2011-13 Ettelson Fund Recipient

Melissa Wong, Ph.D. - Researching epithelial cell differentiation, stem cells and β-catenin signaling in development and cancer

Melissa Wong, Ph.D., associate professor of dermatology and cell and developmental biology, was the first recipient of funds from the fund. Wong’s focus is epithelial cell differentiation, stem cells and ß-catenin signaling in development and cancer. Wong plans to use the funds to advance the understanding of how normal tissue stem cells are related to cancer stem cells. This is an important physiologic distinction since cancer stem cells are thought to be resistant to current therapies that are designed to eradicate cancer. Therefore, novel therapies designed to target cancer stem cells must also be designed to preserve normal tissue stem cell function.

Additional funds supported granted to research in the lab of Melissa Wong, Ph.D., to support research experiments by third year dermatology residents, Gretchen Vanderbeek, M.D., and Farnaz Fakhari, M.D., Ph.D., who spent their three month research rotations conducting experiments that supported the first definitive identification of cell fusion between hematopoietic cells and any epithelial cell type in human tissue. A manuscript of the findings has been submitted for publication.

Steven Jacques, Ph.D., professor of dermatology and biomedical engineering, is a leader in utilizing lasers and light in medicine and biology. The scientific projects of the Jacques lab include efforts to find better therapies and better ways to diagnose disease. The funds received were used toward the purchase a mobile clinical confocal microscope that allows dermatologists, biomedical engineers, and mathematicians to employ novel non-invasive imaging technology to visualize below the surface of the skin to greatly facilitate detection and treatment of skin disease. While existing technology has shown proof of principle in an ability to identify margins of tumors of the skin, including basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma, even for spreading of single melanoma cells within the epidermis, a mobile confocal microscope with an articulating arm for practical use in the clinic was imperative for future projects that will impact patient care.