Interrogating cancer genetics, dissecting tumor heterogeneity, and evaluating cancer early detection through mathematical modeling
Cancer presents a paramount health challenge—one that requires novel insights and new technologies to address. With nearly a decade’s dedication to the study of genetic underpinnings of childhood cancers, our lab is equipped with the knowledge and tools to further our mechanistic understandings of human cancers. Our lab partners with expert experimentalists and physician-scientists to discover novel patterns, generate testable hypotheses, and validate them in patient data and cell models.
Our lab currently has four active research areas all aimed at furthering our understandings on the genetic underpinnings of childhood cancers. 1) Cancer genetics, etiology, and editing-based therapeutics. Through close collaboration with physician-scientists, we study the somatic and germline alterations across large cohort of patient tumors to define cancer drivers. By investigating the etiology of these drivers, we hope to develop novel vulnerabilities for genome-editing based therapeutics. 2) Mathematical modeling of intra-tumor heterogeneity. The challenge of cancer management is resistance to treatment, which has been shown to stem in intra-tumor heterogeneity. Therefore, our lab is particularly interested in understanding intra-tumor heterogeneity and its relationship to treatment responses. Discoveries from such investigation can lead to novel therapeutic strategies to improve cure rate. 3) Cancer early detection and monitoring. Early-stage cancers are known to have much higher cure rate than late-stage cancers. With extensive knowledges in the genetics of “terminal” stages of childhood cancers, we hope to develop sensitive assays to accurately detect and forecast cancers before overt symptoms to enable early intervention. We use relapsed leukemia as a model system for this direction. 4) Cell line and PDX models. To validate and test the discoveries made from patient specimens, we are currently characterizing the genetics of large collection of cell models, which can also serve as an invaluable resource for the research community. Our work is highly interdisciplinary, leveraging expertise and insights from investigators across the institution including Dr. Mignon Loh (ALL), Dr. Soheil Meshinchi (AML), and Dr. Jeff Klco (AML). We also partner with the Genomics Laboratory in Computational Biology and the Center for Advanced Genome Engineering.
With a PhD degree in Probability and Statistics, Dr. Ma found deep interest in applying his mathematical skills to deal with the vast uncertainties inherent to all scientific observations in biological and biomedical sciences, to uncover beautiful novel patterns, and to derive accurate information to help advancing our understanding of human cancers. Dr. Ma’s earlier career stage was focused on basic biological questions, such as gene/promoter prediction, disease gene prioritization via data integration, pathway reconstruction from genetic perturbation, and evolution of gene expression regulation. These experiences prepared Dr. Ma to lead his current research programs at St. Jude. Dr. Ma has broad biological interests and loves to discuss with team members on all scientific questions relevant to biology and biomedicine.
Dynamic team strategically focused on asking the right questions, finding the best solutions, and preparing the most straightforward presentation of computational data