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Medicine - Cancer Biology E-Newsletter [Vanderbilt University]

March 2022

Happy spring!
Faculty Spotlight:

Nicholas Markham, MD, PhD
Assistant Professor of Medicine,
Assistant Professor of Pathology, Microbiology, & Immunology Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, & Nutrition.
Program in Cancer Biology.
Staff Physician, TVHS-Veterans Affairs.

Dr. Markham is a newly appointed faculty member in the Program in Cancer Biology. His basic science laboratory investigates the mechanistic relationships between colonic microbes and host cells. He uses in vivo approaches spanning mouse models of gastrointestinal infections to colorectal cancer and 3-dimensional human organoid tissue culture to understand how keystone bacterial species dysregulate host epithelial cell homeostasis. Specifically, these endeavors  developed during his postdoctoral fellowship with Dr. Borden Lacy, and Dr. Robert Coffey in a project focused on determining how C. difficile toxin B (TcdB) transactivates colonic growth factor signaling pathways during pathogenesis. His preliminary data are the foundation for his current VA Career Development Award. The long-term goal is to reveal targets for therapeutic or preventive strategies that predict C. difficile pathogenesis. In addition, Dr. Markham has collaborated with Dr. Cindy Sears and Dr. Julia Drewes of Johns Hopkins University to investigate the role of C. difficile in colorectal cancer tumorigenesis. This work was borne out of the Vanderbilt Epithelial Biology Center and its NCI-funded Colon Molecular Atlas Project (ColonMAP). Their work shows that C. difficile is a component of pro-tumorigenic mucosal biofilms found directly overlaying human colorectal tumors. Furthermore, in genetically susceptible mouse models, toxigenic C. difficile strains accelerate tumorigenesis. Using high-dimensional, multi-omic approaches, their work provides insight into the emerging importance of the gut microbiota in colorectal cancer and potentially early-onset disease.

Graduate Student Spotlight:

Jennifer M Pilat, BA, IGP Student
(Williams Lab)

Jennifer studies selenoprotein P (SELENOP) in the gastrointestinal tract, specifically SELENOP’s uptake mechanisms and signaling effects. SELENOP uptake occurs through known lipoprotein receptor-related proteins (LRPs) in different tissues, LRP1, LRP2, and LRP8, although the gastrointestinal SELENOP receptor remains unknown. LRP5 and LRP6 serve as ligand co-receptors in WNT signaling, of paramount importance to intestinal homeostasis and colorectal cancer (CRC). Over 90% of CRCs exhibit WNT hyperactivation. Jennifer recently discovered a novel interaction between SELENOP and LRP6, which she mapped to a specific region on SELENOP.

Moreover, SELENOP further augmented WNT-induced transcriptional activity in noncancer and CRC cell lines. Jennifer is now researching the mechanism by which WNT and SELENOP synergize to promote transcription of WNT target genes. In her free time, Jennifer loves hiking and reading.

Research Assistant Professor Fellow:

Marisa E. Hom, PhD
Research Assistant Professor
Department of Otolaryngology
(Rosenthal Lab)

Dr. Hom received her BS from UC Berkeley in Molecular Toxicology and her PhD from Stanford in Chemical and Systems Biology. Her PhD research focused on small molecule inhibitors of the Hedgehog Signaling Pathway, which is critical for neonatal development, but often goes awry in cancers such as medulloblastoma and basal cell carcinoma. After completing her PhD, she worked as a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Eben Rosenthal’s lab. During this time, she transitioned from basic science to translational research and clinical trials. In the lab of Dr. Rosenthal, she managed projects and clinical trials centered around molecular-guided surgery and the use of labeled antibodies to help surgeons identify tumor margins and metastases intraoperatively. Here at VUMC, Dr. Hom hopes to develop a more high throughput method for screening antibody-conjugation derivatives in a variety of cancers (head and neck, pancreas, breast) as well as explore other avenues to improve molecular guided surgery, such as technical improvements to imaging devices and exploring other targeted modalities (small molecule, peptide).

Outside of science, you can find her hiking with her dog, skiing in the winter, and going to CrossFit.


VICC 23rd Annual Scientific Retreat

Advances in Lung Cancer Research

Celebrating the Impact of Pierre Massion, MD

More Information and Registration Link


Vanderbilt LogoRide the bus for FREE with your Commodore Card.

Taking the bus is FREE, convenient, sustainable and available to all. Just plan, swipe and ride! 

WeGo Public Transit is Nashville’s provider of local and regional bus and commuter rail service. Vanderbilt’s program provides all full-time and part-time Vanderbilt University students, faculty, staff and postdocs with free access to WeGo local buses, regional buses and WeGo Star with their Commodore Card. This service is available for any place and time, not only when commuting to and from campus.

