Navigate Up

Weihua Zhang, MD, PhD

Survival Mechanisms of Cancer Cells

The Kinase-Independent Survival Function of
EGFR in Cancer Cells
The membrane tyrosine kinase epithelial growth factor receptor (EGFR) frequently exhibits increased kinase activity in tumors of epithelial origin.  However, small molecule inhibitors of EGFR have yet to show therapeutic effects in clinical trials, begging the question of whether EGFR tyrosine kinase activity is the only appropriate target. Our studies have shown that EGFR, in a kinase-independent manner, helps to maintain the basal intracellular glucose level of cancer cells by stabilizing the glucose transporter, SGLT1. Cancer cells require more glucose than normal cells for survival.  Thus, the kinase-independent activity of EGFR, which maintains glucose uptake in cancer cells, might serve as an effective target for cancer therapy. Our current efforts are directed toward further exploring the interaction of SGLT1 and EGFR as well as how this interaction affects the metabolism, survival and growth of cancer cells. 

Identification of Tumor-Initiating Cells in Urological Tumors
The failure of cancer therapy in the long term is often attributed to tumor cell heterogeneity.  Specifically, many hypothesize that a subpopulation of tumor cells resistant to therapeutic agents may serve as the source of cells for tumor relapse and metastasis after treatment.  The identification and characterization of such a tumor-initiating cell holds great promise as a way to develop more effective therapies.  Thus, another goal of my laboratory is to isolate tumor-initiating cells of urological tumors.   

The Role of Apoptotic Cells in the Angiogenesis of Solid Tumors
Angiogenesis, the development of new blood vessels from preexisting vessels, is crucial to tissue growth, repair, and maintenance. This process begins with the formation of endothelial cell sprouts followed by the proliferation and migration of neighboring endothelial cells along the preformed extensions. The initiating event and mechanism of sprouting is not known. Previously we found that the phenotypic expression of negatively charged membrane surface in apoptotic cells initiates the formation of directional endothelial cell sprouts that extend toward the dying cells by a mechanism that involves endothelial cell membrane hyperpolarization and cytoskeleton reorganization but is independent of diffusible molecules. This finding suggests that apoptotic cells are angiogenic. Currently we are investigating the molecular mechanisms of the recognition of distant apoptotic cells by endothelial cells in vitro and the role of apoptotic cell initiated angiogenesis in the development of drug resistance during cancer therapy.

Selected Publications: (my name appears as Zhang Weihua in all my publications)

  1. Xu, S and Weihua, Z.  Knocking down EGFR, but not inhibiting its kinase activity, sensitizes prostate cancer cells to chemotherapeutic reagents. 2008 (manuscript).
  2. Weihua, Z., Tsan, R., Lin, Q. and Fidler, I.J. Solid tumor formation from a single cell. 2008 (manuscript).
  3. Weihua, Z., Tsan, R., Fidler, I. J.  and  Hung, M-C.  Survival of Cancer Cells is Maintained by EGFR independent of its kinase activity. Cancer Cell, 2008 (In press)
  4. Weihua Z., Tsan R., Do-Hyun Nam, Lu W. and Fidler, IJ.  Loss of Adhesion in the Circulation Converts Amelanotic Metastatic Melanoma Cells to Melanotic by Inhibition of AKT. Neoplasia, 8(7): 543-550, 2006.
  5. Weihua, Z., Tsan, R., Schroit, A. J., and Fidler, I. J.  Apoptotic cells initiate endothelial cell sprouting via electrostatic signaling.  Cancer Res., 65(24): 11529-11535, 2005. *Article selected for Highlight in Science  311:16, 2005.
Weihua Zhang, M.D., Ph.D.

Contact Information

Office phone: 412-623-3900
Lab phone: 412-623-3926

Additional Resources

UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences | Supplemental content provided by Healthwise, Incorporated. To learn more, visit

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

Pittsburgh, PA, USA |