Zhejian Ji, PhD

Dr. Ji studies the function of a critical ATPase protein called p97 in an important cellular process called protein degradation, which regulates proteins and can promote cancer cell proliferation and survival. His goal is to understand the molecular mechanism of how p97 functions. A better understanding of p97 could ultimately benefit the development of anti-cancer drugs based on p97 inhibition.

 

Lucy Liu, PhD

Dr. Liu studies cachexia, a complex metabolic syndrome characterized by a rapid and irreversible loss of body mass, which significantly impedes disease treatment success. This body-wasting phenomenon is a common feature in many types of cancers, but the causes are unknown. She is investigating the tumor-derived signaling mechanisms that lead to systemic cachexia and muscle wasting.

Chuchu Zhang, PhD

Dr. Zhang aims to understand how the sensory organ called Area Postrema (AP) detects and generates nausea. Intense and protracted nausea and vomiting are major side effects of cancer therapy, with current anti-emetic drugs demonstrating only limited efficacy. She will use molecular and genetic approaches to disentangle the cellular diversity of the AP organ while identifying potential molecular detectors for nausea stimuli.

Anne E. Dodson, PhD

Dr. Dodson is investigating how defects that are not strictly based on DNA mutations can be passed from parent to progeny for multiple generations. Germ cells, the producers of eggs and sperm in animals, normally transmit the blueprint for life from parent to progeny. When germ cells acquire defects, however, these defects may also pass from parent to progeny. These underexplored defects may contribute to the onset and inheritance of familial cancer syndromes, and a better understanding of them could result in new cancer therapies.

Deepshika Ramanan, PhD

Dr. Ramanan [National Mah Jongg League Fellow] studies the interplay between commensal microbes and immune cells in the intestine, and how these interactions influence the progression of inflammation and colorectal cancer. Her research particularly focuses on a cell type that dampens inflammatory responses, known as regulatory T cells. In the intestine, these cells can be broadly categorized into two subsets that differ in origin and responsiveness to microbes, but their exact functions remain unclear.

Sarah J. Pfau, PhD

Dr. Pfau aims to identify the molecular regulators of blood-brain barrier heterogeneity. The blood-brain barrier (BBB) protects the brain from harmful substances to ensure proper brain function. Consequently, the BBB renders many cancer therapeutics ineffective for treatment of primary and metastatic brain tumors, as drugs that effectively treat cancer in the rest of the body cannot efficiently enter the brain.

Natasha M. O'Brown, PhD

Dr. O'Brown is investigating the molecular mechanisms that govern the blood-brain barrier (BBB), which acts as the gatekeeper for the brain. While the BBB protects the brain from pathogens and provides the necessary environment for normal brain function, the BBB also acts as an obstacle to drug delivery for the treatment of neurological diseases, including brain tumors. A key regulator of BBB integrity, Mfsd2a, limits transcellular movement across the barrier and therefore prevents leakage into the brain.

Ivana Gasic, Dr.Sc.

Dr. Gasic aims to elucidate the “microtubule integrity response,” mechanisms that monitor the health of microtubules in cell division under normal physiological conditions and in cancer. Microtubules are frequent chemotherapy targets in treatment of various cancers, such as leukemia, lymphomas, melanoma, lung, ovarian, and breast cancer. Microtubule-targeting chemotherapeutics are believed to kill cancer cells through mitotic arrest. There is, however, growing evidence that they impact non-dividing “interphase” cells as well; this mechanism remains largely unexplored.

Benjamin M. Stinson, PhD

Dr. Stinson studies the mechanism of non-homologous end joining (NHEJ), the primary method used by our cells to repair DNA double strand breaks (DSBs), a particularly toxic form of DNA damage in which a single piece of DNA is completely broken into two pieces. He is examining how the NHEJ machinery modifies DNA at DSBs to allow re-joining of the DNA molecule. This work will contribute to our knowledge of cancer development and treatment, as defects in NHEJ result in predisposition to cancer, and a number of common cancer treatments introduce DSBs that are primarily repaired by NHEJ.

Justin A. Bosch, PhD

Dr. Bosch is studying the molecular language of cell-cell communication, an essential function of animal cells that coordinates normal tissue development and function that is frequently misregulated in many cancers. By developing novel methods to study the biological functions of an extraordinary class of intercellular messages-those that transfer directly into the interior of recipient cells-he will gain new insight into fundamental modes of cell-cell communication.