Faculty & Staff

Dr. John Tyson McDonald Dr. John Tyson McDonald Assistant Professor, Physics Location:Olin Engineering Building102G Phone:757-728-6909 Expertise:Medical Physics, Radiation Biology


  • Bachelor of Science in Nuclear Engineering & Radiological Sciences, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 2004
  • Bachelor of Musical Arts in Viola Performance, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 2004
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Biomedical Physics, University of California, Los Angeles, 2009

Research Interests

  • Application of next generation high throughput sequencing and bioinformatics to elucidate molecular responses of cancer to ionizing radiation exposure.  Bioinformatic analysis of “omics” data (e.g. SNP, RNA-SEQ, and Exome platforms), for example the NIH’s Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA)
  • Long-term genetic and molecular shift due to ionizing radiation in primary to recurrent tumors
  • Synergistic approach to benefit radiation therapy treatment outcome with small molecule drug targets to manipulate the tumor microenvironment and surrounding normal stromal niche
  • Differential effects of acute low dose compared to chronic low dose/low dose rate exposure to ionizing radiation in normal human cells

Awards and Honors 

  • 2017          National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN) Grant Writers Group in Atlanta, GA
  • 2015          AACR Minority in Cancer Research Award, Computational and Systems Biology of Cancer
  • 2011          Department of Energy Low Dose Investigator Workshop Travel Award, Washington D.C.
  • 2010          NASA Space Radiation Summer School, Brookhaven National Laboratories, Upton, NY
  • 2008          Radiation Research Society Scholars Award, 54th Annual Meeting, Boston, MA
  • 2008          AACR Minority in Cancer Research Scholars Award, San Diego, CA
  • 2005          Association of American Indian Physicians Award, NIEHS, Research Triangle Park, NC
  • 2004          Distinguished Leadership Award, University of Michigan’s College of Engineering
  • 2003          National Academy for Nuclear Training Scholarship
  • 1999          Te-Moak Band of Western Shoshone Higher Education Scholarship
  • 1999          George Bird Grinnell American Indian Children’s Foundation Scholarship

Profession Societies

  • 2008 - Present       American Association for Cancer Research, Member
  • 2007 - Present       Radiation Research Society, Member

Publications (Mentored Students Underlined)

Complete List of Published Work in MyBibliography: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/myncbi/browse/collection/45086010/?sort=date&direction=descending

