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About the Department of Cancer Biology

  • Honoring David Livingston, MD

    It is with the deepest regret that Cancer Biology announces the loss of our dear friend and colleague, David Livingston, MD, who passed away unexpectedly on October 17, 2021, at the age of 80. A member of the Dana-Farber cancer research community since 1973, David researched the molecular origins of breast and ovarian cancer and the role of tumor suppressors in cell growth control. His discoveries profoundly influenced our understanding of basic principles driving cell transformation. He was a lion in science, a champion for cancer research at Dana-Farber and beyond, and a dear friend. We will miss him terribly.

    Acupuncture Explained in Nature Article by Qiufu Ma

    Congratulations to Qiufu on the publication of his discovery of how electroacupuncture stimulation selectively and specifically modulates body physiology at distant sites. In this groundbreaking study published in the October 13, 2021 issue of Nature, Qiufu opens a door to understanding a millennia-old mystery. Using intersectional genetics, Qiufu identified a population of sensory neurons that, when stimulated via a specific acupoint, activate a vagal-adrenal circuit that inhibits an endotoxin-induced release of inflammatory cytokines. Qiufu’s discovery shows how the regional specificity of these neurons explains the acupoint specificity of the anti-inflammatory response. Read more.

    Peter Sicinski Reviews Targeting Cyclin-Dependent Kinases in Science

    Congratulations to Peter, Anne Fassl, and Yan Geng on the publication in Science of their review, "CDK4 and CDK6 kinases: From basic science to cancer therapy." The authors discuss the role of cyclin-D-cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK) complexes in cancer progression and recent therapeutic advances. This includes discussion of recent unexpected findings that inhibition of CDK4/6 affects tumor cell metabolism and antitumor immunity in addition to cell cycle progression.

    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

    signaling mechanisms

    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 homeostatis 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.