All Cancers

Current Projects
Ching-Ho Chang, PhD

Dr. Chang is studying protamines—short, positively-charged proteins that condense DNA into chromatin and regulate gene expression in sperm nuclei. While eukaryotic cells use histones to package genomes in a way that allows access for transcription and replication, sperm cells must package their genomes more tightly. For this, many animals deploy protamines instead of histones. Despite sharing certain functions with highly conserved histones, protamines have independently arisen in evolution multiple times and are continuing to rapidly evolution. Using Drosophila fruit fly species as a model, Dr. Chang studies how sperm chromatin regulates gene expression and reproductive fitness. Additionally, although protamine expression is typically limited to testes, their misexpression has been observed in many cancers, indicating an opportunity for therapeutic intervention.

Project title: "Genetic conflicts shape protamine evolution"
Institution: Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Harmit S. Malik, PhD
Cancer Type: Prostate, All Cancers
Research Area: Genome Maintenance
Alon Chappleboim, PhD

Dr. Chappleboim studies how cells communicate during a developmental process called somitogenesis, which drives the formation of repeated structures such as the spinal vertebrae. The signals that guide cell communication during this process can get misinterpreted by cancer cells, resulting in uncontrolled growth. These pathways are implicated in numerous cancer types but are notably associated with colorectal, ovarian, and breast cancer. Using cutting-edge techniques in human stem cells and 3D-models called organoids, along with the tools of computational biology, Dr. Chappleboim aims to deliberately perturb and examine these signaling pathways to gain a comprehensive understanding of how they function. Dr. Chappleboim received his PhD, MS, and BS from Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem.

Project title: "Uncovering signaling mechanisms in somitogenesis through high-throughput genetic screens in robust human organoids"
Institution: Harvard University
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Sharad Ramanathan, PhD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Developmental Biology
Wei (Will) Chen, PhD

For gene activation, transcription factors (TFs) must bind to enhancers, often with multiple TFs binding at the same site, and recruit other proteins known as cofactors and polymerases. The interactions between TFs and cofactors are usually nonspecific, meaning the cofactors are interchangeable, which limits our understanding of precise gene activation. Dr. Chen will design new proteins that bind the cofactors with high specificity to clarify the contribution of each cofactor. This research will not only provide new insights into the mechanism of gene regulation but also provide new platforms to modulate gene expression with high precision. Dr. Chen received his PhD from the University of Washington, Seattle, his MS from Cornell University, Ithaca and his BS from Shandong University, Jinan.

Project title: "Decoding the transcription code: de novo protein design for precise gene regulation"
Institution: University of Washington
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): David Baker, PhD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Genomics
Zibo Chen, PhD

An ideal cancer therapeutic should be able to selectively target the activity of key cellular pathways that support or drive growth in cancer cells. It should also elicit downstream actions, such as recruiting T cells for cancer cell killing. Since most of the signaling inside cells is facilitated by proteins, a promising new direction for cancer therapy involves building modular and programmable circuits inside living cells using lab-designed proteins. Dr. Chen aims to combine cutting-edge methods in computational protein design and synthetic biology to build a protein-based circuit that can sense multiple inputs (e.g., cancer biomarkers) and carry out a diverse set of functions (e.g., cancer cell killing) based on pre-programmed instructions. 


Project title: “Protein-based molecular programming for cancer immunotherapy”
Institution: Westlake University
Award Program: Dale Frey Scientist
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Signal Transduction
Hui (Vivian) Chiu, PhD

Fatigue is the most common symptom experienced by patients with cancer or undergoing cancer treatment. While chronic inflammation and hormonal imbalance have been suggested as possible causes, the roots of cancer-related fatigue remain unclear and thus we lack effective treatments. Dr. Chiu [HHMI Fellow] seeks to illuminate the physiological basis of fatigue using interdisciplinary approaches that combine the strengths of neuroscience, immunology, and computational biology. Through the lens of brain-body interactions, Dr. Chiu aims to identify key molecular and cellular components of fatigue with the goal of improving treatments for cancer and other severe diseases, such as long COVID. Dr. Chiu received her PhD from the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena and her MS and BS from the National Taiwan University, Taiwan.


