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Lead Investigator • Co-Leader of Bioinformatics •  Division of Clinical and Translational Cancer Research Comprehensive Cancer Center of the University of Puerto Rico 

Adjunct Associate Professor • Department of Genetics

Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 

Hector L. Franco, Ph.D.

Principal Investigator

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Dr. Franco has an enduring interest in understanding how the human genome works and how genes become deregulated in cancer. Using an interdisciplinary approach that combines high-throughput genomics and genetic engineering techniques, the Franco lab works to uncover the underlying molecular mechanisms that control gene expression. In addition, Dr. Franco aims to understand how cancer cells rewire basic mechanisms of gene expression to drive tumor biology and response to therapy with the goal of highlighting novel avenues for therapeutic interventions.  

Dr. Franco completed a bachelors degree in Molecular Biology at Florida Tech while on an athletic scholarship as member of the university's soccer team. He returned home to complete his Ph.D. in Biochemistry at the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine. Dr. Franco went on to complete his postdoctoral training in Cancer Genomics at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas in the laboratory of Dr. W. Lee Kraus. His postdoctoral work was funded by the American Cancer Society and a K99/R00 grant from the NCI. The Franco lab was founded in 2017 in the Lineberger Cancer Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and in 2023 Dr. Franco was granted promotion to Associate Professor with Tenure. The lab has published several important papers in the fields of cancer genetics, gene expression, and single-cell genomics and has been funded by the Dept. of Defense, The V-Foundation for Cancer Research, Susan G Komen, and the National Cancer Institute. The Franco lab has recently made the exciting move back to beautiful Puerto Rico to join the Comprehensive Cancer Center and to continue driving excellence in cancer research.


Nicole Zaragoza, M.S.

Research Scientist

Nicole obtained her Masters degree in Cancer Biology at the University of Pennsylvania and has joined the Franco lab to lead the proteomics and genomics projects related to FOXA1 function in breast cancer.

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Natalia Maldonado, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow

Natalia completed her PhD at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the Genetics and Molecular Biology Program. In the Franco lab, Natalia will integrate genetic engineering techniques and genomics to understand gene regulation in cancer. Outside the lab, she enjoys getting together to play board games and participated in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign that lasted 4 years!


Carla Rodriguez, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow

Carla completed her PhD at UT Southwestern Medical Center in the Cancer Biology Program. In the Franco lab, Carla will be working on pioneer transcription factors in hormone dependent cancers. Outside the lab Carla enjoys spending time outdoors on the beach or hiking and she also started a thriller book club.

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Frances Heredia, PhD

Bioinformatics Scientist

Frances completed her PhD in Biophysics at the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez campus. She will be leading the lab efforts in leveraging machine learning approaches to understand gene expression in cancer cells. Outside the lab Frances is a hiker, rock climber, and a Yorkie mom. 


Homer Fogle, M.S.

Bioinformatics Scientist

Homer obtained is Masters degree in Cancer Biology at the University of Pennsylvania and has over 10 years of bioinformatics experience especially in multi-omics data analysis. Homer will lead the lab efforts in single-cell genomic technologies to understand epigenetic and transcriptional heterogeneity in cancer cells. Outside the lab Homer enjoys the beaches of Puerto Rico and is a fan of sailing, kayaking, and snorkeling. 


Matthew J. Regner

Graduate Student

Matt is a graduate student in the Bioinformatics and Computational Biology graduate program. He joined the lab in 2020 and is working on single-cell genomics data analysis. He is specifically interested in statistical approaches to integrate single-cell RNA-seq data with single-cell ATAC-seq data in human tumors. 

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Alec V. Lobanov

Graduate Student

Alec is a graduate student in the Bioinformatics and Computational Biology graduate program and is co-mentored by Dr. Chuck Perou. He joined the lab in 2023 and is working on single-cell genomics data analysis. He is specifically interested in determining the enhancer/regulatory logic of cancer cells using various genomic tools. Alec obtained his bachelor's degree in biology and computer science at Boston College. Outside the lab Alec enjoys the outdoors, including playing soccer, cycling, and running the Boston Marathon! 

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Haiyang(Harry) Wang

Pathology and Cell Biology 
Graduate Student

Harry joined the Franco lab in 2023 and is co-mentored by Dr. Brian Miller. He is a graduate student in the Pharmacology curriculum. He graduated from Henan Agricultural University in 2018 with a B.E. in Bioengineering and then completed his master's degree in Biotechnology at Georgetown University in 2019. His project is related to the epigenetic basis of macrophage cell states in cancer. He enjoys hiking, running, and trying new food. 



Michael W. Lewis, Ph.D.

Dr. Lewis successfully completed his postdoctoral training in the Franco lab. While in the lab, Dr. Lewis trained in genomics and CRISPR-based genome engineering techniques that prepared him for his new position as a Scientist II at Life Edit Inc. 


Rosemary Plagens, Ph.D.

Dr. Plagens successfully completed her postdoctoral in the Franco lab in 2023. The training received in genomics and proteomics in the lab helped propel her into her next position as a Innovation Scientist at BioSkryb Genomics.  


Michael R. Kelly 

Michael Kelly, successfully completed his Ph.D. in Bioinfirmatics and Computational Biology in the Franco Lab and was swiftly recruited as a Bioinformatics Scientist by Tempus Inc. 


Shen Li, Ph.D.

Shen Li was a postdoctoral fellow in the Franco lab working on projects related to genetic engineering of FOXA1 in breast cancer. He will continue his training at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. 


Caitlin King, MS

Caitlin was a lab tech in the Franco lab and collaborated on many CRISPR based projects. She is currently a research associate in Karen Mohlke at UNC


Kamila Wisniewska

Kamila was a long time lab manager and technician for the Franco lab. During her time in the lab she trained in various coding languages and data analysis techniques that propelled her into a career as a data analysis in i


Raul Mendez-Giraldez, Ph.D.

Raul was a computational biologist in the Franco Lab. He helped analyze data for various projects in the lab, including the single cell genomics projects. Raul is currently a bioinformatician at the NIH. 


Colby A. Tubbs

Colby was a Franco lab research tech working on the generation of transcription factor mutants using CRISPR/Cas9 methodologies in breast cancer. He is currently a graduate student at Vanderbilt University.


Gabriela Ramirez Renta

Gabriela completed her summer internship in 2019 as part of the UNC Summer Of Learning And Research SOLAR program. She is a senior undergraduate at the University of Puerto Rico. 


Roberto Herrera Del Valle

Roberto was a summer intern in the Franco Lab. He is currently a graduate student at the University of Virginia.

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