Institute of Dentistry

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Dr Hong Wan, PhD

Senior Lecturer

Telephone: +44 20 7882 7139
Room Number: Blizard Building


Dr Wan was qualified as a dentist in West China School of Stomatology in 1983. After eight years working in clinic, Dr Wan moved to research and obtained her PhD in 1995 at The Faculty of Medicine, University of Liverpool. Her first postdoctoral post (funded by Wellcome Trust) was based in St. George's Hospital Medical School, University of London, investigating the effect of the proteases of house dust mite allergens on tight junctions in bronchial epithelia. In 1999, she joined a team at St John's Institute of Dermatology, St Thomas' Hospital in London, working on hereditary skin disorder caused by mutations in the genes encoding the desmosomal proteins, research funded by a Wellcome Trust Research Program. During this study, she made an interesting observation on the low frequency of desmosome occurrence in the putative region of epidermal stem cells. From this she developed a novel strategy using Desmoglein 3 (Dsg3) as a negative marker to isolate the epidermal stem/progenitor cells from cultured human keratinocytes. She was awarded an MRC Career Development Fellowship for Stem Cell Research in 2003. In 2004, she moved to The Tumour Biology Centre, Cancer Research UK Clinical Centre, Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary University of London, to start her MRC fellowship and began her independent research since then. In 2007, she successfully cloned the full length human Dsg3 cDNA into a retroviral vector that led to the discovery of novel signalling roles of Dsg3, that have important implications in cancer progression.


Research Interests:

Dr Wan's research interest is on intercellular junctions including desmosomes in health and associated diseases. Currently her team is focused on the novel signalling role of the desmosomal cadherin, desmogelin 3 (Dsg3) in cancer progression and metastasis as well as in pemphigus vulgaris, a life-threatening autoimmune blistering disease.

Desmosomes are molecular complexes of adhesion structures and anchor the cell surface adhesion proteins to the intermediate filament cytoskeleton. These structures are abundant in epithelial tissues, such as skin and oral mucosa that experience extensive mechanical stress. Defects in the genes encoding desmosomal proteins, or disruption of desmosome adhesion by autoimmune antibodies or bacterial toxins result in various diseases with clinical manifestation of blistering in the skin and the oral mucosa, as well as the heart in some cases. Increasing evidence suggests that desmosomal proteins have broader functions than simply mechanically attaching cells together and mediate intracellular signalling transductions that regulate diverse cellular responses, such as cell adhesion, proliferation, differentiation, polarisation, morphology and motility. In addition, desmosomal proteins are found to be associated with other junctional proteins and to coordinate with them in the control of various cellular processes. Thus understanding of these additional roles will not only advance our knowledge of the pathophysiology of associated diseases but also will be of great value for clinical diagnosis and treatment of the diseases.

Using a combination of cellular and molecular biological study approaches, Dr Wan's team is trying to elucidate how Dsg3 is engaged in the processes of cell adhesion, differentiation, morphogenesis, and cell migration. Since Dsg3 has been proposed to play an important role in tumour progression and metastasis in head and neck cancer as well as in blister formation in pemphigus vulgaris, her team aims to characterise the molecular mechanisms by which Dsg3 regulates cell migration and invasion as well as cell-cell adhesion in these pathological conditions.

Selected Publications:

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