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About Our Laboratories

Our research enterprise is organized into two main Centers: the Ellen and Ronald Caplan Cancer Center and the Vaccine & Immunotherapy Center. A culture that fosters collaboration is key to Wistar’s success as a discovery engine. The Institute takes a “team science” approach to its research endeavors, leveraging strengths and expertise from different scientists and teams to advance the process of translating basic research discoveries to clinical therapies.

Some of our Principal Investigators are featured below with research focus on the areas the labs are investigating.

Wistar Laboratories

Dario C. Altieri, M.D.

President and Chief Executive Officer
Director, Ellen and Ronald Caplan Cancer Center
Robert and Penny Fox Distinguished Professor, Immunology, Microenvironment Metastasis and Program

The Altieri Laboratory is pursuing how tumor cells evade the normal processes that cause cells with genetic faults to self-destruct. Understanding these mechanisms could provide new therapeutic targets and novel approaches for virtually every type of human cancer. The lab also studies how tumor cells adapt to stressful conditions in their microenvironment, and how these processes promote resistance to treatment and acquisition of a more malignant phenotype. The Altieri Lab identified and characterized a novel small molecule inhibitor selectively targeted to mitochondria, which are the energy production headquarters in the cells. Preclinical development of this agent, called gamitrinib, supported by Department of Defense funding, is complete and is in a first-in-human clinical trail in patients with advanced cancer.

Learn more about the Altieri lab.

Qing Chen, M.D., Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Immunology, Microenvironment and Metastasis Program, Ellen and Ronald Caplan Cancer Center
Scientific Director, Imaging Facility

The Chen Laboratory studies cancer metastasis, the spread of cancer from the primary tumor site to distal organs, that represents an unmet medical need in solid tumor care. The lab focuses on the molecular mechanisms of brain metastasis originating from breast cancer, for which the current therapeutic strategies, including novel chemotherapies and targeted inhibitors, have limited efficacy. Incidence of brain metastases has increased in recent years as a consequence of increased patient survival through advanced systemic treatments. The Chen Lab studies the critical and complex interplay between cancer cells and the surrounding cells that populate the brain microenvironment to identify novel therapeutic targets.

Learn more about the Chen lab.

Meenhard Herlyn, D.V.M., D.Sc.

Professor, Molecular and Cellular Oncogenesis Program, Ellen and Ronald Caplan Cancer Center
Director, The Wistar Institute Melanoma Research Center

The Herlyn Laboratory is one the world’s first and most prestigious research groups studying melanoma biology. The lab studies signal transduction pathways that are critical for melanoma cell survival and growth. They have advanced the scientific understanding of stem cells in cancer and elucidated tumor heterogeneity through the identification of slow-growing melanoma cell populations that contribute to tumor maintenance and progression. The lab has also pioneered the use of three-dimensional “artificial skin” models to study the behavior of tumor cells and normal cells that sustain tumor growth. This model and the numerous cell lines established in the Herlyn Lab are critical tools used by most melanoma research laboratories. Wistar’s Melanoma Research Center conducts innovative research and works as a hub to connect scientists, physicians and melanoma advocates, and Herlyn leads the center.

Learn more about the Herlyn lab.

Paul M. Lieberman, Ph.D.

Hilary Koprowski, M.D., Endowed Professor and Program Leader, Gene Expression and Regulation Program, Ellen and Ronald Caplan Cancer Center
Director, Center for Chemical Biology & Translational Medicine

The Lieberman Laboratory studies how certain viruses such as Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) establish a long-term latent infection that can lead to cancer. The lab has found that viral DNA replication is regulated by interactions with cellular proteins that bind to telomeres—the DNA sequences found at the ends of chromosomes. Telomeres protect chromosomes from loss of genetic information, and a similar process is thought to preserve the virus during latency. The lab is pursuing the development of small molecule inhibitors of the EBV protein EBNA1. In collaboration with structural biologists and medicinal chemists they are advancing compounds for testing in preclinical models of EBV lymphomagenesis.

Learn more about the Lieberman lab.

Luis J. Montaner, D.V.M., D.Phil.

Vice President, Scientific Operations
Associate Director for Shared Resources, Ellen and Ronald Caplan Cancer Center
Herbert Kean, M.D., Family Professor; Director, HIV-1 Immunopathogenesis Laboratory and Leader, HIV Research Program, Vaccine & Immunotherapy Center; Immunology, Microenvironment and Metastasis Program, Ellen and Ronald Caplan Cancer Center
Scientific Director, Humanized Models of Disease Facility

The Montaner Laboratory studies the mechanisms of disease in HIV-1 infection and explores new ways to boost the natural function of the immune system in order to combat infection and viral-associated disease. The lab uses laboratory models of virus infection and clinical cohort studies to provide a clinic-to-bench research program that informs new strategies to combat HIV. The Montaner Lab is also a leading center for the BEAT-HIV Martin Delaney Collaboratory focused on HIV cure-directed research, which is expected to initiate clinical studies of novel combination therapies. Collaborative studies extend from Philadelphia to multiple national and international sites, including Puerto Rico, Mexico, South America, and Southern Africa. More information about the Collaboratory that Wistar is leading can be found on our BEAT-HIV website.

Learn more about the Montaner lab.

Maureen E. Murphy, Ph.D.

Deputy Director, Ellen and Ronald Caplan Cancer Center
Ira Brind Professor and Program Leader, Molecular and Cellular Oncogenesis Program, Ellen and Ronald Caplan Cancer Center
Associate Vice President for Faculty Affairs

Research in the Murphy Laboratory focuses on two cancer-critical proteins involved in tumor cell survival and death: p53 and HSP70. They study the genetics of the p53 tumor suppressor protein and the impact of genetic variants of this gene on cancer risk and on the efficacy of cancer therapy. Exploiting the reliance of tumor cells on the HSP70 protein, which is highly expressed in the majority of human tumors but largely undetectable in normal cells, the lab is developing HSP70 inhibitors for pharmacological targeting of this protein for cancer therapy, with focus on melanoma.

Learn more about the Murphy lab.

David B. Weiner, Ph.D.

Executive Vice President
Director, Vaccine & Immunotherapy Center
W.W. Smith Charitable Trust Distinguished Professor in Cancer Research, Immunology, Microenvironment and Metastasis Program, Ellen and Ronald Caplan Cancer Center
Professor Emeritus, University of Pennsylvania School ofMedicine

The Weiner Laboratory contributed to the establishment of the field of DNA vaccine and immunotherapies with pioneering research. The lab is advancing next generation synthetic DNA technologies for the treatment of immune diseases and cancer. Along with collaborators, the lab was the first to move DNA vaccines to human clinical studies, establishing their initial safety and immunogenicity. The lab is also developing DNA-encoded monoclonal antibodies (DMAbs) as a novel alternative to traditional monoclonal antibodies therapies for cancer, infectious diseases and chronic diseases.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the lab and collaborators are developing a DNA vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 that is in clinical testing, and received a large collaborative grant to advance DMAbs as a countermeasure for the pandemic.

More than a dozen experimental clinical therapies and vaccines have been developed from research from the Weiner Lab, including the first Zika vaccine in clinical trials. Promising findings from clinical studies of synthetic DNA vaccines developed by Weiner and collaborators to treat human papillomavirus (HPV-associated cervical and head and neck cancer provided a strong proof of concept for this technology being pursued by the Weiner Lab at Wistar for cancer immunotherapy.

Learn more about the Weiner lab.