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SL born Dr. Ashani Weeraratne appointed to US National Cancer Advisory Board

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Ashani Weeraratna, PhD, a leading cancer researcher who specializes in melanoma and the effects of aging on cancer, has been appointed by President Joe Biden to serve as a member of the National Cancer Advisory Board. The White House announced the appointment on 15 September.

The National Cancer Advisory Board advises and assists the director of the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health on the activities of the national cancer program. Individuals are selected from among leading representatives in health and science, along with leaders in public policy, law, health policy, economics, management, and the environment. Among its activities, the National Cancer Advisory Board reviews grant applications for research, training, health care information, and programs for cancer patients and their families.

Weeraratna is the E.V. McCollum Chair of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor, co-leader of the Cancer Invasion and Metastasis Program at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins, and a professor of oncology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She joined the Johns Hopkins faculty in 2019.

Cancer remains a leading cause of death worldwide despite progress in prevention, early detection, and treatment. Weeraratna’s research focuses on the effects of the tumor microenvironment—the normal cells and structures surrounding a tumor—on metastasis and therapy resistance. She is one of the first researchers to study how the aging microenvironment influences metastasis and therapy resistance in melanoma. Her studies encompass biophysical changes that affect the ability of both tumor and immune cells to migrate through tissues. Her research has found age-related differences in responses to both targeted therapy and immunotherapy, findings that may one day inform clinical practice.

In addition to her research, Weeraratna has worked on public health campaigns for skin safety and is a committed advocate for diversity in science.

“I am honored and humbled to be named to the National Cancer Advisory Board,” says Weeraratna. “As a young girl in Lesotho, Southern Africa, many years ago, I could not imagine having such an opportunity. I am grateful to those who have mentored me, the students I now get to mentor, and every single person living with cancer. I am so excited to work with my colleagues on the National Cancer Advisory Board as we support the mission of the National Cancer Institute.”

Weeraratna earned her undergraduate degree in biology from St. Mary’s College of Maryland, and her doctoral degree in molecular and cellular oncology at the Department of Pharmacology of George Washington University Medical Center. From 1998 to 2000, she was a postdoctoral fellow at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins before joining the National Human Genome Research Institute as a staff scientist. In 2003, she moved to the National Institute on Aging, where she started her own research program. In 2011, she joined the Wistar Institute, where she continued her research before coming to Johns Hopkins in 2019. She is the author of the forthcoming book from Johns Hopkins University Press, ‘Is Cancer Inevitable?’

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