All Cancers

Current Projects
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
Sudeep Banjade, PhD

Dr. Banjade studies how cellular membranes are remodeled. The ESCRT family of proteins (endosomal sorting complexes required for transport) regulate this remodeling process; misregulation has been found to be involved in many cancers. He aims to understand the specific roles of the ESCRT-III proteins for polymer remodeling and membrane deformation, using biochemical, biophysical and genetic approaches.

Project title: "Division of labor in ESCRT-III proteins during polymer assembly and membrane remodeling"
Institution: Cornell University
Named Award: HHMI Fellow
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Scott Emr, PhD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Biophysics
Liron Bar-Peled, PhD

Dr. Bar-Peled studies how cancer cells adapt to stress environments, focusing on oxidative stress.  His research focuses on understanding how cells sense and respond to specific changes in their environment by activating singling pathways that lead to uncontrolled growth.  He recently studied a particular pathway in non-small cell lung cancer and identified a “druggable” protein that could be targeted with small molecules and disrupt this uncontrolled growth. He plans to pursue this specific target and use the same strategy for identifying druggable pathways in other cancers that currently lack effective therapies.

Project title: "Identification of cysteine liabilities in NRF2-driven cancers"
Institution: Massachusetts General Hospital
Award Program: Dale Frey Scientist
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Chemical Biology
Brian J. Beliveau, PhD

Dr. Beliveau has developed transformative single-cell imaging technologies to analyze how chromosomes inside the nucleus are organized. He will use these tools to investigate the causes and consequences of genome organization in health and disease. This technology may provide a clearer picture of the difference between the structure of genes that are turned "on" for protein production and genes that are "off." As many cancers are driven by the abnormal expression of genes such as oncogenes and tumor suppressors, information about how DNA structure can control gene expression and protein production may aid in the development of novel cancer therapies.

Project title: "Decoding Polycomb-mediated gene regulation in single cells with single-molecule super resolution imaging and synthetic biology"
Institution: University of Washington
Award Program: Dale Frey Scientist
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Chromatin Biology
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
Daniel J. Blair, PhD

Dr. Blair [Illini 4000 Fellow] aims to address a key bottleneck in drug discovery by developing a generalizable strategy for synthesis of complex natural products to be used as therapeutics. Small molecules created by nature (natural products) often possess extraordinary functional potential and have led to many transformative human medicines. Unfortunately, despite important progress in the field of natural product synthesis, the methods available for synthesizing such complex natural products are typically too slow for practical drug discovery and development. He proposes to break down complex natural products into simple building blocks, which can then be iteratively assembled through automation to generate natural products.

Project title: "An automated small molecule synthesizer for the discovery of new anti-cancer agents"
Institution: University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Named Award: Illini 4000 Fellow
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Martin D. Burke, PhD, MD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Drug Discovery
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
Vladislav Belyy, PhD

Dr. Belyy studies how cancerous cells bypass normal signaling pathways and continue to grow uncontrollably, instead of either repairing themselves or dying in response to “unfolded protein stress.” Under these conditions, normal cells have evolved to sense this type of stress and either fix the problem or, if the fix fails, die in a controlled manner to protect the rest of the organism. He plans to use recent advances in light-activated protein engineering to study unfolded protein-mediated cell death and hopefully understand how cancerous cells are able to escape their programmed fate. These studies will potentially inform the next generation of cancer therapies targeting molecules involved in responding to the buildup of unfolded proteins.

Project title: "Mapping the unfolded protein response signaling network with optogenetic actuators"
Institution: University of California, San Francisco
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Peter Walter, PhD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Biophysics
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
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