Department of Orthopaedic Surgery

Rebecca J. Watters, PhD

  • Assistant Professsor
  • Co-Director, Musculoskeletal Oncology Laboratory

Education & Training

  • Postdoctoral Associate, Women's Cancer Research Center, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
  • PhD, Molecular Medicine, Pennsylvania State University, College of Medicine, Hershey, PA
  • BS, Biology, Allegheny College, Meadville, PA

Representative Publications

  • Schmidt BZ, Watts RJ, Aridor M., Frizzell RA. Cysteine String Protein promotes proteasomal degradation of the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) by increasing its interaction with the C terminus of Hsp70- interacting protein and promoting CFTR ubiquitylation. J Biol Chem. 2009. 284(7): 4168-78.
  • Liu X, Ryland L, Yang J, Liao A, Aliaga C, Watts R, Tan SF, Kaiser J, Shanmugavelandy SS, Rogers A, Loughran K, Petersen B, Yuen J, Meng F, Baab KT, Jarbadan NR, Broeg K, Zhang R, Liao J, Sayers TJ, Kester M, Loughran TP Jr. Targeting of survivin by nanoliposomal ceramide induces complete remission in a rat model of NK-LGL leukemia. Blood. 2010. 116(20):4192-4201.
  • A Liao, K Broeg, TE Fox, SF Tan, R Watters, LK Ryland, M Shah, J Yang, C Aliaga, A Rogers, K Loughran, L Hirsch, K Baab, NR Jarbadan, HG Wang, M Kester, D Desai, S Amin, X Liu, TP Loughran Jr. Therapeutic efficacy of FTY720 in a rat model of large granular lymphocyte leukemia.  Blood. 2011. 118(10): 2793-800.
  • Wang P, Bahreini A, Gyanchandani R, Lucas PC, Hartmaier RJ, Watters RJ, Jonnalagadda AM, HTrejo Bittar HE, Berg A, Hamilton RL, Kurland BF, Weiss KR, Mathew A, Leone JP, Davidson NE, Nikiforova MN, Brufsky AM, Ambros TF, Stern AM, Puhalla SL, Lee AV, Oesterreich S. Sensitive detection of mono- and polyclonal ESR1 mutations in primary tumors, metastatic lesions and cell free DNA of breast cancer patients. Clinical Cancer Research. 2016 Mar 1;22(5):1130-7.
  • Watters, RJ, Fox, TE, Shanmugavelandy SS, Choby JE, Broeg K, Liao J, Kester M, Cabot M, Loughran TP Jr., Liu X. Targeting Glucosylceramide Synthase Synergizes with C6-Ceramide Nanoliposomes to Induce Apoptosis in NK Leukemia. Leuk Lymphoma. 2013 Jun;54(6):1288-96.
  • Priedigkeit, N., Hartmaier, R.J., Chen, Y., Vareslija, D., Basudan, A., Watters, R.J., Thomas, R., Leone, J.P., Lucas, P.C., Bhargava, R., Hamilton, R.L., Chmielecki,J., Puhalla, S.L., Davidson, N.E., Oesterreich, S., Brufsky, A.M., Young, L., Lee, AV.  Intrinsic Subtype Switching and Acquired ERBB2/HER2 Amplifications and Mutations in Breast Cancer Brain Metastases.  JAMA Oncol. 2017 May 1;3(5):666-671. 
