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Discovering the causes of cancer and the means of prevention

Xiaohong Rose Yang Awarded NIH Scientific Tenure

Xiaohong Rose Yang

Xiaohong Rose Yang, Ph.D., M.P.H., was awarded scientific tenure by the NIH on October 6, 2014. Dr. Yang seeks to identify susceptibility genes for rare cancers that sometimes aggregate in families. To carry out this work she employs cutting-edge genomic technologies and novel statistical approaches to uncover genetic changes associated with risk for several familial cancers including melanoma and dysplastic nevi syndrome and chordoma.

Throughout her career in DCEG, Dr. Yang has leveraged successful research approaches from one study to advance her work in another malignancy. For example, through a genome-wide search for copy number variations (CNVs), she identified the first susceptibility gene for familial chordoma—a germline duplication of the T gene that had eluded previous studies that focused on single nucleotide variants. Using funding from a 2008 DCEG Intramural Research Award, she applied the same technique in melanoma-prone families and identified a germline duplication in a family without mutations in known melanoma genes. She presented these findings at the 2014 NCI Intramural Research Retreat.

In addition to looking for CNVs, Dr. Yang evaluates exome sequencing variants as well as mRNA expression, miRNA expression, DNA methylation, chromatin modification, and telomere length. Most recently, Dr. Yang and her colleagues identified a rare inherited mutation in a gene involved in maintaining telomere stability in melanoma families, further supporting a role for abnormal telomeres in the development of melanoma.

In her investigation of etiologic heterogeneity of breast cancer, Dr. Yang characterizes the molecular signature of tumors using tissue microarray and integrated tumor profiling analyses to identify risk factors for specific cancer subtypes. She is currently leading breast cancer studies in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Malaysia. The main goals of these studies are to identify distinct molecular alterations in tumors and adjacent normal tissues among Asian women and to examine the associations of these molecular changes with genetic and environmental risk factors, breast tissue composition and density, and breast cancer subtypes.

Dr. Yang received a Ph.D. in physiology from the Lombardi Cancer Center, Georgetown University in 1999, and an M.P.H. in epidemiology from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in 2003. She joined the Genetic Epidemiology Branch (GEB) in 2000 as a post-doctoral fellow, and became a tenure-track investigator in 2006. Dr. Yang received NCI Director’s Intramural Innovation Awards in 2007 and 2009.  She serves on the editorial board for Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, and is an adjunct associate professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.