancy. David’s ( Kim lab) project is to determine and utilize the multidimensional synergy of combinations (MuSyc), a novel synergy algorithm which can be used to rigorously quantitate synergy to maximize efficacy and minimize dosing, to assess molecular synergy in combining STING and TLR adjuvants.


VICC Seminars 

BRET Seminars

Discovery Lectures

Flexner Deans Lectures Series

Welcome to Drug Discovery Online

Pharmacology Seminars 

Department of  Cell and Developmental Biology

2020 Chancellor’s Lecture Series

Vanderbilt Program for Extracellular Vesicle Research 



The 2020 Annual MVTCP Symposium
Feb 8th, 2020
Meharry Medical College.
Register here

Vanderbilt‐Ingram Cancer Center   
April 22, 2020 Annual Scientific Retreat 
“Impact of the Obesity Epidemic on Cancer.”

Vanderbilt Postdoctoral Association Symposium
Register by Feb 29th
Highlighting postdoctoral research across VU and VUMC

Vanderbilt and Meharry REDCap Users
February 25, 2020.
The sessions will cover exciting upcoming features in REDCap,
and unique ways researchers are using REDCap to do great work, 

6th Annual Midwest Tumor Micro environment Meeting
The University of Kansas Medical Center
Kansas City, Kansas



Microenvironmental Metabolism Regulates Antitumor Immunity
Verra M. Ngwa, Deanna N. Edwards, Mary Philip and Jin Chen
Cancer Research July 30, 2019 online

PREX1 drives spontaneous bone dissemination of ER+ breast cancer cells. Miranda E Clements and Rachelle W Johnson.
Oncogene 21 October 2019

PIK3CA and MAP3K1 alterations imply luminal A status and are associated with clinical benefit from pan-PI3K inhibitor buparlisib and letrozole in ER+ metastatic breast cancer. Nixon MJ, Formisano L, Mayer IA, Estrada MV, González-Ericsson PI, Isakoff SJ, Forero-Torres A, Won H, Sanders ME, Solit DB, Berger MF, Cantley LC, Winer EP, Arteaga CL, Balko JM.
NPJ Breast Cancer. 2019 Sep 23;5:31

Emerging Biomimetic Materials for Studying Tumor and Immune Cell Behavior. Northcutt LA, Suarez-Arnedo A, Rafat M
Annals of Biomedical Engineering. 2019

Multimodal Multiplexed Immunoimaging with Nanostars to Detect Multiple Immunomarkers and Monitor Response to Immunotherapies
Ou UC, Wen X, Johnson CA, Shae D, Ayala OD, Webb JA, Lin EC, DeLapp RC, Boyd, KL, Richmond A, Mahadevan-Jansen A, Rafat M, Wilson JT, Balko JM, Tantawy MN, Vilgerlm AE, Bardhan R
ACS Nano. 2020 Jan 2.

Gas6/MerTK signaling is negatively regulated by NF-κB and supports lung carcinogenesis
Novitskiy SV, Zaynagetdinov R, et. al
Oncotarget. 2019 Dec 17;10(66):7031-7042

Metabolic coordination of T cell quiescence and activation
Chapman NM, Boothby MR, Chi H
Nat Rev Immunol. 2020 Jan;20(1):55-70

On-target Resistance to the Mutant-Selective EGFR Inhibitor Osimertinib Can Develop in an Allele-Specific Manner Dependent on the Original EGFR-Activating Mutation
Brown BP, Zhang YK, Westover D, Yan Y, et al
Clin Cancer Res. 2019 Jun 1;25(11):3341-3351

Identification and Characterization of Unique Neutralizing Antibodies to Mouse EGF Receptor.
Huh WJ, Niitsu H, Carney B, McKinley ET, Houghton JL, Coffey RJ
Gastroenterology. 2019 Dec 19. pii: S0016-5085(19)41946-X.
Nat Med. 2019 Aug;25(8):1243-1250

A case report of clonal EBV-like memory CD4+ T cell activation in fatal checkpoint inhibitor-induced encephalitis.
Johnson DB, McDonnell WJ, Gonzalez-Ericsson PI
Nat Med. 2019 Aug;25(8):1243-1250

A Pilot Trial of Pembrolizumab plus Cryotherapy for Men with Newly Diagnosed Oligometastatic Hormone-Sensitive Prostate Cancer.
Ross AE, Hurley PJ,, et al
Prostate Cancer Prostatic Dis. 2019. Oct 14.

Pathogenic Germline Variants in Patients with Metastatic Breast Cancer
Stuttgen K, Croessmann S,Fetting J, et al
JAMA Oncol. 2019 Aug 29

Performance of multiplex serology in discriminating active vs past Helicobacter pylori infection in a primarily African American population in the southeastern United States
Butt, J, Blot WJ, et al.
Helicobacter. 2020 Feb;25 (1):12671



Office of Postdoctoral Affairs

Tools for Grant Writing

Events at Vanderbilt

VUMC Reporter News

Vanderbilt Magazine

Know your CORE facilities at VUMC/VU





Yunkai Zhang, PhD (Lovly lab)
Yunkai is working as a post doctoral and  his research consists of acquired resistance to wild-type and mutant-selective EGFR TKIs and strategies to overcome resistance. He was recently awarded a scholarship from the Martineau Innovation Fund. Congratulations!



