Department of Medicine

Department of Medicine

  Division of Hematology/Oncology

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photo Albert D. Donnenberg, PhD

Professor of Medicine

Professor of Infectious Disease and Microbiology

Director, UPMC Hematopoietic Stem Cell Laboratories

Director, UPCI Flow Cytometry Facility


Phone: 412-623-3256

Office: Hillman Cancer Research Pavilion
5117 Centre Ave, Suite 2.42
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
Phone: 412-623-3256
Administrative Assistant:
Laurice Vance
Address: 5117 Centre Avenue, Suite 2.42
PA, PA 15213
Phone: 412-623-1189
Education and Training
B.A., University of Colorado, 1973
Ph.D., The Johns Hopkins University, 1980
Postdoctoral Fellowship, The Johns Hopkins Oncology Center, 1982
Research Interest
My current research interests, which I share with my wife and scientific partner, Dr. Vera Donnenberg, focus on cancer stem cells and their role in tumorigenesis, invasion and metastasis. We view stemness in epithelial cancers as a state rather than the property of a unique cell type, with individual tumor cells transiting in and out of the cancer stem cell state. According to this interpretation, the more aggressive the tumor, the more cells exist in the stem-like state at any given time. In xenograft models, tumorigenicity is dependent on this state, which can be recognized by the expression of a number of markers that are associated with normal mesenchymal stem cells. In epithelial cancers mesenchymal markers are associated with invasion, immune suppression and drug resistance. Taken together, the cancer stem cell paradigm has converged with the bidirectional epithelial to mesenchymal/mesenchymal to epithelial transitions (EMT/MET). Our working hypothesis is that neoplastic transformation and conferral of invasiveness are often independent processes, the later on wound-healing signals present in the tumor microenvironment. Thus, a carcinoma in situ and an invasive carcinoma may share a common mutational profile but exist in very different microenvironments. Since the environment is controlled to a large part by tissue macrophages and stromal cells, which interact at close distances with tumor cells, our research efforts are currently aimed at understanding how polarization toward wound healing influences tumor cell behavior, and how tumor cells influence polarization.
Clinical Interest
In addition to performing basic research, I serve as Director of UPMC Hematopoietic Stem Cell Laboratories at the Hillman Cancer Center and Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Our major focus is in delivering the highest quality cellular products to support the Adult and Pediatric Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplant Programs. I am also deeply interested in translating bench research into cellular therapy: adapting or developing methodology, improving practices and expanding indications. Areas of clinical research focus include improvements in current good manufacturing practices and developing tools for quality assessment, including environmental monitoring and monitoring instrument performance. We have also developed GMP-compliant methods for obtaining bone marrow cells from cadaveric bone, radically depleting mobilized apheresis products of T lymphocytes (with accompanying rare-event flow cytometry diagnostics) and separating stromal vascular stem-cells from adipose tissue. We have brought all of these methods to clinical trial. A current project now in the preclinical phase combines the GMP manufacture cellular product and diagnostics. Performed in collaboration with Drs. Gladwin and Triulzi, the study involves tracking the fate of red blood cells after infusion. In this SOP, banked red cells are labeled with biotin prior to infusion. The labeled cells can be detected ex vivo by a flow cytometry assay capable of detecting biotinylated red cells as a rare event.
Educational Interest
I am also involved in teaching flow cytometry best practices at national and international workshops and courses, and locally in the form of a monthly workshop series, endeavoring to promote best practices in sample preparation, panel design, instrument utilization and data analysis.
For my complete bibliography, Click Here.
Selected Publications:
Donnenberg VS, Zhang JJ, Moravcikova E, Meyer EM, Lu H, Carson CT, Donnenberg AD. Antibody-based cell-surface proteome profiling of metastatic breast cancer primary explants and cell lines. Cytometry A. 2018; 93(4).: 448-57.
Tsuji W, Valentin JE, Marra KG, Donnenberg AD, Donnenberg VS, Rubin JP. An Animal Model of Local Breast Cancer Recurrence in the Setting of Autologous Fat Grafting for Breast Reconstruction. Stem Cells Transl Med. 2018; 7(1).: 125-34.
Billaud M, Donnenberg VS, Ellis BW, Meyer EM, Donnenberg AD, Hill JC, et al. Classification and Functional Characterization of Vasa Vasorum-Associated Perivascular Progenitor Cells in Human Aorta. Stem Cell Reports. 2017; 9(1): 292-303.
Kokai LE, Traktuev DO, Zhang L, Merfeld-Clauss S, DiBernardo G, Lu H, Marra KG, Donnenberg AD. Adipose Stem Cell Function Maintained with Age: An Intra-Subject Study of Long-Term Cryopreserved Cells. Aesthet Surg J. 2017; 37(4): 454-63.
Mehta K, Moravcikova E, McFall D, Luketich JD, Pennathur A, Donnenberg AD, Donnenberg VS. The Mesenchymal State Predicts Poor Disease-Free Survival in Resectable Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer. Ann Thorac Surg. 2017; 104(1): 321-8.
Moravcikova E, Krepela E, Donnenberg VS, Donnenberg AD, Benkova K, Rabachini T, et al. BOK displays cell death-independent tumor suppressor activity in non-small cell lung carcinoma. Int J Cancer. 2017; 141(10): 2050-61.
Donnenberg VS, Huber A, Basse P, Rubin JP, Donnenberg AD. Neither epithelial nor mesenchymal circulating tumor cells isolated from breast cancer patients are tumorigenic in NOD-scid Il2rgnull mice. Npj Breast Cancer. 2016; 2: 16004.
Tillman BW, Kelly J, Richards TD, Chen AF, Donnenberg AD, Donnenberg VS, et al. A depleting antibody toward sca-1 mitigates a surge of CD34(+)/c-kit(+) progenitors and reduces vascular restenosis in a murine vascular injury model. J Vasc Surg. 2016; 64(4): 1084-92.
Kim D, Donnenberg VS, Wilson JW, Donnenberg AD. The use of simultaneous confidence bands for comparison of single parameter fluorescent intensity data. Cytometry A. 2015; 89: 89-97.
Notable Achievements
Pitt Innovator's Award o-Author of Award Winning Essay, Basic Science Senior Catergory, Plastic Surgery Education Foundation, 2006,2008
Celebration of Innovation. University of PIttsburgh, 2009
Corresponding author Faculty of 1000 recommended article, Jan 2010
Keynote Speaker: South East Flow Cytometry Interest Group, June 2010