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About the Department of Cancer Biology

  • CDC7-independent G1/S transition in Nature by Peter Sicinski, MD, PhD

    Congratulations to Peter and postdoctoral fellow, Jan Suski, PhD, on their publication in Nature of their discovery that the function of kinase CDC7 during the G1/S transition of the cell cycle is shared with another kinase CDK1 in normal cells. Before this work, it was thought that CDC7 was essential for this function in all cells and therefore not a good target for cancer therapeutics. But this new finding together with the fact that some cancers are dependent on CDC7 suggests it may be a good candidate for targeting. This work was done in collaboration with Tobias Meyer, PhD at Weill Cornell. Read more.

    Using CDK4/6 inhibitors in cancer by Jean Zhao in Nature Communications and Nature Reviews Cancer

    Congratulations to Jean Zhao, PhD, on her pair of recent publications in Nature Communications (Ni et al, 2022) and Nature Reviews Cancer (Goel et al 2022). In the first publication, Jean and her colleagues use an orthotopic patient derived xenograft system to discover that a majority of HER2+ breast cancer brain metastases are deficient for the tumor suppressor p16INK4A. These results support a biomarker-driven clinical trial for CDK4/6 and HER2 targeted agents. In the second publication, Jean and her colleagues review the use of CDK4/6 inhibitors for treating cancer. The review sets out a framework for understanding recently discovered novel mechanisms of action of these inhibitors, and discusses how these may influence the future clinical development of these agents.

    The Department of Cancer Biology performs lab-based research investigating the molecular pathways driving cancer. We use discoveries about the basic functioning of these pathways to develop novel cancer diagnostics and precision treatments.

    A major challenge for cancer therapy is the generation of medicines that kill cancer cells while leaving normal cells unharmed. The promise of precision medicine lies in the ability to target the molecular pathways specific to individual cancer types.

    Under the leadership of Department Chair Bradley Bernstein, MD, PhD, our 25 independent faculty and more than 300 laboratory personnel combine structural, chemical, genetic, computational, and biochemical approaches to identify molecular vulnerabilities unique to cancer cells, and to generate novel compounds with therapeutic potential.

    Our team has contributed directly and indirectly to a new generation of smart drugs such as imatinib (Gleevec) and gefitinib (Iressa) — bringing the promise of precision medicine closer to reality.

  • Our Research Focus

    Shom Goel, MD, PhD, and Jean Zhao, PhD

    Signaling Mechanisms Controlling Tumor Growth and Immune System Interactions

    Members of our department investigate the disruption of the molecular pathways governing growth, leading to cancer. Our discoveries provide the basis for new therapies that target molecular defects in specific cancers and help to improve immune system targeting of tumors.
    structural biology

    Structural Biology

    Macromolecules perform critical functions in cells. We conduct studies to determine the three-dimensional structures of cancer-associated molecules, how these structures are formed, and how structural alterations affect function.
    chemical biology

    Chemical Biology

    Chemical reactions underlie core biologic processes. Chemists in our department study these reactions, synthesize bioactive molecules, and develop small molecule inhibitors for cancer therapy.
    systems biology

    Systems Biology

    Interactions of molecular and cellular components give rise to emergent behaviors of complex biological systems. We use modeling to discover biological processes that when perturbed lead to cancer.
    cancer and the nervous system

    Cancer and the Nervous System

    The brain consists of multiple cell types, and the determination of the particular cellular and molecular composition of individual brain tumors is key to developing effective therapies.
    energy homeostasis and metabolism

    Energy Homeostasis and Metabolism

    The regulation of energy intake and utilization at the cellular and organismic level is of profound importance to human health. We use a combination of biochemical, genetic, and computational techniques to define key molecules and metabolic pathways.

    Support Our Cancer Research

    To learn more about the many ways you can support Dana-Farber's research initiatives with a philanthropic gift, please contact Rebecca Shortle at 617-632-4215 or


    View publications by members of the Department of Cancer Biology.

    Contact Us

    If you are interested in learning more about our research, please email Margaret Thompson, PhD.