Cancer Biology and Molecular Therapeutics

Everyone will be touched by cancer. If we are lucky enough to avoid cancer in our own life, we will still be close to people who have cancer, and many will not survive the disease. Cancer is not one disease, but multiple diseases, each with its unique characteristics and prognosis. There are numerous causes of cancer, but a more limited number of pathways that must be activated or repressed for the tumor cells to survive and grow. The development of cancer is commonly a prolonged process, arising from the accumulation of multiple mutations and genomic rearrangements over many years before the disease is manifested. These genetic changes cause activation of oncogenes, or loss of tumor suppressor genes. Aberrations in many other pathways can predispose individuals to cancer by increasing the frequency of mutations.

The molecular biology revolution has yielded unprecedented volumes of information on the origins of cancer and the numerous genetic changes underlying the disease. This knowledge is providing a revolution in therapeutic strategies. Even now, patients primarily receive drugs whose activity against the tumor is limited by unacceptable toxicity. But the future is much brighter with the development of rationally-designed agents that target many of the molecular characteristics of the tumor, thereby providing greater protection to the patient. Other approaches hope to intercede in the process of carcinogenesis before tumors even develop.

The goal of this program is to provide students with an in-depth understanding of the biology of cancer, the underlying mechanisms, and the possible means to prevent and treat the disease. Each student will undertake a unique research project, using many of the modern tools of cell and molecular biology to answer important questions in the field of cancer research and to help with the overall goal of eliminating suffering and death from this disease.