School of Medicine

Wayne State University School of Medicine

Nerissa Viola-Villegas

Nerissa Viola-Villegas, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Karmanos Cancer Institute
4100 John R Street, HW05AO
Detroit, MI 48201-2013

Mentoring: Brooke McKnight ( Year 3 ) and Jordan White ( Year 1)

Research Interest:

  • Development of metals-based radiopharmaceuticals (i.e. 64Cu, 89Zr) as companion diagnostics for imaging amplified/overexpressed oncogenes
  • Predictive quantification of tumor response to molecularly targeted treatment through non-invasive PET imaging
  • Image-guided surgery through labeled fluorescent and PET imaging probes

 Research Description:
The central focus of my group’s research is in molecular imaging. Molecular imaging is a powerful medium not only for disease detection but also as a conduit for measuring variable changes in molecular events during therapy. With this in mind, the general research platform in my lab has  two aims: 1) to develop imaging probes for targeting specific hallmarks of cancer; and 2) to use these probes as an overall marker of response to therapy. Thus, our overall vision for these probes is to serve as predictive companion diagnostics to molecularly targeted cancer treatment for clinicians to administer the right drug to the right target at the right time. The long-term goal of my laboratory is to bring these imaging tracers to the clinic as proponents of cancer detection, management and treatment.

Specific interests lie in imaging concomitantly induced signaling mechanisms (i.e. EGFR and HER3) activated during treatment, which evidently lead to resistance or non-response to therapy.

Recent Publications:

Viola-Villegas NT, Carlin SD, Ackerstaff E, Sevak KK, Divilov V, Serganova I, Kruchevsky N, Anderson M, Blasberg RG, Andreev OA, Engelman DM, Koutcher JA, Reshetnyak YK, Lewis JS. Understanding the pharmacological properties of a metabolic PET tracer in prostate cancer. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014;111:7254-9.

Viola-Villegas NT, Sevak KK, Carlin SD, Doran MG, Evans HW, Bartlett DW, Wu AM, Lewis JS. Noninvasive Imaging of PSMA in Prostate Tumors with 89Zr-Labeled huJ591 Engineered Antibody Fragments: The Faster Alternatives. Mol Pharm. 2014;11:3965-73.

Tao JJ, Castel P, Radosevic-Robin N, Elkabets M, Auricchio N, Aceto N, Weitsman G, Barber P, Vojnovic B, Ellis H, Morse N, Viola-Villegas NT, Bosch A, Juric D, Hazra S, Singh S, Kim P, Bergamaschi A, Maheswaran S, Ng T, Penault-Llorca F, Lewis JS, Carey LA, Perou CM, Baselga J, Scaltriti M. Antagonism of EGFR and HER3 enhances the response to inhibitors of the PI3K-Akt pathway in triple-negative breast cancer, Sci Signal. 2014;7:ra29.

Zeglis, B., Houghton, J., Evans, M., Viola-Villegas, N., Lewis, J.S. Underscoring the Influence of Inorganic Chemistry on Radiometals-based Nuclear Imaging, Inorg. Chem., 2014;53:1880-99.

Emmetiere, F., Irwin, C., Viola-Villegas, N., Longo, V., Cheal, S., Zanzonico, P., Pillarsetty, N., Weber, W.A., Lewis, J.S., Reiner, T. 18F-labeled Bioorthogonal Liposomes for In Vivo Targeting, Bioconjugate Chem. 2013;24:1784-9.

Viola-Villegas, N., Rice, S.L., Carlin, S., Wu, X., Evans, M.J., Sevak, K.K., Drobjnak, M., Ragupathi, G., Sawada, R., Scholz, W., Livingston, P., Lewis, J.S. Applying PET to broaden the diagnostic utility of the clinically validated CA19.9 serum biomarker for oncology, J. Nucl. Med., 2013; 54:1-7.

*Janjigian, Y., *Viola-Villegas, N.␣, Holland, J.P. , Divilov, V., Carbonetti, G., Carlin, S.D., Gomes DaGama, E.M., Chiosis, G., de Stanchina, E. , Lewis, J.S. Monitoring Afatinib Treatment in HER2 positive Gastric Cancer with 18F-FDG and 89Zr-trastuzumab PET, J. Nucl. Med. 2013;54: 936-43.
Denotes Co-first author

Education and Training:
PhD in Chemistry, 2009, Syracuse University
Postdoctoral Fellow, 2009-2010, University of California – San Diego
Postdoctoral Fellow, 2010-2014, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

Cancer Biology Courses Taught:
CB7210 Fundamentals of Cancer Biology
CB7240 Principles of Cancer Therapy
CB7300 Special Topics Preclinical Imaging Modalities (Course Director)
CB7300 Special Topics Breast Cancer
CB7410 Cancer Immunology and Immunotherapy