I study the regulation of differentiation programs during normal development and tumorigenesis in pediatric cancers. My lab is currently focused on two projects: the first project studies the role of the Rb tumor suppressor in regulation of differentiation pathways in a rare childhood cancer of the retina called retinoblastoma. The second project studies the relationship between the genetic and epigenetic contributions in a pediatric cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma.
I study Rb tumor suppoerssor because I believe that Rb may play an important role in silencing the retinal progenitor program when cells exit the cell cycle and commit to specific neuronal lineages. Inactivation of the RB1 gene during retinogenesis may aberrantly activate the progenitor program in a subset of retinal neurons making them susceptible to become tumorigenic.
Recent whole genome sequencing analysis of the rhabdomyosarcoma alveolar histological subtype reveal very few genetic alterations, with no recurrent mutations in any known cancer consensus genes besides a Pax3/7-FOXO1 translocation. I believe deregulation of epigenetic mechanisms are driving tumor progression in these tumors.
I hope to shed light on the underlying biological mechanisms of normal development and tumorigenesis and provide novel therapeutic approaches for these devastating pediatric cancers.