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 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
Daniel J. Blair, PhD

Dr. Blair 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
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
Antony J. Burton, PhD

Dr. Burton studies how chemical modification of histone proteins leads to changes in the structure of chromatin, the physiologically relevant form of DNA, and how misregulation of this higher-order assembly can lead to aberrant gene transcription patterns and cancer. He will use chemical biology tools to carry out precise chemistry in live cells, and determine direct causality in the downstream effects on DNA accessibility and transcription.

Project title: "Sculpting chromatin architecture in live cells using protein chemistry"
Institution: Princeton University
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Tom W. Muir, PhD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Chromatin Biology
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