Focus Area: Signaling Pathways

The study of signaling pathways involved in proliferation, repair and apoptosis (programmed cell death) is a major research focus of the Developmental Therapeutics Program. This research offers new insight into the nature of malignant cells and cellular responses to anti-cancer agents.

This research can help identify potential new targets for chemotherapy, including treatments that are more selective and less toxic to patients.

Cells duplicate their DNA and divide over and over again with remarkable precision. A complicated series of signals tells cells when to divide and when to stop growing. Sometimes — perhaps once in a billion times — there is a malfunction that damages a cell. When the signaling pathways are working correctly, the damaged cell recognizes that it is defective and either undergoes repair (usually of damaged DNA) or triggers its own death.

Sometimes, though, a damaged cell loses the ability to self-repair or self-destruct. In some cases, this happens because a cell might lose the ability to sense damage. Other times, even if the damage is detected, the repair pathways might be altered. Finally, cells might lose the ability to trigger cell death. Any of these changes can contribute to the development of cancer.

Many chemotherapeutic drugs kill cancer cells by damaging DNA or other cellular components, resulting in signals that trigger apoptosis. Therefore, alterations in signaling pathways that contribute to cancer development can also affect cancer therapy.

Here are specific research areas in signaling pathways:

Research area Laboratories Faculty
Breast cancer
Identification of metabolic pathway alterations that contribute to pancreatic cancer cell growth  
Elucidation of signaling pathways that regulate the response to DNA damage  
Identifying cancer-promoting changes in gene transcription  
Elucidating mechanisms of programmed cell death
Investigating the role of protein kinase C isoforms in the development and progression of cancer  
Lung cancer  
  • Yanan Yang, Ph.D.
Metabolic pathway alterations in cancer as potential drug targets
New targets in renal cell carcinoma  
  • Thai H. Ho, M.D., Ph.D.
Preclinical evaluation of potential markers of drug action  
  • Irina V. Kovtun, Ph.D.
Protein-protein interactions of DNA repair and apoptosis proteins
Regulation of metastasis