All Cancers

Current Projects
Nicholas M. Adams, PhD

Dr. Adams [Marion Abbe Fellow] 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 focuses on structural and mechanistic aspects of inflammatory pathways underlying cancer and multiple other pathologies. Inflammation is an early response to various infections and damage initiated by the immune system. While it is essential for pathogen clearance and tissue repair, uncontrolled chronic inflammation promotes cancer development and all stages of tumorigenesis. Since inflammation is one of the hallmarks of cancer, understanding the processes leading to inflammation is critical for development of the next generation of cancer therapeutics. By using various structural, biochemical, and cell-based approaches, Dr. Andreeva aims to explain inflammatory pathways on a molecular level and provide a foundation for novel anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer treatments.

Project title: "Making an inflammasome: Structural and biochemical elucidation of NLRP3 inflammasome activation"
Institution: Eberhard Karl University of Tübingen
Award Program: Dale Frey Scientist
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Structural Biology
Rico C. Ardy, PhD

Dr. Ardy [Robert Black Fellow] is investigating the genetic determinants that govern the behavior of fibroblasts, a type of connective tissue cell that has been implicated in arthritis, heart disease, and cancer. Activated fibroblasts can exacerbate disease through various mechanisms, including remodeling tissue architecture and modulating the immune system. Dr. Ardy plans on using state-of-the-art genetic tools, including CRISPR inhibition and activation coupled with single-cell RNA sequencing technology, to uncover the proteins and pathways that regulate fibroblast behavior and thereby inform the development of new targeted cancer treatments. Dr. Ardy received his PhD from the Medical University of Vienna and his BS from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Project title: "An atlas of fibroblast cell states in health and disease through functional genomics"
Institution: Memorial Sloan Kettering Institute for Cancer Research
Named Award: Robert Black Fellow
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Thomas Norman, PhD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Systems Biology
Kheewoong Baek, PhD

Attaching a small molecule known as ubiquitin to a protein, in a process called ubiquitylation, targets that protein for degradation. By utilizing the ubiquitylation machinery, scientists are now able to target cancer-causing proteins for degradation, a strategy that has proven effective with drugs such as Lenalidomide/Revlimid to treat multiple myeloma. One way to bring proteins in proximity to ubiquitin ligases (attachers) is with synthetic adhesion molecules, or “molecular glue.” This may provide a means of targeting proteins previously deemed undruggable, including those that lack a binding site for inhibitors. Dr. Baek aims to expand the degradable proteome by establishing a formula for the design of molecular glues to target cancer-causing proteins as a therapeutic modality. Dr. Baek received his PhD from Technical University of Munich and Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry, Munich, his MS from University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Memphis, and his BA from Rutgers University, New Brunswick.

Project title: "Expansion of the glueable and degradable targets of IMiD-CRBN"
Institution: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Eric S. Fischer, PhD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Structural Biology
Caitlin F. Bell, MD

The connection between cardiovascular disease and cancer, the two leading causes of death in the United States, extends beyond cancer treatment’s impact on the cardiovascular system. These complex diseases share several important risk factors and aspects of disease progression. In the development of atherosclerosis, a build-up of fatty material in the arterial walls, vascular smooth muscle cells can change their roles and influence the progression of disease. Dr. Bell aims to determine if the same dynamic activity of smooth muscle cells occurs in the environment of a tumor, and whether these cells influence disease progression or response to therapies. Preclinical data suggests a significant role for these cells in the tumor environment for multiple solid tumor types, such as melanoma, breast cancer, and colon cancer. These findings could represent a new pharmacologic target for multiple cancers.

