Michael Toneff

Michael Toneff, PhD

  • Associate Professor
Media Expertise:
  • Health Sciences
  • Science & Environment

Affiliated Programs


  • PhD, Molecular and Cellular Biology (2011)
    Baylor College of Medicine (TX)
  • BS, Biology (2005)
    Ohio State University—Columbus (OH)

About Me

I received my PhD in Molecular and Cellular Biology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas and continued there as an IRACDA postdoctoral fellow. The IRACDA program combines postdoctoral research with teaching at undergraduate institutions. The program exposed me to the practical and philosophical aspects of teaching while providing me opportunities to train undergraduates in the laboratory. During my time as an IRACDA fellow, I came to believe that the skills required for successful laboratory research can be taught in the classroom, even to students without prior laboratory research. In turn, students can use these skills to solve problems in the classroom to great effect. To achieve this, students should be exposed to classroom exercises that focus on critical concepts and hone their ability to think logically and analytically. Additionally, I want my students to connect the material they learn within a biology course and between courses to gain a holistic view of biology. By learning to think like a scientist and recognize connections between a wide range of concepts, they will have success in the classroom, in the laboratory and in other walks of life.

Research Interests

My primary research focus is on the regulatory mechanisms that endow cancer cells with aggressive phenotypes, including metastatic potential and resistance to standard-of-care therapies. One mechanism by which cancer cells exhibit these properties is by completely or partially undergoing an epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT), a process that normally occurs in a highly controlled manner during embryonic development and wound healing. Cells that undergo EMT become invasive, resist therapy and acquire cancer stem cell-like properties. Therefore, elucidating the molecular mechanisms by which cells acquire EMT properties is of significant interest and could ultimately uncover strategies to target this phenotype, thus resulting in more effective treatments for cancer.


  • Zhao N, Powell RT, Yuan X, Bae G, Roarty KP, Stossi F, Strempfl M, Toneff MJ, Johnson HL, Mani SA, Jones P, Stephan CC, Rosen JM. Morphological screening of mesenchymal mammary tumor organoids to identify drugs that reverse epithelial-mesenchymal transition. Nat Commun. 2021. 
  • Johnson KS, Hussein S, Chakroborty P, Muruganantham A, Mikhail S, Gonzalez G, Song S, Jolly MK, Toneff MJ, Benton L, Lin YC, Taube JH. Epithelial, mesenchymal plasticity through loss of CTCF motif accessibility and protein expression. Pre-print bioRxiv. 2020. 
  • Kim IS, Gao Y, Welte T, Wang H, Liu J, Janghorban M, Sheng K, Niu Y, Goldstein A, Zhao N,  Bado I, Lo HC, Toneff MJ, Nguyen T, Bu W, Jiang W, Arnold J, Gu F, He J, Jebakumar D,  Walker K, Li Y, Mo Q, Westbrook TF, Zong C, Rao, A, Sreekumar A, Rosen JM, Zhang XH. Immuno-subtyping of breast cancer reveals distinct myeloid cell profiles and immunotherapy resistance mechanisms. Nat Cell Biol. 2019. 
  • Vijay GV, Zhao N, Den Hollander P, Toneff MJ, Joseph R, Pietila M, Taube JH, Sarkar TR,  Ramirez-Pena E, Werden SJ, Shariati M, Gao R, Sobieski M, Stepan CC, Sphyris N, Miura N, Davies P, Chang JT, Soundararajam R, Rosen JM, Mani SA. GSK3b regulates epithelial- mesenchymal transition and cancer stem cell properties in triple-negative breast cancer.  Breast Cancer Res, 2019. 
  • Sreekumar, Toneff MJ, Toh E, Roarty K, Creighton CJ, Belka GK, Lee DK, Xu J, Chodosh LA,  Richards JS, Rosen JM. WNT-Mediated Regulation of FOXO1 Constitutes a Critical Axis  Maintaining Pubertal Mammary Stem Cell Homeostasis. Dev Cell, 2017. 
  • Toneff MJ, Sreekumar A, Tinnirello A, Den Hollander P, Habib S, Li S, Ellis MJ, Xin L, Mani SA,  Rosen JM. The Z-cad dual fluorescent sensor detects dynamic changes between the epithelial and mesenchymal cellular states. BMC Biology, 2016. 
  • Haricharan S, Dong J, Hein S, Reddy JP, Du Z, Toneff M, Holloway K, Hilsenbeck SG, Huang S,  Atkinson R, Woodward W, Jindal S, Borges VF, Gutierrez C, Zhang H, Schedin PJ, Osborne CK, Tweardy DJ, Li Y. Mechanism and preclinical prevention of increased breast cancer risk caused by pregnancy. Elife, 2013. 
  • Toneff MJ, Du Z, Dong J, Huang J, Sinai P, Forman J, Hilsenbeck S, Schiff R, Huang S, Li Y. Somatic expression of PyMT or activated ErbB2 induces estrogen-independent mammary tumorigenesis. Neoplasia, 2010. 
  • Toneff MJ, Sreekumar A, Tinnirello A, Den Hollander P, Habib S, Li S, Ellis MJ, Xin L, Mani SA, Rosen JM. The Z-cad dual fluorescent sensor detects dynamic changes between the epithelial and mesenchymal cellular states. BMC Biology, 2016.
  • Haricharan S, Dong J, Hein S, Reddy JP, Du Z, Toneff M, Holloway K, Hilsenbeck SG, Huang S, Atkinson R, Woodward W, Jindal S, Borges VF, Gutierrez C, Zhang H, Schedin PJ, Osborne CK, Tweardy DJ, Li Y. Mechanism and preclinical prevention of increased breast cancer risk caused by pregnancy. Elife, 2013.
  • Toneff, M.J., Du, Z., Dong, J., Huang, J., Sinai, P., Forman, J., Hilsenbeck, S., Schiff, R., Huang, S., Li, Y. Somatic expression of PyMT or activated ErbB2 induces estrogen-independent mammary tumorigenesis. Neoplasia, 2010.


