Cancer Cell Biology

Mary-Ann Bjornsti, Ph.D.
– Program Co-Leader

Sunil Sudarshan, M.D..
– Program Co-Leader


The overall goals of the Cancer Cell Biology (CCB) Program are to conduct the highest quality basic science research related to the three thematic focus areas of the program, to identify and characterize novel pathways and targets involved in tumorigenesis and metastasis, and to develop inhibitors that interfere with those pathways and targets. To enhance the cancer focus of the Program, thematically aligned recruiting of 13 Faculty has been coordinated with refining of CCB membership to 49 members from UAB (11 departments and 5 schools), Southern Research and HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology. The CCB program has been highly productive with 412 publications in in the past five years, 25% of which were inter-programmatic and 21% were intra-programmatic.  CCB members are well funded, having $8,624,279 in direct cancer-related, peer-reviewed funding, including $6,628,357 in NIH funding, $3,013,699 of which is from the NCI, and other funding sources totaling $9,642,338 in direct costs ($13,443,865 in total costs).

The diverse scientific endeavors encompassed by CCB program members continue to provide new discoveries with the goal of developing novel therapeutics and driving further clinical investigation. A strong history of investigator-initiated clinical trials at the UAB CCC derives from fundamental research findings, and the CCB program is integral to this undertaking by providing a foundation of innovative basic and pre-clinical cancer research. The overarching goals of the CCB program will be accomplished through the integrated aims of the following themes, which all have strong translational components:

Signal Transduction Pathways: To elucidate the underlying aberrations in signal transduction pathways that promote tumor cell growth, invasion and metastasis, and to investigate the interplay between signaling pathways and cellular responses to developmental and environmental factors.

Tumor Microenvironment and Metastasis: To define the molecular mechanisms that regulate tumor progression and cancer cell metastases, and to elucidate how the tumor cell microenvironment regulates tumor-host crosstalk and controls cellular morphology, angiogenesis, osteolysis and response to therapeutic interventions.

Gene Expression and Genome Instability: To understand how alterations in gene expression or the processes that maintain genome stability, either as a consequence of mutation, gene amplification or epigenetic regulation, act to promote tumorigenesis and impact therapeutic responses.

An additional, emerging focus area in CCB, related to the overall CCC strategic plan, is Mitochondria and Cancer Energetics. Given the high rate of obesity within our catchment area, and the increased risk of cancer in this population, strategic recruitment and intra- and inter-programmatic efforts led by CCB members have promoted collaborations on mitochondrial function and related metabolomics, and their relationship to cancer growth and progression.

The translation of basic science investigations made by CCB investigators into pre-clinical and clinical research has been enhanced through innovative initiatives supported by the CCC, including participation with the Alabama Drug Discovery Alliance (ADDA) and Disease-oriented working groups (DWGs), pilot funding opportunities through the CCC and SPOREs, the development of new shared resources, facilities and model systems, and the establishment of an infrastructure of meetings and shared resources that promotes intra- and inter-programmatic collaborations.


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