Project title: "Smooth muscle cell plasticity in the tumor microenvironment: another parallel between atherosclerosis and cancer"
Institution: Stanford University School of Medicine
Award Program: Physician-Scientist
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Nicholas J. Leeper, MD, and Irving L. Weissman, MD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Vascular Biology/Angiogenesis
Sagar Bhattacharya, PhD

Peptide drugs, which mimic the function of natural peptides such as hormones or growth factors, have emerged as a promising strategy for the treatment of cancer. Despite their potential, however, very few have reached the clinic in the past decade, primarily due to their off-target toxicity. The design of a suitable system to deliver peptides in a site-specific manner would address a major challenge in the development of anticancer peptide drugs. De novo protein design, or building proteins “from scratch,” has allowed for the engineering of functional proteins for a broad range of applications, from catalysis to pharmaceuticals. Dr. Bhattacharya [Connie and Bob Lurie Fellow] aims to design proteins from scratch that can “mask” a peptide of interest for systemic delivery to the desired location. This project will initially target pediatric sarcomas, but eventually extend to other cancers like glioblastoma and breast cancer. Dr. Bhattacharya received his PhD from Syracuse University, Syracuse and his MS and BS from University of Calcutta, Kolkata.

Project title: "De novo design of protease-activated anticancer proteins"
Institution: University of California San Francisco
Named Award: Connie and Bob Lurie Fellow
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): William F. DeGrado, PhD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Biomedical Engineering
Felix C. Boos, PhD

Evidence that aging is driven by defined, regulated processes (rather than simple “wear and tear”) has sparked hope that we might target these processes to fight age-related diseases. A particularly exciting example is the regulation of protein homeostasis, or the balance between protein synthesis, folding, and degradation. Protein homeostasis is deregulated in both cancer and normal aging, but the underlying mechanisms remain elusive. Dr. Boos will use the short-lived African turquoise killifish as a new model organism to study how different cells and tissues respond to protein misfolding, how they coordinate their responses, and how aging influences these pathways. This research will not only unravel fundamental mechanisms of aging, but also inform new strategies to fight multiple types of cancer. Dr. Boos received his PhD and his B.Ed. from the University of Kaiserslautern.

Project title: "Inter-organ communication of protein homeostasis stress responses in vertebrate aging"
Institution: Stanford University
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Anne Brunet, PhD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Aging
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: Carnegie Mellon University
Award Program: Dale Frey Scientist
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Microbiology
Marco A. Catipovic, PhD

Dr. Catipovic [HHMI Fellow] focuses on the mechanisms governing the resolution of errors that arise during RNA translation in mammals. Ribosomes translating the same message can collide if they are damaged or encounter blockages much like cars involved in a traffic accident. While cells can tolerate small numbers of these incidents, pervasive collisions overwhelm the cell and force it to make crucial decisions regarding long-term viability. Dr. Catipovic investigates the biochemical mechanisms governing this determination. He uses reconstituted translation systems, consisting of purified translation factors in vitro, as a tool to study the signaling pathways initiated by ribosomal collisions that effect the life-death decisions of severely stressed cells. Perturbation of these pathways can cause premature cell death or unregulated cellular proliferation, which is found in almost all cancers.

Project title: "In vitro reconstitution of ribosome collision dependent signaling”
Institution: The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Named Award: HHMI Fellow
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Rachel Green, PhD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Biochemistry
Gabriel Cavin-Meza, PhD

Proper cell division, including equal partitioning of DNA into two “daughter” cells, is critical for cell viability. However, many cancers continue to divide despite having atypical numbers of chromosomes and can even contain additional copies of the entire genome (polyploidy). Understanding how large increases in chromosome number affect cell division machinery has been limited by the methods used to generate polyploid cells. Serendipitously, stable polyploidy has arisen in multiple organisms, such as plants, fish, and amphibians. By utilizing the natural polyploidy found in Xenopus clawed frogs (ranging from two copies to twelve copies of the genome), Dr. Cavin-Meza [Merck Fellow] will explore the mechanisms that lead to increased but stable genome size. He will also analyze the proteome across Xenopus species to reveal how proteins have adapted to promote stable polyploidy over time, giving valuable insight into how stable polyploidy could arise in cancers. Dr. Cavin-Meza received his PhD from Northwestern University, Evanston and received his BS from the University of California, San Diego.

Project title: "Leveraging polyploid Xenopus to probe spindle adaptation to increases in genome size"
Institution: University of California, Berkeley
Named Award: Merck Fellow
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Rebecca W. Heald, PhD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Cell Biology
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