Richard Bennett, PhD
Research Assistant Professor
I first became interested in molecular and cellular biology as an undergraduate at Kalamazoo College, and later, as a graduate student at Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences, I decided to devote my career to researching the molecular basis of cancer. This has provided me with the opportunity to study interesting questions that are both fundamental to biology and also of significance to our society. After graduate school, I worked first as a post-doctoral fellow and then as a Research Assistant Professor to determine the role of the interferon-inducible, dsRNA-activated protein kinase PKR in tumorigenesis. In 2016 I had the opportunity to join the Licht laboratory to study the role of chromatin dynamics in cancer. Now I am working on a project to characterize how mutations in the core of histone H2B may disrupt nucleosome structure causing changes in gene expression that drive the tumorigenic phenotype. In addition, I am working to identify how an activating mutation in the histone lysine methyltransferase NSD2, found frequently in relapse of ALL, alters its methyltransferase activity to dysregulate histone marks, chromatin accessibility and gene expression.
Daphné Dupéré-Richer, PhD
I started my research career with an MS in Molecular Biology at Université de Montréal. I studied epigenetic mechanism of gene transcription regulation by Wnt and retinoid signaling in the development the mouse embryo. I then worked as a research assistant under the supervision of Dr. Wilson Miller at the Jewish General Hospital, where I studied how epigenetic therapies might be leveraged to better cure blood neoplasms and I developed interest in translational research. This led me to pursue a PhD in Experimental Medicine at McGill University (Montréal) focusing on mechanisms of resistance to histone deacetylase inhibitors in acute myeloid leukemia. In January 2016, I joined Dr. Jonathan Licht lab. I am interested in understanding how loss of the histone demethylase KDM6A promotes tumorigenesis of multiple myeloma (MM). By the development of isogenic cell lines using CRISPR-mediated engineering, and by using a novel mouse model of MM where KDM6A is loss in the B-cell compartment, I am aiming to elucidate how KDM6A enzyme works and how it’s loss affects chromatin function and gene expression. KDM6A removes methylation on lysine 27 of histone H3, a repressive mark found at enhancers, and is part of a multiprotein complex where almost all members are found affected in blood cancer. Therefore, the advancement of this project will hopefully yield a major impact on our understanding of hematologic malignancy.
Amber is Dr. Licht’s administrative assistant.
I am a joint graduate student of the Licht lab and the Kelleher lab at Northwestern University. I study histone H3K27 and K36 methylation kinetics in MMSET overexpression and gain-of-function mutation systems targeted mass spectrometry. By measuring histone mark kinetics, we can better understand how overexpression of MMSET and E1099K gain-of-function mutation alter MMSET enzyme activity and affect epigenetic landscape. I also study MMSET interacting proteins by proximity-based labeling. BirA, a biotin ligase domain, is fused to MMSET and expressed in multiple myeloma cell line. Supplemented with biotin, proteins that are close to MMSET will be labeled and identified by mass spectrometry. The investigation of MMSET interacting partners will facilitate us better understanding of the biological functions of MMSET under normal and cancerous circumstances.
I joined the Licht Laboratory in July 2017, after a postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine during which I worked on epigenetic effects on myeloid malignancies. My current research is focused on studying NSD2 mutations relevant to pediatric ALL and multiple myeloma. I am working to explore how the NSD2-E1099K mutation affects B cell development and the pathogenesis of ALL. Meanwhile, I am also working on the chemoresistance mechanism with NSD2 mutation in this system. Hopefully, these projects will provide more evidence for improving the clinical therapeutic strategies in ALL with NSD2 mutation.
