All Cancers

Current Projects
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, MD, PhD
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
Alistair N. Boettiger, PhD

Dr. Boettiger uses new high-resolution imaging technology to visualize the spatial arrangement of the genome in individual cells. Alterations in the physical structure of the genome affect gene expression and cell behavior. He aims to explain how mutations and genome structure changes give rise to malignancy and treatment resistance in cancer cells.

Project title: "Using super-resolution imaging to probe molecular mechanisms of Polycomb silencing"
Institution: Stanford University
Award Program: Dale Frey Scientist
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Chromatin Biology
Challice L. Bonifant, MD, PhD

Dr. Bonifant is studying how best to direct the immune system to combat acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a blood cancer of both children and adults. By specifically directing T immune cells to AML, she hopes to make therapy stronger and more effective, while also reducing toxicity. She is exploring the activity of T cells targeting multiple AML-specific antigens that do not affect normal cells. The ultimate goal of the work is to develop new strategies to treat AML.

Project title: "Dual-antigen targeting by ENG-T cells as improved anti-AML therapy"
Institution: University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Award Program: Sohn Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Pavan Reddy, MD
Cancer Type: Blood, Pediatric, All Cancers
Research Area: Immunotherapy
Justin A. Bosch, PhD

Dr. Bosch is studying the molecular language of cell-cell communication, an essential function of animal cells that coordinates normal tissue development and function that is frequently misregulated in many cancers. By developing novel methods to study the biological functions of an extraordinary class of intercellular messages-those that transfer directly into the interior of recipient cells-he will gain new insight into fundamental modes of cell-cell communication. His research will improve our understanding of the molecular events leading to cancer progression, leading to development of improved methods to deliver drugs into cells.

Project title: "Characterizing novel molecules and mechanisms that mediate cell-cell communication"
Institution: Harvard Medical School
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Norbert Perrimon, PhD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Signal Transduction
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
Angela N. Brooks, PhD

Dr. Brooks is analyzing cancer genome sequence data to identify DNA mutations that affect RNA splicing, a form of gene processing and regulation. By characterizing these mutations, her work will provide further understanding of the role of splicing alterations in cancer as well as insight into the functional consequences of cancer mutations.


Project title: "Characterizing somatic mutations that affect mRNA splicing in cancer"
Institution: University of California, Santa Cruz
Award Program: Dale Frey Scientist
Cancer Type: Blood, Lung, All Cancers
Research Area: Genomics
Antony J. Burton

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
Danfeng Cai, PhD

Dr. Cai is interested in whether the state of cellular “protein crowdedness” can be used to differentiate healthy normal cells from cancer cells. Having the ability to monitor protein crowding and protein-folding landscapes within cells could provide a valuable “readout” for changes in metabolism and the overall health or dysfunction of cells.

Project title: "Protein crowding and protein folding landscapes as predictors of healthy and diseased cell states"
Institution: National Institutes of Health
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz, PhD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Biophysics
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