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Ashani Tanuja Weeraratna, Ph.D.

Ashani Tanuja Weeraratna, Ph.D.

Headshot of Ashani Tanuja Weeraratna
  • E.V. McCollum Professor and Chair, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
  • Professor of Oncology

Research Interests

Melanoma; Aging Tumor Microenvironment; Metastasis; Therapy Resistance ...read more

Background

Dr. Weeraratna is an expert in melanoma metastasis, Wnt signaling, and aging, and her research focuses heavily on the effects of the tumor microenvironment on metastasis and therapy resistance. She is the E.V. McCollum Chair of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor, and Co-Program Leader of the Cancer Invasion and Metastasis Program at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and serves on the National Cancer Advisory Board. Prior to joining Johns Hopkins, she was the Ira Brind Professor and Co-Program Leader, Immunology, Microenvironment & Metastasis Program Member at the Wistar Institute. Born in Sri Lanka and raised in Southern Africa, Dr. Weeraratna first came to the United States in 1988 to study biology at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. She earned a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Oncology at the Department of Pharmacology of George Washington University Medical Center. From 1998 to 2000, she was a post-doctoral fellow at The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins Oncology Center, before joining the National Human Genome Research Institute as a staff scientist. In 2003, she moved to the National Institute on Aging, where she started her own research program, before joining the Wistar Institute from 2011-2019.

Dr. Weeraratna is one of the first to study how the aging microenvironment guides metastasis and therapy resistance in melanoma. Her studies encompass biophysical changes that affect the ability of both tumor and immune cells to migrate, that affect vasculature integrity thus dictating routes of metastasis, and also secreted changes that drive metastatic signaling and response to therapy. The Weeraratna laboratory has also undertaken a global analysis of how the aged microenvironment promotes metastasis, using a unique resource of normal skin fibroblasts from healthy donors of differing ages, proteomics analysis, and animal models. The clinical implications of these data may also result in a change in clinical practice, as they are finding age-related differences in responses to both targeted and immunotherapy. Dr. Weeraratna is using these proteomics data to guide further studies on how the aging microenvironment affects tumor dormancy and cellular metabolism.

Through speaking engagements and social media, Dr. Weeraratna diligently promotes skin safety, from urging proper sunscreen use to regular mole checks, as well as the dangers of indoor tanning. She is also a fierce champion of and a mentor for junior faculty, women, and people of color in science. She is the author of Is Cancer Inevitable?  

...read more

Titles

  • E.V. McCollum Professor and Chair, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
  • Bloomberg Distinguished Professor
  • Co-Leader, Cancer Invasion and Metastasis Program (CIM)
  • Professor of Oncology

Departments / Divisions

  • Oncology - Cancer Invasion and Metastasis

Education

Degrees

  • Ph.D.; George Washington University (District of Columbia) (1998)

Research & Publications

Research Summary

The Weeraratna laboratory focuses on trying to unravel the molecular mechanisms that lead to metastatic progression and therapy resistance. We are investigating the link between changes in the tumor microenvironment and melanoma progression, and further, how these changes may affect response to therapy. More recently, we have become very interested in how the aging microenvironment guides changes leading to increased metastasis and therapy resistance, as well as cell-autonomous aspects of therapy resistance, and have demonstrated that normal age-related changes in the microenvironment can contribute to multiple aspects of melanomagenesis and therapy resistance. 

Selected Publications

Fane ME, Chhabra Y, Alicea GM, Maranto DA, Douglass SM, Webster MR, Rebecca VW,  Marino GE,  Almeida F,  Ecker BL, Zabransky DJ, Hüser L , Beer, T, Tang H-Y, Kossenkov A, Herlyn M, Speicher DW, Xu W, Xu X,  Jaffee EM, Aguirre-Ghiso JA, & Weeraratna AT.  Stromal Changes in The Aged Lung Induce an Emergence From Melanoma Dormancy. Nature, 2022 Jun 1;605(7910)

Douglass SM, Fane ME, Sanseviero E, Ecker BL, Kugel CH 3rd, Behera R, Kumar V, Tcyganov EN, Yin X, Liu Q, Chhabra Y, Alicea GM, Kuruvilla R, Gabrilovich DI, Weeraratna AT. Myeloid-Derived Suppressor Cells Are a Major Source of Wnt5A in the Melanoma Microenvironment and Depend on Wnt5A for Full Suppressive Activity. Cancer Research, 2021 Feb 1;81(3):658-670

Fane ME, Ecker BL, Kaur A, Marino GE, Alicea GM, Douglass SM, Chhabra Y, Webster MR, Marshall A, Colling R, Espinosa O, Coupe N, Maroo N, Campo L, Middleton MR, Corrie P, Xu X, Karakousis GC, Weeraratna AT. sFRP2 Supersedes VEGF as an Age-related Driver of Angiogenesis in Melanoma, Affecting Response to Anti-VEGF Therapy in Older Patients. Clin Cancer Res. 2020 Nov 1;26(21):5709-5719

Alicea GM, Rebecca VW, Goldman AR, Fane ME, Douglass SM, Behera R, Webster MR, Kugel CH, Ecker BL, Caino MC, Kossenkov AV, Tang HY, Frederick DT, Flaherty KT, Xu X, Liu Q, Gabrilovich DI, Herlyn M, Blair IA, Schug ZT, Speicher DW, Weeraratna AT. Changes in Aged Fibroblast Lipid Metabolism Induce Age-dependent Melanoma Cell Resistance to Targeted Therapy Via the Fatty Acid Transporter FATP2. Cancer Discovery. 2020 Jun 4:CD-20-0329

Fane M, Weeraratna AT. How the ageing microenvironment influences tumour progression. Nat Rev Cancer. 2020;20(2):89-106

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