All Cancers

Current Projects
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
Tera C. Levin, PhD

Dr. Levin is studying the interaction of host cells with the pathogens that infect them. These interactions cause repeated cycles of evolution, leaving “signatures” in both host and pathogen genomes specifically at molecular interfaces of host-pathogen binding. Evolutionary signatures can be used to pinpoint genes critical to disease progression. She is specifically examining the interactions between the pathogenic bacteria Legionella pneumophila and its and amoeba hosts. Her research will inform ongoing efforts to control this pathogen and reduce outbreaks. In addition, her studies have the potential to help cancer patients, who are immunocompromised after undergoing chemotherapy; they are susceptible to Legionella pneumophila infections that can result in a life-threatening, pneumonia-like disease associated with significant morbidity and mortality.

Project title: "Master microbial manipulators: how hosts are shaped by bacterial interactions"
Institution: Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Award Program: Dale Frey Scientist
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Basic Genetics
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 Integrative Cancer Research at MIT
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Matthew G. Vander Heiden, MD, PhD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Biochemistry
Daniel H. Lin, PhD

Dr. Lin is studying how the three-dimensional organization of messenger RNAs affects protein synthesis and how this mode of control is affected in cancer. Dr. Lin is developing high-throughput sequencing technologies to measure the three-dimensional organization and protein production of messenger RNAs to decipher the rules governing the relationship between these two properties and how they change in cancer.

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.)
Lucy Liu, PhD

Dr. Liu is using an in vivo experimental system to study how organs communicate with one another, specifically how the brain is influenced by factors produced in distant tissues. Our brains are protected from toxins and other harmful substances in the rest of our bodies by the blood-brain-barrier. Although the brain is isolated, there is significant clinical evidence demonstrating that changes in the body can significantly alter brain function. For example, a significant percentage of post-treatment cancer patients experience temporary or prolonged memory deficits after chemotherapy and radiation, known colloquially as chemo-brain. Though the epidemiological data is clear, we do not currently know which molecules cause alterations in brain function nor what mechanisms drive these changes. As fat tissues secret a multitude of proteins that affect systemic functions, her goals are to first identify factors that signal from fat tissues to alter brain function and then explore the mechanisms by which these proteins elicit neurological changes. These findings will give novel insights into how organs communicate with one another in healthy and disease states, which may be key to the development of novel therapies for all types of cancers.

Project title: "The fat-brain axis: identifying the roles of adipokine signaling in nervous system function"
Institution: Harvard Medical School
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Norbert Perrimon, PhD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Cancer Genetics
Thomas H. Mann, PhD

Dr. Mann is investigating why the “killer” T cells of our immune system gradually lose the ability to recognize and kill cancer cells. Immunotherapy aims to revitalize these dysfunctional “exhausted” T cells, but a better understanding of how T cells recognize markers on cancer cells called antigens is needed. Dr. Mann is testing the response of engineered T cells to antigen stimulation at different durations, frequencies, and intensities. These studies will focus on understanding the role of calcium signaling in the failure of T cell response. Unraveling the molecular mechanism of T cell exhaustion may help in the design of therapies to prevent or alter its progression, potentially leading to improved immunotherapies.

Project title: "Calcium signaling and the molecular clock of T cell exhaustion"
Institution: The Salk Institute for Biological Studies
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Susan M. Kaech, PhD
Cancer Type: Skin, All Cancers
Research Area: Tumor Immunology
Benjamin L. Martin, PhD

Metastasis, when tumor cells spread to distant organs and form secondary tumors, is one of the most deadly aspects of cancer but is not well understood. Drs. Martin and Matus are focusing on this process to understand how cancer cells break free from tumors to move through the body. Their collaborative project is founded upon an experimental observation made by Dr. Matus in the model roundworm, C. elegans, that a cell cannot simultaneously invade and divide. Using two model systems, C. elegans and the zebrafish, D. rerio, they have gained a better mechanistic understanding of how cell cycle arrest increases the invasive capacity of individual cells during metastasis, including extravasation, the ability to exit blood vessels into the surrounding tissue. They have developed a biosensor that allows the quantification of cells at different stages of the cell cycle and specialized light sheet microscopes to visualize invasive cancer cell behavior at high resolution, in real time. Insights from their work may aid in the design of therapeutics to eradicate metastatic cells that escape traditional chemotherapeutic agents which only target actively dividing cells.

Project title: "Cell cycle regulation of cellular behaviors associated with cancer metastasis"
Institution: Stony Brook University
Award Program: Innovator
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Proliferation/Cell Cycle
David Q. Matus, PhD

Metastasis, when tumor cells spread to distant organs and form secondary tumors, is one of the most deadly aspects of cancer but is not well understood. Drs. Martin and Matus are focusing on this process to understand how cancer cells break free from tumors to move through the body. Their collaborative project is founded upon an experimental observation made by Dr. Matus in the model roundworm, C. elegans, that a cell cannot simultaneously invade and divide. Using two model systems, C. elegans and the zebrafish, D. rerio, they have gained a better mechanistic understanding of how cell cycle arrest increases the invasive capacity of individual cells during metastasis, including extravasation, the ability to exit blood vessels into the surrounding tissue. They have developed a biosensor that allows the quantification of cells at different stages of the cell cycle and specialized light sheet microscopes to visualize invasive cancer cell behavior at high resolution, in real time. Insights from their work may aid in the design of therapeutics to eradicate metastatic cells that escape traditional chemotherapeutic agents which only target actively dividing cells.

Project title: "Cell cycle regulation of cellular behaviors associated with cancer metastasis"
Institution: Stony Brook University
Award Program: Innovator
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Proliferation/Cell Cycle
David G. McFadden, MD, PhD

Mitochondria, the “power plants” of the cell, carry their own DNA that encodes proteins important to producing the energy necessary to run a normal cell. Most cancers also depend on mitochondria to promote the growth and division of tumor cells. Dr. McFadden has shown that a form of thyroid cancer called Hürthle cell carcinoma carries mutations in the mitochondrial DNA, which are maintained in primary tumors and metastases resected from the same patients. He will study energy metabolism in Hürthle cell cancers by feeding the tumors isotope forms of nutrients (tracers) that are used to produce energy and support cell growth. The tracers can be visualized to reveal how metabolism is re-wired in these tumors and to identify novel ways to target altered mitochondrial metabolism in cancers with such genetic mutations. Dr. McFadden works under the mentorship of Steven McKnight, PhD, and Ralph DeBerardinis, MD, PhD, at the University of Texas Southwestern, Dallas.

Project title: "Identifying metabolic vulnerabilities in Hürthle cell carcinoma"
Institution: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
Award Program: Clinical Investigator
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Steven L. McKnight, PhD, and Ralph J. DeBerardinis, MD, PhD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Biochemistry
Wayne O. Miles, PhD

Inactivation of the Retinoblastoma 1 (RB) tumor-suppressor gene is a hallmark of cancer. Loss of RB function results in the transcription of genes required for cell growth but surprisingly also cell death. Profiling of RB-deficient cells showed that these cell death mRNAs are induced but not made into protein. Dr. Miles aims to identify the factors that block the production of cell death proteins and determine which of these factors prevent RB-lacking cancer cells from dying. As the RB pathway is disabled in almost all tumors, his research will provide insights into the mechanisms supporting cancer cell survival and as well as those preventing the death of cancer cells.

Project title: "Maximizing pro-apoptotic protein levels"
Institution: The Ohio State University
Award Program: Innovator
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: RNA (RNA processing, miRNA and piRNA mechanisms, enzymatic RNAs, etc.)
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