Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania

Wellen Lab

Lab Members

 

 

Kathryn E. Wellen, PhD

Kathryn E. Wellen, PhD
Principal Investigator
 wellenk@upenn.edu
 215-746-8599

 

B.S. in Biological Psychology, the College of William and Mary, 2000

  • Undergraduate researcher with Lizabeth A. Allison, PhD
  • James Monroe Scholar 1996-2000
  • Phi Beta Kappa, 2000

PhD, Harvard University, 2006

  • Graduate student with Gökhan S. Hotamisligil, MD, PhD 
  • Edgar Haber Award in Biological Sciences, 2006

Postdoctoral research, University of Pennsylvania, 2006-2011

  • Laboratory of Craig B. Thompson, MD
  • Damon Runyon Postdoctoral Fellow, 2007-2010

Assistant Professor, Department of Cancer Biology, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, 2011-2017

Associate Professor, Department of Cancer Biology, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, 2017-Present

  • William Guy Forbeck Scholar, 2012
  • Pew Biomedical Scholar, 2012

Sully Fernandez, PhD

Sully Fernandez, PhD
Postdoctoral Fellow
 fsu@pennmedicine.upenn.edu

I began working in the Wellen lab fall of 2016. My research interests focus primarily on the role of Acetyl-CoA in adipose tissue biology and cancer. The current obesity epidemic is huge world-wide problem. The current western diet is thought to be a major cause of obesity so understanding how its components affect overall molecular metabolism is an essential part in the battle against obesity. Adipose tissue is a endocrine organ that plays an essential role in energy homeostasis and is one of the metabolic tissues most influenced and changed with fluctuations in energy consumption. Acetyl- CoA is an important intermediate metabolite which may be central to the cells ability to sense the overall nutrient state. Acetyl- CoA influences many key cellular processes in the cell including energy metabolism, lipid metabolism, and plays a central role in epigenetic modifications, which is of great interest to the Wellen lab. Additionally, because of the large influence acetyl- CoA’s plays on normal cellular processes, understanding how it’s concentrations can be manipulated to effect energy production could prove essential for both cancer treatment and obesity.


Hayley Affronti, PhD

Hayley Affronti, PhD
Postdoctoral Researcher
 hayley.affronti@pennmedicine.upenn.edu

I joined the Wellen lab in July 2018 after receiving my PhD from the University at Buffalo in May 2018 where I did my research at Roswell Park Cancer Institute. My broad research interests focus on identifying unique metabolic points of leverage as potential therapeutic targets to treat cancer. I was drawn to Dr. Wellen’s lab because of her research on the role of ACLY in cancer and how it intimately connects metabolism to epigenetics. My project in Dr. Wellen’s lab focuses on determining the functional significance of ACLY splice isoforms in cancer. I will also be exploring the proteins that interact with ACLY and how they may impact ACLY localization and function. Outside of lab, I enjoy hanging out with my dog Silo, biking, swimming, eating and exploring Philly!


Sophie Trefely, PhD

Sophie Trefely, PhD
Postdoctoral Fellow
 strefely@pennmedicine.upenn.edu

I joined the Wellen lab in October 2015 in a joint position with the Snyder lab at Drexel University. I am interested in the effects of metabolites on cell function and the signals by which these are mediated. My work involves the application of metabolite analysis by mass spectrometry to understand the effects of nutrient availability and the sub-cellular distribution of metabolites on histone modification. I came to Philadelphia from Sydney, Australia after completing my PhD in the lab of Prof. David James. In Philly I enjoy running and bike riding around the city and sampling the best cappuccinos.


Sydney Campbell

Sydney Campbell
Graduate Student
 sydc@pennmedicine.upenn.edu

I joined the Wellen Lab in 2015. My work focuses on the hexosamine biosynthesis pathway (HBP), which produces uridine diphosphate N-acetylglucosamine (UDP-GlcNAc), the major substrate for N-linked glycosylation and O-GlcNAcylation in the cell. Because this pathway takes inputs from glucose, glutamine, lipid, and nucleotide metabolism, as well as energy input in the form of ATP, it is regarded as a nutrient-sensing pathway. It has been shown that UDP-GlcNAc limitation can impact presentation of specific proteins at the cell membrane based on changes in their glycosylation, thus impacting downstream signaling processes in the cell. The HBP is upregulated with expression of mutant KRAS, which occurs in over 90% of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomas, though the outcomes of this change in flux have not been well characterized. My project aims to elucidate the functional impacts of changes in HBP flux in pancreatic cancer. When I'm not in the lab, I enjoy playing volleyball, volunteering with community STEM programs, and exploring new places in Philadelphia.


Steven Zhao

Steven Zhao
Graduate Student
 stevenz@pennmedicine.upenn.eu

I joined Dr. Wellen’s laboratory in the spring of 2014 as her third graduate student trainee. My research focuses on understanding how ATP-citrate lyase (ACLY) and Acetyl-Coenzyme A Synthetase 2 (ACSS2), both enzymes that produce extra-mitochondrial acetyl-CoA,  are differentially regulated, and in turn, how these different acetyl-CoA sources can uniquely regulate other cellular processes such as lipid synthesis, protein acetylation, and gene expression. The goal of this work is to elucidate the critical functions of ACLY and ACSS2 in cancer and metabolic diseases to define therapeutic targets. Outside of the lab, I’m a frequent tennis player, restaurant-goer, and beginner infrared photographer.


