Research Programs Basic Science

Basic Science Programs per 2011 - 2016 NCI Core Grant

Eric Fearon, M.D., Ph.D. is the Deputy Director of Basic Sciences for the Comprehensive Cancer Center.

There are currently six basic research programs:

Cancer Cell Biology

Colin Duckett, Ph.D., co-director
Andrzej Dlugosz, M.D., co-director

Members of the Cancer Cell Biology program are nationally recognized experts in a spectrum of disciplines unified by the goal of furthering our understanding of the process of oncogenesis at the cellular and molecular level, in order to develop new strategies for the treatment and prevention of cancer. Program investigators have advanced cancer biology in the areas of deregulated growth, proliferation, and cell death pathways; chromatin remodeling; cancer stem cells; embryonic signaling pathways; and tumor invasion programs. The bench-based research carried out by our program members has led to translational studies and clinical trials using novel, targeted approaches to cancer therapy which may afford significant advantages over currently available therapeutics.

Research Themes:

+Aberrant cellular proliferation and death

    -Cell determination, trafficking and plarity
    -Proliferative and growth signaling pathways
    -Growth inhibitory and apoptootic pathways

+Embryonic signaling, cell fate, and morphogenetic programs

    -Stem cells and cell lineage
    - Embryonic signaling pathways
    -Tumor/micorenvironment interactions


Cancer Genetics

David Beer, Ph.D., co-director
Eric Fearon, M.D., Ph.D., co-director

The Cancer Genetics Program (CGP) is an interdisciplinary research group of 32 investigators from 12 departments and three different schools/colleges at the University of Michigan. The CGP pursues laboratory and translational research, emphasizing genetic and genomics approaches, with the overarching goal of advancing knowledge of the nature and role of mutations and gene expression changes in the development and altered phenotypic traits of cancer. Investigators in the CGP are committed to the pursuit of research that will not only inform understanding of the origins and nature of cancer but that will also lead to novel diagnostic approaches for cancer and improved clinical management of cancer patients. Investigators in the Program collaborate with investigators in other UMCCC programs in the Basic Science, Clinical Science and Population Sciences Divisions, including Cancer Cell Biology, Radiation Sciences, Molecular Therapeutics, Breast Oncology, GI Oncology, Prostate/Urologic Oncology, and Biomedical Prevention.

The CGP has four major research themes:

    I) Defining oncogene and tumor suppressor gene network defects and gene expression signatures in cancers of various types.
    II) Characterization of mechanisms of gene regulation by transcription factor complexes and chromatin modification factors in cancer cells.
    III) Elucidation of genetic and epigenetic mechanisms contributing to genomic instability in cancer.
    IV) Development of genetically engineered mouse models for investigating the role of recurrent gene defects in cancer pathogenesis.


Molecular Imaging

Alnawaz Rehemtulla, Ph.D., co-director
Brian Ross, Ph.D., co-director

Investigators in the Molecular Imaging Program are actively involved in the development of non-invasive leading-edge imaging approaches to detect fundamental processes involved in cancer etiology, progression and response to interventions such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy, biological therapy and antiangiogenic therapies.

The Molecular Imaging Program is particularly strong in the development and translational application of basic discoveries in the area of imaging biomarkers of treatment response. These imaging biomarkers include perfusion MRI, proton spectroscopy and diffusion-weighted MRI from the bench to the clinical setting in order to assist in the development of more effective cancer treatment protocols but also to provide imaging surrogates of early treatment response metrics.

The overarching goals of the Molecular Imaging Program are to foster the development and application of novel molecular imaging technologies that will significantly impact our basic understanding of cancer disease processes as well as improve pre-clinical drug development and to ultimately translate findings to the clinic. The efforts of the group are focused in several major areas:

  • Cell-based molecular imaging reporter development.
  • Molecular imaging contrast agent probe development (for early diagnosis of lesions).
  • Development of fiber optic hardware for fluorescent optical imaging in hollow organs.
  • Development of digital image post-processing algorithims to quantify imaging biomarker readouts of treatment response.
  • Development and validation of imaging surrogates and protocols for early prediction of therapeutic efficacy to allow for individualization of patient treatment.
  • Development of prospective molecular imaging clinical studies.


