Labs / Nghiem Lab

Research

Dr. Paul Nghiem (pronounced NEE-em) is a dermatologist/scientist who specializes in skin cancers with a particular interest in optimizing the management of patients with Merkel cell carcinoma. He conducts basic science research on cancer biology at the University of Washington and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. Dr. Nghiem is leading genetic studies to further understand the biology of MCC and the response of cells to UV damage.

Merkel Cell Carcinoma

Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC), sometimes referred to as a neuroendocrine carcinoma of the skin, arises from the uncontrolled growth of Merkel cells in the skin. It is an uncommon skin cancer with roughly 1500 cases per year in the United States, making it about 40 times less common than melanoma. MCC has the potential to be lethal, and thus prompt aggressive treatment is warranted. With a goal of defining the optimal treatment for MCC, we are currently working on creating a repository of MCC patients and tissue samples to better analyze the molecular and clinical aspects of this disease. See Dr. Nghiem discuss MCC here.

Cell Cycle Control

Our laboratory studies cell cycle control in normal and cancer cells with an ultimate goal of discovering new approaches to prevent and treat cancer. Our focus is a protein kinase called ATR that is required for the replication checkpoint- the means by which a cell ensures it does not undergo mitosis before completely replicating its DNA. Our prior work has demonstrated that loss of tumor suppressors such as p53 markedly sensitizes cells to death by inhibition of ATR function. We have found that by inhibiting ATR function, caffeine promotes elimination (apoptosis) of damaged cells after ultraviolet treatment of mouse skin and human cells. This may be related to epidemiologic studies associating caffeine intake in humans with lower skin cancer rates. See the discussion of this issue by Dr. Nghiem

We are using cell culture, transgenic mouse and chemical genetic approaches to study:

  • How does ATR function in normal cells? (What exactly goes wrong when it is inhibited?)
  • Does inhibiting ATR block generation of cancers?
  • Can we discover novel small molecule inhibitors of ATR?

Nghiem Lab Websites: