Cancer Institute

  • Tumor Cell Biology Program

    One of the great mysteries in cancer research is to understand how normal molecular processes go awry to result in the transformation of a healthy cell into a cancerous cell. To do so, must delve deep into the fundamental processes of life.

    Following conception, a single fertilized cell undergoes division into more cells (proliferation), with some of the new cells specializing for certain functions (differentiation), and some of these cells undergo programmed cell death (e.g., apoptosis) or growth arrest until we reach an adult stage consisting of approximately one hundred trillion cells which comprise the various tissues and organs of the body, and every one of them derived from a single cell. To avoid chaos, cells in the developing human body communicate with each other, often by secreting proteins or small metabolites that serve as intercellular messages.

    Cells also communicate with each other by direct contact between macromolecules on their cell surface. These intercellular messages then become converted to a series of biochemical reactions within the cell, which ultimately result in proliferation, differentiation, growth arrest, or apoptosis. If we are lucky, these same processes will occur in a carefully controlled manner throughout our entire adult life, and we will die without experiencing cancer. However, critical defects can occur in these processes, and an accumulation of these results can convert a healthy cell into a cancerous cell. Progressive changes in solid cancer cells allow these cells to develop into a complex organ-like tumor, attracting blood vessels to feed its growth, transforming into cells that can spread throughout the body to establish new tumors in other sites.

    The mission of the Tumor Cell Biology Program is to understand the molecular and cellular processes that cause cancer and cancer progression. Much of this effort is directed towards understanding signal transduction pathways, DNA repair mechanisms, drug resistance, cancer immunology, cell-cell interactions, and processes that may prevent cancer from developing in high-risk patients. The members of this program typically collaborate with members of the Molecular Cancer Therapeutics Program and the Cancer Genetics Program.