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Shelton Earp, MD

Lineberger Professor of Cancer Research
Director, UNC Cancer Care
Professor of Medicine & Pharmacology
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Current Research

  • Seeking to identify the genes and signaling pathways that lead to tumor growth.

  • Laboratory studies are ongoing to develop strategies to block the effects of the mutant genes to improve tumor response to therapy.

  • These efforts are paving the way for new drug development and treatment strategies by pinpointing the defects that are driving cancer growth.

Cancer is driven by growth pathways that become dysregulated and cause abnormal cell growth. These pathways are activated by proteins on the tumor cell called receptors. Dr. Earp and his team are working to uncover genes that regulate breast cancer growth and the body’s immune response to breast cancer.

Through earlier work supported by BCRF, they discovered a gene called WWOX that is abnormally expressed in breast cancer. Studies are ongoing to understand how a a mutant form of this gene contributes to tumor progression.

Another important gene Dr. Earp's lab discovered is Mer Receptor Tyrosine Kinase (MerTK). MerTk and a related protein, Axl, can play roles in breast cancer cell survival and metastasis. They work together to block anti-tumor immune pathways and thus prevent the new generation of immunotherapies from working.

In the coming year, the team will investigate how best to target MerTK to induce a strong anti-breast cancer immune response. Collectively, Dr. Earp's BCRF research has helped to identify potential new targets for drug development, as well as strategies to stimulate anti-tumor activity by the body's own immune system.


Shelton Earp is the Lineberger Professor of Cancer Research, Director of UNC Cancer Care and former Director of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer. In these roles, he has helped develop basic, clinical and public health research and cancer care at one of the country’s premier public universities and academic medical centers. He serves as Principal Investigator of the UNC Breast Cancer SPORE and his laboratory conducts fundamental and translational research in breast cancer and childhood leukemia. His group has discovered and studied genes involved in a range of cancers, published over 160 biomedical-research articles and been continuously funded by NIH for over 35 years. He is currently collaborating with the UNC Chemical Biology Center in the Eshelman School of Pharmacy to develop a new, first-in-class drug targeting one of the cancer genes discovered in his lab. Inhibition of this gene may stimulate a breast cancer patient’s innate immunity against their cancer.

Dr. Earp has received UNC School of Medicine teaching awards and chaired national review committees for the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute.  He has served as President of the American Association of Cancer Institutes, on the NCI Board of Scientific Advisors, and on the advisory boards of ten university cancer centers.  His lab is supported by NIH grants, the Breast SPORE and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

BCRF Investigator Since


Donor Recognition

The Estée Lauder Award

Area(s) of Focus