Shyam K. Sharan, Ph.D.

Shyam K. Sharan, Ph.D.
Deputy Program Director
Senior Investigator
Head, Genetics of Cancer Susceptibility Section
Director, Center for Advanced Preclinical Research

Breast cancer is one of most common malignancies in women. Mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 are linked to increased risk of early onset familial breast and ovarian cancers. In an effort to reduce the mortality due to breast cancer through prevention and early diagnosis, sequencing based genetic tests are available to identify BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation carriers. Such tests have led to identification of several hundreds of sequence variants that are of unknown clinical significance. We are using mouse embryonic stem cells as well humanized and knock-in mouse models to distinguish between neutral or non-pathogenic and deleterious or pathogenic variants. Dr. Sharan is Deputy Director of the Mouse Cancer Genetics Program (MCGP) and Director of the Center for Advanced Preclinical Research (CAPR).

Areas of Expertise

1) DNA repair, 2) hereditary breast cancer, 3) tumor suppressor, 4) mouse models,
5) recombineering, 6) BRCA1/2 variants

Contact Info

Shyam K. Sharan, Ph.D.
Center for Cancer Research
National Cancer Institute
Building 560, Room 32-33
Frederick, MD 21702-1201
Ph: 301-846-5140

Breast cancer is the most common malignancy in women. Mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes play an important role in the development of early-onset familial breast cancer. Our goal is to carry out functional dissection of these genes using a mouse model system. Since complete loss of function mutations result in embryonic lethality, we are engaged in generating an array of specific mutations along the length of proteins encoded by these genes. To accomplish this, we have developed a transgenic mouse model system that combines the use of existing Brca1 and Brca2 knockout mice and the use of bacterial artificial chromosomes (BAC) containing these genes. Desired mutations can be generated in the Brca1 or Brca2 gene in the BAC and the phenotypic effect of the mutation can be analyzed in transgenic mice that are homozygous mutant for that gene.

In a continuing effort to understand the role of BRCA1 and BRCA2 in various biological processes, we have developed humanized mouse models for functional analysis of human BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. We have shown that wild-type human BRCA1 and the BRCA2 genes under the control of their own promoter present in BAC clones are fully functional in mice and can rescue the lethality associated with loss of function mutations of the respective genes in mice. The humanized mouse models provide an experimentally tractable system to generate mutations identified in human breast cancer patients and analyze how they result in tumorigenesis.

We have developed a simple but powerful method to generate subtle alterations in the BACs by using recombineering in bacteria. This method is based on the generation of recombinants in the BAC DNA by using oligonucleotides as targeting vectors with as few as 70 bases of homology. We have demonstrated that this technique can be used to generate single base changes, small insertions and deletions. Due to the high efficiency of recombineering, recombinant clones can be identified by a simple PCR-based screening method without the use of any selectable marker. We have used this method to generate several cancer causing missense mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 in the BAC and are examining their phenotypic consequences in mice in a Brca1 or Brca2 mutant background.

Based on the expression of BRCA2 on meiotic chromosomes, it has been predicted to be required for normal meiotic progression. Due to the embryonic lethality of Brca2 null mice, the precise function of BRCA2 protein in meiosis is unknown. We have generated a mouse model to describe a role for BRCA2 in meiosis. These mice lack the endogenous Brca2 gene but lethality is rescued by a human BRCA2 transgene. However, these mice are sterile due to poor expression of the transgene in testes and ovaries. We have used these mice to describe a role for BRCA2 in meiosis that is sexually dimorphic. We have found that the BRCA2-deficient spermatocytes undergo apoptosis unlike the BRCA2-deficient breast and ovarian epithelial cells that undergo neoplastic growth. This suggests that the cellular response to DNA damage may be tissue specific, which may explain why mutations in this widely expressed gene do not result in cancer in all tissues.

Although transgenic humanized mice using BACs are excellent in vivo models for understanding the functional significance of the human mutations, they are not ideally suited for characterizing large number of mutations. Hence, we are developing an embryonic stem (ES) cell-based functional assay to rapidly screen a large number of mutations. The assay is based on the observation that mouse ES cells that are mutated in both alleles of either Brca1 or Brca2 genes do not survive. We intend to use this assay system to study a large number of mutations in a short time by testing their ability to rescue the ES cell lethality. Those mutations that can rescue the lethality will be examined for defects in various DNA repair processes.

As a future goal, we plan to identify genes that genetically interact with BRCA1 or BRCA2 by undertaking an insertional mutagenesis approach in ES cells. By using retroviral insertion to activate genes, we will identify genes that can rescue the lethality of the BRCA1 or BRCA2-deficent ES cells. Such genes might provide insight into why some cells undergo apoptosis in the absence of these proteins while others continue to proliferate.

