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Dana Ward, Ph.D.

Dana Pirone Ward, Ph.D.

Professor of Biology

Department of Science

Coad Science Building
Room 210 B

+ (301) 447-5569

Dana Pirone Ward, Ph.D., is a 1997 graduate of Mount St. Mary’s University. She went on to earn her doctorate in 2001 in Cancer Biology from Georgetown University in Washington, DC. Following her graduate studies, Ward pursued a postdoctoral fellowship in the field of Bioengineering at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland. During this time she was awarded a National Research Service Award from the National Institutes of Health for her work in the area of vascular cell growth. She continued her postdoctoral studies at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA, where she investigated the role of physical forces on vascular growth.

Ward joined Mount St. Mary’s University in 2007 in the Department of Science, where she teaches Introductory Biology, Anatomy and Physiology I and II, Genetics, Pathophysiology, and Cancer Biology. She also continues to pursue research in the area of vascularization and vascular disease. During her time at Mount St. Mary’s, Ward has received several grants to fund her research including ones from the American Heart Association and the National Science Foundation.

1997-2001 Ph.D. Tumor Biology, Georgetown University, Washington, DC

1993-1997 B.S. Biochemistry, Mount St. Mary’s University, Emmitsburg, MD

Grants

Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) Award, National Science Foundation (2011-2012)
Title: MRI: Acquisition of a Real Time PCR System for Research and Education at an Undergraduate Institution

Scientist Development Grant, American Heart Association (2008-2012)
Title: Adhesion to the extracellular matrix, focal adhesion kinase, and the regulation of smooth muscle cell proliferation.

Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) (2004-2006)
National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Title: Role of Rho-mediated Tension in Cell Proliferation.

Department of Defense, Breast Cancer Research Program (1999-2002)
Title: Altered Cdc42 Signaling in Metastatic Breast Cancer Cells.<

Awards

2013 Travel Award, American Society for Cell Biology, for travel to and presentation at the 2013 Annual Meeting in New Orleans, LA

2012 Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) Award; National Science Foundation (NSF)

2011 Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) Award; National Science Foundation (NSF)

2008 Scientist Development Grant, American Heart Association

2004 Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) Grant

Distinctions (press related to publications)

Press for the publication Alimperti, S., Mirabella, T., Bajaj, V., Polacheck, W, Pirone, D.M., Duffield, J., Assoian, R.K., Chen, C.S. (2017) A 3D biomimetic vascular model reveals a RhoA, Rac1, and N-cadherin balance in mural cell-endothelial cell-regulated barrier function. Proc Natl Acad Sci, U.S.A. 114(33): 8758-8763.
https://wyss.harvard.edu/dangerous-cell-detachment-decoded/
https://www.technologynetworks.com/cell-science/news/blood-vessel-on-a-chip-models-vascular-barrier-function-291154

Press for the publication McBeath, R., Pirone, D.M., Nelson, C.M., Bhadriraju, K., Chen, C.S. (2004) Commitment of stem cell fate by cell shape, cytoskeletal tension, and RhoA. Developmental Cell 6(4): 483-495.
https://www.nature.com/news/2003/031208/full/news031208-16.html
http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2004/04/shape-cells-come
https://www.cell.com/molecular-cell/abstract/S1097-2765(04)00207-2
https://www.the-scientist.com/research/stem-cell-sculpting-49647
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2249959/

Press for the publication Pirone, D.M., Liu, W.F., Alom Ruiz, S., Gao, L., Raghavan, S., Lemmon, C.A., Romer, L., Chen, C.S. (2006) An Inhibitory Role for Focal Adhesion Kinase in Regulating Proliferation; a link between limited adhesion and RhoA-ROCK signaling. J. Cell Biol. 174(2): 277-288.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2064192/

Press for the publication Tan, J.L., Tien, J., Pirone, D.M., Gray, D.S., Bhadriraju, K., Chen, C.S. (2003) Cells lying on a bed of microneedles: An approach to isolate mechanical force. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci., U.S.A. 100(4): 1484-1489.
http://news.bio-medicine.org/biology-news-2/A-bed-of-microneedles-3A--Johns-Hopkins-scientists-gadget-measures-muscle-cell-force-5803-1/
https://www.nature.com/news/2002/021216/full/news021216-5.html