In the Media


  • Widener Commends Faculty at 2023 Awards Event

    Widener honored faculty members for their high distinction in areas of civic engagement, institutional leadership, research, as well as innovative and distinguished teaching. Various faculty were awarded at the ceremony, held Thursday, October 19 in Lathem Hall.

    “The professors who were honored at our annual awards ceremony continuously display commitment to teaching, civic engagement, meaningful research, remarkable leadership, and cutting-edge innovation. They are highly valued colleagues and represent core values for which Widener stands," said Provost Andrew Workman. 

    The awards included:

    • The Distinguished University Professor Award honors faculty members of high distinction at the University who also demonstrate the institution is committed to recognizing excellence in teaching, scholarship, and service throughout faculty members’ careers. This year's recipients were College of Health and Human Services Professor, Stephen E. Kauffman as well as College of Arts and Sciences Professor, Alexis A. Nagengast.
    • College of Arts and Sciences Professor Dana Olanoff was awarded with the Lindback Distinguished Teaching Award. This award is given to a faculty member who has exemplified a history of teaching at the highest level of distinction. It is endowed by the Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Foundation, a Philadelphia-based foundation that provides grants to institutions of higher education for the promotion of excellence in teaching.
    • The Faculty Award for Civic Engagement serves to recognize the outstanding contributions that faculty members have made in accordance with Widener’s civic engagement mission, as well as solidifying Widener students’ understanding of their social responsibilities, and the impact of their disciplinary learning. This year's recipients included faculty from the College of Arts and Sciences: Associate Professor Angela M. Corbo, Professor J. Wesley Leckrone, and Associate Dean of Social Science and Professor James E. Vike.
    • College of Arts and Sciences Associate Professor Michael Toneff was awarded the Outstanding Researcher Award. This award gives recognition to a faculty member who has participated in research and scholarship nationally or internationally, and made a significant contribution through their research, while advancing their profession or discipline as well as the university’s mission and vision.
    • The Fitz Dixon Innovation in Teaching Award highlights an individual who has designed, implemented, and assessed an innovative or experimental teaching and learning project. This award was presented to College of Arts and Sciences Associate Professor Janice Krumm.
    • The Faculty Institutional Leadership Award recognizes a record of leading initiatives that further the university’s vision, mission, and strategic objectives. This year’s award recipients were College of Health and Human Services Associate Professor Marina Barnett, who is also interim assistant provost for civic engagement, and College of Arts and Sciences Associate Professor Bretton Alvare.

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