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
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
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
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
Award Program: Dale Frey Scientist
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
Marco A. Catipovic, PhD

Dr. Catipovic 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. If not resolved quickly, these collisions activate cellular signaling pathways implicated in a number of cancers. Dr. Catipovic uses reconstituted translation systems, consisting of purified translation factors in vitro (or “in a test tube”), as a tool to study quality control pathways for ribosomes engaged in collisions. These pathways identify and recycle any damaged ribosomal components before the cell can mount more severe, oncogenic responses.

Project title: The role of ribosome biogenesis in recycling damaged ribosomes
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
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