Elliott Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Kristian M. Hargadon ’01 recently published an article highlighting a course-based research approach to improve student understanding of cancer genetics. The article, published in the Journal of Cancer Education, describes a course-based undergraduate research experience (CURE) developed by Dr. Hargadon for use in his Biology 201 – Genetics and Cell Biology course and specifically highlights the utility of this approach for improving undergraduate student understanding of 1) the hallmark properties of cancer progression and 2) the genetic aberrations that drive these hallmark properties of cancer cells. This CURE, which involves multi-week student analyses of patient tumor-derived DNA- and RNA-sequencing datasets from The Cancer Genome Atlas, utilizes a bioinformatics approach for educating students about both genomic and transcriptomic anomalies that contribute to altered behavior in tumor versus normal cells.
Together with a hands-on experimental CURE involving gene expression analyses in murine melanoma cell lines that was previously published by Dr. Hargadon in the journal Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education in 2016, this new CURE will be incorporated into an Experiential Learning course offering for Hampden-Sydney College’s COMPASS Program in the Fall 2021 semester.
Dr. Hargadon’s Journal of Cancer Education article is available at: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13187-021-01962-y
Elliott Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Kristian M. Hargadon ’01 recently completed his nearly two-year role as Editor of a volume, “Melanoma: Methods and Protocols,” that was published this week in the prestigious Methods in Molecular Biology book series. This series, published by Springer Nature/Humana Press, has been the leading series in biomedical protocol publishing since its inception 35 years ago. The volume includes contributions from authors at major research universities and cancer research centers across the world and features protocols ranging from basic research techniques to clinical and veterinary medicine procedures used in the study, diagnosis, and treatment of melanoma.
Among the 45 book chapters in the volume are two chapters authored by Dr. Hargadon that are based on techniques developed/optimized in his research lab at H-SC. The first chapter, entitled “A Flow Cytometric Assay for Investigating Melanoma Cell Adhesion to Lymphatic Endothelial Cells,” is based on a technique developed to study melanoma cell interactions with lymphatic endothelial cells, a process critical to melanoma invasion of regional lymph nodes. This chapter includes former Hampden-Sydney student, Coleman Johnson ’19, as a co-author. The second chapter, entitled “Generation of Functional Gene Knockout Melanoma Cell Lines by CRISPR-Cas9 Gene Editing,” describes an optimized protocol for engineering melanoma cells using gene editing technology and highlights the approach employed by Dr. Hargadon to knock out the Foxc2 gene in a murine melanoma cell line, work that is featured in recent publications by Dr. Hargadon in the journals Cancer Genomics and Proteomics and Frontiers in Oncology. This book chapter also includes 3 Hampden-Sydney student co-authors (Coleman Johnson, Corey Williams ’19, and David Bushhouse ’19) who contributed to this work. Of note, Coleman Johnson and Corey Williams are currently in their second year as medical students at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Medicine, and David Bushhouse, a former Goldwater Scholar at the College, is in his second year as a Ph.D. candidate in Northwestern University’s Interdisciplinary Biological Sciences Graduate Program.
The “Melanoma: Methods and Protocols” volume is available at:
Elliott Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Kristian M. Hargadon ’01 was recently named one of 19 finalists for the Molecular Cloud Distinguished Research Awards for Genome Editing. Among the 19 finalists, Dr. Hargadon is the only investigator to lead a team comprised entirely of undergraduate students. His research group received the Most Social Impact Team Award for its genome editing work in melanoma. Specifically, Dr. Hargadon and his team employed CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology to engineer a novel mouse melanoma cell line with a disrupted FOXC2 gene and used this model to demonstrate a role for the FOXC2 transcription factor in melanoma progression. This work has resulted in multiple publications with H-SC student co-authors in the journals Cancer Genomics and Proteomics, Frontiers in Oncology, and Cancer Genetics, as well as a book chapter on CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing in “Melanoma – Methods and Protocols,” a recently published volume edited by Dr. Hargadon for the prestigious Methods in Molecular Biology book series.
Elliott Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Kristian M. Hargadon ’01 recently published an article in the journal Cancer Genetics highlighting the prognostic significance of FOXC2 gene expression in tumor biopsies. Using publicly available data from clinical specimens catalogued in The Cancer Genome Atlas, a landmark cancer genomics program that molecularly characterized more than 20,000 tissue specimens across 33 different cancer types, Dr. Hargadon identified FOXC2 RNA levels in tumor biopsies as a novel biomarker predictive of patient survival and response to several widely used chemotherapeutics. This work, conducted in collaboration with Hampden-Sydney student and co-author Eli Strong ’20, represents the most comprehensive evaluation of FOXC2 as an RNA-level biomarker for cancer to date, and it is the first to identify the prognostic value of FOXC2 gene expression as a determinant of patient response to chemotherapy. This study highlights the potential of using FOXC2 gene expression in tumor biopsy samples as a biomarker to guide appropriate treatment regimens most likely to yield clinical benefit in cancer patients.
