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?