Luke Izzo

Luke Izzo
Graduate Student
 lizzo@pennmedicine.upenn.edu

I came to Penn in 2017 as a graduate student in cell and molecular biology and joined the Wellen lab in the summer of 2018. My general interests are how cancer cells sense and adapt to challenging metabolic environments and utilize limited nutrients to maintain their rapid proliferation and high energetic needs. Acetyl-CoA is a metabolic substrate that sits at the intersection of multiple anabolic and catabolic pathways such as the TCA cycle, fatty acid metabolism, and the hexosamine biosynthesis pathway. It is also the substrate used for acetylation of proteins, most notably histones in the nucleus, which can alter gene expression. My project is focused on how acetyl-CoA metabolism affects liver cancer development with the goal of determining whether altering any of its many functions can be leveraged for improving treatment of the disease. When I am not in the lab I enjoy running, photography, and getting outside to see the city.


Mike Noji

Mike Noji
Graduate Student
 mnoji@pennmedicine.upenn.edu

I am a Cancer Biology PhD student within the Cell and Molecular Biology graduate group and joined the lab as a co-mentored student with Dr. Zoltan Arany in June 2019. I have a broad interest in cancer metabolism and how manipulation of nutrients and environmental factors can be leveraged as therapeutic targets to treat cancer. My research focuses on branched chain amino acid metabolism in the context of pancreatic cancer. Changes in availability of these nutrients may affect cancer initiation and growth and I am interested in better understanding these mechanisms and finding therapeutic vulnerabilities using the cancer cell’s own metabolism against them. Before joining the lab, I worked as a technician for Dr. Terence Gade at the University of Pennsylvania where I characterized metabolic changes in liver cancer cells exposed to low nutrient conditions, similar to those observed clinically in surviving tumors after standard treatment. Outside of lab, I enjoy participating in sports leagues, reading, biking around the city, and attending music concerts with friends.


Joyce Liu

Joyce Liu
MD/PhD Student
 joyce.liu@pennmedicine.upenn.edu

I am an MD/PhD student in the Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics graduate group who joined the lab in January 2019. Broadly, my research interests focus on the mechanisms of acetyl-CoA sensing within the cell. Despite the role that acetyl-coA plays as a key intermediate in energy production, lipid metabolism, and cell signaling, the mechanisms by which cells sense acetyl-CoA are poorly understood. The lab has previously shown that loss of ACLY can lead to upregulation of ACSS2 and the utilization of acetate for acetyl-CoA production, further indicating that sensing mechanisms help regulate the interplay between these two enzymes that produce nucleocytosolic acetyl-CoA. Given that acetyl-CoA flexibility is implicated in metabolic flexibility of disease states, such as cancer, the goal of this work is both to provide insight into a fundamental mechanism and to identify potential therapeutic targets. When I’m not in lab, you’ll most likely find me in the vicinity of food (whether baking, cooking, or eating it), skiing, or exploring the city!

 

 


Richard Duan

Richard Duan
Undergraduate Research Assistant
 rduan@sas.upenn.edu

I’m a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania conducting research with the Vagelos Scholars Program in the Molecular Life Sciences. I encountered the Wellen Lab in Fall of 2018 and joined because of how interesting I found their research in cell metabolism and epigenetics! I work alongside Hayley Affronti researching ACLY isoforms and their relationship with cancer as well as factors that contribute to ACLY function. Outside of class and lab, I really enjoy jogging by the Schuylkill, cooking, playing tennis, and hanging out in Center City. 


Past Lab Members

Postdocs

Supriya Shah, PhD, currently a Diagnostic Expert, Medimmune

AnnMarie Torres, PhD, currently a Field Application Scientist, Miltenyi Biotech

Alessandro Carrer, PhD, Investigator, Venetian Institute of Molecular Medicine, Padua, Italy

Graduate Students

Joyce V. Lee, PhD, currently a postdoctoral fellow at UCSF

Sharanya Sivanand, PhD, currently a postdoctoral fellow at MIT

Postbaccalaureate Scholars

Joshua Parris, currently a Graduate Student in the Cancer Biology program at the University of Pennsylvania

Research Specialists

John Viola, currently a Graduate Student, Bioengineering PhD program, University of Pennsylvania

Tatiana Londono Gentile, currently a Pediatric Resident, at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

Peter Lodato, currently a Project Manager in the Department of Patient Safety and Christiana Care Health System

Ellen Jackson

Visiting Students

Salisa Kruijning, currently completing her MSc in Nutrition and Health, at Wageningen University & Research in Netherlands

Kathi Huber, currently a postdoctoral fellow at Universite de Lausanne in Switzerland

Penn Undergrads

Ryan Powers, currently a Medical Student, Virginia Commonwealth University

Sarah Tse

Whitney Carriveau

Isabella Viney

Karla Kim