Joseph R. Testa, PhD, FACMG

Joseph Testa, PhD

Professor/Senior Member

Carol & Kenneth E. Weg Chair in Human Genetics

Co-Leader, Cancer Biology Program

Chief, Genomic Medicine

Director, Clinical Cytogenomics Laboratory

Director, Genomics Facility

Scientific Leader, Kidney Cancer Working Group

TRDG Member: 
Kidney, Bladder, and Prostate Cancer;
Lung Cancer and Mesothelioma;
Lymphoma and CLL Cancer;
Melanoma and Skin Cancer

Research Program

Chromosomal rearrangements in mesothelioma cells from a p19Arf-deficient mouse
Pedigrees of two U.S. families with a high incidence of mesothelioma and other cancers.
Homozygous losses of the CDKN2A/ARF locus in human mesothelioma
Homozygous losses of the CDKN2A/ARF locus in human mesothelioma
Effect of mTOR inhibition in a mouse model of ovarian cancer
Genomic copy number analysis profile
Immunohistochemical staining for phosphorylated PAK
Immunohistochemical staining for phosphorylated PAK (p21-acivated kinase)
Analysis of recurrent chromosome 6 inversion.


Education and Training

Educational Background

  • Postdoctoral fellow, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, 1976-1980
  • PhD, Biological Sciences, Fordham University, New York, NY, 1976
  • BS, MS, Biology, Southern Connecticut State University, New Haven, CT, 1973



  • Diplomate (Clinical Cytogenetics), American Board of Medical Genetics, 1987
  • Founding Fellow PhD, American College of Medical Genetics & Genomics (FACMG), 1993


  • American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • American Association for Cancer Research
  • American College of Medical Genetics
  • American Society of Hematology
  • American Society of Human Genetics
  • American Society of Microbiology
  • Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology
  • International Mesothelioma Interest Group

Honors & Awards

  • Pioneer Research Award, Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation, 2013
  • Wagner Medal, International Mesothelioma Interest Group, 2012
  • Elected Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2012
  • The Reimann Honor Award of the Fox Chase Cancer Center, 2011
  • Scientific Research Award, American Cancer Society (ACS) Southeast PA Division, 2009
  • Co-recipient, Landon Foundation-AACR Innovator Award for International Collaboration in Cancer Research (team award), 2008
  • Member, NCI Board of Scientific Counselors, Basic Sciences, 2006-2011
  • Irving Selikoff Award for Cancer Research, 1999
  • Stohlman Memorial Scholar Award, Leukemia Society, 1987
  • Leukemia Society of America Scholar Award, 1984-1990
  • Leukemia Society of America Special Fellow Award, 1982-1984
Research Profile

Research Program

Research Facility

Director, Genomics Facility

Research Interests

Molecular biology of mesothelioma; AKT oncogenic activity

The BAP1 tumor predisposition syndrome.

Molecular genetic basis of malignant mesothelioma susceptibility and progression.

Role of the AKT1/2 oncogenes in tumorigenesis and resistance to anti-cancer therapies.

Characterization of genes that interact with and/or cooperate with AKT kinase activation in tumor development.

Use of genetically engineered mice to assess gene–environment interactions, the role of asbestos-induced inflammation in tumor development, and as preclinical models for selective drug targeting of cellular pathways underpinning human tumorigenesis.

Lab Overview

The Testa lab investigates the role of hereditary and somatic mutations in malignant mesothelioma, a cancer of the cells lining the chest and abdominal cavities, primarily caused by exposure to asbestos.  The group discovered frequent mutations of the CDKN2A locus, a region of DNA that encodes the tumor suppressors p16INK4A and p14ARF, and NF2 in human mesothelioma.  In 2011, he and his collaborators also discovered germline mutations of the BAP1 tumor suppressor gene in families with a high incidence of mesothelioma, the first study demonstrating that inherited mutations can influence a person’s risk of mesothelioma.  Besides mesothelioma, some of the BAP1 mutation carriers developed ocular melanoma or other cancers, and this cancer susceptibility is now recognized as the BAP1 tumor predisposition syndrome.  Much of the current work in the lab is focused understanding the mechanisms involved in BAP1-related tumor susceptibility.  Using a genetically-engineered mouse (GEM) model they developed, the Testa lab provided the first in vivo evidence that inherited (germline) mutation of Bap1 predisposes to the development of asbestos-induced mesothelioma. This and other Bap1 mouse models are currently being used to assess susceptibility to spontaneous lung formation and  gene–environment interactions.  The group is also using novel GEM models to unravel the role of asbestos-induced inflammation in the genesis of malignant mesothelioma.

