Director, Center for RNA Biology, and Associate Professor, Department of Oncology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
- M.S., Cytogenetics, Peoples Friendship University Moscow, 1984
- Ph.D., Molecular Genetics, Moscow University, and DNA Repair and Recombination, University of Gent, Belgium, Adviser: Professor Marc Van Montagu, Ph.D., 1987
- Post-doctoral fellowship, Gene Targeting and DNA Recombination, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Adviser: Professor Ethan R. Signer, Ph.D., 1994
Dr. Perera is director of the Center for RNA Biology at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital, a senior scientist in the Cancer & Blood Disorders Institute and an associate professor of oncology in the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He also has a secondary affiliation with the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Institute for Fundamental Biomedical Research. He uses biology, analytic genomics and bioinformatics to seek patterns that can lead to treatments for aggressive cancers. Dr. Perera’s research focuses on genes and identifying those susceptible to changes that lead to disease. He seeks to identify these changes early in life, which would allow early intervention through surgery or therapies that could prevent or alter the course of the disease.
Dr. Perera worked for several biotech and pharmaceutical companies before joining the faculty at Mercer University’s School of Medicine as an associate professor and director of genomics and research and development at Anderson Cancer Institute at Memorial Health Medical Center. He then worked for the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Research Institute before joining Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in 2018. He is also an adjunct faculty in the NCI-designated Cancer Center at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Research Institute in La Jolla, California.
Honors and Awards
- Honorary Professor, Institute of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, University of Colombo, 1999
- European Economic Community Biotechnology and Genetic engineering scholarship for post graduate studies, 1987
Childhood cancer medulloblastoma, prostate cancer and metastatic melanoma are difficult cancers to detect early, and once detected late they are nearly always impossible to cure, causing mortality within three years despite surgery and conventional therapies. Understanding the biology of these aggressive cancers is critical to finding effective treatment.
Dr. Perera’s recent research has provided a novel direction in the biology of these cancers—that abnormal patterns of regulation of certain long non-coding RNA (lncRNA) and microRNA genes determine aggressiveness of these cancers. His genome-wide studies have found evidence for abnormal epigenetic processes, rather than direct gene mutations, that lead to such abnormal lncRNA/miRNA regulation.
These findings support an unorthodox approach to investigating such cancers in that epigenetic rather than mutational processes might be the important underlying molecular mechanism behind these aggressive cancers. Therefore, novel therapeutic approaches might be in order.
However, much more remains to be understood in this direction. Specifically, the genome-wide systems biology approaches to dissect the epigenetic processes that become abnormal when aggressive medulloblastoma, prostate cancer and melanoma initiates, rather than the reductionist "gene-by-gene" classical approaches, are urgently necessary. Dr. Perera’s lab has embarked upon a systems biology initiative to investigate the role of epigenetic regulation of ncRNA/miRNA expression in these cancers, and now propose to extend this initiative from the laboratory ultimately to the bedside of patients.
- Sahoo A, Sahoo SK, Joshi P, Lee B and Perera RJ. MicroRNA-211 loss promotes metabolic vulnerability and BRAF inhibitor sensitivity in melanoma. Journal of Investigative Dermatology. 2018; doi: 10.1016/j.jid.2018.06.189.
- Lee B, Sahoo A, Marchica J, Holzhauser E, Chen X, Li JL, Seki T, Govindarajan SS, Markey FB, Batish M, Lokhande SJ, Zhang S, Ray A, Perera RJ. The long noncoding RNA SPRIGHTLY acts as an intranuclear organizing hub for pre-mRNA molecules. Science Advances. 2017; 3(5):e1602505. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.1602505.; PMCID: PMC5415337.
- Mazar J, Qi F, Lee B, Marchica J, Govindarajan S, Shelley J, Li JL, Ray A, and Perera RJ. MIR211 functions as a metabolic switch in human melanoma cells. Molecular and Cellular Biology, 2016; 36(7):1090-108. PMCID: PMC4800793
- Khaitan D, Dinger ME, Mazar J, Crawford J, Smith MA, Mattick JS, Perera RJ. The melanoma-upregulated long noncoding RNA SPRY4-IT1 modulates apoptosis and invasion. Cancer Res. 2011 Jun 1; 71(11):3852-62. PubMed PMID: 21558391.