Thomas M. Norman, PhD

Dr. Norman is investigating the role that “epigenetic” differences play in cancer cells’ ability to develop drug resistance. These epigenetic changes result in altered gene expression. He will use a new technique called CRISPRi to systematically tune the expression of different parts of the genome and measure their effect on drug resistance. He hopes that these studies will identify new avenues for reducing resistance and expand our knowledge of the role epigenetic factors play in leukemia and other cancers.

Andrew L. Wolfe, PhD

Dr. Wolfe studies KRAS, a cancer-promoting protein that is activated by mutations in most forms of cancer. Tumor cells can become “addicted” to the presence of overactive KRAS protein, such that they die when KRAS is suddenly removed. He will focus his research on an exciting new class of inhibitors that cause active KRAS to be rapidly degraded. He aims to explore the effects of depleting KRAS on cancer cells, understand the mechanism by which these novel KRAS inhibitor drugs cause the protein to be degraded, and optimize the efficacy of these drugs.

Qi Hu, PhD

Dr. Hu is focusing on developing small molecule inhibitors to regulate the activity of Gαs, a subunit of the stimulatory G protein, which is encoded by the GNAS gene. Activating mutations of GNAS have been revealed to contribute to progression and metastasis of several kinds of cancers. About 64% of these mutations result in a single variant called R201C, which keeps Gαs in a constitutively active state. His goal is to design and synthesize small molecules to specifically inhibit the abnormally activated Gαs (R201C).

Erin F. Simonds, PhD

Dr. Simonds is investigating tumor-initiating cells in pediatric glioblastoma, a type of brain tumor. This rare subpopulation of cells has the unique capacity to re-establish the tumor after therapy, and is therefore a critical therapeutic target. He is using a technique called mass cytometry to determine how these cells respond to communication signals from their environment. The goal of this work is to identify drugs that specifically kill tumor-initiating cells by blocking the signaling networks that sustain their survival.

 

Lyndsay M. Murrow, PhD

Dr. Murrow is using an engineered 3D model of the human mammary gland to determine how stem cells in the breast sense and respond to overall cellular composition. She aims to understand how sparsely distributed stem cells use local cues in the tissue to sense global changes in cell number. Since loss of tissue organization and abnormal stem cell differentiation are two key features underlying breast cancer development, this work will help identify new strategies for breast cancer prevention and treatment.

Ankur Jain, PhD

Dr. Jain focuses on understanding how the level of mRNA species in the cell is regulated. Disruption of these regulatory processes can lead to cancer initiation and progression. These processes are carried out at discrete cytoplasmic non-membrane bound organelles called processing bodies (P-bodies). He aims to develop a molecular understanding of P-body architecture, assembly rules, and their role in gene regulation. 

Jessica P. Lao, PhD

Dr. Lao focuses on genome instability and altered metabolism, which are common characteristics of cancer. The "DNA damage checkpoint" detects and repairs DNA damage to maintain genomic integrity and has also been implicated in regulating metabolism through an unknown mechanism. Identifying metabolic targets of the DNA damage checkpoint will advance our knowledge of the underlying signaling pathway and provide additional targets for cancer therapy. 

Mary Williard Elting, PhD

Dr. Elting studies the mechanics of cell division, with the goal of understanding how cells accurately transmit one copy of their genetic information into each of two daughter cells. Mistakes in this process are implicated in cancer, as well as birth defects and miscarriage. She will mechanically disrupt dividing cells and then detect how these perturbations affect the forces generated during division.

Tracy T. Chow, PhD

Dr. Chow studies the molecular basis of how cancer cells maintain the ability to divide indefinitely. In most human cancers, an enzyme named telomerase is crucial in maintaining chromosomal ends (or telomeres) to achieve immortality. She is exploring a novel mechanism for telomere maintenance, which could advance the development of improved therapeutics for glioblastoma and other cancers.

Alex Pollen, PhD

Dr. Pollen is using comparative genomics, single cell gene expression, and stem cell biology approaches to study genes uniquely expressed in human neural stem cells. Because the development of the human brain involves many of the same processes - increased proliferation, migration, and angiogenesis - that become dysregulated in brain tumors, these genes with specific neural stem cell expression may serve as therapeutic targets and diagnostic markers of brain tumor stem cells that initiate glioblastoma and other cancers.