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VCU Massey Cancer Center

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Cancer Biology

Azeddine Atfi, Ph.D. image

Program leader
Azeddine Atfi, Ph.D.

The Cancer Biology program creates a robust transdisciplinary scientific environment that will enhance collaborative interactions and provide increased opportunities to leverage new scientific concepts and inform the development of potential new therapeutic approaches to curb cancers that are frequent in Massey’s catchment area (eg, breast, prostate, lung, pancreas, liver).

The overarching scientific objectives of the CB program are to unravel the mechanistic underpinnings of tumor pathogenesis and progression and to identify key interactions between tumors and their microenvironment that could shed light on the intrinsic and extrinsic mechanisms accounting for cancer progression and resistance to therapy. As such, CB members seek to identify novel evidence-based vulnerabilities in cancer cells and develop translational strategies that target selectively the biological and molecular features of cancer cells within the context of their microenvironment.

Scientific aims

  • Identify and characterize the alterations in key signaling networks that drive cancer development and progression—CB program members conduct comprehensive mechanistic studies to understand how oncogenic perturbations in cell-intrinsic signaling affect apoptosis, autophagy, response to endoplasmic reticulum stress, and other essential cellular processes. Of particular relevance are studies that delineate the roles of bioactive lipids, developmental pathways, cellular stress, and key tumor resistance mechanisms that promote cancer cell survival, progression, and metastasis. Other important research areas include exploring the molecular mechanisms underlying cancer-associated conditions and comorbidities that affect the quality of life and survival of cancer patients and are frequent among cancer patients in Massey’s catchment area.
  • Decipher the genetic and epigenetic mechanisms involved in cancer formation and progression—CB program members are investigating the functions and regulation of key genes and gene networks that govern DNA synthesis, cell metabolism, cell invasion, and metastasis, as well as the epigenetic mechanisms that control expression of these genes.
  • Investigate the molecular mechanisms governing the complex interactions between cancer cells and their immune and stromal microenvironment—CB program members are investigating how innate and adaptive immune functions are altered to create a permissive microenvironment that facilitates cancer initiation and progression and how to best direct immune effector cells to thwart malignant cell growth and prevent metastasis. Moreover, other CB program members dedicate their efforts to understanding how extrinsic inflammation and tumor-stromal interactions confer metastatic potential and unfavorable prognosis in cancer patients. Overall, by achieving a greater understanding of the complex facets of cancer biology, the CB program aims to identify new therapeutic strategies and develop rational bases for combining interventions using several targets in a patient-specific manner to maximize therapeutic response, mitigate drug toxicities, and combat the development of resistance.

View list of Cancer Biology members