Wen-Hwa Lee is a Donald Bren Professor of Biomedicine at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine’s Department of Biological Chemistry. Among his accomplishments, Dr. Lee is renowned for identifying a tumor-suppressor gene that plays a vital role in the cellular battle against cancer.
In the late 1980s, Dr. Lee identified and cloned a gene that would rapidly become a focus of major interest among cancer researchers. Known as the human retinoblastoma susceptibility gene (RB), it constituted a new class of gene that suppressed the growth of tumors. When functioning at proper levels, RB proteins control the division of normal cells. Although only retinoblastoma, an eye malignancy, had been directly linked to the loss of RB in cells, Dr. Lee and colleagues were able to show that this gene could also be a factor in other cancers.
In addition to pioneering research on tumor-suppressing genes, Dr. Lee has investigated why the repair mechanisms for DNA can fail and cause the subsequent accumulation of cancer-promoting mutations. Dr. Lee has particularly focused on the initial events that compromise the ability of a cell to maintain the integrity of its coding information. His laboratory has linked two breast cancer susceptibility genes, BRCA-1 and BRCA-2, to the process of DNA repair.