  • Watters, Rebecca J., Hartmaier Ryan J., Osmanbeyoglu Hatice U., Gillihan Ryan M., Benos Panagiotis V., O’Malley Bert W., Chen, Kaifu, Li, Wei, Lu, Xinghua, Oesterreich, S. Steroid receptor coactivator-1 can regulate osteoblastogenesis independently of estrogen. Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2017 Jun 15; 448:21-27.
  • Priedigkeit, N.*, Watters, R.J.*, Hartmaier, R.J., Basudan, A., Weiss, K.R., Lucas, P.C., Bhargava, R., Brufsky, A.M., Lee, A.V. Oesterreich, S.   Exome-capture RNA-sequencing of decade-old breast cancers and matched decalcified bone metastases identifies clinically actionable targets.  JCI Insight. 2017 Sep 7;2(17).  *These authors contributed equally.
  • Hartmaier RJ, Trabucco SE, Priedigkeit N, Chung JH, Parachoniak CA, Vanden Borre P, Morley S, Rosenzweig M, Gay LM, Goldberg ME, Suh J, Ali S, Ross J, Leyland-Jones B, Young B, Williams C, Park B, Tsai M, Haley B, Peguero J, Callahan RD, Sachelarie I, Cho J, Atkinson JM, Bahreini A, Nagle AM, Puhalla SL, Watters RJ, Erdogan-Yildirim Z, Cao L, Oesterreich S, Mathew A, Lucas PC, Davidson NE, Brufsky AM, Frampton GM, Stephens PJ, Chmielecki J, Lee AV. Recurrent hyperactive ESR1 fusion proteins in endocrine therapy resistant breast cancer.  Ann Oncol. 2018.
  • Crasto JA, Fourman MS, Morales-Restrepo A, Mahjoub A, Mandell JB, Ramnath K, Tebbets JC, Watters RJ, Weiss KR. Disulfiram reduces metastatic osteosarcoma tumor burden in an immunocompetent Balb/c orthotopic mouse model. Oncotarget. 2018 Jul 10;9(53):30163-30172.
  • Basudan, A, Priedigkeit, N, Hartmaier, RJ, Sokol, ES, Bahreini, A, Watters, RJ, Boisen, MJ, Bhargava, R, Weiss, KR, Karsten, M, Denkert, C, Blohmer, JU, Leone, JP, Hamilton, RL, Brufsky, AM, Elishaev, E, Lucas, PC, Lee, AV, Oesterreich, S. Frequent ESR1 and CDK Pathway Copy Number Alterations in Metastatic Breast Cancer. Molecular Cancer Research. 2018 Oct 24.
  • Mahjoub A, Morales-Restrepo A, Fourman MS, Mandell JB, Feiqi L, Hankins ML, Watters RJ, Weiss KR. Tumor Resection Guided by Intraoperative Indocyanine Green Dye Fluorescence Angiography Results in Negative Surgical Margins and Decreased Local Recurrence in an Orthotopic Mouse Model of Osteosarcoma. Ann Surg Oncol. 2019 Mar;26(3):894-898.
  • Levine KM, Priedigkeit N, Basudan A, Tasdemir N, Sikora MJ, Sokol ES, Hartmaier RJ, Ding K, Ahmad NZ, Watters RJ, Weiss KR, Blohmer JU, Denkert C, Machleidt A, Karsten MM, Boisen MM, Elishaev E, Lucas PC, Lee AV, Oesterreich S. FGFR4 overexpression and hotspot mutations in metastatic ER+ breast cancer are enriched in the lobular subtype. NPJ Breast Cancer. 2019;5:19.
  • Mandell JB, Lu F, Fisch M, Beumer JH, Guo J, Watters RJ, Weiss KR. Combination Therapy with Disulfiram, Copper, and Doxorubicin for Osteosarcoma: In Vitro Support for a Novel Drug Repurposing Strategy. Sarcoma. 2019 Jul 11;2019.