  1. McDonald JT, Kritharis A, Beheshti A, Pilichowska M, Burgess K, Ricks-Santi L, McNiel E, London CB, Dashnamoorthy R, Evens AM. Comparative oncology DNA sequencing of canine T cell lymphoma via human hotspot panel. Oncotarget. 9(32): 22693–22702. 2018. PMID: 29854308, PMCID: PMC5978258.
  2. Ricks-Santi LJ, Barley B, Winchester D, Sultan D, McDonald JT, Kanaan Y, Pearson-Fields A, Sutton AL, Sheppard V, Williams C. Affluence Does Not Influence Breast Cancer Outcomes in African American Women. J Health Care Poor Underserved. 29(1):509-529. 2018. PMID: 29503315. 
  3. Shrishrimal S, Kosmacek EA, Chatterjee A, McDonald JT, Oberley-Deegan RE. The SOD Mimic, MnTE-2-PyP, Protects from Chronic Fibrosis and Inflammation in Irradiated Normal Pelvic Tissues. Antioxidants, 6(4):87. 2018. PMID: 29113120, PMCID: PMC5745497.
  4. McDonald JT, Gao X, Steber C, Lee J, Pollock C, Ma L, Hlatky L. Host mediated inflammatory influence on Glioblastoma Multiforme recurrence following high-dose ionizing radiation. PloS one. 12(5):e0178155, 2017. PMID: 28542439, PMCID: PMC5439715.
  5. Beheshti A, Vanderburg C, McDonald JT, Kadungure T, Zhang H, Gartenhaus RB, Evens AM. A Circulating microRNA Signature Predicts Age-Based Development of Lymphoma. PLoS One, 12(1)e0170521. 2017. PMID: 28107482, PMCID: PMC5249061.
  6. Mantel A, McDonald JT, Goldsborough K, Harvey VM, Chann J. Prostaglandin D2 Utilizes Components of ROS Signaling to Enhance Testosterone Production in Keratinocytes. J Investig Dermatol Symp Proc, (2):S81-S84, 2017. PMID: 28941500. 
  7. Ricks-Santi L, McDonald JT, Gold B, Dean M, Thompson N, Abbas M, Wilson B, Yasmin K, Naab TJ, Dunston G. Next generation sequencing reveals high prevalence of BRCA1 and BRCA2 variants of unknown significance in early-onset breast cancer in African American women. Ethnicity and Disease. 27(2):169-178; 2017. PMID: 28439188, PMCID: PMC5398176. 
  8. Ricks-Santi L and McDonald JT. Low Utilization of Oncotype DX® in the Clinic. Cancer Medicine, 6(3):501-507, 2017. PMID: 28145091, PMCID: PMC5345634.
  9. Beheshti A, Neuberg D, McDonald JT, Vanderburg CR, Evens AM. The Impact of Age and Sex in DLBCL: Systems Biology Analyses Identify Distinct Molecular Changes and Signaling Networks. Cancer Informatics, 14:141-8, 2015. PMID: 26691437, PMCID: PMC4676434.
  10. Beheshti A, Wage J, McDonald JT, Lamont C, Peluso M, Hahnfeldt P, Hlatky L. Tumor-host signaling interaction reveals a systemic, age-dependent splenic immune influence on tumor development. Oncotarget, 5, 2015. PMID: 26497558, PMCID: PMC4742115. 
  11. Beheshti A, Benzekry S, McDonald JT, Ma L, Peluso M, Hahnfeldt P, Hlatky L. Host Age is a Systemic Regulator of Gene Expression Impacting Cancer Progression. Cancer Research, vol. 75(6): 1134-43, 2015. PMID: 25732382, PMCID: PMC4397972.
