All Cancers

Current Projects
Kai Mao, PhD

Dr. Mao is studying the cell’s cytoskeleton, which provides the physical structure and shape of a cell. The cytoskeleton is an attractive target for cancer chemotherapy because of its central function in mitosis or cell division, but these chemotherapeutic agents have very high toxicity. He hypothesizes that the next generation of chemotherapy will benefit from the inhibition of these toxin response pathways. He will examine how cells respond to such drugs, with the goal of applying these findings to attenuate the drugs’ side effects.

Project title: "Mechanisms of xenobiotic surveillance and regulation"
Institution: Massachusetts General Hospital
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Gary Ruvkun, PhD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Toxicology/Toxicogenomics
Benjamin L. Martin, PhD

Hallmarks of cancer progression are increases in both uncontrolled proliferation and invasive behavior, leading to the spread of tumor cells throughout the body. This collaborative project is founded upon an experimental observation made by Dr. Matus, in the model roundworm, C. elegans, that cell invasion and cell division are mutually exclusive behaviors. In other words, a cell cannot simultaneously invade and divide. This functional link between cell cycle arrest and invasive behavior has not been directly made before, although in a variety of cancers there is correlative data suggesting that tumor cells become less proliferative during invasion. Cell invasive behavior occurs during normal embryonic development, immune surveillance, and is dysregulated during metastatic cancer progression. As two cell and developmental biologists, Dr. Matus and Dr. Martin, will leverage their expertise in the strengths of two model systems, C. elegans and the zebrafish, D. rerio, to identify how regulation of the cell cycle intersects with acquisition of cell invasive behavior. Together, they will examine and manipulate the cell cycle state of human cancer cells during metastasis, visualizing invasive behavior at high resolution using light sheet microscopy. Insights from their work will have profound implications in future design of therapeutics to eradicate invasive cells that may escape traditional chemotherapeutic agents that 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

Hallmarks of cancer progression are increases in both uncontrolled proliferation and invasive behavior, leading to the spread of tumor cells throughout the body. This collaborative project is founded upon an experimental observation made by Dr. Matus, in the model roundworm, C. elegans, that cell invasion and cell division are mutually exclusive behaviors. In other words, a cell cannot simultaneously invade and divide. This functional link between cell cycle arrest and invasive behavior has not been directly made before, although in a variety of cancers there is correlative data suggesting that tumor cells become less proliferative during invasion. Cell invasive behavior occurs during normal embryonic development, immune surveillance, and is dysregulated during metastatic cancer progression. As two cell and developmental biologists, Dr. Matus and Dr. Martin, will leverage their expertise in the strengths of two model systems, C. elegans and the zebrafish, D. rerio, to identify how regulation of the cell cycle intersects with acquisition of cell invasive behavior. Together, they will examine and manipulate the cell cycle state of human cancer cells during metastasis, visualizing invasive behavior at high resolution using light sheet microscopy. Insights from their work will have profound implications in future design of therapeutics to eradicate invasive cells that may escape traditional chemotherapeutic agents that 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
Alesia N. McKeown, PhD

Dr. McKeown [HHMI Fellow] studies the innate immune system and its key role in suppressing many types of cancers. It is unclear why some cancers respond well to immunity-based therapies while others escape treatment and continue to spread. Her research is aimed at characterizing a new layer of host immunity composed of retrogenes of essential host proteins. She believes that these retrogenes act to inhibit viral infection by acting as nonfunctional “decoys” of host proteins required for the viral life cycle. By investigating how these decoys exert their antiviral function, she hopes to better understand the landscape of host immunity and utilize these new genes as potential therapeutics to halt similar pathways involved in cancer progression.

Project title: "Novel roles for retrogenes in host immunity"
Institution: University of Utah School of Medicine
Named Award: HHMI Fellow
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Nels Elde, PhD, and Cedric Feschotte, PhD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Evolution
Kara L. McKinley, PhD

Dr. McKinley studies how cells change their shape and behavior to build the complex structures that comprise mammalian organs. Cellular behaviors that occur during embryonic development are frequently co-opted by cancer cells during tumorigenesis and metastasis. Her goal is to understand how the machinery within cells drives changes in tissue architecture in a developmental context, generating new insights into how these cellular processes are corrupted during cancer progression.

Project title: "Mechanisms and functions of cellular rearrangements in epithelia"
Institution: University of California, San Francisco
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Ronald D. Vale, PhD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Cell Biology
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.)
Raymond E. Moellering, PhD

Dr. Moellering is interested in understanding the link between alteration of metabolic pathways and corresponding protein modifications that occur in cancer cells. In addition, he is investigating whether cancer cells use small molecule signaling, known as quorum-sensing, to communicate and thus control tumor initiation, growth and metastasis. His goal is to provide insights into many aspects of tumor progression and to potentially identify new opportunities for therapeutic intervention. 

Project title: "Characterization of novel pathogenic pathways in cancer: do tumor cells use quorum-sensing molecules to support malignancy?"
Institution: The University of Chicago
Award Program: Dale Frey Scientist
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Chemical Biology
Andrew C. Murley, PhD

Dr. Murley is studying how the rapid growth of cancer cells exerts damaging stress on their subcellular compartments. In many cells, chronic stress of one of these compartments, called the endoplasmic reticulum, leads to cell death, but many types of cancer cells are able to avoid this fate. Recent findings point to the existence of secreted molecules released by cells when they are subjected to this stress. These molecules, whose identities are still unknown, can activate processes in neighboring cells, or in the secreting cells themselves, which protect them from this chronic stress. His goal is to identify these molecules and explore their role in cancer cell survival and other normal bodily functions. 

Project title: "Cell non-autonomous communication of ER stress resistance"
Institution: University of California, Berkeley
Named Award: HHMI Fellow
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Andrew G. Dillin, PhD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Aging
Trang Nguyen, PhD

Dr. Nguyen is focusing on the key molecular pathways involved in T-cell unresponsive states, which prevents a full immune response against cancer. Within the suppressive cancer environment, T cells stop recognizing and fighting cancer cells. Dr. Nguyen is examining new genes and pathways that activate T cells and overcome the defects of unresponsive T cells. The insights gained from these studies may inspire new therapeutic strategies for cancer immunotherapy.

Project title: Bypassing the unresponsiveness of T cell anergy and exhaustion
Institution: University of California, San Francisco
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Arthur Weiss, MD, PhD
Cancer Type: Skin, All Cancers
Research Area: Signal Transduction
Vu Quang Nguyen, PhD

Dr. Nguyen uses advanced fluorescence microscopy to visualize how defined structural changes in chromatin, the condensed form of DNA, affect its association with factors required for transcription initiation—an early and essential step in gene expression. Architectural defects in chromatin are found in many cancers and have been linked to aberrant patterns of gene expression. The results of this research will be important in characterizing the connection between chromatin organization and cancer-associated gene misregulation.

Project title: "Role of chromatin organization in dynamics of transcription initiation"
Institution: Johns Hopkins University
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Carl Wu, PhD
Cancer Type: All Cancers
Research Area: Chromatin Biology
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