Message from the Chairman

Gordon B. Mills, M.D., Ph.D., Chair

The Goal of the Department is to be a leader at the interface between basic, translational and clinical sciences both at the MD Anderson and worldwide.  As part of its local, as well as national and international role, the Department provides access to its wide array of technologies, patient samples, algorithms, software and data to the community at large, and thus, plays a major role in the emerging area of Cancer Systems Biology.

The Department of Systems Biology provides a supportive environment for a programmatic approach by basic scientists, clinician scientists, computational biologists, engineers, postdoctoral and clinical fellows, and graduate students.  The research thrust is thoroughly integrated with basic, clinical and translational efforts across the institution and indeed worldwide.  The Department has ongoing major collaborations with multiple clinical departments and basic science departments at MDACC as well as with Rice University, Baylor College of Medicine, University of Houston, University of Texas Health Sciences Center at Houston and Texas A&M.

The department’s efforts on women’s cancer (breast, ovary, endometrium and cervix) played a major role in the selection of “Women’s Cancer: breast and ovary” as one of the funded “Moonshot” programs at MDACC, with Dr. Mills as one of the co-Directors.  The goal of this Moonshot is to make transformation improvements in outcomes in both a rapid and quantitative manner for women with the most aggressive forms of breast and ovarian cancer: triple negative breast cancer and high-grade serous ovarian cancer.  The strength in women’s cancer also contributes to leadership in the Stand up to Cancer PI3K in Women’s Cancer Dream Team and projects in a breast cancer PPG, an Integrative Cancer Biology U24 in breast cancer, breast, ovarian and gynecological cancer SPORE’s and a Komen Breast Cancer Promise Grant.

Importantly, through the CCSG Cores, the Kleberg Center for Molecular Markers and the Institute for Personalized Cancer Therapy (IPCT) as well as from departmental resources, the Department has developed an ability to perform the high throughput approaches required to produce the high quality and extensive data required for systems biology approaches.  For example the CCSG reverse phase proteomics array (RPPA) core has analyzed over 200 different proteins in over 90,000 samples from patients, cell lines, and animal models from around the world.  The quality of the resource has been recognized in it being the sole source for proteomics analysis in the Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) and the Cancer Cell Line Encyclopedia (CCLE) as well as a major component of the Clinical Proteomics Technology in Cancer (CPTAC), the Cancer Target Discovery and Development network (CTD2), and the Integrative Cancer Biology Program (ICBP).  Data derived from this resource is being made available to the community through the Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) data portal, cBIOportal, and the Cancer Proteome Atlas (TCPA hosted at MDACC,

Further, the CCSG functional proteomics core has provided the data for one of the DREAM challenges aimed at understanding drug network interactions in breast cancer to improve patient outcomes. This resource represents just one aspect of the role the department is playing in supporting team science efforts across the community.

In addition to its efforts in cell signaling, the department also hosts a systems biology effort in DNA repair. This research area emphasizes the importance of applying systems biology approaches to target defects of DNA damage response (DDR), particularly DNA repair defects in cancer. DDR is a coordinated response of DNA repair and activation of checkpoints. DDR protects against genomic instability, a major characteristic that promotes all cancer hallmarks. Since defects of DDR are unique and required for all cancer, they serve as ideal targets for effective cancer treatment and as robust biomarkers for early cancer detection and prevention. Importantly, multiple existing and emerging therapeutic modalities either target defects in DDR or act as synthetic lethals with these abnormalities. This makes the development of robust models of DDR that can identify therapeutic liabilities and biomarkers for benefit of critical importance. The Section of Translational DNA Repair aims to apply systems biology approaches to develop comprehensive DDR-defect profiles (DNA, RNA, protein signatures) for cancer detection, prevention and personalized targeted therapy.