Signal Transduction & Cancer
Cancer is a class of diseases (also known as malignant neoplasms) in which normal cellular homeostasis is lost and a group of abnormal cells divide without control or stop responding to normal restraint in growth. In addition to uncontrolled growth, these cells can also display invasion (intrusion on and destruction of adjacent tissues) and sometimes metastasis (invasion of distant tissues and organs). In the US, cancer accounts for 1 of every 4 deaths. The American Cancer Society estimates more than half a million Americans die of cancer every year (>1,500 people a day). Human cancers develop through successive genetic and epigenetic changes that confer tumor cells the ability to grow uncontrollably and eventually invade other organs. Most cancers arise sporadically due to the effects of carcinogens, such as tobacco smoke, radiation, chemicals or infectious agents and a smaller proportion (~10%) are a direct consequence of inherited genetic abnormalities.
Genes whose dysregulation trigger cancer are classically divided into two classes: oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes. Upregulation of the function of oncogenes or downregulation of tumor suppressor genes promote cancer progression by giving cells new properties such as hyperactive growth and division, protection against programmed cell death, loss of respect for normal tissue boundaries and immunological control, error prone DNA replication and the ability to invade other tissues. Oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes not only encode for proteins that form part of the structural core of these processes (e.g., DNA repair proteins, cell division machinery, etc), but also for those that control the signal transduction mechanisms by which this processes are regulated in response to external stimuli (e.g., surface receptors, kinases, etc). Further understanding of cancer cell biology is critical to develop novel and more effective strategies for diagnosis and therapy. Work in several laboratories of our department is devoted to dissect the molecular basis of different cancer-related processes and thereby contribute to the race for the cure of this disease.