Research & Training

Cancer Biology and Signaling

Scientific Goals

The scientific goal of the Cancer Biology and Signaling research program is to fill the gaps in knowledge on fundamental biological mechanisms that underlie the development of cancer.

Over the past two decades, studies of cancer biology have led to the construction of a general framework for tumor development. In this framework, a series of eight biological events that underlie the formation of cancer are identified: (a) increased cell proliferation, (b) decreased cell death, (c) defects in terminal differentiation, (d) escape from life-span restriction, (e) genome instability, (f) immune evasion, (g) angiogenesis, and (h) invasion and metastasis. The studies of cancer biology over the past two decades have identified many genetic and epigenetic alterations that contribute to each of these tumorigenic processes. Despite this enormous advancement, the framework has remained a construct of general principles with critical gaps in knowledge such that cancer biology is still very much a work in progress.

Acknowledging the complexity of the biological network that governs the basic processes of cell proliferation, differentiation and cell death, members of this program not only create new knowledge but also develop new tools to promote high-throughput and computational analyses of the regulatory network.

Our members investigate basic biological mechanisms that regulate cellular responses to extracellular and intracellular cues including mitogenic factors, cell death inducers, hormones, cytokines, ions, stress and differentiation factors. Investigators share a common research interest on bio-regulation, yet their specific research topics are along two major themes: Signal Transduction and Developmental Biology.

Signal Transduction

Signal transduction has become a vast field in biology. Our members focus on basic mechanisms that are applicable to many cell types and diverse biological processes. We employ biochemistry, cell biology, genetics, molecular biology, and structural biology approaches to investigate how cell extrinsic and intrinsic signals are propagated to effect biological responses. Cancer Biology and Signaling enjoys strong expertise in a wide array of signal transduction mechanisms, with particular emphasis on kinases and phosphatases, G-proteins, and oncoproteins/tumor suppressors.

Developmental Biology

The classical developmental biology of lower eukaryotic organisms has evolved over the past two decades into a discipline that studies cell fate specification in a variety of experimental systems. The conversion of stem cells and progenitor cells into specialized cells of varying lineage is a fundamental process occurring not only during embryonic development but also throughout adult life to maintain tissue homeostasis. The determination of cell fate is controlled by transcription factors, RNA processing factors and non-coding RNA such as microRNA, which form a complex network to govern cell fate. Defects in these regulatory pathways are known to drive cancer formation best illustrated with leukemias and lymphomas, many of which result from defects in hematopoiesis. Developmental defects are likely to also be involved in carcinomas, which are likely to be derived from tissue stem cells.

Fluorescent Imaging of Cell 

Kun-Liang Guan, PhD

Kun-Liang Guan, Ph.D.

Professor of
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Dong-Er Zhang, PhD

Dong-Er Zhang, Ph.D.

Professor of
Research summary