Experimental Therapeutics

Shaomeng Wang, Ph.D., co-director
Judith Leopold, Ph.D., co-director

The overarching goal of the ExperimentalTherapeutics Program is to build a world-class academic center dedicated to bridging basic and translational science for the design of innovative and impactful cancer therapies. This program was established in December 2004 and brings together an interdisciplinary group of investigators. This program has a strong focus on the rational design and development of small-molecule targeted therapies and serves as a critical link between the basic science and clinical programs. The Experimental Therapeutics Program has four major research themes:

    (I) Identification of novel therapeutic agents and approaches that target key signaling pathways dysregulated in human cancer

    (II) Improvement of drug delivery systems to address tumor inaccessibility using nanotechnology platforms

    (III) Execution of lead optimization and preclinical biomarker studies to guide development candidate selection and clinical trial design

    (IV) Translation of these new cancer medicines and approaches into the clinic


Radiation Sciences

Randall Ten Haken, Ph.D., co-director
Mats E. Ljungman, Ph.D., co-director

The Radiation Sciences Program brings together investigators and clinicians from nine different Departments interested in the biological effects of radiation and the use of radiation therapy for cancer treatment. The program consists of two chief interest groups.

    I). The biology interest group consists of investigators studying basic mechanisms of how cells respond to DNA-damaging agents. A better understanding of these fundamental basic mechanisms in normal and cancer cells is critical in guiding the development of improved use of radiation in the clinic.

    Some of the specific areas studies by members of this interest group include:

    • induction of DNA damage
    • mechanisms of DNA double strandbreak repair
    • regulation of DNA damage signal transduction
    • activation of cell cycle checkpoints
    • mechanisms of DNA damage-induced cell death
    • gene therapy for cancer treatment
    • molecular targets or radiosensitization
    • DNA damage-induced gene expression
    • mechanism of replication stress in cancer cells
    • genomic instability

    II). The medical physics interest group consists of investigators applying physics to the practice of radiation oncology. This group has a long track record of developing novel highly conformal radiation therapy techniques. This group has strong interactions with many clinical programs in the Cancer Center including Head and Neck, GI, Lung, Breast, and Prostate. In addition, this group has worked with clinicians in neuro-oncology and with the new Molecular Imaging Program to develop new methods of functional imaging in the CNS.

    Specific topic of interest include developing new methods of:

    • dose calculation
    • optimization
    • assessment and correction of genomic uncertainities
    • image registration
    • constructing 4-D models of patients for planning
    • treatment delivery
    • imaging patients or tumors in real time during treatment


Tumor Immunology and Host Response

Gabriel Nuñez, M.D., co-director
Weiping Zou, M.D.,

The primary goal of the Tumor Immunology and Host Response (TIHR) program is to foster basic science research in areas of immunity and cancer and to translate the acquired knowledge into the clinic.

Specifically, the TIHR program has the following goals:

    (I) To explore and elucidate underlying mechanisms that govern the interaction between cancer cells and the innate and adaptive immune systems that either suppress or promote cancer development using tumor models,

    (II) To develop novel approaches to manipulate immune responses that can be adopted to cancer models, and

    (III) To translate novel discoveries from the laboratory into the clinic for the treatment of cancer.

The scientific interests of investigators of the TIHR program include:

    (I) the role of microbes and innate immunity in cancer models of breast, prostate, pancreatic and intestinal cancer and graft-versus-host disease,

    (II) the role of adaptive immunity in the regulation of oncogenic and tumor suppressor pathways,

    (III) T-cell signaling and role of T cells in tumor development,

    (IV) immune mechanism of tumor evasion and

    (V) application of immune-based therapy for cancer treatment.

last updated 06.2016

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