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Cancer Biology

The scientific foundation of CB rests on basic science discovery research with high potential for translation into new cancer therapeutic, chemoprevention and diagnostic agents and interventions. The vision of the Cancer Biology Program is to generate novel mechanistic insight into the processes that drive tumor initiation, progression, and invasion; to target these mechanisms with new small molecules and natural products using cellular and biochemical assays; and to translate these results into more effective preventive, early detection, and therapeutic modalities. The program is distinguished by its use of natural products derived from local, endemic species to screen for activities against cell signaling pathways being investigated by CB faculty. Research in the program centers around four interconnected themes:

Theme 1: Tumor Microenvironment and Inflammation Associated Cancer. We will investigate the interactions of the tumor microenvironment with tumor cells and how they affect tumor progression. Other areas of research include how endothelial cell adhesion affects metastasis.

Theme 2: Regulation of Cancer Genes and Pathways. We will identify molecular mechanisms that promote cancer development, progression and metastasis. Areas of study include DNA repair mechanisms, apoptosis pathways, and oncogene and tumor suppressor genes and their roles in promoting carcinogenesis and metastasis.

Theme 3: Molecules Related to Cancer Risk and Diagnosis. We will interrogate the process of carcinogenesis for molecular insights that translate into improved predictive and prognostic biomarkers that can be developed as clinical diagnostics for early detection of cancer.

Theme 4: Natural Products and Targeted Drug Development and Delivery. We will develop drug leads that target known cancer-driving mechanisms or that are targeted at cancer relevant proteins or pathways newly identified within CB. These drug leads are derived from natural products isolated from local endemic organisms of the land or oceans of Hawaii and from small molecules, antibodies, or peptides. We will pursue chemical synthesis of promising natural products and improved efficacy through medicinal chemistry and development of better delivery mechanisms.

CB is the central basic and translational science program at the UH Cancer Center. An overarching principal of the program is to unravel substantial novel cellular and molecular understanding of cancer formation, progression and metastasis and to rapidly translate these discoveries into new diagnostics and treatments, with major emphasis on natural products isolated here in Hawaii and on cancers affecting our populations. Program members are therefore highly collaborative and make use of many shared resources including Microscopy and Imaging, Analytical Biochemistry, Genomics, and Metabolomics. They also collaborate with the Population Sciences faculty to identify and research cancers that affect our catchment area and underlying mechanisms involved in gene and environment promotion of cancer risk, formation, and progression.