Department of Cancer Biology

The promise of precision medicine lies in the ability to target molecular pathways driving specific cancers. We investigate the basic functioning of these pathways and use discoveries to develop new and more effective cancer diagnostics and precision therapies.

About the Department of Cancer Biology

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.

Congratulations to Eric Fischer, PhD, our new Chemical Biology Program Director

Based in the Department of Cancer Biology, the Chemical Biology Program is a world leader in providing technologies essential to the translation of discoveries in cancer biology to therapeutic applications. With capabilities in Medicinal Chemistry, Structural Biology, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, Analytical Chemistry, and Computational Chemistry, this program enables strategic collaborations across Dana-Farber to study novel and neglected targets in diverse cancers. Congratulations to Eric, and many thanks to the program's previous leaders, Nathanael Gray, PhD, and Michael Eck, MD, PhD, for their years of dedicated stewardship.

Our Research Focus


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 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

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

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

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.


View publications by members of the Department of Cancer Biology.