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My laboratory focuses on understanding the regulation of stem cells during normal development, aging, and in cancer.
Recent identification of a special subset of cancer cells provides a new opportunity for meeting the challenge of eradicating human cancers, including glioblastomas, the most aggressive form of brain cancer that is currently incurable. Recent studies indicate that not all cancer cells are equal, and that only a small subset of cancer cells (called cancer stem cells) have the unique properties of being able to initiate cancer, divide infinitely, and give rise to all other cell types in the original cancer. These are necessary characteristics of cancer cells that spread from the original tumor to other sites (metastasis) and also those that instigate tumor recurrence. Consistent with the idea that cancer stem cells lie at the root of these major challenges in cancer treatment, recent studies show that cancer stem cells are more resistant than other cancer cells to radiation- and chemo-therapies. Hence, it is hypothesized that killing cancer stem cells will have a significant impact in treating cancer. However, pursuing such a strategy requires an understanding of the molecules that endow these cells with their unique properties, but the identity of these molecules is currently largely unknown.
To address this need, we take two complementary approaches. One, we are analyzing the functions of known oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes during development to understand their role in normal stem cell regulation. In particular, we are interested in genes that regulate self-renewal of stem cells since this is a common cellular process that is critical to all stem cells, including cancer stem cells. Two, we have identified 45 candidate genes that are unquely expressed in cancer stem cells, compared to non-stem cancer cells and normal stem cells. We are currently testing the expression and function of these genes in human and mouse brain and breast cancer cells. By combining these two approaches, we hope to gain valuable insightst that contributes to manipulating stem cells for cell-based therapies involving normal neural stem cells and in eradicating cancer.
GRANT REVIEW/STUDY SECTIONS
NCI, Review Committee for RFA: "Tumor Stem Cells in Cancer Biology,
Prevention, and Therapy (P01),” Nov 2008
INSTITUTIONAL COMMITTEES (The Jackson Laboratory)
Animal Care and Usage committee
Cancer Center Advisory committee
Human Subjects IRB
Institutional Biosafety Committee
Graduate Program Advisory committee
Senior Cancer Researcher Search Committee