Program in Cancer Biology Trainee News:

Jessica Roetman, BS
(Philip Lab)

Join us in congratulating Jessica for publishing her first-author paper in The January edition of Nature Oncogene titled, Viral and cellular oncogenes promote immune evasion

Jessica’s research has determined that thirteen percent of cancers worldwide are associated with viral infections. While many human oncogenic viruses are widely endemic, few infected individuals develop cancer. This raises the question of why oncogenic viruses encode viral oncogenes if they can replicate and spread between human hosts without causing cancer. Interestingly, viral infection triggers innate immune signaling pathways that in turn activate tumor suppressors such as p53, suggesting that tumor suppressors may have evolved not primarily to prevent cancer but to thwart viral infection. In her paper she summarizes and compares several major immune evasion strategies used by viral and non-viral cancers, focusing on oncogenes that play dual roles in promoting tumorigenicity and immune evasion. By highlighting important and illustrative examples of how oncogenic viruses evade the immune system, she shed light on how non-viral cancers avoid immune detection. Further study and understanding of how viral and non-viral oncogenes impact immune function could lead to improved strategies to combine molecular therapies targeting oncoproteins in combination with immunomodulators.


Aaron R Lim, MD, PhD
We celebrate Dr. Lim, a trainee in the Rathmell lab and in our Program of Cancer Biology recently matched with UT Ascension St Thomas, Internal Medicine-Preliminary at Brigham and Woman’s Hospital in the Radiology Diagnostic Department. This year, Vanderbilt’s Match Day celebration was held in person and allowed for family and friends to gather in Langford Auditorium to support the fourth-year medical students as they learned which residency programs they matched with. Dr. Lim grew up in sunny Los Angeles, California, and completed his undergraduate degree in Biochemistry and French at Washington University in St. Louis.  Dr. Lim enjoys skiing, traveling, watching movies, finding good restaurants in Nashville, and spending time with his wife and newborn daughter. We are very proud of your accomplishments and wish you the best on your new career journey.


Shawna Brookens, PhD

Congratulations to Dr. Brookens for starting a new position as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania! Formerly a trainee in Dr. Boothby’s lab, Dr. Brooken’s dissertation work examined how metabolism underpins many processes in the field of cellular biology.


Program in Cancer Biology Faculty News:

Jennifer Pietenpol, PhD, Director of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC), Benjamin F. Byrd Jr. Professor of Oncology and Executive Vice President for Research for Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

The Program in Cancer Biology wishes you the very best in your new role as chief scientific and strategy officer at VUMC. THANK YOU for the years of support to our Program in Cancer Biology! Your leadership here at the VICC will be genuinely missed. During the past 15 years under Dr. Pietenpol’s leadership, VICC has seen a 100% increase in its research funding, a greater than 30% increase in its analytic — newly diagnosed or first treated — cancer patients, and 160% growth in inpatient visits.

Dr. Pietenpol states, “It is exciting to have the opportunity to step into a new leadership role at VUMC and continue to advance our strategic directions and integrate research discoveries into the care of those we serve both within and beyond our ever-growing catchment area and, importantly, make a difference in the lives of people,” said Pietenpol. “I look forward to welcoming Dr. Ben Ho Park as the new director of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center’s and am eager for its bright future.”
Full article here.

Ben Ho Park, MD, PhD

Cornelius Abernathy Craig Professor of Medicine and Deputy Director of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, will be the new director of the VICC, , succeeding Jennifer Pietenpol, PhD, beginning on July 1st.

The Park Lab  is dedicated to finding a cure for all types of breast cancer. They are researching mutated and altered genes responsible for the development and progression of breast cancer and genes that lead to drug resistance. For example, his research team identified a high frequency of PIK3CA mutations in breast cancer that has led to the development of PI3K inhibitors, approved for breast cancer by the FDA in 2019. Dr. Park’s many accomplishments since arriving at Vanderbilt University in 2018 include his promotion as the VICC’s deputy director, Director of Precision Oncology in the Division of Hematology and Oncology, development and leading the VICC Hereditary and Oncologic Personalized Evaluation Molecular Tumor Board which meets weekly to discuss challenging cancer cases. Read more here.