  12. Gao X, McDonald JT, Naidu M, Hahnfeldt P, Hlatky L. A Proposed Quantitative Index for Assessing the Potential Contribution of Reprogramming to Cancer Stem Cell Kinetics, Stem Cells International, vol. 2014, Article ID 249309, 8 pages, 2014. PMID: 24955094, PMCID: PMC4052692.
  13. Sasi SP, Song J, Park D, Enderling H, McDonald JT, Gee H, Garrity B, Shtifman A, Yan X, Walsh KX, Natarajan M, Kishore R, Goukassian DA. TNF-TNFR2/p75 Signaling Inhibits Early and Increases Delayed Non-Targeted Effects in Bone Marrow-Derived Endothelial Progenitor Cells. Journal of Biological Chemistry. 289(20):14178-93, 2014. PMID: 24711449, PMCID: PMC4022885.
  14. McDonald JT, Briggs C, Szelag H, Peluso M, Schneider D, Perepletchikov A, Lakka Klement, Tuerk I, Hlatky L. Chronic Low Dose-Rate Radiation Down-Regulates Transcription Related to Mitosis and Chromosomal Movement Similar to Acute High Dose in Prostate Cells. International Journal of Radiation Biology, 90(3):231-40; 2014. PMID: 24397407.
  15. Beheshti A, Pinzer BR, McDonald JT, Stampanoni M, Hlatky L. Early Tumor Development Captured Through Non-Destructive, High Resolution Differential Phase Contrast X-ray Imaging. Radiation Research, 180(5):448-54; 2013. PMID: 24125488, PMCID: PMC3925470.
  16. Gao X, McDonald JT, Hlatky L, Enderling H. Acute and fractionated irradiation differentially modulate glioma stem cell division. Cancer Research, 73(5):1481-90; March 2013. PMID: 23269274, PMCID: PMC3594421.
  17. McDonald JT, Kim K, Norris AJ, Vlashi E, Phillips TM, Lagadec C, Della Donna L, Ratikan J, Szelag H, Hlatky L, McBride WH. Ionizing Radiation Activates the Nrf2 Antioxidant Response. Cancer Research, 70(21):8886-95; 2010. PMID: 20940400, PMCID: PMC2970706.
  18. Kim K, Pollard JM, Norris AJ, McDonald JT, Sun Y, Micewicz E, Pettijohn K, Damoiseaux R, Iwamoto KS, Sayre JW, Price BD, Gatti RA, McBride WH. High Throughput Screening Identifies Two Classes of Antibiotics as Radioprotectors: Tetracyclines and Fluoroquinolones. Clinical Cancer Research, 15(23); 2009. PMID: 19920105, PMCID: PMC2787903.
  19. Vlashi E, Kim K, Lagadec C, Della Donna L, McDonald JT, Eghbali M, Sayre JW, Stefani E, McBride WH, Pajonk F. In Vivo Imaging, Tracking, and Targeting of Cancer Stem Cells. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 101(5):350-359; 2009. PMID: 19244169, PMCID: PMC2727141.
  20. Brush J, Lipnick SL, Phillips T, Sitko J, McDonald JT, McBride WH. Molecular mechanisms of late normal tissue injury. Seminars in Radiation Oncology, 17(2):121-130; 2006. PMID: 17395042.
  21. Pursell Z, McDonald JT, Mathews CK, Kunkel T. Trace amounts of 8-oxo-dGRP in mitochondrial dNTP pools reduce DNA polymerase gamma replication fidelity. Nucleic Acids Research, 36(7):2174-2181; 2008. PMID: 18276636, PMCID: PMC2367704.
  22. McDonald JT, West WG, Kearfott KJ. An Evaluation of the Kearny Fallout Meter (KFM), a Radiation Detector Constructed of Commonly Available Household Materials. Health Physics Journal, 87(S2):S52-S57; 2004. PMID: 15551780.

