All Cancers

Current Projects
Zhejian Ji, PhD

Dr. Ji studies the function of a critical ATPase protein called p97 in an important cellular process called protein degradation, which regulates proteins and can promote cancer cell proliferation and survival. His goal is to understand the molecular mechanism of how p97 functions. A better understanding of p97 could ultimately benefit the development of anti-cancer drugs based on p97 inhibition.


Project title: "Function of the Cdc48 ATPase in protein degradation"
Institution: Harvard Medical School
Named Award: HHMI Fellow
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Tom A. Rapoport, PhD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Biochemistry
Ning Jiang, PhD

Many diseases could be cured if the power of our own immune systems could be harnessed. For cancer, the theory of "cancer immunoediting" provides a hypothesis for how tumors escape detection by the immune system. 

Dr. Jiang, a biomedical engineer, works at the interface of systems biology, genomics, and immunology. Her lab is developing a single cell-based integrated technological approach to challenge this theory. She will profile the immune system repertoire for antigen specificity, receptor gene sequences, and cellular function-related gene expression. Her approach may provide explanations for why and how the immune system tolerates tumors. Her proposed study may result in a paradigm shift that could improve cancer immunotherapies and also revolutionize health care with new personalized immune metrics for early disease detection and targeted therapy.

Project title: "A single cell integrated system to dissecting cancer immunoediting in humans"
Institution: University of Texas, Austin
Award Program: Innovator
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Tumor Immunology
Whitney Johnson, PhD
Project title: Using organoid cancer models to identify genome catastrophe mechanisms
Institution: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): David Pellman, MD
Cancer Type: Pancreatic, All Cancers
Research Area: Cell Biology
Yunsik Kang, PhD

Dr. Kang aims to identify mechanisms that eliminate unneeded cells in the brain. During animal development, extra neurons and neuronal connections are produced, but these unneeded neurons are selectively “eaten” by glia (another type of cell in the brain) in a process called phagocytosis. He will use the nervous system of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model system to perform rapid genetic screens and cell type-specific manipulations, allowing him to quickly find new mechanisms that regulate phagocytosis.  Understanding how cells are targeted for phagocytosis during development will help us learn how to harness these targeting mechanisms to eliminate cancer cells for therapeutic purposes. This research will also help to understand how cancer cells evade immune detection and clearance, and may aid in the development of new kinds of cancer treatments. 

Project title: "Molecular mechanisms regulating phagocytosis of neurons"
Institution: Oregon Health & Science University
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Marc R. Freeman, PhD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Neuroscience
Bryan C. King, PhD

Dr. King (Berger Foundation Fellow) is studying mechanisms by which nutrient-deprived cancer cells utilize extracellular proteins as a source of amino acids to promote their growth and survival. The bulk uptake of extracellular material, through a process called macropinocytosis, is a major means of nutrient uptake in single-celled, amoeboid organisms. Recent evidence suggests that mutations prevalent in cancer cells can activate this ancient scavenging mechanism. He will investigate how signaling pathways that respond to changes in nutrient availability, such as the AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), can influence this process. Since many agents currently used in the clinic act by cutting off the supply of nutrients to the tumor, these studies may give insights into how cancer cells develop resistance to therapy.

Project title: "AMPK-induced catabolism of extracellular proteins: a novel survival mechanism for nutrient-deprived cancer cells"
Institution: Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
Named Award: Berger Foundation Fellow
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Craig B. Thompson, MD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Cell Biology
Ralph E. Kleiner, PhD

Many cancers result from an alteration in a cell's genetic material or DNA -- the basic instruction manual for life. Even a subtle change in DNA sequence can cause dramatic effects and reprogram normal cells, leading to cancer. While many cancers have genetic components, a more recent paradigm in cancer biology has been the study of cellular reprogramming founded in epigenetic or epitranscriptomic changes, which occur without alteration of the underlying DNA sequence. Dr. Kleiner is integrating chemistry and biology approaches to investigate alterations in the chemical composition of RNA, and to understand how these changes are involved in the cellular reprogramming linked to cancer. Changes in RNA chemistry can result in profound effects on cells, as RNA serves as the intermediate between the information encoded in DNA and proteins, the cell's functional effector molecules. He is also interested in understanding how RNA interacts with known anti-cancer drugs including 5-FU and cisplatin. He aims to shed light on the fundamental cellular mechanisms involved in the development of cancer and to provide new opportunities to therapeutically target cancer.

Project title: "Using chemistry to illuminate DNA and RNA damage processes in cells"
Institution: Princeton University
Award Program: Dale Frey Scientist
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Chemical Biology
Brian J. Laidlaw, PhD

Dr. Laidlaw is investigating the mechanisms underlying immune cell positioning following viral infection and tumor challenge. Localization of immune cells to particular sites within the tissue is critical for their maintenance and protective capacity upon reencountering an antigen. How immune cell migration within the tissue is regulated remains poorly understood. His studies should significantly enhance our understanding of immune cell trafficking and inform the development of new immunotherapies against cancer that modulate these pathways to promote tumor regression.

Project title: "Role of EBI2 in the regulation of lymphocyte migration during viral infection and cancer"
Institution: University of California, San Francisco
Named Award: HHMI Fellow
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Jason Cyster, PhD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Basic Immunology
Christopher P. Lapointe, PhD

Dr. Lapointe examines how the synthesis of proteins (translation) is controlled, as dysregulated translation is a ubiquitous feature of cancer. He is focused on a key challenge: how regulation that originates at the “tail” end of a messenger RNA (mRNA, a genetic molecule that encodes a protein) impacts the start of translation, which occurs near the beginning of the mRNA. His goal is to reveal and analyze dynamic pathways that underlie this fundamental mechanism to control gene expression. Using an integrated approach of single-molecule fluorescence microscopy, structural, and biochemical strategies, this research should yield important insights into how translation is precisely regulated and how it is disrupted in a wide array of cancers. 

Project title: "Regulatory roles of the 3' untranslated region in human translation"
Institution: Stanford University School of Medicine
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Joseph Puglisi, PhD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Biophysics
Evan C. Lien, PhD

Dr. Lien is studying how diet and nutrition impact cancer cell metabolism and tumor progression. The way cancer cells utilize nutrients to support their growth and proliferation is determined not only by cancer-promoting genetic alterations, but also by the tumor’s interactions with its local environment. Diet-mediated changes in whole-body metabolism and nutrient availability are an important part of a tumor’s metabolic environment, and a better understanding of how diet modulates nutrient availability and utilization by cancer cells is needed. Moreover, the question of whether certain diets may improve prognosis is of great importance to cancer patients. He aims to provide insight into which cancer types respond to various diets, how diet impacts cancer cell metabolism to mediate these responses, and whether dietary interventions may open new therapeutic opportunities in combination with current cancer treatments. 

Project title: "Impact of diet on tumor metabolism and progression"
Institution: Koch Institute for Biomedical Research
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Matthew G. Vander Heiden, MD, PhD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Biochemistry
Daniel H. Lin, PhD
Project title: Global influence of mRNA conformation on eukaryotic translational regulation
Institution: Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research
Named Award: HHMI Fellow
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): David P. Bartel, PhD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: RNA (RNA processing, miRNA and piRNA mechanisms, enzymatic RNAs, etc.)
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