Mechanistic work by the Testa lab previously linked NF2 inactivation to oncogenic PAK and FAK signaling, implicating NF2 inactivation in mesothelioma cell spreading, invasiveness and proliferation, thereby establishing a framework for elucidating tumorigenic mechanisms and novel therapeutic targets in this disease.   Other in vivo studies demonstrated that alterations of Nf2 and Cdkn2a cooperate to drive the development of highly aggressive mesotheliomas characterized by enhanced tumor dissemination and the involvement of a cancer stem cell (CSC) population.  Mesothelioma is very difficult to treat and almost always recurs after therapy.  Based on his work linking NF2 loss to FAK activation, he partnered with investigators in the pharmaceutical industry to test a novel drug that blocks FAK activity.  Their findings suggested that FAK inhibitor treatment might be especially beneficial in patients with NF2-deficient tumors.  Moreover, the drug proved to be particularly effective at killing CSCs, which can give rise to recurrent tumors.  These preclinical studies provided the rationale for a clinical trial in mesothelioma patients using a FAK inhibitor as a single agent after first-line chemotherapy. Other planned preclinical studies involve the use of a FAK inhibitor with inhibitors of other pathways that are commonly activated in human mesotheliomas.

Testa has a longstanding interest in the oncogenic role of AKT, beginning with his chromosomal mapping of the AKT1 proto-oncogene in 1988.  The Testa lab cloned and characterized the related AKT2 gene and provided the first evidence for recurrent alterations of the AKT pathway in human cancers.  The group is currently investigating the role of an AKT interactor, the adapter APPL1/2, in embryonic development and oncogenesis.  The lab is also characterizing how other genes, such as the proto-oncogene  Myc or the homeobox gene Dlx5 cooperate with Akt2 to promote oncogenesis.

The Testa lab is highly interactive and currently collaborates with, and shares funded grants with, both the Chernoff and Balachandran labs at FCCC, on studies designed to target various kinases aberrantly activated in mesothelioma.  Additionally, collaborative grants with Frank Rauscher (Wistar) on BAP1 and Rebecca Simmons (UPenn) on mouse models of asbestos carcinogenicity are ongoing.

Extramural Affiliations

University of Pennsylvania

Lab Staff

Mitchell Cheung, PhD

Research Associate

Room: P3040

Yuwaraj Kadariya, MD, PhD

Research Associate

Room: P3029

Anna-Mariya Kukuyan

Graduate Student

Room: P3040

Zemin Liu

Senior Cytogenetic Specialist

Room: P3011

Craig Menges, PhD

Research Associate

Room: P3040

Erin Neumann-Domer, BS

Scientific Technician II

Room: P3011

Jianming Pei, MD

Staff Scientist

Room: P3011

Eleonora Sementino, MS

Scientific Technician II

Room: P3043

Jacqueline Talarchek

Scientific Technician II

Room: P3011

Yinfei Tan, PhD

Senior Research Associate

Room: P3040

Yanni Zang

Cytogenetic Specialist

Room: P3011

Additional Staff

Previous lab members

  • Deborah Altomare, PhD, Assistant Professor
  • Ara Tadevosyan, BS, Scientific Technician I
  • Lili Zhang, BS, Scientific Technician

Selected Publications

Cai W., Su L., Liao L., Liu Z.Z., Langbein L., Dulaimi E., Testa J.R., Uzzo R.G., Zhong Z., Jiang W., Yan Q., Zhang Q., Yang H., Pbrm1 acts as a p53 lysine-acetylation reader to suppress renal tumor growth. Nat Commun. 10(1): 5800, 2019. PMC6925188. 11.878

Kukuyan A.M., Sementino E., Kadariya Y., Menges C.W., Cheung M., Tan Y., Cai K.Q., Slifker M.J., Peri S., Klein-Szanto A.J., Rauscher F.J., 3rd, Testa J.R., Inactivation of bap1 cooperates with losses of nf2 and cdkn2a to drive the development of pleural malignant mesothelioma in conditional mouse models. Cancer Res. 79(16): 4113-4123, 2019. PMC6697648. 8.378

Rao S., Peri S., Hoffmann J., Cai K.Q., Harris B., Rhodes M., Connolly D.C., Testa J.R., Wiest D.L., Rpl22l1 induction in colorectal cancer is associated with poor prognosis and 5-fu resistance. PLoS One. 14(10): e0222392, 2019. PMC6776433. 2.776

