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Research Interests

Our laboratory research focuses on:

  • Identification of the cell origin of tumorigenesis (How does certain type of cancers originated and developed from adult stem cell?).
  • Elucidating the roles of microenvironment in tumor development (How do neighboring non-cancerous cells dictate cancer development and progression?).

We dissect these cellular and molecular mechanisms of tumorigensis from a developmental perspective. We use Neurofibromatosis Type I (NF1), a common tumor predisposition human genetic disorder, as a model to address these two fundamental issues of cancer biology as well as elucidating cutaneous nervous system development and regeneration.

NF1 is caused by mutation in the NF1 tumor suppressor gene, which encodes a GTPase Activating Protein (GAP) that negatively regulates p21-RAS signaling. NF1 patients have defects in the Neural Crest-derived tissues, leading to a wide spectrum of clinical presentations, including developmental, pigment or neoplastic aberrations of the skin, nervous system, bones, endocrine organs, blood vessels and the eyes. Neurofibromas, the most frequent tumor in NF1, and malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumors are serious complication of NF1. However, little is known about the molecular mechanisms mediating the initiation and progression of neurofibromas, as well as the cell of origin of dermal neurofibromas, the most common, disfiguring tumors in NF1 patients.

Our work demonstrates that the newly identified neural crest-related precursor cells in the skin are the cell of origin of dermal neurofibroma and provide compelling evidences that other factors and signals from the non-neoplastic cells in the tumor microenvironment play essential roles in neurofibroma genesis. These models will provide a novel platform to elucidate the pathogenesis as well as to test therapies for the disfiguring dermal and plexiform neurofibromas.