Program in Cancer Biology Science Hour each Wednesday at 4:00 PM.
In-person meetings PRB 898K

Vanderbilt’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion 

Student Center for Social Justice & Identity

V14 Seminar Series Schedule 

Discovery Lecture Series 2022

Flexner Deans Lecture Series 2022

VUMC BRET Career Development ASPIRE Program 

BRET Seminars






VICC Annual Scientific Retreat- May 2, 2022
Student Life Center 8:30am-2:30pm.
Abstract/Registration Deadline: Monday, April 18, 2022

2022 National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) Annual Conference March 31-April 2, 2022. Orlando, Florida. Register here

AACR Annual Meeting 2022: Call for Abstracts April 8-13, 2022, in New Orleans, LA. Register here

American Association of Immunologists (AAI) IMMUNOLOGY 2022. May 6-10, 2022, in Portland, Oregon. Register here

Digestive Disease Week DDW 2022. San Diego, CA. May 21-24. In-person and Virtual meeting. Register here

9th SOUTHEASTERN IMMUNOLOGY SYMPOSIUM. June 11-12, 2022, at Duke University. Register here

FOCIS 2022 ANNUAL MEETING. June 21-24, 2022 in San Francisco. Register here



Scott Haake, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine (Zent Lab)
April 6th at 3 PM. MCN D3100 ( Rogers Conference Room)

Rachel E. Brown, MSTP
(Williams Lab)
May 11th at 1 PM.



A Comprehensive Framework for early-onset colorectal cancer research. Eng C, Holowatyj AN, Byndloss M, et al. Lancet Oncol. 2022 Jan 25;S1470-2045(21)00588-X.

Advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Scientific Publishing
Doubeni CA, Corley DA, Peek RM Jr. Gastroenterology. 2022 Jan;162(1):59-62.e1.

The laminin-binding integrins regulate nuclear factor κB-dependent epithelial cell polarity and inflammation. Yazlovitskaya EM, Plosa E, Bock F, Viquez OM, et al. J Cell Sci. 2021 Dec 15;134(24):jcs259161.

CMV exposure drives long-term CD57+ CD4 memory T-cell inflation following allogeneic stem cell transplant. Yeh AC, Varelias A, Reddy A, Barone SM, et al. Blood. 2021 Dec 30;138(26):2874-2885.

Regulation of Wnt distribution and function by Drosophila glypicans Waghmare I, Page-McCaw A. J Cell Sci. 2022 Feb 1;135(3):jcs259405.

Modeling tuberous sclerosis with organoids Ihrie RA, Henske EP.
Science. 2022 Jan 28;375(6579):382-383.

Preoperative and Postoperative Systemic Therapy for Operable Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer. Chaft JE, Shyr Y, Sepesi B, Forde PM. J Clin Oncol. 2022 Jan 5.

MIRIAM: A machine and deep learning single-cell segmentation and quantification pipeline for multi-dimensional tissue images McKinley ET, Shao J, Ellis ST, et al. Cytometry A. 2022 Jan 27.

Two New Neutrophil Subsets Define a Discriminating Sepsis Signature Meghraoui-Kheddar A, Chousterman BG, Guillou N; et al. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2022 Jan 1;205(1):46-59.

MicroRNA-21 deficiency suppresses prostate cancer progression through downregulation of the IRS1-SREBP-1 signaling pathway. Kanagasabai T, Li G, Shen TH, Gladoun N, et al. Cancer Lett. 2022 Jan 28;525:46-54.

Nano-Particulate Platforms for Vaccine Delivery to Enhance Antigen-Specific CD8+ T-Cell Response. Sharma J, Carson CS, Douglas T, Wilson JT, Joyce S. Methods Mol Biol. 2022;2412:367-398.

Microenvironmental influences on T cell immunity in cancer and inflammation Heintzman DR, Fisher EL, Rathmell JC. Cell Mol Immunol. 2022 Jan 17:1-11.

Viral and cellular oncogenes promote immune evasion Roetman JJ, Apostolova MKI, Philip M. Oncogene2022 Jan 13.

Nrf2 attenuates hyperglycemia-induced nNOS impairment in adult mouse primary enteric neuronal crest cells and normalizes stomach function. Sampath C, Raju AV, Freeman ML, et al. Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2022 Jan 27.

Preoperative and Postoperative Systemic Therapy for Operable Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer. Chaft JE, Shyr Y, Sepesi B, Forde PM. J Clin Oncol. 2022 Feb 20;40(6):546-555. doi: 10.1200/JCO.21.01589. Epub 2022 Jan 5.

Viral and cellular oncogenes promote immune evasion. Roetman JJ, Apostolova MKI, Philip M.Oncogene. 2022 Feb;41(7):921-929. PMID: 35022539 Review.

A Perfusion Bioreactor Model of Tumor-Induced Bone Disease Using Human Cells. Lowen GB, Vanderburgh JP, Florian D, Sterling JAR, et al. Curr Protoc. 2022 Jan;2(1):e333.

Immune-checkpoint inhibitors: long-term implications of toxicity Johnson DB, Nebhan CA, Moslehi JJ, Balko JM. Nat Rev Clin Oncol. 2022 Jan 26:1-14.



Vanderbilt Asian American and Pacific Islander alumni group.

AACR Associate Memberships FREE for graduate students, medical students and postdoctoral fellows 

How Covid shook the US: eight charts that capture the last two years. 