Eli Strong, who contributed to the data analysis for this work, was Valedictorian of the Class of 2020 and is currently in his first year of medical school at George Washington University. He is also co-author on another article published with Dr. Hargadon in the journal Cancer Genomics and Proteomics (2019), which describes work conducted in a novel, genetically engineered mouse melanoma model that was used to identify a role for the FOXC2 transcription factor in melanoma progression.
The most recent article in Cancer Genetics can be found here:
Downloadable PDF available at: https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1cdoT7sh1pLAGy
Collaborative Bioinformatics Research with H-SC Student Taylor J. McGee ’23 Highlights New Biomarkers of Melanoma Patient Response to Immunotherapy
Elliott Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Kristian M. Hargadon ’01 recently published an article entitled “Genomic and Transcriptional Changes in IFNg Pathway Genes are Putative Biomarkers of Response to Ipilimumab Immunotherapy in Melanoma Patients” in the journal Expert Review of Clinical Immunology. This invited article is a Key Paper Evaluation highlighting a seminal paper in the field of tumor immunology from the laboratory of Nobel Laureate Dr. James Allison, who developed the first FDA-approved immunotherapeutic for a cancer treatment strategy known as immune checkpoint blockade. Since the approval of ipilimumab in 2011, ipilimumab’s success as a therapeutic has spearheaded the development of several other now-approved immune checkpoint inhibitors, all of which function by “unleashing” anti-tumor immune responses that are otherwise restrained in cancer patients. Though the success of these therapies has led to unprecedented clinical outcomes for many cancer patients, there remain others who either fail to respond to therapy or exhibit disease recurrence after a short response. The work from Dr. Allison’s group highlighted in Dr. Hargadon’s Key Paper Evaluation was the first to describe defects in genes associated with the IFNg pathway as a mechanism of tumor escape from ipilimumab-associated immune responses. Specifically, mutations and other alterations to genes that control this pathway in tumor cells were found to drive tumor resistance to therapy-induced immune responses.
As part of his evaluation of this seminal work, through the College’s Faculty Fellowship Program this past summer Dr. Hargadon conducted additional bioinformatics research with Hampden-Sydney student, Taylor J. McGee ’23, to assess whether non-genomic alterations to the IFNg pathway also correlated with patient response to ipilimumab. Using clinical data from melanoma patients catalogued in The Cancer Genome Atlas, Dr. Hargadon and Taylor found that RNA levels for several IFNg pathway genes also correlate with patient response to ipilimumab. These new data indicate that not only are direct changes to IFNg pathway genes associated with tumor resistance to therapy, but so too are alterations in IFNg pathway gene expression levels. These findings further highlight the significance of the IFNg pathway as a determinant of anti-tumor immune efficacy as first described by Dr. Allison’s group at MD Anderson Cancer Center, and they reveal the potential utility of RNA-level biomarkers associated with this pathway that could be used to predict patient response to immunotherapy in the future.
Taylor McGee, a co-author on this article, is a sophomore at Hampden-Sydney College and plans to pursue his Ph.D. in computational biology following his graduation in 2023. His ultimate career goal is to apply novel computational models to the study of problems in the field of HIV research.
The article authored by Dr. Hargadon and Taylor can be found at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/1744666X.2021.1847644?scroll=top&needAccess=true
Elliott Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Kristian M. Hargadon ’01 recently published a major review article entitled “Tumor Microenvironmental Influences on Dendritic Cell and T Cell Function: A Focus on Clinically Relevant Immunologic and Metabolic Checkpoints” in the journal Clinical and Translational Medicine. An invited review commissioned by the journal’s Editor-in-Chief Dr. Xiangdong Wang, Distinguished Professor of Medicine and Director of the Shanghai Institute of Clinical Bioinformatics at the prestigious Fudan University in China, Dr. Hargadon’s article highlights recent advances in immunotherapy and targeted therapy as cutting-edge treatments for cancer. His review discusses in particular the role of key checkpoints that inherently limit the immune and metabolic functions of dendritic cells and T cells within the tumor microenvironment, and it emphasizes how insights into these suppressive pathways have led to the identification of novel targets for therapies designed to enhance the anti-tumor immune functions of these important cell populations. Dr. Hargadon’s article also discusses the potential for combinatorial therapies that target these diverse checkpoints to enhance patient outcome by increasing the percentage of patients likely to benefit from immunotherapy and by overcoming tumor cell resistance to immunotherapy in patients who normally do respond but then ultimately relapse.
