The Virginia Harris Cockrell Cancer Research Center at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
Sharon Dent, Ph.D., Professor and Chair,
Department of Epigenetics and Molecular Carcinogenesis; Director, Science Park
The Virginia Harris Cockrell Cancer Research Center at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center (Science Park) is a basic science research campus of MD Anderson and home to the Department of Epigenetics and Molecular Carcinogenesis. Nestled within the Lost Pines forest of Central Texas near Smithville and with easy access to Austin, Science Park provides state-of-the-art resources, knowledgeable and helpful support staff and a sylvan setting in which to conduct groundbreaking research of the highest quality. Our research aims to define the mechanisms that control normal cell proliferation, differentiation, survival and genome maintenance to identify the processes that drive cancer.
Our interactive, collaborative and multidisciplinary research environment enables researchers to take a multifaceted approach to solve complex research problems. Our cutting-edge research programs aim to understand the basic mechanisms of carcinogenesis and build upon our long-standing strength in determining how environmental influences impact cancer formation. Our research focus areas include: Cellular and Molecular Mechanisms of Carcinogenesis, Genome Integrity - DNA Replication, Recombination and Repair, Cancer Genetics and Epigenetics, and Cancer Stem Cells and Programmed Cell Death.
Carcinogenesis refers to the multistep process of normal cells becoming cancer cells. Research in this area involves defining the molecular mechanisms that drive cell proliferation, differentiation, survival and genome maintenance as well as identifying new cancer targets and strategies for prevention and treatment. This research depends heavily on the development of genetically engineered animal models.
Cellular DNA is constantly attacked by both internal and external insults. Some internal forces are important for normal cellular processes that lead to genetic diversity, whereas others are abnormal such as damage resulting from UV, radiation and chemical damage. Regardless of source, DNA damage must be properly repaired; misrepair of the damage could lead to cancer causing mutations. Therefore, understanding how cells respond to and repair DNA damage is essential for understanding the causes of cancer and developing new treatments. Research in this area focuses on the mechanisms of cellular responses to DNA damage and repair as well as its disruption during cancer development.
Depiction of Chromatin Compaction
Epigenetic changes are heritable phenotypic changes that are not due to changes in DNA sequence, but by changes in chromatin structure. Epigenetic alterations are fundamental to normal development and are frequently dysregulated in cancer. Research in the area includes understanding how histone modifications, DNA methylation and other epigenetic changes influence cellular processes in order develop drug therapies targeting chromatin.
Defining basic biological mechanisms that operate during cancer and during normal development is fundamental to relating these processes to oncogenesis. Understanding cell survival within the context of cancer also requires an understanding cell death, for example death through apoptosis and how cancer cells that have accumulated significant DNA damage survive. Ongoing studies in this area aim to define not only the role of regulated cell death, but also the roles of epigenetic regulators, RNA processing, stem cells, and signaling cascades in normal development and in the establishment and progression of cancer.
Our Educational Programs
The Department of Epigenetics and Molecular Carcinogenesis offers world-class cancer biology research training at the graduate and postdoctoral levels as well as summer internship opportunities for outstanding high school and undergraduate students.
Students and postdoctoral fellows add great value to our highly interactive and collaborative research environment and significantly enhance our interdisciplinary approach to scientific research. Together with our faculty and classified staff, our trainees routinely publish in high-profile journals including Molecular Cell, Nature Communications and Genes and Development.
The Virginia Harris Cockrell Cancer Research Center at MD Anderson Cancer Center, Science Park is a basic science research campus located in the Lost Pines region of Central Texas near Smithville, and Bastrop, Texas, in close proximity to Austin. The campus offers a unique setting for research, education and conferences. (Video Tour of Science Park)
Our campus facilitates interactions among scientists from diverse specialties from both within MD Anderson and neighboring institutions. Our campus has established and continues to maintain ties with faculty at UT-Austin and MD Anderson in Houston, thus providing a bridge between the pre-eminent cancer care, research, education and prevention institution of MD Anderson and one of the state’s flagship academic institutions.
The Virginia Harris Cockrell Cancer Research Center
at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Science Park
Department of Epigenetics and Molecular Carcinogenesis, Unit 116
Main Telephone Number: 512-237-2403
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 389, Smithville, Texas 78957
Physical Address: 1808 Park Road 1C, Smithville, Texas 78957
Sharon Y. R. Dent, Ph.D.
Director, Science Park
Chair, Department of Epigenetics
and Molecular Carcinogenesis