Research in Molecular Pathology

The Study of Genes and Abnormal Gene Products

The primary focus of the Department of Molecular Pathology at MD Anderson is research on the genes and gene products involved in the abnormal growth of tumor cells, and the mechanisms by which these abnormal gene products induce cancer. The long-term goal of these studies is to develop new diagnostic reagents and new therapeutic strategies for cancer.

The research activities of the department include several areas of investigations that relate to these themes:

One area concerns gene products of proto-oncogenes involved in either malignant tumor formation or leukemia. These particular gene products have been found to possess an important regulatory enzyme activity (for example, a protein kinase) that modulates signal transduction in different cellular pathways.

A second area of research concerns the study of a new class of genes involved in prolonging the survival of non-growing cells by blocking programmed cell death, or apoptosis. This prolonged survival is believed to enable cells to undergo further genetic mutations that eventually lead to a malignant state.

A third area concerns the role of cell-adhesion proteins involved in cell-to-cell interaction, with particular emphasis on prostate and breast cancers. A recent faculty addition to the department provides expertise in the study of proteomics. Following advances in sequencing the human genome (DNA), the next challenge is to probe the structure and function of the proteins encoded by the genome, hence the term "proteomics".

Other areas of research include:

  • Genes involved in drug resistance
  • Novel and ultrasensitive methods for detecting, separating and quantitating malignant cells in normal cell populations in tissue and body fluids
  • Factors required for progression of B-cell lymphoma
  • A newly discovered protein kinase that regulates events in mitosis in breast cancer and other cancers
  • Genes involved in reactive oxygen as they relate to cancer
  • Genes associated with day/night changes (the circadian clock) in gene expression as they relate to cancer and signal transduction pathways involved in cell adhesion changes in cancer cells
  • HIV vaccines and HIV therapy
  • Retrovirus-mediated gene therapy for treating cancer
  • Gene therapy for liver disease

Research activities are supported in large part by peer-reviewed grants awarded to our faculty. These include grants from the National Cancer Institute, American Cancer Society and the Department of Defense. Other support is provided by industrial firms through licensing arrangements on either issued patents or pending patents. Gift funds provide additional research support to various investigators in the department.