Press for the publication Pirone, D.M., Fukuhara, S., Gutkind, J.S., Burbelo, P.D. (2000) SPECS, small binding proteins for Cdc42. J. Biol. Chem. 275: 22650-22656.
https://www.cell.com/trends/cell-biology/fulltext/S0962-8924(00)01807-9

Cell Biology, Cancer Biology, Molecular Biology, Genetics, Anatomy and Physiology

Research Interests

The goal of our research is to investigate how cells control the reorganization of their internal support structures (the actin cytoskeleton) to elicit changes in cell shape ultimately allowing cells to be able to move and migrate. Cell shape changes and cell migration are important drivers for wound healing, but they also underlie pathological processes like cancer metastasis. Understanding how cells regulate complex biophysical phenomena like changing shape and moving will yield insight into both normal processes and disease states.

More specifically, we investigate the function of a small family of Cdc42 effector proteins in controlling the reorganization of the actin cytoskeleton to regulate the major cell shape changes that govern cell migration. We use microfabrication and engineered extracellular environments to explore these processes in spatially and geometrically well-controlled ways. Thus, our laboratory is at the interface of cell biology and bioengineering.

I enjoy interacting with students throughout their journey in higher education and I have developed a research program that integrates undergraduate students in every step of the research progress, including experimental design, data acquisition, data analysis, and oral and written communication of research findings. I enjoy helping students to ignite their passion for discovery and explore their research interests in the lab.

lab members

  • Rachel Keifer, C’20
  • Katelyn Comeau, C’19 – Research Assistant, Harvard University
  • Elizabeth O’Hare, C’19 – Teaching Fellow, Alliance for Catholic Education
  • Mitchell Sgrignoli, C’18 – Applying for graduate programs
  • Kathryn Thompson ,C’18 – Medical school student, University of Florida
  • Matthew Koury, C’17 – Medical school student, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
  • Gianfranco Libonate, C’17 – Medical school student, Virginia Commonwealth University
  • Matthew Martin, C’16 – Applying for graduate programs
  • Maria Conner, C’16 - Scientific Project Manager, National Institutes of Health, NIAID/DIR/Laboratory of Malaria Immunology and Vaccinology (LMIV)
  • Christiana Burke, C’15
  • Cara Deegan, C’15 – Medical school student, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences
  • Gregory Fultz, C’15 – Registered Nurse, Emergency Department, MedStar Health
  • Hilary Weidner, C’15 – Graduate student, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Delaware
  • Michael Conrad, C’14 – U.S. Army
  • Ashley Crosby, C’14 – Medical school student, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Timothy Cox, MD, C’13 – Family medicine
  • Ian Soller, C’13 – Law school student, George Washington University School of Law
  • Darya Heim, MD, C’12 – Family medicine
  • Tyler Mummert, DO, C’12 – Emergency medicine
  • Nicole Calabro, Ph.D., C’11 – Consultant, Lifescience Dynamics
  • Kent Worthington, C’10
  • Bennett Myers, MD, C’09 – Emergency medicine

Alimperti, S., Mirabella, T., Bajaj, V., Polacheck, W, Pirone, D.M., Duffield, J., Assoian, R.K., Chen, C.S. (2017) A 3D biomimetic vascular model reveals a RhoA, Rac1, and N-cadherin balance in mural cell-endothelial cell-regulated barrier function. Proc Natl Acad Sci, U.S.A. 114(33): 8758-8763.

McCauslin, C.S., Gunn, K.E., Pirone, D., Staiger, J. (2015) qPCR for second year undergraduates: a short, structure inquiry to illustrate differential gene expression. Biochem Mol Bio Educ. 43(4): 273-282.

Gunn, K.E., McCauslin, C.S., Staiger, J., Pirone, D.M. (2013) Inquiry-based learning: inflammation as a model to teach molecular techniques for assessing gene expression. J. Microbiol Biol Educ. 14(2): 561-566.

Pirone, D.M., Qi, L., Colecraft, H., Chen, C.S. (2008) Spatial patterning of gene expression using surface-immobilized recombinant adenovirus. Biomedical Microdevices. 10(4): 561-566.

