About the Obeng Lab

Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) are a group of bone marrow failure disorders with a high risk of progression to leukemia. In MDS, stem cells in the bone marrow fail to differentiate appropriately, leading to a shortage of mature blood cells. Recent genetic studies have identified RNA splicing factors and epigenetic regulators as early mutations in MDS development. Our laboratory is interested in understanding how these mutations drive disease formation and leveraging this understanding to develop novel treatments. 

Science Team

Our research summary

Our laboratory studies myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) with the goals of understanding how normal hematopoietic stem cells develop into cancerous cells and developing targeted therapies for patients with these conditions.  

Targeting Early Lesions in MDS

RNA splicing factor mutations are the most common genetic perturbations in MDS, with the most prevalent occurring in SF3B1. Although our lab and others have shown that splicing factor mutations are sufficient to cause MDS, we don’t yet understand the mechanisms by which this occurs. Using next generation sequencing, patient samples, isogenic cell lines generated using CRISPR/Cas9, and a novel Sf3b1 mutant mouse model, we are exploring the molecular and cellular mechanisms of MDS pathogenesis. Mutations in epigenetic factors, or genes controlling DNA methylation, are the second most common genetic perturbations in MDS. Mutations in RNA splicing factors often co-occur with epigenetic regulator mutations. Stem cells that express mutations in both classes of genes cause  unique phenotypes, impact different hematopoietic compartments, and likely contribute to variable clinical outcomes. As such, we’ve developed dual mutant mouse models and cell lines to gain additional mechanistic insights. Ultimately, we hope to decipher targetable vulnerabilities that will specifically  eliminate these mutant stem cells before MDS progresses into acute leukemia.  

Obeng Lab

Clonal Hematopoiesis

Our laboratory is also interested in clonal hematopoiesis, a phenomenon recently identified in “healthy” adults whereby a hematopoietic stem cell acquires a genetic mutation that confers a growth advantage. Individuals with clonal hematopoiesis have an increased risk of developing MDS and other blood cancers. The genes commonly mutated in clonal hematopoiesis include epigenetic regulators and RNA splicing factors. We are studying the prevalence of clonal hematopoiesis in pediatric cancer survivors that have undergone bone marrow transplantation. Our lab has access to well annotated patient samples and collaborates extensively with the Departments of Computational Biology, Biostatistics, and Epidemiology and Cancer Control to develop sequencing and statistical analysis pipelines to decipher whether clonal hematopoiesis mutations impact the risk of secondary morbidities or compromise survival in pediatric cancer survivors.   

We are motivated by the St. Jude patient population and our many clinical interactions and insights.  Our laboratory is a diverse, collaborative, and invaluable training ground for early career scientists and those deciding between a career in medicine and a career in research. We value diversity in perspective, background, and experience as we pursue challenging, and relevant questions in translational hematology.  

Selected Publications

About Esther Obeng

Dr. Obeng received her MD and PhD from the University of Miami and completed her residency in the Boston Combined Residency Program in Pediatrics. She pursued fellowship training in Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and Boston Children’s Hospital. She leverages expertise in RNA splicing factor mutations and MDS pathogenesis to lead a robust research program as a faculty member in the Department of Oncology at St. Jude. She is also cares for patients as an attending physician in the Department of Bone Marrow Transplantation and Cellular Therapy. Dr. Obeng is committed to translational discovery, and mentors a global team of young investigators.

Esther Obeng, MD

The team

Passionate team of scientists dedicated to uncovering hematological disease mechanisms and therapeutic vulnerabilities

Lab Alumni

Aparna Calindi, BS

  • Role: Research Technician
  • Tenure: June 2020 – May 2021
  • Post-lab experience: Graduate Student, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
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Koral Campbell, BS

  • Role: Research Technician
  • Tenure: September 2019 – May 2021
  • Post-lab experience: Graduate Student, Program in Biomedical Sciences, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
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Ana Leal Cervantes, PhD

  • Role: Postdoctoral Fellow
  • Tenure: October 2018 – August 2022
  • Post-lab experience: Lecturer, Shenandoah University, Winchester, VA
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John (Jack) Figg, BS

  • Role: Research Technician
  • Tenure: May 2019 – June 2020
  • Post-lab experience: MD-PhD Student, University of Florida College of Medicine, Gainesville, FL
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Henry Fields, BS

  • Role: Research Technician
  • Tenure: June 2021 – May 2022
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Patricia Lipson, BS

  • Role: Research Technician
  • Tenure: June 2018 – June 2019
  • Post-lab experience: Medical Student, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA
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Reid Palumbo, BS

  • Role: Pediatric Oncology Education (POE) Student
  • Tenure: May 2018 – July 2018; May 2019 – July 2019
  • Post-lab experience: Medical Student, The Ohio State University College of Medicine, Columbus, OH
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Zhaohan Zhu

  • Role: Pediatric Oncology Education (POE) Student
  • Tenure: May 2022 – July 2022
  • Post-lab experience: Bachelor of Science, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN
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Explore Opportunities in Oncology

We are currently recruiting!

The Obeng Lab is recruiting!

Postdoctoral Research Associate - Oncology

Contact us

Esther A. Obeng, MD, PhD

Molecular Oncology Division
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

262 Danny Thomas Place
Memphis, TN, 38105-3678 USA
262 Danny Thomas Place
Memphis, TN, 38105-3678 USA