Aaron McKenna, Ph.D.


Aaron McKenna, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Molecular and Systems Biology; Geisel School of Medicine and the Norris Cotton Cancer
Dartmouth College
1 Medical Center Drive
Williamson 6, Bay 68
City, State, ZIP
Lebanon, NH 03756
[email protected]
Research field
Cancer Biology
Award year


The McKenna lab maps the genetic evolution of cancer cells as they proliferate and spread. A tumor forms when an individual cell acquires a mutation that allows it to multiply without constraint. That cell divides in two, then four, and so on—eventually giving rise to a cluster of cells, some of which have gained new functions from additional mutations. To understand when or how cancer cells accumulate the specific mutations that render them resistant to treatment or promote their metastasis, or spread, researchers need to be able to compare the genomes of every single cell in a tumor as it grows. Previously, I developed an approach for stamping cells with a “barcode” that enables researchers to trace the genetic changes that arise as the cells divide. Now, using state-of-the-art methods in molecular genetics, cancer genomics, software development, and single-cell sequencing techniques, my lab will refine this barcoding technique and map the evolution of cancer cells as they form tumors and metastasize in mice. We will then determine how the immunotherapies currently used in patients alter tumor evolution and lead to the development of drug-resistant cells—work that could lead to improved clinical outcomes and enhanced patient survival.

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