We have also initiated the functional analysis of Rad51l2, a member of the Rad51-like family. Rad51 is one of the key DNA repair proteins that interact with both BRCA1 and BRCA2. We plan to determine whether RAD51L2 interacts with BRCA1 or BRCA2 proteins as in vitro studies have demonstrated a role for RAD51L2 in homologous DNA repair.

The long-term objective of my group is to comprehensively delineate the biological function of BRCA1 and BRCA2. In doing so we will understand how the mutations that are scattered throughout the length of these genes lead to cancer. It is our hope that such an understanding will lead to identification of potential targets and the design of inhibitors that would either retard or completely inhibit the aberrant path towards carcinogenesis.

Dr. Sharan is also the Director of the Center for Advanced Preclinical Research (CAPR) and head of the BRCA Variants Analysis Unit.



NIH Scientific Focus Areas:
Cancer Biology, Genetics and Genomics, Immunology
View Dr. Sharan's PubMed Summary.

Selected Key Publications

  1. Biswas K, Philip S, Yadav A, Martin BK, Burkett S, Singh V, Babbar A, North SL, Chang S, Sharan SK
    Nat Commun. 9(1): 537, 2018. [ Journal Article ]
  2. Ding X, Ray Chaudhuri A, Callen E, Pang Y, Biswas K, Klarmann KD, Martin BK, Burkett S, Cleveland L, Stauffer S, Sullivan T, Dewan A, Marks H, Tubbs AT, Wong N, Buehler E, Akagi K, Martin SE, Keller JR, Nussenzweig A, Sharan SK.
    Nat Commun. 7: 12425, 2016. [ Journal Article ]
  3. Hartford SA, Chittela R, Ding X, Vyas A, Martin B, Burkett S, Haines DC, Southon E, Tessarollo L, Sharan SK.
    PLoS Genet. 12(8): e1006236, 2016. [ Journal Article ]
  4. Marzi L, Szabova L, Gordon M, Weaver Ohler Z, Sharan SK, Beshiri ML, Etemadi M, Murai J, Kelly K, Pommier Y.
    Clin Cancer Res. 25(20): 6206-16, 2019. [ Journal Article ]
  5. Pérez-Guijarro E, Yang HH, Araya RE, El Meskini R, Michael HT, Vodnala SK, Marie KL, Smith C, Chin S, Lam KC, Thorkelsson A, Iacovelli AJ, Kulaga A, Fon A, Michalowski AM, Hugo W, Lo RS, Restifo NP, Sharan SK, Van Dyke T, Goldszmid RS, Weaver Ohler Z, Lee MP, Day CP, Merlino G.
    Nat. Med. 26(5): 781-91, 2020. [ Journal Article ]

Dr. Sharan obtained his B.Sc. in botany and M.Sc. in genetics from Delhi University, Delhi. In 1994, he obtained his Ph.D. in genetics under Dr. Terry Magnuson at Case Western Reserve University. He then joined Dr. Allan Bradley's laboratory at Baylor College of Medicine as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Associate. In 1998, Dr. Sharan established the Genetics of Cancer Susceptibility Group in the ABL-Basic Research Program. His group is involved in the functional analysis of tumor suppressor genes in mice. In 1999, Dr. Sharan joined the Center for Cancer Research, NCI. In 2008, Dr. Sharan received the NCI Director's Intramural Innovation Award and in 2009 he received the NIH merit award and the Arthur Flemming Award for his work on functional analysis of BRCA1 and BRCA2. Dr. Sharan is also the Scientific Director of the Center for Advanced Preclinical Research (CAPR).

Name Position
Kajal Biswas Ph.D. Staff Scientist
Linda Cleveland Biological Laboratory Technician
Suhas Kharat Ph.D. Postdoctoral Fellow (Visiting)
Betty K. Martin Animal Technician (Contr)
Arun Prakash Mishra Ph.D. Postdoctoral Fellow (Visiting)
Sounak Sahu Ph.D. Postdoctoral Fellow (Visiting)
Satheesh Sengodan Ph.D. Postdoctoral Fellow (Visiting)
Stacey S. Stauffer B.S. Research Biologist
Teresa Sullivan Biological Laboratory Technician

News and Press Releases

Faulty Repair Systems:  Cancer cells find ways to survive damage they cannot fix

CCR Milestones 2017

Damage to DNA is unavoidable. Chemicals, sunlight and routine cellular activities distort the genetic code by modifying its components and severing DNA strands. Most of the time, such damage has no harmful consequences because cells’ sophisticated DNA repair systems rush to replace the errors and mend the breaks. Learn more...

