All Cancers

Current Projects
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: 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: 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
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: "Regulation of integrin clustering on supported lipid bilayers"
Institution: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
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
Kunitoshi Chiba, PhD

Dr. Chiba investigates how cancer cells evade a patient's immune system. Though checkpoint blockade therapies have expanded the options for cancer patients, only a fraction of those treated actually benefit due to the emergence of immune resistance. Dr. Chiba will use molecular and genetic approaches to dissect the ways that cancer-associated mutations alter the tumor environment to avoid immune surveillance. The aim of this research is to improve the efficacy of cancer immunotherapy so many more patients will benefit.

Project title: "The role of a tumor suppressor gene ASXL1 in immune evasion during tumorigenesis"
Institution: Brigham and Women's Hospital
Named Award: William Raveis Charitable Fund Fellow
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Stephen Elledge, PhD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Immunotherapy
Hokyung K. Chung, PhD

Dr. Chung is developing a new engineering approach to create intelligent and tenacious T cells with durable anti-tumor activity. Her aim is to create enhanced T cells that will infiltrate tumors, kill cancer cells, and persist long-term to prevent recurrence. Dr. Chung will use cutting-edge, multi-disciplinary approaches, including bioinformatics, protein and genetic engineering, and tumor immunology, to design a synthetic T cell differentiation pathway. This T cell reprogramming platform has the potential to transform cellular immunotherapies (such as CAR T) into "smarter" cells that target cancer with persistence and enhanced potency.

Project title: "Next generation adoptive cell therapy: SMARTER T cells for enhanced and durable anti-tumor immunity"
Institution: The Salk Institute for Biological Studies
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Susan Kaech, PhD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Biomedical Engineering
Jeeyun Chung, PhD

Dr. Chung is focusing on the biology of fat storage organelles called lipid droplets (LDs). Many cancer cells are characterized by an increased number of LDs, and this accumulation has been proposed to be pathogenic. Key questions of LD biology remain unanswered, limiting the potential for therapeutic intervention. She will combine various imaging technologies and biochemical approaches to elucidate the molecular architecture of initial LD formation and its regulation.

Project title: "Unraveling the cellular mechanism of lipid droplet biogenesis"
Institution: Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Tobias C. Walther, PhD, and Robert V. Farese Jr. MD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Cell Biology
Jeremy Copperman, PhD

Cancer cell populations within a tumor are often diverse, and the dynamic shifting of cell state plays a major role in treatment resistance and cancer metastasis. Dr. Copperman is utilizing tools from statistical physics and modern machine learning to predict how subpopulations of cancer cells continuously adapt to survive and eventually metastasize to other organs in the body. Using time-resolved single-cell imaging and molecular measurements to inform data-driven models, he aims to develop predictive whole-cell modeling and optimal control strategies for heterogeneous cellular populations.

Project title: "Whole-cell modeling for the prediction and control of micro-environmentally regulated proliferative and migratory variability"
Institution: Oregon Health & Science University
Award Program: Quantitative Biology Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Daniel M. Zuckerman, PhD, and Joe W. Gray, PhD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
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