All Cancers

Current Projects
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.)
Kaixian Liu, PhD

Dr. Liu is combining single-molecule fluorescence and force spectroscopy to study dynamic interactions between meiotic double-strand break (DSB) proteins and DNA. Meiotic recombination initiates with DSBs that are generated by the protein Spo11. Spo11 and its partner proteins ensure that DSBs occur at the right chromosome sites and at the right time. Dysregulated DSBs lead to chromosome instability, a hallmark of cancer cells. Dr. Liu’s study will elucidate the dynamics of DSB formation during meiosis, which will shed light on cancer formation and pave the way for new therapeutic alternatives.

Project title: "The studies of double-strand break proteins in germline genome transmission"
Institution: Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Scott Keeney, PhD, and Shixin Liu, PhD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Biophysics
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
Jon McGinn, PhD

Dr. McGinn studies how bacterial pathogens sense and manipulate their human hosts. Dr. McGinn is focusing on the tick-borne bacterial pathogen Rickettsia parkeri, which can only survive within eukaryotic host cells. By uncovering novel interactions between host and pathogen, his work may reveal new insights into how human cells work and what goes awry in disease states. He is also developing tools to manipulate key virulence pathways in Rickettsia parkeri that can be used to transform the bacteria into a vehicle for delivering antigens or new drugs directly to cancer cells.

Project title: "Dissecting the genetic networks underlying host subversion during Rickettsia infection"
Institution: Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Rebecca Lamason, PhD, and Michael Laub, PhD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Microbiology
Colleen N. McLaughlin, PhD

Dr. McLaughlin is using the developing nervous system to study metastasis, the primary cause of cancer-related fatalities. In metastasis, cell surface and secreted molecules enable cells to travel through diverse environments and invade distant tissues. Likewise, growing axons in the developing nervous system use similar sets of cell surface proteins to traverse long distances to form precise connections with their synaptic partner cells. Dr. McLaughlin aims to define the mechanisms used by cell surface proteins to promote axon targeting, which will provide critical insight into how these molecules are harnessed by malignant cells during metastasis. 

Project title: "Cell surface mechanisms of neural circuit assembly"
Institution: Stanford University
Named Award: HHMI Fellow
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Liqun Luo, PhD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Neuroscience
Matthew P. Miller, PhD

Dr. Miller is investigating how cells ensure the correct partitioning of genetic material during cell division. Errors in this process occur in nearly all tumor cells and are the leading cause of miscarriages and congenital birth defects in humans. The vast majority of solid tumors have incorrectly positioned chromosomes, causing high levels of genomic instability and DNA damage. Very little is known about how chromosome segregation becomes so defective during tumorigenesis. His research is focused on elucidating the mechanisms of both accurate and defective chromosome segregation with the goal of determining whether there are opportunities for development of new cancer therapeutics.

Project title: "Deciphering tension-dependent stabilization of kinetochore-microtubule interactions"
Institution: University of Utah
Award Program: Dale Frey Scientist
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Cell Biology
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