The research activities of the Cell Biology Program are directed toward understanding the molecular mechanisms that control normal cell behavior and how these are disrupted in cancer. The overall mission of this program is to identify, through the advancement of knowledge in cell biology, alterations that promote cancer progression and new opportunities for treating the disease.
Research activities cover the following areas:
Signal transduction pathways initiated at the cell surface mediate a cell's response to the external environment. These affect all aspects of cell behavior, such as the decision to divide and proliferate, to die, to differentiate, or to migrate from one location to another. All research groups in the program have an interest in signal transduction pathways, though with an emphasis on different biological contexts.
The cell division cycle and its regulation by intrinsic and extrinsic factors are of major interest to investigators in this program. The ability to divide inappropriately is the defining feature of cancer cells and it is essential to identify how this process is normally controlled if we are to understand what goes wrong in the disease.
Stem cells divide to produce another stem cell and a daughter cell that looses its ability to divide as it takes on specialized functions. Defects in this differentiation program are a common feature of cancer cells and researchers in the Cell Biology Program are exploring factors involved in this process.
Cell death, through apoptosis, is a major decision that cells take if they find themselves in inappropriate surroundings, or if they are subjected to serious damage. The loss of this fail-safe device is thought to be a major step in most, if not all cancers.
Cell and Tissue Morphogenesis
Cells adopt defined shapes that are essential for their specialized functions and this often involves interactions with other cells to form organized tissues and organs. Disruption of normal cell-cell interactions is a key step leading to the process of metastasis that is seen in late stages of cancer.
One of the most striking features of normal embryonic development is the large-scale movements and migrations of cells as they reorganize to form the different body compartments. Outside of the immune system, cell migrations in the adult are normally restricted to localized areas within tissues. A feature of late-stage cancers is metastasis - the ability of cells to migrate inappropriately to other areas of the body - and this is responsible for the majority of cancer deaths.
Animal Models in Cell Biology
Animal models have proved invaluable in identifying new molecules that control different aspects of cell biology as well as for observing the effects of specific molecular alterations on cell behavior in a physiological context. Research groups in Cell Biology are using animal models to explore cancer cell biology.
Members of the Cell Biology Program are seeking to translate the knowledge gained from basic research into concrete diagnostic and therapeutic interventions.