Photograph of three Mayo Clinic researchers in the Department of Cancer Biology Exploring the biology of human cancer

The Department of Cancer Biology plays a critical role in Mayo Clinic's mission by engaging in nationally and internationally recognized biomedical research, translating key findings to the clinic, and training future generations of biomedical researchers.


The Department of Cancer Biology aims to be an engine for discovery and innovation, generating critical insights and breakthroughs leading to new clinical approaches and treatments for many types of cancer.

Our principal investigators work collaboratively with colleagues within Mayo Clinic, throughout the United States and around the world to understand the biology of human cancer and translate findings into new clinical trials and novel diagnostic and therapeutic approaches. Research for the department takes place at the Mayo Clinic campuses in Phoenix/Scottsdale, Arizona; Jacksonville, Florida; and Rochester, Minnesota.

Our research faculty include cancer cell biologists, computational biologists, bioengineers and clinician-scientists working together to discover the molecular processes that drive cancer development and progression. Research across this broad spectrum of cancer is connected by a common theme: the molecular mechanisms of carcinogenesis. Investigators in the Department of Cancer Biology study all stages of tumor mechanisms and progression, including early tumorigenesis, malignant progression, tumor invasion and tumor metastasis. Research is particularly strong in tumor invasion and metastasis, a key event during tumor progression that accounts for more than 90% of cancer-related mortality.

Our researchers use a variety of methods as they search for more information about cancer biology, including:

  • Structural biology and crystallography
  • Interactions between cancers and the immune system
  • 3D modeling
  • Advanced models of human disease
  • Human genomics and proteomics
  • Tumor biomarkers
  • Novel therapeutics
  • Translational studies related to clinical trials

Education and mentoring

Faculty members in the Department of Cancer Biology conduct high-impact research and are all funded by a variety of federal, foundation and industry partners. Faculty members participate in training of postdoctoral fellows, graduate and undergraduate students, and visiting scientists, and they provide opportunities for career development, including mentoring sessions, writing opportunities and participation in the cancer biology works-in-progress series.

Faculty members also support the education mission of Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. They teach graduate courses and mentor graduate students in a wide range of topics related to cancer research. Graduate students studying with our department have easy access to classes and seminars at all Mayo Clinic campuses via on-site and videoconferenced interactive lectures.

Playing a part in Mayo Clinic's mission

The Department of Cancer Biology plays a key role in Mayo Clinic's mission both locally and across its campuses by engaging in nationally and internationally recognized biomedical research, translating key findings to the clinic, and training future generations of biomedical researchers.

Our department is also an integral part of Mayo Clinic Comprehensive Cancer Center, a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center with a multisite presence that spans Mayo Clinic's three campuses.

Our collaborative work on cancer research is leading to new discoveries about the biology of human cancer, enabling researchers to translate that knowledge into better methods of cancer diagnosis, prevention and treatment.

New discoveries bring hope

The mission of the Department of Cancer Biology is to discover the biological basis of cancer development and to understand how to target it for therapeutic benefit. One of the biggest advantages of Mayo Clinic is the proximity that we have and the closeness that we have between clinicians, surgeons and the scientists in the laboratory.

In my laboratory in particular, we studied brain tumors, we studied particularly glioblastoma. And we tried to study how the environment within the brain makes this tumor more aggressive. And we are doing this trying to find a target so we can find a way to stop it spreading within the brain so the surgeon can go and remove the tumor without having to wait for a recurrence.

Being here at Mayo, I get a chance to interact with other physician-scientists. They will tell me about some of the unmet needs in the clinic. I can then go back to the laboratory, and those unmet needs really drive the type of research that I do. And being here at Mayo, then it gives me the opportunity to then translate that back to the clinic.

The core of our training is when we bring the learners into our own laboratories and have them working at the bench on a real scientific problem. As a student, it's a really great opportunity to be taking courses where the different professors teaching different units of the course are at the cutting edge of the science in that field. I think it's a really great, vibrant learning environment that we're able to offer our learners at all levels really.

The Cancer Biology Department is an exciting place to be. We've got wonderful technologies that are being developed. We're learning a lot of basic science about how cancers are formed and how we can develop novel therapies for cancers. So there's lots of learning ongoing within each of the laboratories. We are in an incredible time of discovery. We can make a difference, and we can actually start curing cancers because we have the technologies. We have the bright minds who will not recognize the medical landscape from today in five to ten years with regards to the progress that's been made.

Our team specializes in mainly trying to find out how cancer moves and how it grows. Those engines that allow cancer cells to migrate and invade not only the brain but also the spine. So we've been specializing in understanding these molecular engines and at the same time inventing new therapies, being innovative by using stem cells, nanoparticles and many other tools that we're trying to utilize so that we can put the brakes on this cancer.

Our laboratory does a lot of work on looking at ways of stimulating the immune response in patients with cancer. By working with the different faculty in the Department of Cancer Biology, we really have exposure to a lot of different types of potential mechanisms that we can target to really help us generate an immune response against specific cancers wherever they're at in the body.

We're scientists that study problems with biological relevance, and the existence of these disparities imply the existence of pathways that we can target therapeutically. We're working with the patient populations that are present here at Mayo Clinic. Our community is diverse and all of our studies are linked to patient populations, to specific patients that we're hoping to treat.

Comprehensive studies are needed to fill the knowledge gap that we have between the different ethnicities and races. In cancer research and clinical trials, we are going to the very early phases of the disease and also what is called premalignant conditions. So we are putting a lot of effort trying to characterize those patients and see if we can predict, not only identify the genetic basis, but also predict which one of those will progress over time. And the ultimate goal is to help to provide new avenues to reduce the health disparities that we observe and see a lot of.

One of the unique things about working at the Mayo Clinic is being able to go into the laboratory, study things, but also at the same time, knowing that I may have a chance to really impact a patient's life at some point during my career.

I feel that I am constantly with our team exploring the universe, that every new discovery that we make in the laboratory will one day be translated back to the patient and also to our future generations. Not only am I being able to find cures for patients, but I am constantly through that work giving our patients hope, and that gives me hope that we can make the world a better place in the future.