Dr. Melania Mercado-Pimentel is a Molecular Cellular & Developmental Biologist, whose research interest is to study the molecular mechanisms of tumor growth and metastasis. Dr. Mercado-Pimentel’s specific research interest is to understand the molecular mechanisms of microRNAs regulation during tumor growth and cancer progression. Her present research interest in cancer developed through time; beginning with her doctoral training path, studying the role that molecules expressed in glial cells of the optic nerve path have in guiding axons to connect to their targets during optic nerve development. Then, she studied the role that Hox genes play in the axon patterning during the nervous system development. Dr. Mercado-Pimentel’s postdoctoral research project, TGF-s (specifically endoglin and TGF-β Receptor 1 or ALK5) role in the process of epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) during heart valve formation, was key in her decision to study cancer progression and metastasis. Since EMT is one of the first events for the onset of metastasis, Dr. Mercado-Pimentel realized that this was the link to use her scientific training in basic research for the investigation of human diseases. She started this new path by studying the role that inflammation factors, S100P and RAGE, play in microRNA regulation in EMT during metastasis of colorectal cancer. As part of her interest in the molecular mechanisms of tumor growth, Dr. Mercado-Pimentel demonstrated that a new small molecule protein kinase inhibitor, PI-15, induces cell death by mitotic catastrophe in vestibular schwannomas, which are benign tumors caused by mutations of the tumor suppressor gene, neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2). Recently, Dr. Mercado-Pimentel with her students identified new proteins interacting with the NF2 protein, Merlin, in tumor cells. Dr. Mercado-Pimentel is pursuing to understand the molecular mechanisms that these new identified proteins have in microRNA regulation in tumor growth and metastasis during cancer progression using as a cancer model the oral squamous cell carcinoma.
Dr. Mercado-Pimentel’s goal to benefit others is to use her scientific training to mentor, train, and influence young aspirant scientists and medical doctors from a diverse population to use their scientific potential for improving health in underserved communities.