Book Chapters

  1. Gao X, McDonald JT, Hlatky L, Enderling H. Cell-cell interactions in solid tumors: the role of cancer stem cells. In: New Challenges for Cancer Systems Biomedicine. Editors. d'Onofrio, Cerrai, and Gandolfi. SEMA SIMAI Springer Series; 2012.
  2. Rietman EA, McDonald JT, Hlatky L. Organism Mutation Stability and Cancer: A Hypothesis. In: Hypothesis in Clinical Medicine. Editors Shoja, Agutter, Tubbs, Ghanei, Ghabili, Harris, Loukas. Nova Science Publishers, Inc.; 2011.

Published Abstracts (Mentored Students Underlined)

  1. Edwards T, Ricks-Santi L, McDonald JT. Identification of DNA repair variants in ancestral populations that may impact normal tissue radiosensitivity. American American Association of Medical Physicists Annual Meeting. July 29 - August 2, 2018; Nashville, Tennessee. 
  2. Edwards T, Gibert M, Ricks-Santi L, McDonald JT. Comparison of potential breast cancer predisposition SNP profiles found in African American versus Caucasian ancestry using TCGA data.12th Annual AACR Undergraduate Student Caucus and Poster Competition. April 1, 2017; Washington, D.C.
  3. Beheshti A, Vanderburg C, McDonald JT, Zhang H, Evens AM. Circulating microRNAs Predict the Initiation of NHL in a Novel In Vivo Model: Impact of Age and Sex Via a Systems Biology Approach. Blood. 22(128):4114. 2016.
  4. Passero FC, Dashnamoorthy R, Beheshti A, McDonald JT, Evens AM. Proteasome and HDAC Inhibitor Therapy in T-Cell Lymphoma (TCL) and Hodgkin Lymphoma (HL): Nuclear Factor Erythroid 2 like 2 (NRF2)-Dependent Cell Death and Function. Blood. 22(128):3020. 2016.
  5. Ricks-Santi L, McDonald JT, Prince L, Abbas Muneer, Dunston G. Targeted next-generation sequencing of hotspots in cancer genes in normal-tumor breast cancer patients of African ancestry reveals novel and known mutations. Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention, 25(3 Supplement):Abstract B21. 2016.
  6. McDonald JT, Abbas M, Dunston G, Kanaan Y, Ricks-Santi. BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutational spectra in African American men with prostate cancer. Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention, 25(3 Supplement):Abstract B22. 2016.
  7. Mantel A, McDonald JT, Goldsborough K, Pentland AP, Chan J. 697 Prostaglandin D2-enhanced testosterone metabolism in human keratinocytes is mediated by reactive oxygen species. Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 136(5):S123. 2016.
  8. Spears M, Ricks-Santi L, McDonald JT. Deleterious consequences of BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations via CRISPR-Cas9 in ancestrally distinct triple-negative breast cancer cell lines. In: Proceedings of the Eighth AACR Conference on The Science of Health Disparities in Racial/Ethnic Minorities and the Medically Underserved; Nov 13-16, 2015; Atlanta, GA. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2016;25(3 Suppl):Abstract A61.
  9. Beheshti A, Neuberg DS, McDonald JT, Evens AM. The Impact of Age and Sex in DLBCL: Determination of Biologic Dynamics and Delineation of Inter-Connected Signaling Networks Via a Systems Biology Analysis.  Blood. 126(23), 2015.
  10. Kritharis A, McDonald JT, Beheshti A, Pilichowska M, Burgess K, Ricks-Santi L, McNiel E, Dashnamoorthy R, Evens AM.  A Comparative Oncology Analysis of Canine T-Cell Lymphoma (TCL): Immunohistochemical Study and Next Generation Sequencing for Protein Analysis and Genomic Target Discovery. Blood. 126(23). 2015.
  11. Onufrak J, Yang Y, Lee J, Fuseler J, Sun M, Sasi S, McDonald JT, Hlatky, Price R, Carrozza J, Goukassian D, Borg TK, Morgan JP, Yan X. Abstract 56: A dual PI3K-mTOR inhibitor induced cardiac hypertrophy in mice: Role of the insulin signaling. Molecular Cancer Therapeutics. July 2015; 14, A56.
  12. Gibert MK, Mapp J, Ricks-Santi L, McDonald JT. Examining the roles of deleterious and potentially damaging variant alleles in African and Caucasian ancestral populations.  Eight AACR Conference on the Science of Cancer Health Disparities in Racial/Ethnic Minorities and the Medically Underserved.  November 13-16, 2015; Atlanta, GA. Cancer Research 76 (14 Supplement), 791-791.
  13. McDonald JT, Ricks-Santi LS. Ancestrally derived SNPs influence on Gene Expression in Breast Cancer Data Sets.  AACR Special Conference on Computational Systems Biology of Cancer.  February 8-11, 2015; San Francisco, CA.
  14. McDonald JT, Lee J, Rietman E, et al. Abstract 4340: Increased cytokine and chemokine expression in U87MG glioblastoma cells after large clinically relevant single doses of ionizing radiation. Cancer Research, 72(8):4340, Supplemental 1, Proceedings: AACR 103rd Annual Meeting 2012, March 31-April 4, 2012; Chicago IL.
  15. McDonald JT, Kim K, Norris A, McBride W. Abstract 4823: Nrf2 inducers can modify the radiation response.  Cancer Research, 68(9 Supplemental), 99th AACR Annual Meeting, April 12-16, 2008, San Diego, CA.
  16. Kim K, McDonald JT, Damoiseaux R, Norris A, Iwamoto K, McBride W. Abstract 4212: High throughput screening of small molecule libraries to identify radioprotectors. Cancer Research, 68(9 Supplemental), 99th AACR Annual Meeting, April 12-16, 2008; San Diego, CA.

Current Support

U54 MD010706-01 Pilot [NIH]                McDonald (PI)                                   04/01/2018 – 03/30/2019

Determining Impact of DNA-Repair Polymorphisms for Personalized Radiation Therapy

This pilot study is funded by the Medical University of South Carolina’s Transdisciplinary Collaborative Center in Precision Medicine and Minority Men's Health (NIMHD, NIH). The goal of this research pilot project is to collect and examine blood samples from Caucasian and African American patients with prostate cancer undergoing photon irradiation and to determine ancestry admixture and radiation sensitivity due to genetic polymorphisms.  

