Helen Piwnica-Worms, Ph.D.
Piwnica-Worms completed a BA degree in biology at St. Olaf College (1979) in Northfield, MN, a Ph.D. degree in microbiology and immunology at Duke University Medical School (1984) in Durham, NC, and a postdoctoral fellowship in pathology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (1988) in Boston, MA. She served as Instructor of Pathology at Harvard Medical School and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute from 1988. She then joined Tufts University Medical School (Boston, MA), as an Assistant Professor of Physiology (1989-1992).
In 1992, Piwnica-Worms was recruited to Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Hospital, where she was Assistant and then Associate Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics (1992-1994). In 1994, she moved to Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO, where she was the Gerty T. Cori Professor and Chair of Cell Biology and Physiology and Professor of Internal Medicine. She also served as Associate Director of Basic Science at the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center and co-directed the BRIGHT Institute.
Piwnica-Worms assumed the role of Vice Provost of Science and Professor of Cancer Biology at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center (Houston, TX) in 2013.
Emily Powell, Ph.D.
Powell completed a BS degree in biology at Indiana University (Bloomington, IN) (2005) and a Ph.D. degree in cancer biology at the University of Wisconsin (Madison, WI) under the mentorship of Wei Xu, Ph.D., (2010). During her thesis work, Powell developed a bioluminescence resonance energy transfer (BRET) assay to determine, in real time, the response of estrogen receptors alpha and beta in breast cancer cells to small molecule compounds.
Powell joined the laboratories of Helen and David Piwnica-Worms at Washington University in St. Louis in 2010 as a postdoctoral fellow and relocated to MD Anderson in the summer of 2013. Her project’s goal is to identify one or more clinically relevant metastasis drivers that serve as targets for anti-metastasis therapy. She uses bioluminescence imaging to track the metastasis of breast tumors in patient-derived xenograft (PDX) models and performs gene expression profiling (RNA-Seq) on metastasized and in situ mammary tumors. She plans to evaluate the expression of candidate metastasis drivers in a panel of human breast tumors.
Shi-Rong Cai, M.D.
Senior Research Scientist
Shi-Rong Cai obtained an M.D. degree from Shanghai Second Medical University in Shanghai, China. He was a resident, physician (surgeon), and vice-chief surgeon in the Department of Surgery, Shanghai Zha Bei Central Hospital, (Shanghai, China) for 12 years. Cai transferred to Washington University School of Medicine in 1994, where he was a research associate, research scientist, and senior scientist. He established mouse cancer models (such as breast, prostate, colon, lung, and liver cancer and metastasis), developed multiple immunochemical and immunofluorescence staining methods for tumor biomarker studies, and used DNA-damaging agents, in combination with Chk1 inhibitors, to evaluate the potential therapeutic effect of drugs in vivo.
Cai relocated to MD Anderson in 2013. His research interest is the development of cancer models for preclinical translational studies. He has established several human-in-mouse tumor lines. Currently, he is using orthotropic PDX mouse models of human TNBC to determine the therapeutic effect of Chk1 and PARP inhibitors, in combination with several DNA-damaging agents, on breast cancer with different p53 and PARP statuses.
Jiansu Shao, M.D.
Senior Research Scientist
Jiansu Shao obtained an M.D. degree from Shanghai Medical University in Shanghai, China, and completed her medical residency and forensic pathology fellowship at Shanghai Medical School and East China University of Political Science and Law (Shanghai, China). Shao underwent professional electron microscopy training as a researcher at the World Health Organization Central institute for Electron Microscopic Research at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, Japan. In 1994, Shao transferred to Washington University School of Medicine, where she worked in the Department of Internal Medicine as a research associate, research scientist, and later instructor.
Shao relocated to MD Anderson in 2013. Her research is focused on using PDX models and bioluminescence imaging to study the development of breast cancer metastasis. She also uses immunochemical methods to evaluate the functional gene expression of metastasis.
Yizheng Tu, M.D., Ph.D.
Senior Research Scientist
Yizheng Tu completed his M.D. degree at Jilin Medical University in Changchun, China and received a Ph.D. degree in cancer immunotherapy in Shanghai Second Medical University. He was a surgeon and an attending physician in the Department of Surgery at Jilin Medical University and Hospital of Hainan Province in China. In 1991, Tu focused his research career on cancer and organ transplantation in the Department of Surgery, University of Texas Medical School at Houston. Since 1994, as a research associate or senior scientist, Yizheng focused on animal models and projects focused on new drug discoveries in organ transplantation, autoimmune disease and cancer at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO and Astellas Pharmaceutical Company in Chicago, IL. Dr. Tu joined the Piwnica-Worms Laboratory in February 2015 and is involved in the development of PDX models.
