Michael Hilzendeger

MSTP in PhD Training

Program: Cancer Biology

Current advisor: Charles Kaufman, MD, PhD

Undergraduate university: University of Virginia, 2019

Enrollment year: 2021

Research summary
Elucidating the role of thyroid hormone in melanoma initiation.

Hypothyroidism is up to 50% more prevalent in melanoma patients than in the general population. Interestingly, animal models of thyroid hormone deficiency or excess exhibit aberrant numbers and patterns of pigment-producing cells in the developing skin, suggesting a link between thyroid hormone signaling and melanocyte development. Although clinical observations and epidemiologic data suggest a relationship between hypothyroidism and melanoma, research thus far has focused on the coincidence hypothyroidism and melanoma rather than a functional link between the two. Thus, the cellular mechanisms by which hypothyroidism could promote melanoma initiation are currently unknown. As melanoma incidence increases (1.8% per year for females and 0.5% per year for males) and hypothyroidism secondary to immunotherapy-induced hypophysitis becomes more common, it is critical to develop a mechanistic, organism-level understanding of how thyroid hormone impacts melanoma tumorigenesis. To address this problem and study the role of thyroid hormone in melanoma tumorigenesis, we will use an established zebrafish model of cutaneous melanoma, which couples melanocyte-specific expression of the human oncogene BRAFV600E with a germline p53 null mutation (Tg(mitfa:BRAFV600E); p53-/-).

Graduate publications