James Romero-Masters recently joined the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine as an assistant professor of virology at the Center for One Health Research, a collaborative effort of the veterinary college and the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Romero-Master’s primary research interest is tumor viruses, human papillomavirus in particular. The human papillomavirus (HPV) causes nearly all cervical cancers, other anogenital cancers, a growing number of head and neck cancers, and non-melanoma skin cancer. A large number of people in the United States remain unvaccinated against HPV. 

By using the murine papillomavirus, MmuPV1, mouse model, researchers like Romero-Masters can learn more about how viral proteins contribute to papillomavirus-induced disease.

"My research will utilize a mixture of bioinformatics, cell culture-based models, and animal models to look at the molecular mechanisms of the papillomavirus oncogenes E6 and E7, which are critical for viral replication, which can help us identify therapies for HPV infection at an earlier stage before HPV-infected lesions develop into cancer,” said Romero-Masters.

Cancer is genetically difficult to study because it requires a culmination of events to occur in the cell before it becomes malignant.  

“Viruses are master cell biologists and teach us how a cell works by manipulating cellular processes. Tumor viruses are no different and have been quintessential in our understanding of cancer biology,” said Romero-Masters.  

Tumor viruses were used to discover and define activities of the first oncogenes (cells that can turn into tumor cells) and tumor suppressor genes. By continuing to study tumor viruses, researchers can learn more about both virus-associated and non-virus associated cancers. 

While earning his bachelor's in biomedical engineering from the University of Houston, Romero-Masters developed an interest in virology. His interest in tumor viruses primarily arose during his graduate work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. There, he gained experience in animal research while studying Epstein-Barr virus in the Kenney lab, experience that was expanded upon during his time as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the Lambert lab.

In 2021, during his postdoctoral fellowship, Romero-Masters participated in Virginia Tech’s Future of Faculty Diversity Program. Spanning three days, the professional development and interview program is designed to encourage graduate students and postdoctoral fellows from historically underrepresented groups to pursue faculty positions at the university. The connections Romero-Masters made through the program inspired him, two years later, to work at the veterinary college.

Romero-Masters moved to Blacksburg with his partner and their pets, two cats and a dog. Having gotten into hiking during the pandemic, they’re excited to explore trails in the area.

Written by Sarah Boudreau M.F.A. '21, a writer with the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.


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