Cancer Genetics, Biochemistry and Cell Biology Program

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The malignant transformation of cells involves alterations in the control of cell cycle progression, the ability of the cells to terminally differentiate, changes in cellular metabolism and the capacity to undergo programmed cell death (apoptosis) in response to normal cellular cues. Most of these functions are controlled through biochemical processes that occur following engagement of one or more of a variety of cell surface receptors and which are often mutated in transformed cells. The goals of the Cancer Genetics, Biochemistry and Cell Biology program are to define the critical cellular pathways involved in normal cellular regulation and the pathways that are altered in transformed cells. The members of the program come from 11 academic departments and are investigating cellular basic and transformed processes using a variety of approaches and animal models. Three focus areas have been identified that include Cell Stress and Metabolism, Signaling Networks and Therapeutics and Genome Structure and Function. The ultimate goal of the studies is to develop novel therapeutic approaches that are based on targeting normal cellular regulation or pathways that are altered in transformation.

The central function of the program is to provide a forum for exchange and review of ongoing research as well as to foster the development of intra- and inter-programmatic collaborations. This is accomplished through two types of seminar programs. The first, more formal, seminar series is held every week on Monday at 10:00 AM. Principal investigators from the program present their work in a formal, one-hour seminar that is intended to include background information as well as work accomplished. Following the presentations there is a question and answer period. In addition, the faculty often convenes to further review the progress that has been made and to make suggestions relative to the presentation, the course of the research and the possibilities for collaborations. To further inter-programmatic interactions, principle investigators from other programs are invited approximately every fifth meeting. The second seminar series is held every week on Thursday at 9:00 AM. This series is much more informal and focuses on notebook type presentations of ongoing research by postdoctoral fellows. The background information is generally not provided. This series is intended to focus on the research and to provide a critical forum for evaluating ongoing studies and to provide suggestions for future experiments both in direction and in techniques to address scientific questions. Together the seminar series has brought together investigators and served as the catalyst for many inter- and intra-programmatic collaborations.

Members of the Cancer Genetics, Biochemistry and Cell Biology Program interact with clinical investigators and with individuals of other Cancer Center Programs. Many investigators from the program have participated and still participate on the CT-SRC, the institutional scientific review of clinical protocols, to provide an opportunity for more basic research investigators to become aware of the institutional clinical activities and to provide them knowledge and experience in the development of clinical protocols. This has been an important source of translational opportunities and collaborations between clinical and basic investigators..

The ability to achieve our scientific goals is dependent upon three factors that represent the essential contributions that the Cancer Center organization provides. First, the Cancer Genetics, Biochemistry and Cell Biology Program provides the critical forum to bring investigators together from across our academic structure to focus on the above goals. The seminar programs are the “frontline” at which ideas are presented, challenged and fine-tuned by a diverse and talented group of investigators exploring a variety of cellular pathways. Secondly, the resources provided through the cores provide the tools that both make possible and facilitate experiments that allow the goals to be achieved in a timely fashion. Of particular note are the resources provided by the Animal Resources Center, the Transgenic/Gene Knockout Facility, Cell Microinjection & Live Cell Imaging, Protein Production and Bioinformatics & Biotechnology. Lastly, the depth of clinical experience and activity at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, found in many of the Cancer Center Programs, continues to challenge our investigators in the Cancer Genetics, Biochemistry and Cell Biology Program to translate basic information into clinical opportunities and provide avenues to accomplish this challenge for our Program activities through inter-programmatic collaborations.

James N. Ihle, PhD, Martine F. Roussel, PhD and Brenda Schulman PhD are co-leaders of the program.

Scientific Report