Henry J. Henderson III, PhD
Henry a postdoctoral research fellow, was competitively selected to participate in the AACR Early Career Investigator Day on Capitol Hill in February 2020. His research is directed at understanding and developing improved therapeutic strategies for specific clinically relevant molecular subsets of Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer. He is particularly interested in oncogenic mutations in the Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor(EGFR) Tyrosine Kinase Domain.”


Chi Yan, PhD has been promoted to Research Instructor!! His postdoctoral work in the Richmond lab focuses on design and preclinical evaluation of novel therapeutic strategies for treatment of metastatic melanoma and breast cancer. He is currently characterizing the role of a number of small molecule inhibitors targeting RAS/RAF/MEK & PI3K/AKT/mTOR & IDO pathways in combination with immune checkpoint inhibitors (e.g., α-PD1/CTLA4). Using immunocompetent and  immunodeficient mouse models and patient derived xenograft models he is determining how these new combinal therapies affect meanoma and breast cancer growth. His research aims to enhance the antitumor immune responses when combined with targeted and immune therapies.


Portia Thomas, MD, PhD candidate (Lovely lab) has been awarded the Ann Melley Scholarship in Oncology and the Edward G. High PhD Memorial Endowed Scholarship . Portia has also been competitively selected to give an oral presentation on her work at the NIH Cancer Systems Biology Consortium/Physical Sciences – Oncology Network (CSBC/PS-ON) Junior Investigator meeting in 2019!




Maria-Fernanda Senosain, PhD candidate in the Massion Lab was awarded the Chateaubriand Fellowship last May and will be going to Toulouse, France to conduct research from March 01 to September 01 at Centre de Recherche Cancerologie Toulouse (CRCT) under the supervision of Dr. Vera Pancaldi. There she will  be developing computational methods to understand the biological differences between indolent and aggressive lung adenocarcinomas, as part of her dissertation.


We are proud to announce
that Tolu Omokehinde PhD candidate in Rachelle Johnson Lab received the Levi Watkins Jr. prestigious Student Award!!
The 18th Annual Levi Watkins Jr., MD Lecture in October of 2019 bestowed awards to faculty and students for their diversity and inclusion efforts.





Ben Ho Park, MD, PhD, Donna S Hall Professor of Breast Cancer Research at Vanderbilt University Medical Center has been named Interim Director of the Division of Hematology and Oncology.Read more




Rebecca Ihrie, PhD, has been promoted to Associate Professor.at Vanderbilt University. The Ihrie lab uses single-cell cytometric approaches to identify populations of tumor-propagating and stem-like cells in normal brain and all grades of brain tumors. They  work with neurosurgeons, pathologists, and computational biologists to study mechanisms driving tumor growth and therapeutic response in human gliomas and mouse brain tumor models.


Paula J Hurley, PhD,
has been promoted to Associate Professor.
The goal of her laboratory is to reduce the death and suffering caused by prostate cancer. Cancer localized to the prostate is often curable with treatments such as surgery or radiation therapy; however, once prostate cancer has spread beyond the prostate to other organs or to the bone, it is an incurable disease. Her lab focuses on identifying both cancer cell-autonomous and non-cancer cell-autonomous genetic and molecular pathways that promote lethal prostate cancer and cause therapy resistance. The lab was recently awarded funding from the THE ECKSTEIN FOUNDATION.



If you will be traveling domestically on or after October 1, 2020, you’ll need to make sure that the ID you present to the TSA is REAL ID compliant. Ensure that your driver’s license is compliant before then – and be aware that long lines at DMVs are likely. For information regarding Tennessee’s REAL ID-compliant licenses, click here


Faculty, postdocs, and students are reminded that when they write a paper, it is important to cite not only the related research grants, training grants, and fellowships that support the project team, but also any grant-supported VU and VUMC core facilities that were employed in the course of the work. It is required by the NIH and will help the core facilities secure future funding. If you have any questions about how to cite core support, just contact the director of that core for wording and the relevant grant numbers


1) Tennessee State University has positions
available in the Biological Sciences Department,Tenure Tracked Positions,
if interested please email Dr Tiriveedhi at vtirivee@Tnstate.edu


2) Sandra S Zinkel, Md, PhD, has a postdoc position available
in her lab to study the role of inflammation in bone marrow failure.



Entertainment Corner

Netflix Official Site Recommendations:
Unnatural Selection
Grace & Frankie
The Kominsky Method
Book Recommendations:
Becoming by Michelle Obama
Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Circe by Madeline Miller
Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou
Milkman by Anna Burns
Utube Recommendation:
Lightning in a Bottle a M*A*S*H* Video Essay
The Flawed Masterpiece- A Rogue One Video Essay (Star Wars)
Atlantis: The lost Empire
Art vs The Artist- A Doctor Who Video Essay

Send us your news

Have a suggestion for a Cancer Biology newsletter item? Do you have an announcement or an upcoming event you want to share with the Cancer Biology community?

E-mail: kerry.w.vazquez@vanderbilt.edu

Newsletter header photo credit to Dr. Anna Vilgelm, “DNA Comets”.
Journey Home Project article credit Tom Wilemon and the VUMC reporter. Southern Connection illustration credit by Lucie Rice, article credit to Kelsey Herbers. Protien research article credit to Bill Snyder and the VUMC reporter. Photo credit  Vanderbilt University, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and Meharry Medical College. Clip Art from Bing

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