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

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.


Aimee Farria, PhD

Aimee Farria, PhD
Postdoctoral Researcher
 Aimee.Farria@pennmedicine.upenn.edu

I joined the Wellen lab in September 2020. My general interest is in cancer epigenetics, particularly in how alterations to modifications on chromatin and its structure lead to transcriptional changes that influence the progression of cancer.  My work focuses on the link between insulin and the acetyl-coA producing enzyme ACLY in epigenetic regulation. Phosphorylation of ACLY by AKT increases its activity as well as histone acetylation levels. ACLY activity has been linked to the promotion of pancreatic tumorigenesis. The lab also previously demonstrated that pancreatic cancer cells treated with insulin and IGF display increased phosphorylation of both AKT and ACLY as well as increased global H4 acetylation levels. My project aims to get a deeper understanding of histone modification level changes at specific loci in response to insulin treatment as well as how these modifications correlate to changes in ACLY-dependent gene expression. This work may contribute to the elucidation of the mechanisms connecting metabolism with epigenetic changes driving pancreatic cancer. When I am not in the lab I enjoy teaching, spending time with my family, reading, and sampling different kinds of foods.


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.


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!

 

 


Laura Pinheiro

Laura Pinheiro
Graduate Student
 laurapin@pennmedicine.upenn.edu

I am a Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics PhD student and joined the lab in March 2020. I have a broad interest in cancer metabolism, and more specifically how nutrition can impact disease progression. I took special interest in the Wellen Lab because of the work on Acetyl-CoA as an important metabolite linking catabolic and anabolic pathways with epigenetics and signaling, especially in the context of tumorigenesis. Pancreatic cancer leverages metabolism to enhance cancer cell proliferation under nutrient stress conditions. My project aims to elucidate how differences in nutrient availability, in part through diet, can lead to epigenetic changes that contribute to this cancer progression. Metabolic alterations in response to nutrient availability may elucidate a unique therapeutic target for pancreatic cancer. Outside of the lab, I enjoy running, cooking, traveling, and exploring Philly!


Julianna Supplee

Julianna Supplee
Graduate Student
 suju@pennmedicine.upenn.edu

I joined the Wellen lab in the summer of 2020 as a PhD student in the Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics program. I am also co-mentored in the Marmorstein lab. I have interests in biochemistry as well as metabolism and clinical research, which is what ultimately led me to pursue a project in both labs. My project involves studying the splice isoforms of ACLY and how these isoforms vary structurally, functionally, and biologically, in hopes that this knowledge could lead to new therapeutics. Outside the lab, I play the cello in the Penn Med Symphony Orchestra and enjoy going to concerts, museums, comedy shows, bars, and restaurants around Philly! I also like hiking in warmer months and ice skating at Penn's ice rink in cooler months (although I am not very good at it).


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 Science Officer, CDMRP, DOD

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

Sully Fernandez, PhD, currently a Scientist, Johnson and Johnson

Hayley Affronti, PhD, currently Assistant Professor, Siena College

Graduate Students

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

Sharanya Sivanand, PhD, currently a postdoctoral fellow at MIT

Steve Zhao, PhD, currently a postdoctoral fellow, Salk Institute

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, Medical Scribe, Mayo Clinic Health System

Isabella Viney

Karla Kim,  currently a Medical Student, Weill Cornell Medical College