Published by John Wiley and Sons (Wiley), Clinical and Translational Medicine is an international, peer-reviewed, and open access journal with aims at 1) promoting and accelerating the translation of preclinical research to a clinical application and 2) enhancing communication between basic and clinical scientists. Dr. Hargadon’s article can be accessed at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ctm2.37
Elliott Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Kristian M. Hargadon ’01 has recently published research on the function of the FOXC2 transcription factor in melanoma in Frontiers in Oncology, one of the most cited and highly ranked journals in the field of Oncology. The article, entitled “RNA-seq Analysis of Wild-Type vs. FOXC2-Deficient Melanoma Cells Reveals a Role for the FOXC2 Transcription Factor in the Regulation of Multiple Oncogenic Pathways,” employs genomic and bioinformatic analyses of a novel CRISPR-Cas9 gene-edited melanoma cell line engineered by Dr. Hargadon at Hampden-Sydney College. The study provides important mechanistic insights into FOXC2’s role in the regulation of melanoma cell proliferation, invasion, metabolism, drug resistance, and immune escape, all of which are key hallmarks of cancer progression. Together with previous research published by Dr. Hargadon in Cancer Genomics and Proteomics in late 2019, these data highlight the FOXC2 transcription factor as a major oncogenic driver in melanoma.
Of note, former H-SC student Corey J. Williams ’19 is a co-author on the Frontiers in Oncology article with Dr. Hargadon. Corey is currently enrolled as a medical student at the VCU School of Medicine. Dr. Hargadon, Corey, and pathologists at VCU are currently planning collaborative studies that will extend the in vitro and animal studies at H-SC into a clinical setting. This work will involve analyses of FOXC2 expression in melanoma cells from patient biopsies and will assess whether FOXC2 is a useful prognostic factor for predicting tumor progression and survival in melanoma patients. Such information may ultimately be useful in determining optimal treatment strategies for patients based on FOXC2 expression levels in their tumors at the time of diagnosis.
Dr. Hargadon’s Frontiers in Oncology article can be accessed at:
Dr. Kristin Fischer, Andrew Howell ’20, and Brahm Dean ’21 recently traveled to Philadelphia to present their research at the Biomedical Engineering Society Annual meeting. Andrew presented his work with Dr. Fischer on fabricating a 3D printed uniaxial stretch bioreactor. This work is supported by a grant Dr. Fischer received from the Virginia Academy of Sciences. Brahm presented his work with Dr. Fischer, Dr. Paul Mueller in Chemistry, and Dr. Trey Thurman in Physics on incorporating zinc into hydrogels to make them conductive for soft tissue regeneration like skeletal muscle.
The latest issue of the journal Cancer Genomics and Proteomics features new research published by Elliott Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Kristian M. Hargadon ’01. Dr. Hargadon’s latest work describes a novel role for the FOXC2 transcription factor as a driver of melanoma progression, and his study represents the first to investigate FOXC2 function in the context of this particular type of cancer. Dr. Hargadon began investigating FOXC2’s role in melanoma progression in 2015, after previous work in his laboratory demonstrated elevated FOXC2 gene expression in a highly aggressive mouse melanoma model. Over the last 4 years, Dr. Hargadon has involved several Hampden-Sydney College students in projects designed to understand FOXC2 function in melanoma cells. This work included the use of CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology to engineer a novel FOXC2-deficient melanoma cell line that exhibited delayed outgrowth in experimental animals. Subsequent gene expression analyses using this novel cell line demonstrated that FOXC2 regulates several oncogenic pathways in melanoma cells, including drug resistance and responsiveness to important components of the immune system. The significance of this work in the mouse model is highlighted by similar findings in tumor biopsies of melanoma patients. Dr. Hargadon and his students analyzed patient data from The Cancer Genome Atlas and found that high FOXC2 gene expression correlates with poor patient survival following treatment with either chemotherapy or immunotherapy. These findings suggest that FOXC2 might serve as a useful biomarker in predicting melanoma patient response to these therapeutic modalities, and they also highlight the utility of Dr. Hargadon’s mouse model for investigating how FOXC2 promotes drug and immune resistance in melanoma cells in future studies.
This multi-year project included contributions from 6 H-SC students, all of whom worked with Dr. Hargadon through either Hampden-Sydney College’s Summer Research Program or its Honors Capstone Program. These students are included as co-authors on the research paper in Cancer Genomics and Proteomics and are listed below:
Jefferson Thompson ’16 – attending Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine
Coleman Johnson ’19 – attending Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine
Corey Williams ’19 – attending Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine
David Bushhouse ’19 – attending Northwestern University Interdisciplinary Biological Sciences Ph.D. Program
Eli Strong ’20 – will attend George Washington University School of Medicine in 2020
Brian Tarnai ’20 – will attend George Washington University School of Medicine in 2020
Dr. Hargadon’s research article is available at: http://cgp.iiarjournals.org/content/16/6/491.full.pdf+html