Robert S. Banh, PhD

Dr. Banh is focusing on the role of sensory neurons in promoting pancreatic tumor growth. Interestingly, most pancreatic tumors display increased number of sensory nerves, which cause pain in patients. Dr. Banh hypothesizes that sensory neurons may metabolically support pancreatic tumor growth in nutrient poor environments by directly releasing nutrients or by changing the cancer’s nutritional demands.

Shruti Naik, PhD

Dr. Naik focuses on the fundamentally important interactions between the immune system, microbes, and adult skin tissue stem cells, and the consequences of such interactions for health and disease.  She studies how stem cells in epithelial tissues such as the skin sense and cope with inflammatory stress.  Her goal is to understand how inflammatory signals (either host-generated or microbial) provide adult stem cells with rapid, sensitive, and context-specific information, and how this process can go awry, potentially predisposing stem cells to diseases such as cancer.

Gira Bhabha, PhD

Dr. Bhabha is focusing on understanding the function of structures on the cell surface called cilia, which play important roles in signaling, sensing the cell’s environment, and regulating cell growth. One particular signaling pathway in cilia, Hedgehog, has been shown to be dysregulated in multiple cancers, including basal cell carcinoma, medulloblastoma, and pancreatic cancer. She aims to characterize the structure and dynamics of the large, multi-protein complexes that function within the cilia.

June-Yong Lee, PhD

Dr. Lee [HHMI Fellow] studies how the cells and molecules of the immune system within the tumor microenvironment contribute to initiation, tumor progression, and responses to anti-cancer therapy. Of the immune components, cells called interleukin-17-secreting lymphocytes have pivotal pathogenic roles in multiple cancers. He aims to elucidate the regulatory mechanisms by which this pathogenicity is controlled. Ultimately, a better understanding of the pathways may suggest promising targets for therapeutic strategies aimed at reducing the risk of cancer.

Lacy J. Barton, PhD

Dr. Barton investigates the regulation of cell migration. Specifically, she aims to understand how spatial information is generated to guide migrating cells and how cell migration is terminated when the target tissue is reached. To gain insights into these processes, she is studying migration of Drosophila germ cells to the gonad during embryogenesis as a model system. Because many features of Drosophila germ cell migration are similar to tumor cell migration, novel processes discovered with this model system will shed light on the mechanisms of metastasis.

Agnel Sfeir, PhD

Each cell contains organelles called mitochondria, which are the powerhouses of cells, producing energy in the form of ATP. Mitochondria contain their own separate DNA, which codes for key energy-producing enzymes. Maintaining the integrity of the mitochondrial genome is necessary for optimal cellular function and for protection against diseases. Alterations in mitochondrial DNA are associated with and can promote metastasis of many tumors, such as lung, breast and prostate.