Cancer is a disease rooted in the DNA of our bodies' cells that profoundly affects the lives of individuals, communities, and all of society. At Dana-Farber, scientists are attacking cancer at every level: unraveling the most basic mechanisms in cells and tissues, discovering molecular targets for new "smart" drug therapies, harnessing the immune forces to combat cancer, and seeking to identify disparities in cancer incidence and treatment in diverse populations.
Below are some featured areas of Dana-Farber research:
Metabolic regulation and disease
Profile, a research project launched in 2011 by scientists at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women's Hospital, is one of the nation's most comprehensive personalized cancer medicine initiatives. The latest phase of this study involves the analysis of the blueprint of 305 cancer-related genes using OncoPanel, a massively parallel or "next-generation" DNA sequencing platform than can decode large numbers of genes simultaneously.
Dana-Farber's world-class scientists and clinical investigators work across disciplines, departments, and institutional boundaries to translate research findings into new diagnostics and therapeutics for patients. The cornerstone of translational research at Dana-Farber is collaboration. The Institute also enjoys fruitful partnerships with pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.
The genetic language of cancer represents one of nature's most complex codes. To help break this biological cipher, Dana-Farber has created an environment where ingenuity and collaboration meet advanced technologies. Like cryptographers applying a key to crack a secret document, researchers are applying sophisticated genomic techniques to decrypt the cancer code and translate new discoveries to the clinic.
Soon after the sequencing of the human genome, Dana-Farber foresaw the need for building a strong capability in computational biology, an academic discipline deemed essential to personalized medicine. Computational biologists, who apply quantitative and computer science skills to answer biological questions, specialize in analyzing, interpreting, and managing complex, high-dimension data sets.
For years, Dana-Farber has been a leader in immunology research, evaluating fundamental questions in immune development, antigen recognition, and immune responses to cancer, autoimmune disease, and HIV. Faculty members have made paradigm-changing discoveries in antigen presentation and recognition; others are applying those insights to the development of new kinds of cancer therapies.
Basic researchers at Dana-Farber explore fundamental questions of biology that sometimes lead to findings that may not seem directly relevant to cancer. Metabolic diseases contribute to an increase in the incidence and lethality of cancers; treating one may prevent the other.
Using radiation to shrink tumors is a mainstay of cancer treatment. Now, scientists are also focusing on rendering cancer cells more vulnerable to the DNA-damaging effects of radiation. However, cells are naturally equipped to repair broken DNA. DNA-repair researchers at Dana-Farber have identified specific pathways critical to the DNA repair process and are developing a strategy to block those pathways.
Certain racial and economic groups – African Americans, Hispanics, and the poor – have consistently been shown to be at greater risk for cancer, have less access to quality care, and often have worse outcomes than the rest of the population. While genetic differences may partly explain why cancer rates vary among ethnic groups, more needs to be done to identify the causes of these disparities, lower obstacles to cancer screening and prevention services, and ensure that all patients receive equal high-quality care. Reducing inequities in cancer screening, diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up care is one of the prime missions of Dana-Farber.
In the search for more effective cancer treatments, the development of multimodality strategies is key to improved outcomes. Research done by surgical oncologists extends from understanding tumor biology to novel treatment approaches. Dana-Farber's surgical oncology team, along with colleagues at Brigham and Women's Hospital, is advancing understanding of the pathogenesis and treatment of breast cancer.
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