Gomez-Sjoberg, R., Leyrat, A., Pirone, D., Chen, C.S., Quake, S. (2007) A versatile, fully automated microfluidic cell culture system. Anal. Chem. 79(22): 8557-8563.

Bhadriraju, K., Yang, M., Alom Ruiz, S., Pirone, D., Tan, J.L., Chen, C.S. (2007) Activation of ROCK by RhoA is Regulated by Cell Adhesion, Shape, and Cytoskeletal Tension. Exp Cell Res. 313(16): 3616-3623.

Pirone, D.M., Liu, W.F., Alom Ruiz, S., Gao, L., Raghavan, S., Lemmon, C.A., Romer, L., Chen, C.S. (2006) An Inhibitory Role for Focal Adhesion Kinase in Regulating Proliferation; a link between limited adhesion and RhoA-ROCK signaling. J. Cell Biol. 174(2): 277-288.

Liu, W.F., Nelson, C.M., Pirone, D.M., Chen, C.S. (2006) E-cadherin stimulates proliferation via Rac1. J. Cell Biol. 173(3):431-441.

Herndon, T.M., Pirone, D.M., Tsokos, G.C., Chen, C.S. (2005) T cell-to-T cell clustering enhances NF-kB activity by a PI3K signal mediated by Cbl-b and Rho. Biochem. Biophys. Res. Comm. 332: 1133-1139.

Pirone, D.M. and Chen, C.S. (2004) Strategies for Engineering the Adhesive Microenvironment. J. Mammary Gland Biol. Neoplasia 9(4): 405-417.

Burbelo, P.D., Pirone, D.M., and Ching, K.H. (2004) Global Genomic Approaches to the Study of Human Gene Function. Current Genomics 5: 567-574.

Nelson, C.M., Pirone, D.M., Tan, J.L., Chen, C.S. (2004) VE-cadherin regulates cytoskeletal tension, cell spreading and focal adhesions by stimulating RhoA. Molecular Biology of the Cell 15(6): 2943-2953.

McBeath, R., Pirone, D.M., Nelson, C.M., Bhadriraju, K., Chen, C.S. (2004) Commitment of stem cell fate by cell shape, cytoskeletal tension, and RhoA. Developmental Cell 6(4): 483-495.

Tan, J.L., Tien, J., Pirone, D.M., Gray, D.S., Bhadriraju, K., Chen, C.S. (2003) Cells lying on a bed of microneedles: An approach to isolate mechanical force. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci., U.S.A. 100(4): 1484-1489.

Pirone, D.M., Oberst, M.D., Carter, D.E., and Burbelo, P.D. (2001) The genomic structure of the human SPEC1 gene reveals complex splicing and close promoter proximity to the AF1q translocation gene. Gene 273(2): 295-303.

Pirone, D.M., Carter, D.E., Burbelo, P.D. (2001) Evolutionary expansion of CRIB-containing Cdc42 effector proteins. Trends in Genetics 17: 370-373.

Snow, D.M., Pirone, D.M., and Burbelo, P.D. (2001) A new family of Cdc42 effector proteins, CEPs, function in fibroblast and epithelial cell shape changes. J. Biol. Chem. 276: 875-883.

Pirone, D.M., Fukuhara, S., Gutkind, J.S., Burbelo, P.D. (2000) SPECS, small binding proteins for Cdc42. J. Biol. Chem. 275: 22650-22656.

Burbelo, P.D., Kozak, C.A., Finegold, A.A., Hall, A., Pirone, D.M. (1999) Cloning, central nervous system expression and chromosomal mapping of the mouse PAK-1 and PAK-2 genes. Gene 232: 209-215.

Textbook Chapters

Pirone, D.M. and Chen, C.S. (2004) Using lab-on-a-chip technologies to understand cellular mechanotransduction. Lab-on-Chips for Cellomics: Micro and Nanotechnologies for Life Science. Kluwer Academic Publishers: 171-196.

Kisailus, A.E., Ching, K., Pirone, D.M., Burbelo, P.D. (2003) Cdc42 regulates diverse signaling pathways in mammalian cells. Recent Advances in Cell Research, Research signpost 1: 161-180.