Witcher Lab members (left – right):
Dr. Michael Witcher, Jake Johnston, Amine Saad (collaborator), Dr. Maud Marques (Postdoctoral fellow), Dr. Maika Jangal (Postdoctoral Fellow),
Chenxi Zhang (MSc student), Dr. Tiejun Zhao (Research Assistant), Dr. Khalid Hilmi (Postdoctoral Fellow), Tatiana Shorstova (PhD student),
Dr. Wen Luo (Research Assistant).
Missing from Photo: Eduardo Cepeda (MSc student).
General Overview of Our Research:

Epigenetics is defined as molecular factors that regulate regulate genome activity, independently of DNA sequence. This includes histone modification, DNA methylation and non-coding RNAs. In our lab we study epigenetic defects in Breast and Ovarian Cancers. Through understanding how such aberrations give rise to cancer, we can gain critical insights allowing us to develop new therapeutic approaches to treat these diseases.

We incorporate both classical and cutting edge technologies to examine genome wide epigenetic reprogramming in cancer and develop new small molecule inhibitors targeting epigenetic processes. These techniques include, Chromatin-IP, ChIP-seq, RNA-seq, laser micro-irradiation, Mass Spectrometry, CRISPR-Cas9, and animal models of cancer.

 We think that cancer cells develop a signaling network connecting the micro-environment to chromatin regulators, resulting in epigenetic reprogramming.
Specific Projects in the lab
1. Understanding the consequences of CTCF dysfunction in cancer

 CTCF is a multi-functional, master- regulator of the human genome. It may be functionally inactivated in cancer via several mechanisms including; 1) Deletion 2) Mutation
3) loss of the post-translational modification poly (ADP-ribosylation) 4) Mutation of its DNA binding sites.
We aim to explore the epigenetic and transcriptional consequences of these defects. Unexpectedly, we have established a new role for CTCF in the repair of double strand breaks. We are now exploring whether this novel function of CTCF is disrupted in cancer, and promotes oncogenic progression.

The transcription factor TFII-I targets CTCF to metabolism-related genes.
Results of ChIP-seq experiments.

 2. Drugging the epigenome as an approach to fight ovarian cancer.

Using RNA-seq and Chromatin-IP, we have uncovered epigenetic defects which are enabling us to find new therapeutic avenues to treat untreatable cancers.


  RNA-seq data from Ovarian cancer cell lines treated with drugs targeting the epigenome.
3. Targeting poly (ADP-ribosylation)

Poly (ADP-ribosylation) is a protein modification placed by PARP-1. We have evidence that this pathway is abnormal in a spectrum of cancers. By targeting this pathway through unique means developed by my lab, we are able to either promote, or effectively slow, the growth of primary and metastatic breast cancers.
 Ablation of lung metastases by manipulating the poly(ADP-ribose) pathway.
 Triple-negative Breast Cancer cells reprogrammed  to acquire more physiological, epithelial-like characteristics after modulation of the poly (ADP-ribose) pathway.
Witcher Lab publications:
(* denotes corresponding authorship)

1. Hilmi K, Zhao T, Zhang C, Saad A, Yu Z, Rejon C, Richard S, Alaoui-Jamali M, McCaffery L and Witcher M.
CTCF facilitates DNA double-strand break repair by homologous recombination.

2. Saad A, Bijan K, Marques M, Witcher M and Alaoui-Jamali M.
A novel nuclear function for Fascin in epigenetic regulation of the amino-acid transporter SLC3A2.

3. Manteghi S, Gingras MC, Kharitidi D, Galarneau L, Yan M, Marques M, Robert F, Cencic R, Paquet M, Witcher M, Pelletier M and Pause A.
Haploinsufficiency of the ESCRT component HD-PTP predisposes to cancer.
Cell Reports. 2016 May 31;15(9):1893-900.

4. Kazanets A, Shorstova T, Hilmi K, Marques M, Witcher M
Epigenetic silencing of tumor suppressor genes: Paradigms, puzzles, and potential.
BBA Reviews Cancer 2016 Apr;1865(2):275-88.

5. Marques M, Beauchamp MC, Laskov I, Qiang S, Gotlieb WH and Witcher M
Chemotherapy depletes PARP1 protein in ovarian cancer tumors: Implications for future clinical trials involving PARP inhibitors.
BMC Medicine. 2015 Sep 9;13(1):217. doi: 10.1186/s12916-015-0454-9.

6. Peña-Hernández R, Marques M, Hilmi K, Zhao T, Saad A, Alaoui-Jamali MA, Del Rincon SV, Ashworth T, Roy AL, Emerson BM, Witcher M
Genome-wide targeting of the epigenetic regulatory protein CTCF to gene promoters by the transcription factor TFII-I.
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Feb 17;112(7):E677-86.

7. Anti-cancer properties of Phyllanthus emblica (Indian Gooseberry)
Zhao T, Sun Q, Marques M and Witcher M
Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. 2015; 950890. doi: 10.1155/2015/950890.

8. Marques M, Hernandez R and Witcher M
Genome wide analysis of the role of the general transcription factor TFII-I in regulating gene expression and targeting CTCF binding to gene promoters.
Genomics Data, Volume 4, June 2015, Pages 17–21

9. Zhao T, Sun Q, del Rincon SV, Lovato A, Marques M and Witcher M
Gallotannin imposes S phase arrest in breast cancer cells and suppresses the growth of triple-negative tumors in vivo.
PLoS One. 2014 Mar 21;9(3):e92853. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0092853.

10. Lovato A, Panaschi L, Witcher M
Is there an epigenetic component underlying the resistance of triple-negative breast cancers
to Parp inhibitors?
Frontiers in Pharmacology of anti-cancer drugs. 2012;3:202.

11. Balakrishnan SK, Witcher M, Berggren TW, Emerson BM.
Functional and Molecular Characterization of the Role of CTCF in Human Embryonic Stem Cell Biology.
PLoS One. 2012;7(8):e42424.

12. DiTacchio L, Le HD, Vollmers C, Hatori M, Witcher M, Secombe J, Panda S.
Histone lysine demethylase JARID1a activates CLOCK-BMAL1 and influences the circadian clock.
Science. 2011 Sep 30;333(6051):1881-5.

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