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Our Research

Our laboratory studies Merkel cell carcinoma, an often lethal skin cancer, with the ultimate goal of discovering new approaches to treat this disease.

Merkel Cell Carcinoma

Merkel cell carcinoma is usually caused in part by an extremely common (typically harmless) virus that was discovered in 2008, the Merkel cell polyomavirus. Another very important cause is extensive exposure to sunlight, possibly many years earlier, and this cancer typically presents in Caucasians with a relatively light skin tone. About 80% of MCC cases are caused by the virus, with the remaining 20% being caused by very extensive damage by the sun in the United States. People who have significant, prolonged suppression of their immune system are at high risk of MCC, but over 90% of MCC patients have no known problem with their immune system.

We have created a website that focuses specifically on Merkel cell carcinoma. For more information about the disease please visit:

UV-induced DNA damage

One hour of sunlight (UV) exposure generates ~100,000 DNA lesions per cell, which are mutagenic. In response to UV, cells activate multiple biological processes (primarily via the ATR kinase) to cope with these deleterious lesions. However, chronic UV exposure leads to development of skin cancers, the most prevalent cancers in humans (annual incidence is 3.5 million in the US that exceeds all other cancers combined).

Featured News

Save the Date – 2023 Merkel CELLebration/ Dinner

Please join us for our annual 2023 Merkel CELLebration/ Dinner on Monday, September 11, 2023, beginning at 3:30pm…

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Nghiem Lab Welcomes Clinical Research Fellow Austin Jabbour

UW Dermatology is excited to welcome Austin Jabbour, MD, to the laboratory of Paul Nghiem, MD, PhD as a Clinical…

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