Carlos F. Lopez, PhD
has accepted a new position as Principal Researcher and Lead, Multiscale Modeling at Altos Labs. Altos Labs is a new life science company focused on cellular rejuvenation programming to restore cell health and resilience, intending to reverse disease and aging. Thank you for your contributions to VU Basic sciences and the Cancer Biology Program, and wish you much success in your new career!


Eben Rosenthal, MD
Professor and Chair of the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery has joined the Program in Cancer Biology Faculty team. Dr. Rosenthal is a surgeon-scientist and academic leader who brings extensive leadership experience to Vanderbilt. He is the Guy M. Maness Professor and Chair of the Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Department. He specializes in the treatment and reconstruction of head and neck cancer. His research interests involve using optical imaging techniques to better detect cancer during surgical procedures, and he has initiated multiple clinical trials in improving cancer surgery and assessing drug delivery. Rosenthal has authored more than 250 peer-reviewed publications, and is a mentor and a frequently invited speaker. Dr. Rosenthal brings a unique and compelling vision to the Vanderbilt Medical Center; he is internationally recognized as a surgeon, scientist, and mentor. Dr. Rosenthal is married to Mary Hawn, MD, and they have two children, Sarah (22) and Walker (20). Read more here.


Andreana Holowatyj, PhD, MSCI
Assistant Professor of Medicine, Cancer Biology, and Epidemiology.

Dr. Holowatyj recently received a grant from the newly established Dalton Family Foundation Appendix Cancer Research Fund. Last year, Holowatyj and colleagues conducted the first study of appendiceal cancer patterns and survival by race/ethnicity among patients younger than 50 in the U.S. They found poorer disease outcomes among non-Hispanic Blacks than non-Hispanic whites and men compared with women. Read More.


Cathy Eng, MD, FACP, FASCO and colleagues recently published a comprehensive framework for addressing research challenges and patient needs for colorectal cancer in The Lancet Oncology. Their publication gives an overview about the state of the science related to the epidemiology, molecular landscape and treatments for early-onset colorectal cancer as well as the impact of the disease psychological outlook and quality of life on patients. VICC is one of the first institutions in the U.S. to tailor a research and patient support program specifically for early-onset colorectal cancer. Read More.

Dr. Eng and her team, VICC Cancer Warriors, are looking forward to competing against Dr. Ben Ho Park and his team at the CLIP-IN 4 The Cure on March 26, 2022. Register or donate to this event here. 


Kimryn Rathmell, MD, PhD & Walter Clair, MD, MPH

Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Department of Medicine has announced a $1 million endowment dedicated to the department’s efforts in diversity and inclusion. The $1 million endowments, established internally, will support the Department of Medicine’s priority of enhancing and fostering a culture that promotes the engagement, growth and retention of diverse faculty, scientists, staff and trainees. This is expected to include funding educational events, sponsorships for medical students and trainees of diverse backgrounds, recruitment of department members, and building sustained relationships between the department and the surrounding community that further diversity and inclusion goals.

Read more here 


P. Brent Ferrell, MD

Dr. Brent Ferrell was selected by the Mark Foundation for Cancer Research as one of the has selected four outstanding scientific researchers to receive $12 million in funding for its 2022 Endeavor Awards. Promoting collaborative science, Endeavor Awards are granted to multidisciplinary teams pursuing innovative, unique approaches to understand and treat cancer. These four Endeavor teams, which bring together investigators from top cancer research centers across two continents and eight U.S. states, will focus on cutting-edge topics in cancer research, including inflammation, the microbiome, metabolism and the humoral immune system. Read more here.


Patrick Hu, MD PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine and Cell and Developmental Biology, has been named Assistant Dean for Physician-Researcher Training and Director of the Office for Medical Student Research. Hu will assume the directorship on July 1 succeeding Joey Barnett, PhD, professor of Pharmacology, who has held the position since 2014. View…











A sincere thank you to everyone who participated in the 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge! The challenge has ended, and the award recipients are below:


The recipient of the individual award ($200, taxable) goes to Sean Davies PhD from the Department of Pharmacology.






  • The recipient of the lab award ($2500, unrestricted) goes to Dr. Ann Richmond’s lab, with seven participants, from the Department of Pharmacology and Program in Cancer Biology.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the Challenge and the discussion!

Felysha Jenkins, PhD. Program Manager, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion


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”. Articles and Pictures credit to VU and VUMC. Pietenpol article credit to John Howser. Photo credit Rathmell and Clair, Susan Urmy. Article credit Ferrell,Tom Wilemon, photo credit Donn Jones. Flowers photo credit unsplash. Cancer cells photo credit: Chi Yan, R Chalkley & NIH. How Covid shook the US- article credit to the Guardian.

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