Peng H., Prokop J., Karar J., Park K., Cao L., Harbour J.W., Bowcock A.M., Malkowicz S.B., Cheung M., Testa J.R., Rauscher F.J., 3rd, Familial and somatic bap1 mutations inactivate asxl1/2-mediated allosteric regulation of bap1 deubiquitinase by targeting multiple independent domains. Cancer Res. 78(5): 1200-1213, 2018. PMC6167014. 8.378

Sementino E, Menges CW, Kadariya Y, Peri S, Xu J, Liu Z, Wilkes RG, Cai KQ, Rauscher FJ, 3rd, Klein-Szanto AJ, Testa JR. Inactivation of Tp53 and Pten drives rapid development of pleural and peritoneal malignant mesotheliomas. Journal of cellular physiology, 2018. PubMed

Walpole S., Pritchard A.L., Cebulla C.M., Pilarski R., Stautberg M., Davidorf F.H., de la Fouchardiere A., Cabaret O., Golmard L., Stoppa-Lyonnet D., Garfield E., Njauw C.N., Cheung M., Turunen J.A., Repo P., Jarvinen R.S., van Doorn R., Jager M.J., Luyten G.P.M., Marinkovic M., Chau C., Potrony M., Hoiom V., Helgadottir H., Pastorino L., Bruno W., Andreotti V., Dalmasso B., Ciccarese G., Queirolo P., Mastracci L., Wadt K., Kiilgaard J.F., Speicher M.R., van Poppelen N., Kilic E., Al-Jamal R.T., Dianzani I., Betti M., Bergmann C., Santagata S., Dahiya S., Taibjee S., Burke J., Poplawski N., O'Shea S.J., Newton-Bishop J., Adlard J., Adams D.J., Lane A.M., Kim I., Klebe S., Racher H., Harbour J.W., Nickerson M.L., Murali R., Palmer J.M., Howlie M., Symmons J., Hamilton H., Warrier S., Glasson W., Johansson P., Robles-Espinoza C.D., Ossio R., de Klein A., Puig S., Ghiorzo P., Nielsen M., Kivela T.T., Tsao H., Testa J.R., Gerami P., Stern M.H., Paillerets B.B., Abdel-Rahman M.H., Hayward N.K., Comprehensive study of the clinical phenotype of germline bap1 variant-carrying families worldwide. J Natl Cancer Inst. 110(12): 1328-1341, 2018. PMC6292796. 10.211

Cheung M., Testa J.R., Bap1, a tumor suppressor gene driving malignant mesothelioma. Transl Lung Cancer Res. 6(3): 270-278, 2017. PMC5504107. 4.806

Tan Y., Sementino E., Chernoff J., Testa J.R., Targeting myc sensitizes malignant mesothelioma cells to pak blockage-induced cytotoxicity. American Journal of Cancer Research. 7(8): 1724-1737, 2017. PMC5574944. 4.737

Tan Y., Sementino E., Xu J., Pei J., Liu Z., Ito T.K., Cai K.Q., Peri S., Klein-Szanto A.J., Wiest D.L., Testa J.R., The homeoprotein dlx5 drives murine t-cell lymphomagenesis by directly transactivating notch and upregulating akt signaling. Oncotarget. 8(9): 14941-14956, 2017. PMC5362456. 4.031

Tesla, Joesph. Asbestos and Mesothelimoa. Springer, 2017. 

Germline BAP1 mutation in a family with high incidence of multiple primary cancers and a potential gene-environment interaction. Cheung M, Kadariya Y, Talarchek J, Pei J, et al. Cancer Lett. 2015:369(2):261-5.  PMCID:  PMC4634709. PubMed

Merlin deficiency predicts FAK inhibitor sensitivity: a synthetic lethal relationship. Shapiro IM, Kolev VN, Vidal CM, Kadariya Y, Ring JE, et al. Sci Transl Med. 2014; 6:237ra68. PMCID: PMC4165339 PubMed

Germline mutation of Bap1 accelerates development of asbestos-induced malignant mesothelioma. Xu J, Kadariya Y, Cheung M, Pei J, Talarchek J, et al. Cancer Res. 2014; 74:4388-97. PMCID: PMC4165574. PubMed

Tumor suppressor alterations cooperate to drive aggressive mesotheliomas with enriched cancer stem cells via a p53-miR-34a-c-Met axis. Menges CW, Kadariya Y, Altomare D, Talarchek J, Neumann-Domer E, et al. Cancer Res. 2014; 74:1261-71. PMCID: PMC3945416. PubMed

BAP1 and cancer. Carbone M, Yang H, Pass HI, Krausz T, Testa JR, et al. Nat Rev Cancer. 2013; 13:153-9. PMCID: PMC3792854. PubMed ... Expand

Additional Publications


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