Sylvia L Asa, PhD, MD

Endocrine tumour development, progression and detection

Major Research Activities
Thyroid cancer is the most common endocrine malignancy and one of the most common malignancies in young women. It is one of the few cancers that is increasing in incidence worldwide. Pituitary tumours are also increasingly being detected; autopsy reports and radiologic and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) evidence from around the globe indicate that one in five people worldwide has a pituitary tumour. Neuroendocrine tumours arising in the pancreas, gut, lung and other sites are often misdiagnosed. Rare endocrine tumours affect the parathyroid glands and adrenals. These tumours that arise in endocrine tissues are unique in that they also often produce hormonal manifestations, and they respond to targeted therapies based on hormone regulation. Patients often have delayed diagnosis and are affected by the complications of the hormonal dysregulation that can have significant social and psychological impact in addition to that of a cancer diagnosis.
Our laboratory focuses on investigating the mechanisms underlying tumour development and progression in endocrine tissues. Studies aim to identify genetic and epigenetic changes that characterize these various cancers. Mouse models of these disorders are developed and used to verify the roles of these alterations that are found in human tumours. Once characterized, tests to identify these tumourigenic factors are developed for diagnostic, prognostic and predictive application. The underlying alterations represent targets for the design of novel therapies that can be tested in our mouse models before transition to human trials. 

The genetic predisposition that underlies many of these neoplasms is also being examined. Multiple endocrine neoplasia syndromes include the classical type 1 syndrome that is due to inheritance of a mutant tumour suppressor gene menin; the type 2 syndrome due to germline transmission of a unique activated oncogene RET; Cowden syndrome and Familial Polyposis Coli syndromes due to germline mutations of PTEN and AFP, respectively; von Hippel Lindau disease; neurofibromatosis; and the more recently identified succinate dehydrogenase (SDH) mitochondrial mutations. The impact of these alterations and other predisposition genes is being studied in cell lines and animal models as well as in primary human tumours.
The specific role of tyrosine kinase receptors, cell adhesion molecules and epigenetics factors that silence tumour suppressors are all examined to validate the role of primary genetic mutations in tumour development and subsequent epigenetic modulation of tumour progression.
Thyroid. 2016 Apr 18;
Du E, Wenig B, Su HK, Rowe ME, Haser GC, Asa SL, Baloch ZW, Faquin WC, Giordano TJ, Ghossein R, LiVolsi VA, Lloyd RV, Mete O, Ozbek U, Rosai J, Suster S, Thompson LD, Turk A, Urken ML
JAMA Oncol. 2016 Apr 14;
Nikiforov YE, Seethala RR, Tallini G, Baloch ZW, Basolo F, Thompson LD, Barletta JA, Wenig BM, Al Ghuzlan A, Kakudo K, Giordano TJ, Alves VA, Khanafshar E, Asa SL, El-Naggar AK, Gooding WE, Hodak SP, Lloyd RV, Maytal G, Mete O, Nikiforova MN, Nosé V,...
Endocr Pathol. 2016 Apr 11;
Yang Z, Zhang L, Serra S, Law C, Wei A, Stockley TL, Ezzat S, Asa SL
Endocr Relat Cancer. 2016 Apr 5;
Tateno T, Nakano-Tateno T, Ezzat S, Asa SL
Thyroid. 2016 Mar 7;
Su HK, Wenig B, Haser GC, Rowe ME, Asa SL, Baloch ZW, Du E, Faquin WC, Giordano TJ, Ghossein R, LiVolsi VA, Lloyd RV, Mete O, Ozbek U, Rosai J, Fellegara G, Suster S, Thompson LD, Turk A, Urken ML
Oncotarget. 2016 Mar 3;
Zhang L, Yang Z, Granieri L, Pasculescu A, Datti A, Asa SL, Xu Z, Ezzat S
Mod Pathol. 2016 Jan 8;
Mete O, Gomez-Hernandez K, Kucharczyk W, Ridout R, Zadeh G, Gentili F, Ezzat S, Asa SL
Am J Surg Pathol. 2015 Dec 17;
Papathomas TG, Pucci E, Giordano TJ, Lu H, Duregon E, Volante M, Papotti M, Lloyd RV, Tischler AS, van Nederveen FH, Nose V, Erickson L, Mete O, Asa SL, Turchini J, Gill AJ, Matias-Guiu X, Skordilis K, Stephenson TJ, Tissier F, Feelders RA, Smid M,...
Eur J Endocrinol. 2015 Nov 30;
Coli A, Asa S, Fadda G, Scannone D, Chiloiro S, De Marinis L, Lauretti L, Ranelletti FO, Lauriola L
J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2015 Nov 3;:jc20152917
Shi X, Liu R, Basolo F, Giannini R, Shen X, Teng D, Guan H, Shan Z, Teng W, Musholt TJ, Al-Kuraya K, Fugazzola L, Colombo C, Kebebew E, Jarzab B, Czarniecka A, Bendlova B, Sykorova V, Sobrinho-Simões M, Soares P, Kee Shong Y, Yong Kim T, Cheng S, Asa...


Professor, Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology, University of Toronto​