Role: PI

UVA Pilot Project [NIH]                          Ricks-Santi & Jones (PIs)                03/31/2017 – 12/31/2018

Determinants of Quality of Life in Proton and Conventional Radiation Therapy of Patients:  Feasibility Study

The goal is to determine the feasibility of successfully collecting clinical and blood samples from 100 African American and 100 Caucasian cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy (proton and photon) at the Hampton University Proton Therapy Institute (HUPTI) and Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Virginias’ School of Medicine in Charlottesville, Virginia. This sub-award is funded by the University of Virginia’s Cancer Control and Population Health Pilot Research Project.

Role: Co-Investigator

U54 MD008621-01 Project [NIH]            Ricks-Santi (PI)                                 04/01/2016 – 06/31/2019

Genomic Biomarkers Associated With Aggressive Prostate Cancer in African American Men

This pilot study is funded by the Hampton University Minority Men’s Health Initiative (NIMHD, NIH). The goal is to determine the expression pattern of unique biomarkers correlated with the clinical and pathological features found in African American men with prostate cancer.

Role: Consultant

Pending [NASA]                                        Beheshti (PI)                                      01/01/2019 – 12/31/2021

Circulating miRNAs Provides Systemic Host Response to Microgravity: Utilizing GeneLab datasets to identify molecular targets for spaceflight studies

Role: Co-Investigator


Completed Research Support

Hampton University                               Ricks-Santi (PI)                                 12/01/2013 – 12/31/2017

Funding for Hampton University Cancer Research Center

Funds were provided to Dr. Ricks-Santi to implement the research activities at the Hampton University Cancer Research Center (HUCRC). Funds were provided to cover the salaries and benefits for the director, an administrative assistant, and Dr. McDonald. In addition to salaries, laboratory and office space were allotted for Dr. Ricks-Santi at the Frank Fountain Biomedical Research Building, a new research building on campus as well as at the Hampton University Proton Therapy Institute (HUPTI). Additional funds were provided in a yearly budget for the purchase of reagents and consumables.

Role: Research Associate

U54 CA149233 [NCI/NIH]                       Hlatky (PI)                                          05/01/2010 - 02/28/2015

Intercellular Interactions Modulate Carcinogenesis Course: A Dynamic System Study

The goal was to gain predictive insight into an augmented carcinogenesis paradigm that incorporates not only the well-established oncogene dysregulations known to drive individual cancer cell behavior, but also identifies key population-level dynamics, including intercellular interactions, that can vitally contribute to carcinogenic transformation, cancer self-renewal, and tumor progression. I directed a multi-year study on the response of glioblastoma multiforme to highly cytotoxic doses of ionizing radiation exposure.

Role: Post-Doctoral Fellow

DE-SC0002606 [DOE]                             Hlatky (PI)                                          09/01/2009 – 08/31/2014

Multi-scale Systems Biology of Low-Dose Carcinogenesis Risk (Department of Energy)       

The goal was to assess carcinogenesis risk from low-dose, low-LET radiations typically encountered in the environment. I established a novel and unique low dose-rate model system for research on the effects of chronic radiation exposure. I also derived primary non-cancer associated fibroblast cell cultures from excess surgical tissue in pathologically confirmed normal prostate tissue to assess carcinogenic risk.

Role: Post-Doctoral Fellow 

L30 CA162161, [NIH]                              McDonald (PI)                                   07/01/2011 – 06/30/2013

Effect of Ionizing Radiation on Epithelial to Mesenchymal Transition in Primary Human Prostate Cancer

The goal of this pre-clinical research project from the NIH Loan Repayment Programwas to understand the role of epithelial to mesenchymal transition in cancer progression following radiation exposure. Using matched benign and malignant primary epithelial and stromal cell cultures from prostate tissue from the same genetic background, exposure to acute and chronic low dose radiation exposure determined carcinogenic phenotypes.

Role: PI

F31 CA126501 [NIH]                               McDonald (PI)                                   09/01/2006 – 06/30/2009

Predoctoral Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award

The goal of this project was to improve the understanding of antioxidants in response to ionizing radiation and to clarify the importance of reactive ionizing species on radioprotection. It explored altered redox status under control of the Nrf2/antioxidant response element pathway to cellular response to ionizing radiation.

Role: PI