Project title: "The neuroimmune basis of fatigue"
Institution: Yale University
Named Award: HHMI Fellow
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Ruslan Medzhitov, PhD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Basic Immunology
Madi Y. Cissé, PhD

Dr. Cissé [Merck Fellow] aims to define the functional importance of nutrient sensing within the tumor microenvironment. How cells sense and adapt to the availability of nutrients in their environment is incompletely understood, but one key pathway is the signaling system anchored by the mTORC1 kinase. The mTORC1 kinase regulates cell growth and metabolism in response to nutrients such as amino acids and glucose. Aberrant mTORC1 signaling is implicated in several cancers, including melanoma, known to be heavily influenced by factors in the microenvironment such as nutrient availability. Dr. Cissé aims to understand how tumor metabolism senses and responds to varying nutrient levels, which will be essential for developing novel therapeutic targets.

Project title: "Integration on oncogenic signaling and nutrient sensing by mTOR in tumors"
Institution: Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Named Award: Merck Fellow
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Brendan D. Manning, PhD
Cancer Type: Skin, All Cancers
Research Area: Metabolism
Lauren E. Cote, PhD

Dr. Cote is exploring embryonic development to better understand how cells cooperate and build complex tissues. Since cancer cells often erroneously redeploy developmental programs and behaviors, her research into how neighboring cells align will yield insights into how cancerous cells metastasize and invade other tissues. Dr. Cote is combining tissue-specific genetic manipulations and laser cell ablations with live imaging during Caenorhabditis elegans digestive tract development to reveal how intracellular organization in one cell type can influence the alignment, polarity, and function of cells in the neighboring tissues.

Project title: "Constructing one continuous digestive tract, cell by cell"
Institution: Stanford University
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Jessica L. Feldman, PhD
Cancer Type: Gastric, Other Cancer, Breast, Colorectal, All Cancers
Research Area: Developmental Biology
Edward M. C. Courvan, PhD

Macrophages are specialized immune cells responsible for “eating” harmful cells, presenting antigens to T cells, and initiating inflammation by releasing signaling molecules called cytokines. Macrophages could potentially be activated to attack tumor cells, but for reasons that are currently unclear, they instead signal for the tumor to grow faster and become more invasive. Dr. Courvan [HHMI Fellow] is investigating how macrophages respond to the low-oxygen environment inside tumors, and specifically how they regulate gene expression through post-transcriptional mechanisms in low-oxygen conditions. With this research, he hopes to uncover new ways to leverage the body's immune system against cancerous cells. Dr. Courvan received his PhD from Yale University and his BS from the University of Connecticut.

Project title: "Functional analysis of post-transcriptional RNA regulation in hypoxic macrophages"
Institution: University of Colorado Boulder
Named Award: HHMI Fellow
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Roy R. Parker, PhD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Biochemistry
Edie I. Crosse, PhD

Myelodysplasia and acute myeloid leukemia are blood cancers with a poor prognosis. At the root of these malignancies are cells harboring mutant forms of proteins with dysfunctional activity which results in abnormal cell behavior and drives disease progression. The focus of my project is the development of new therapeutics that precisely identify cells with mutant forms of the proteins and, by harnessing their aberrant biological activity, causes those cells to self-destruct. These selective therapeutics will be able to kill cancer cells but leave the healthy cells intact proving more effective and having less side-effects than the chemotherapies currently in use.

Project title: "Precision therapeutics for hematologic malignancies with splicing factor mutations"
Institution: Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Named Award: Illini 4000 Fellow
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Robert Bradley, PhD
Cancer Type: Blood, All Cancers
Research Area: Cancer Genetics
Antonio Cuevas-Navarro, PhD

Dr. Cuevas-Navarro’s [Berger Foundation Fellow] research project focuses on targeting mutations in the RAS genes (HRAS, NRAS, and KRAS), present in about 30% of cancer patients and notorious for driving aggressive tumor growth. Dr. Cuevas-Navarro aims to mitigate these mutations’ effects by using pharmacological agents to enhance a biochemical process that regulates RAS proteins. His project will investigate the mechanism of action of these compounds and assess their effectiveness in patient-derived cancer models. This research has the potential to expand treatment options across various cancer types, including those where current treatments are limited. Dr. Cuevas-Navarro received his PhD from University of California, San Francisco and his BS from University of California, Davis.

Project title: "Elucidating mechanisms that reverse the detrimental effect of RAS mutations in cancer"
Institution: Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
Named Award: Berger Foundation Fellow
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Piro Lito, MD, PhD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Biochemistry
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