PubMed LInk

Research Interests

Dr. Watters serves as the co-director of the Musculoskeletal Oncology Laboratory, with Dr. Kurt Weiss.  Her two main research interests involve:

  1. Identification and targeting of structural rearrangements in metastatic osteosarcoma.
  2. Identification and validation of clinically actionable genes in bone metastases of breast cancer.

Research Grants

Current Support:

Source: Susan G. Komen Career Catalyst Award
PI: Watters
Title of Project: “Identification and Targeting of Clinically Actionable Genes in Bone Metastases”
Dates of Project: 08/01/18-07/31/21
Goal: The goal of this study is to sequence and characterize to identify differentially expressed genes as potential therapeutic candidates in patient bone metastases.

Source: University of Pittsburgh Chancellor’s Seed Grant
PI: Weiss, Co-I(s): Watters, Duensing, Bailey, Burgess
Title of project: “Developing the Pittsburgh Sarcoma Research Collaborative (PSaRC)”
Dates of Project: 06/01/18-06/30/20
Goal: The goal of this study is to fund The Pittsburgh Sarcoma Research Collaborative (PSaRC) for adult oncologists, surgeons, pediatric oncologists, bone researchers, immunologists, pathologists, radiation oncologists, and tumor biologists across the UPMC/University of Pittsburgh community that come together to discuss collaborations, advance the knowledge of sarcoma biology, and improve sarcoma patient care and outcomes.

Source: Shadyside Hospital Foundation
PI: Weiss, Co-PI: Watters
Title of Project: “Clinical Research Specialist”
Dates of Project: 07/01/18-06/30/20
Goal: The goal of this study is to hire and maintain a clinical research coordinator to assist with tissue banking efforts for the Musculoskeletal Oncology Tissue Bank at UPMC.

Source: Shadyside Hospital Foundation
PI: Watters, Co-PI: Weiss
Title of Project: “Validation of Novel Targets for Pulmonary Metastases of Osteosarcoma”
Dates of Project: 9/01/2017-08/31/2019
Goal: The goal of this study is to validate novel therapeutic targets discovered in lung metastases of osteosarcoma patients.

Source: Shadyside Hospital Foundation
PI: Weiss, Co-I: Watters
Title of Project: “Characterization and Validation of Osteosarcoma Patient Derived Cell Lines”
Dates of Project: 9/01/2017-08/31/2019
Goal: Characterization and Validation of Osteosarcoma Patient Derived Cell Lines.  The goal of this study is to develop novel, primary osteosarcoma cell populations into 2D and 3D models for our research study.

Source: Albert B. Ferguson, Jr, MD, Orthopaedic Fund of Pittsburgh Foundation, #AD2018-98568
PI: Watters
Title of Project: “Characterize a novel, biomimetic bone scaffold to study bone metastases of breast cancer”
Dates of Project: 8/01/2018-7/31/2019
Goal: Characterize a novel, biomimetic bone scaffold to study bone metastases of breast cancer.  The goal of this study is to determine the optimal polymers and mineral substrates to grow primary bone cells and breast cancer cells in an ex vivo model.

Source: METAvivor
PI: Watters
Title of Project: “Discovery of Clinically Actionable Genes in Breast Cancer Bone Metastases”
Dates of Project: 03/01/18-09/30/19
Goal: Discovery of Clinically Actionable Genes in Breast Cancer Bone Metastases.  The goal of this study is to identify mutations in the non-coding regions for our clinically actionable genes of interest to understand how this could be driving gene expression changes related to metastasis.

*No Overlap for all current support

Previous Support:

Source: Albert B. Ferguson, Jr, MD, Orthopaedic Fund of Pittsburgh Foundation, # AD2017-91228
PI: Watters
Title of Project: “Identification of Novel Therapeutic Targets for Metastatic Osteosarcoma”
Dates of Project: 8/01/2017-12/31/2018
Goal: The goal of this study was to identify differentially expressed genes in primary osteosarcoma tumors that had metastasized to lungs.

Source: Department of Defense/Era of Hope (Postdoctoral Award), # W81XWH-13-1-0289
PI: Watters (Oesterreich, Mentor)
Title of Project: “The Role of SRC-1 in Selectively Promoting Bone Metastases”
Dates of Project: 09/01/13-3/31/17
Goal: The goal of this study was to examine the role of Steroid Receptor Co-activator 1 and its naturally occurring variant, P1272S in the development of mammary tumors and bone metastases.