James Herman









My lab studies epigenetic changes in cancer, with a focus on lung cancer. Tumor suppressor gene inactivation can occur through genetic mechanisms (deletions, mutations) or through epigenetic silencing, usually associated with promoter region methylation. We first described these changes for well-established tumor suppressor genes (VHL, p16/CDKN2A, BRCA1, APC, MLH1, etc) and have found epigenetic silencing is a common occurrence for many other genes in cancer.  These changes are now considered critical for the development and progression of cancer. We have developed sensitive methods for detection of DNA methylation (Methylation Specific PCR and new modifications of this method) to allow detection of changes in DNA methylation in small, archived tumor biopsies and in body fluids. This has led to molecular detection of cancer changes as a method for early detection in lung cancer (sputum and blood), colon cancer (stool) and other tumor types (pancreas: blood, ovarian: peritoneal fluid, bladder: urine). 

The presence of epigenetic changes has also been used to determine sensitivity to chemotherapies, and we developed a test for detection of methylation of the DNA repair gene MGMT is now used to assess sensitivity to the alkylating agents, including temozolomide.  He has more recently been a member of TCGA (The Cancer Genome Atlas) involved in characterizing genome wide epigenetic changes in cancer. 

Dr. Herman received his Bachelor’s degree with a major in Chemistry from Hope College in 1984, and his MD from The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1989. He completed his internship and residency in Internal Medicine at Duke University and a Medical Oncology fellowship at Johns Hopkins before joining the faculty in 1996. He was promoted to Professor in 2009 and has recently moved to the University of Pittsburgh to lead the lung cancer program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. His laboratory mentees include 3 medical and 6 PhD thesis students, and 23 post-doctoral fellows. He is board certified in medical oncology and is clinically involved in the management of patients with lung and esophageal cancer.