PARP inhibitors may affect normal cells in patients with a BRCA mutation

August 1, 2016
CCR News

PARP inhibitors are drugs that block an enzyme involved in many cell functions, including DNA repair. PARP inhibition has been approved for treatment of advanced ovarian cancer with BRAC1 and BRAC2 mutations and is being studied in the treatment advanced breast, colorectal, and prostate cancer. Learn more...

Uncovering a new principle in chemotherapy resistance in breast cancer

July 20, 2016
NCI Press Release 

A laboratory study has revealed an entirely unexpected process for acquiring drug resistance that bypasses the need to re-establish DNA damage repair in breast cancers that have mutant BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. The findings, reported by Andre Nussenzweig, Ph.D., and Shyam Sharan, Ph.D., at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health, and colleagues, appeared July 21, 2016, in Nature. Learn more...

Rep. Delaney Learns about Breast Cancer Research at NCI at Frederick

October 29, 2014
NCI-Frederick Poster

Rep. John Delaney (D-Md., 6th District) visited the NCI campus at Frederick on October 21 to learn more about the research that scientists at NCI at Frederick are doing on breast cancer. October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Shyam Sharan, Ph.D., Head, Genetics of Cancer Susceptibility Section, Mouse Cancer Genetics Program, NCI Center for Cancer Research, presented recent research that his group has conducted on breast cancer genetics. Learn more...

BRCA1 Variants Co-Conspire with MicroRNA-155

September 1, 2011
CCR News

Recently discovered microRNAs (miRNAs) have an important biological role by switching "on" and "off" at different times during cell growth, death, development and differentiation. They regulate gene expression by blocking messenger RNA's instructions for protein production. Learn more...

Epigenetic tumor suppression by BRCA1

October 2011
Nature Medicine: News and Views

BRCA1 germline mutations lead to an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer, but the mechanisms by which the product of this gene functions as a tumor suppressor have remained elusive. Now, analysis of a missense BRCA1 variant shows that it can epigentically regulate an miRNA implicated in cancer, providing new mechanistic insights.  Learn more...

Breast cancer gene variants: separating the harmful from the harmless

September 21, 2009
The Journal of Clinical Investigation: Commentary 

Individuals carrying a mutation in the breast cancer 1, early onset gene (BRCA1) are at increased risk of breast or ovarian cancer and thus are candidates for risk reduction strategies such as oophorectomy and mastectomy. A recurring problem in the clinic is that many detectable changes within the BRCA1 gene produce subtle alterations to the protein that are not easily recognized as either harmful (loss-of-function) alleles or harmless and thus inconsequential polymorphisms. Learn more...

2009 Arthur Flemming Award Winner

Dr. Shyam K. Sharan received an Arthur Flemming Award in 2009 in recognition of his superior accomplishments as a Senior Investigator at the National Cancer Institute's Center for Cancer Research, Department of Health and Human Services in Bethesda, Maryland. Established in 1948, the Flemming Awards honor outstanding federal employees. Recognized by the President of the United States, agency heads, and the private sector, the winners are selected from all areas of the federal service. Learn more...

Federal Player of the Week

November 22, 2010
The Washington Post 

After 10 painstaking years working in his National Cancer Institute (NCI) laboratory searching for a genetic link to breast cancer, Shyam K. Sharan had one of those Eureka moments. "It made everything worth it. It was the best feeling in the world," Sharan recalled. Learn more...

Research Highlighted by Sen. Ted Kaufman on the Senate Floor

June 14, 2010

Senator Kaufman recognizes the Arthur S. Flemming award recipients.  Learn more...


Researchers Develop a Method to Evaluate Variations Identified in Breast Cancer Susceptibility Genes

July 6, 2008
NIH Press Release

Using mouse embryonic stem cells, researchers at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health, have developed a new method to evaluate which mutations, or changes, in a gene known to increase breast cancer susceptibility, may lead to cancer. The new test, called a functional assay, is more comprehensive and reliable than most current methods. Learn more...

CCR Explores New Approaches to Breast Cancer Research

September 2009
NCI-Frederick Poster

At NCI-Frederick, a number of researchers, both government and contractor, are involved in breast cancer research. Among CCR's investigators are Dr. Shyam Sharan and his group (Genetics of Cancer Susceptibility Section) in the Mouse Cancer Genetics Program (MCGP).  Learn more...