All Cancers

Current Projects
Nicholas Adams, PhD

Dr. Adams studies a specialized subset of immune cells that secrete potent antitumor cytokines called type I interferons (IFN-I). Within a tumor, these cells, called plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs), are impaired, which contributes to an immunosuppressive state and cancer progression. Dr. Adams aims to uncover the molecular mechanisms that govern IFN-I production and pDC dysfunction in cancer. As dendritic cells are a promising cell therapy for cancer, understanding the regulation of pDC-IFN-I production can guide strategies to harness and integrate their anti-tumor function in new immunotherap

Project title: "Elucidating how pDC genome organization regulates IFN production in cancer"
Institution: New York University Grossman School of Medicine
Named Award: Marion Abbe Fellow
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Boris Reizis, PhD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Basic Immunology
Liudmila Andreeva, PhD

Dr. Andreeva investigates the role of a molecule called NLRP3 in the assembly of inflammasommes, multiprotein complexes that form in response to cellular infection or stress. NLRP3 acts as a sensor inside the cell that detects danger signals and activates the inflammasome complex to trigger inflammation and cell death. Dr. Andreeva aims to uncover the step-by-step mechanism of NLRP3 activation and regulation to understand how to prevent "false alarms" that cause disease. This research has the potential to aid the development of drugs that specifically turn off the NLRP3 inflammasome and treat a variety of inflammatory disorders, from osteoarthritis to Alzheimer's disease and cancer.

Project title: "Making an inflammasome: Structural and biochemical elucidation of NLRP3 inflammasome activation"
Institution: Boston Children's Hospital
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Hao Wu, PhD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Structural Biology
Matthew Bakalar, PhD

Dr. Bakalar is developing new methods to discover the millions of interactions between T-cell receptors and foreign antigens that trigger an immune response. In many cancers, such as metastatic melanoma, immunotherapy depends on the ability of T cells to recognize and respond to tumor-specific neoantigens—new proteins found on cancer cells, which let the immune system know that these are not normal cells. Collecting the data on this relationship can help create computational models to predict the antigen-target of a patient’s individual T cell receptor, which could then guide the design of patient-specific cancer vaccines and engineering of new, tumor-targeting T cells.

Project title: Predicting the interactions of T cell receptors with peptide-MHC complexes
Institution: The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Nir Hacohen, PhD
Cancer Type: Skin, All Cancers
Research Area: Basic Immunology
Michael E. Birnbaum, PhD

Immunotherapies that rely on reinvigorating T cells to patrol the body, detect cancerous cells and eliminate them have shown the potential for long-lasting cures. Despite their initial success, immunotherapies have been effective only for some cancers and for some patients. To improve outcomes, Dr. Birnbaum has developed a new method to match T cells with their antigen targets on cancer cells by engineering viruses to use T cell recognition as a means of cell entry. This technology will be applicable to a wide range of cancers, including ones for which immunotherapy is not currently effective.

Project title: "Decoding and reprogramming tumor-infiltrating T cells by pMHC-targeted lentiviruses"
Institution: Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Award Program: Innovator
Cancer Type: Skin, All Cancers
Research Area: Immunotherapy
Laura Blanton, PhD

Dr. Blanton is focusing on the contributions of the X and Y chromosomes to immune cell gene expression and function. Since the immune system plays a crucial role in tumor biology and cancer treatment, this work will help illuminate differences between cancer susceptibility, progression, and treatments in men and women.

Project title: "The impact of sex chromosome constitution on immune cell gene expression and function"
Institution: Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research
Named Award: Lallage Feazel Wall Fellow
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): David C. Page, MD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Genomics
Elizabeth A. Boydston, PhD

Dr. Boydston is studying how cells interact with one another through cell-surface adhesion molecules. During cancer progression, cancer cells can change expression of some of these molecules to metastasize and evade the immune system. Dr. Boydston is using the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which can recognize and invade nearly all mammalian cells, to uncover novel proteins involved in this recognition. By characterizing the specificity of these interactions for different host cells, she hopes to expand the ability to recognize and mark specific cells, which could be harnessed for cancer diagnostics and therapeutic intervention.

Project title: "Exploring the cell adhesion landscape through host-pathogen interactions"
Institution: Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research
Named Award: Robert Black Fellow
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Sebastian Lourido, PhD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Cell Biology
Tess C. Branon, PhD

Dr. Branon is exploring the relationship between the human body and the microbes that inhabit the gut, which affects physiology, development and disease. Recently, scientists discovered that cancer patients with a greater abundance of the bacteria Akkermansia muciniphila in their guts respond better to checkpoint inhibitor immunotherapies. Dr. Branon is using transcriptomic and metabolic profiling, as well as genetic manipulation of both the host and microbe, to elucidate the molecular interactions that underlie this protective effect.

Project title: "Elucidating mechanisms of bidirectional host-microbiota communication"
Institution: University of California, Berkeley
Named Award: Robert Black Fellow
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Gregory M. Barton, PhD
Cancer Type: Colorectal, All Cancers
Research Area: Basic Immunology
Andrew A. Bridges, PhD

Dr. Bridges studies how bacterial cells form communities called biofilms that have particular three-dimensional architectures. He is investigating how the bacterial cell-cell communication process called quorum sensing drives the spatio-temporal gene expression patterns that govern biofilm formation. Biofilm bacteria are implicated as causal in various cancers and, furthermore, cancer patients receiving chemotherapy frequently suffer from infections caused by bacteria that rely fundamentally on biofilm formation for pathogenesis. By discovering the quorum-sensing program that bacteria execute to sculpt biofilm architectures, he hopes to contribute to the development of new strategies to interfere with formation of these bacterial communities.

Project title: "Bacterial cell fates: The role of quorum sensing in biofilm patterning"
Institution: Princeton University
Named Award: HHMI Fellow
Award Program: Dale Frey Scientist, Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Bonnie L. Bassler, PhD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Microbiology
Lindsay B. Case, PhD

Dr. Case is investigating the mechanisms that regulate focal adhesion formation, growth, physical properties and subsequent downstream signaling. Focal adhesions are large protein complexes that connect the cell cytoskeleton to the extracellular membrane, which is the connective material holding cells in place. She is using a unique in vitro system in parallel with live cell imaging and cellular perturbations to dissect the specific molecular interactions that contribute to integrin signaling and focal adhesion function. Dr. Case’s research has the potential to identify new strategies for disrupting integrin signaling in cancer, which may provide a deeper understanding of how multivalent interactions and protein phase separation regulate cellular communication with the external environment.

Project title: "Understanding the physical principles that regulate cell signaling"
Institution: Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Award Program: Dale Frey Scientist
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Biochemistry
Zibo Chen, PhD

Dr. Chen is creating the molecular language of cell signaling from the bottom up. Intra- or extra-cellular signals vary continuously and are often interpreted combinatorially in cells. Neural networks in biology and computer science offer a powerful way to interpret signal combinations. Dr. Chen will combine protein design and synthetic biology approaches to build a protein-based cellular circuit that can sense multiple inputs and carry out diverse functions based on pre-programmed instructions. This work will create a powerful “molecular computing” model that may provide insight into biological systems and open new capabilities for personalized cell-based therapies.

Project title: "Combinatorial signal classification with a protein-based synthetic neural network"
Institution: California Institute of Technology
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Michael Elowitz, PhD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Signal Transduction
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