Jeter-Jones received her B.S. degree in chemistry from Sam Houston State University (Huntsville, TX) and is an alumni of the University of Oklahoma (Norman, OK). She spent 10 years at Lexicon Pharmaceuticals (The Woodlands, TX), investigating novel therapeutic targets for obesity, diabetes, and osteoporosis.
She joined the Piwnica-Worms Laboratory in June 2014.
Aaron McCoy received his B.S. in Biochemistry and Biotechnology in 2007 and his M.A. in Biology in 2012 from Washington University in St. Louis. He was an R&D Scientist with SAGE Laboratories in St. Louis for six years. The focus of the SAGE lab is the utilization of ZFN and CRISPR to create genetically modified rat, mouse, and rabbit models and the phenotypic characterization of these models for disease study. During his final year at SAGE he was involved in a PDX program in collaboration with Washington University. Aaron joined the Piwnica-Worms Laboratory in September 2015.
Xinhui Zhou, M.S.
Xinhui Zhou received her B.S in Biology from Xiamen University (Xiamen, China) and M.S in Molecular Biology from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston in 1997. Her previous research projects at MDACC involved the functional study of the Migration and Invasion Inhibitor Protein (MIIP) gene in CRC and gene cooperation in glioma progression, as well as quantitative trait loci (QTL) studies on radiation- and bleomycin-induced murine pulmonary fibrosis through genome-wide scan to fibrosis-prone and fibrosis-resistant mouse model. Xinhui joined Dr. Piwnica-Worms Lab in March 2016.
Kristina Stemler, Ph.D.
Stemler completed her thesis work in 2013 in the laboratory of Indira U. Mysorekar, Ph.D., at Washington University School of Medicine, where she studied the differential effects of infectious versus chemical bladder injury models on epithelial repair and pain.
Stemler joined the Piwnica-Worms Laboratory in the fall of 2013; her current research is focused on improving the quality of life of cancer patients by mitigating the side effects of chemotherapy. She is using a mouse model to identify the mechanisms of fasting-induced protection and applying that knowledge to various cancer models, including TNBC and prostate cancer.
Abena Redwood, Ph.D.
Redwood completed her Ph.D. degree in 2012 in the Department of Radiation Oncology at Washington University, under the mentorship of Susana Gonzalo, Ph.D. During her graduate training she studied how A-type lamins, nuclear proteins that are implicated in premature aging and cancer, affect genomic stability and telomere metabolism in mammalian cells. Following one and a half years as a Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow at the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research in the department of cancer biology, Redwood joined the Piwnica-Worms Laboratory at MD Anderson in 2013. She uses orthotopic PDX models to investigate the use of molecularly targeted therapies for patients with TNBC.
Gloria Echeverria, Ph.D.
Echeverria completed a Ph.D. degree in the Tom Cooper, M.D., Laboratory at Baylor College of Medicine (Houston, TX) in 2013. Her thesis project was focused on the alternative pre-mRNA splicing of exons that are dis-regulated in myotonic dystrophy. She characterized the biochemical mechanism that MBNL1 uses to communicate with the cellular splicing machinery and activate the inclusion of exon 11 of the insulin receptor gene, a splicing event that is disrupted in patients and is linked to aberrant insulin signaling.
Echeverria began her postdoctoral training at MD Anderson in the Helen Piwnica-Worms Laboratory in January 2014. She is studying triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) using PDX models that were developed using human TNBC tissue samples. Her project’s goal is to identify tumor-initiating cells and characterize their role in the development of chemoresistance after neo-adjuvant chemotherapy.
Vidya Sinha, Ph.D.
Sinha attained her Ph.D. degree in Molecular Biology from Baylor College of Medicine (Houston, TX) in 2014, for work in breast cancer biology, under the guidance of Yi Li, Ph.D. Her thesis work centered on understanding the mechanisms governing breast cancer initiation and growth, with specific focus on the roles of senescence, the ARF/p53 axis, initiating oncogenes, and cells-of-origin in the genesis and progression of premalignant mammary lesions. Sinha joined the Piwnica-Worms’ Laboratory at MD Anderson Cancer Center in 2015 and is studying the role of mutation order in shaping tumor physiology.
Miramar de la Cruz Bonilla, B.S.
Marimar de la Cruz Bonilla completed her B.S. degree in Biology from the University of Puerto Rico (Mayagüez, PR) in 2011. As an undergrad she researched the cell death pathways employed by cancer cells after treatment with magnetic fluid hyperthermia. She is currently pursuing a joint M.D./Ph.D. program between the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine and the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Texas. After completing three years of medical school in Puerto Rico, she came to Houston to pursue her thesis work. She joined the Piwnica-Worms Laboratory in 2015 and will study the mechanisms by which fasting conveys radioprotection in order to apply that knowledge to tumor models.