Sayantan Maji, PhD
My current research project is focused on the role of KDM6A/UTX, a H3K27me2/3 demethylase which is frequently mutated in Urothelial Bladder Carcinoma (UBC). Loss of KDM6A has been reported in over 12 cancers and it has been designated as a bona fide tumor suppressor. KDM6A mutations in bladder carcinoma associate with earlier grade and are inversely correlated with stage. Therefore, KDM6A inactivation may be a powerful driver and early event in bladder oncogenesis. However, information regarding the molecular pathogenesis of KDM6A loss in bladder cancer is sparse, especially, how somatic alterations in KDM6A along with other key oncogenic mutations contribute to UBC development. The overall goal of my project is to understand the underlying mechanism of bladder cancer pathogenesis and study if alterations of the chromatin regulator KDM6A levels may undermine the chromatin landscape to deregulate gene expression and amplify oncogenic signaling mutations including that of RAS and PIK3CA.
I joined the Licht Laboratory as a Laboratory Technician in August 2018. I studied Chemistry and Mathematics at the University of Florida. I graduated in May 2018 with interest in pursuing research in biochemistry and molecular biology.
As an early employee of the lab starting in December of 2015, I have been involved in the transfer and redeployment of the Licht Lab at the University of Florida. My education in Medical Science (MS-UF COM) and clinical certification (MT-AAB) support the regulatory compliance and constructive environment required by the dynamic and talented researchers in this group. Relevant administrative laboratory experience includes; Pharmacogenetics Start-up Lab Coordinator, Scientific Education Coordinator, Scientific Director-qPCR Core Lab Services, Special Projects Coordinator and Laboratory Manager at clinical and biotech/industrial positions. Current scientific pursuits are to support the lab faculty research by providing routine molecular biology procedures as needed in culture maintenance, cloning, construct development NGS and troubleshooting.
Lab Technician II
I have been working for Dr. Licht since January 2016 as the mouse colony manager. I have an associates degree in Zoo Animal Technology and I have worked as a mammal keeper. I currently hold certifications in Assistant Laboratory Animal Technology (ALAT), Lab Animal Technology (LAT) and Laboratory Animal Technologist (LATG) through the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS).
I joined the Licht lab as a graduate student in May of 2018. I received my Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Miami in 2017, where I researched the individual contributions of Retinoic Acid Receptors Alpha & Gamma towards spatial development of the hindbrain in zebrafish embryos. My first project in the Licht lab has been investigating the effects of the H2B E76K mutation, a mutation prevalent in many lung, bladder, and breast cancers. Due to its position, the mutation may be impacting nucleosome structure leading to differences in sensitivity to DNA damage & DNA binding elements. My second project is regarding KMT2C, a histone 3 lysine 4 (H3K4) methyltransferase, and how it can regulate the genome-wide enhancer landscape & higher-order chromatin structure in a hematopoietic background.
I joined the Licht Laboratory as a Laboratory Technician in March 2019. I studied Pre-professional Biology at the University of Florida and graduated in the Fall of 2017. I intend to pursue research in genetics and microbiology.
Alberto Riva, PhD
Staff Scientist – Bioinformatics
I am a Scientist in the Bioinformatics Core of the UF Interdisciplinary Center for Biotechnology Research (ICBR). I am a specialist in the development and application of bioinformatics software, in particular in high-performance computing settings. I am responsible for the analysis of Next-Gen Sequencing data produced by the Licht Lab for applications such as RNA-Seq, ChIP-Seq, ATAC-Seq, methylation analysis, and more.
I joined the Licht lab as a postdoctoral associate in May 2018 after I obtained a PhD in Comparative Biochemistry from the University of California, Berkeley. My graduate research focused on the use of functional genomics tools, including genome-wide CRISPR screens, to study cellular mechanisms of toxicant susceptibility as well as nutrient uptake. My current research involves identifying synthetic lethal targets associated with the histone lysine methyltransferase NSD2 overexpression in multiple myeloma (MM) and NSD2 gain-of-function point mutation in B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (B-ALL). I am also investigating NSD2-driven mechanisms of chemotherapy resistance in MM and B-ALL using CRISPR-based genetic screens. The ultimate goal of this work is to identify therapeutic targets in blood malignancies with increased NSD2 activity, where the response to classical chemotherapeutic strategies is minimal.