In the last six decades, most of our biomedical research has been focused on the importance of protein coding genes and their mutations at the DNA level. However, after the human genome was completely sequenced in 2003, we discovered that only 1-2% of our genome encodes for proteins while most of the human genome (98%) expresses RNAs known as non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs) which, as the name implies, do not encode for proteins. This recently discovered “universe” of ncRNAs contains tens of thousands of RNA molecules with unknown functions, leading researchers to call them the “dark matter” of biology.
The Martinez laboratory focuses on the importance of ncRNAs, such as long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs), and non-coding circular RNAs (circRNAs) in the process of carcinogenesis in human papillomavirus (HPV)-related cancers including cervical cancer and head and neck cancers. High-risk HPVs express two oncoproteins, E6 and E7, which modulate the degradation of tumor suppressor proteins p53 and Rb respectively, producing a molecular dysregulation that culminates in the immortalization and transformation of infected cells. Our goal is to identify the molecular functions, biological interactions and potential prognostic and diagnostic marker benefits of these types of ncRNAs in HPV-related cancers.
Our laboratory is also interested in understanding the significance of an alternative microRNA (miRNA) biogenesis pathway, recently discovered by our group, in primary human cells during cellular quiescence (Martinez et al. PNAS 2017). The reversible proliferative arrest known as cellular quiescence plays an important role in tissue homeostasis and stem cell biology. Dysregulation of quiescence could favor carcinogenesis.
Dr. Martinez was recruited to WVU in November 2012 after finishing his postdoctoral fellowship at Yale University. His academic appointment is in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Cell Biology, at the School of Medicine. Undergraduate students work in Dr. Martinez laboratory through the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center (MBRCC) Summer Fellowship program, the West Virginia IDeA network of Biomedical Research (WV-INBRE), and the WVU Honors College. The Ear, Nose, Throat (ENT) medical residents participate in PGY-3 research projects in the Martinez Lab through the Department of Otolaryngology research program. Doctoral students in Dr. Martinez’s laboratory can be affiliated with the Cancer Cell Biology graduate program or the Microbiology, Immunology, and Cell Biology graduate program. Our work is supported by the West Virginia Clinical and Translational Science Institute (WVCTSI), WVU Foundation, the American Cancer Society, Ladies Auxiliary of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), and the NIH-NIGMS CoBRE Tumor Microenvironment Grant.