Cancer Biology Program

The goal of the Cancer Biology (CB) Program is to conduct basic cancer research conducive to important discoveries that positively impact cancer incidence and mortality in Hawaiʻi and the larger Pacific. The focus of the CB Program remains in our catchment area and includes:

  1. high incidence cancers in Hawaiʻi's adults (breast, liver, and colorectal cancers) and the pediatric population (glioblastomas and neuroblastomas as the most frequent solid tumors in Hawaiʻi's children),
  2. cancers resulting from environmental exposures (mesotheliomas), and cancer-related conditions with higher mortality in the Native Hawaiian population (cancer-related sepsis).

Additionally, reflecting on our geographical location, the CB Program fosters research on natural products from local, endemic species to discover chemical probes for studying cancer molecular pathways.

To achieve our objectives, CB research is organized into two themes: Cancer Mechanisms (CM) and Targets and Intervention (TI).

CM will identify cellular and molecular mechanisms, and inflammatory events, which promote cancer development and progression. Areas of study include:

  1. microRNAs (miRs) and long non-coding RNA (lncRNA) biology,
  2. extracellular vesicles (EVs) and their role in the biology of the Tumor Microenvironment (TME),
  3. DNA damage and repair mechanisms,
  4. calcium channel biology,
  5. oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes, and
  6. metastasis.

TI will focus on:

  1. interrogating critical cancer pathways and molecular targets for novel insights, and
  2. translate molecular discoveries into improved predictive and prognostic biomarkers that can be developed as clinical diagnostics for early detection of cancer.

We are developing new chemical probes from natural products isolated from the local endemic organisms of the land and oceans of Hawaiʻi and the Pacific region, and interrogating their efficacy for therapeutic purposes. We are also developing synthetic small molecules and antibodies that target the critical cancer pathways as potential preventative and therapeutic modalities for cancer.

To advance the goals of the program, CB has three specific aims:

1Uncover new mechanistic insights into the development and progression of cancer.
Program members employ biochemical, genetic, metabolomics, and other methodologies to study and advance knowledge on the molecular and cellular processes of malignancy development and progression.

2Identify new targets for interrogation and validation for both mechanistic insights and therapeutic significance.
Members utilize diverse genetic and chemical approaches to validate critical cancer targets and pathways for biological and therapeutic significance.

3Translate molecular and chemical probe discoveries into new chemoprevention, therapeutic, and diagnostic modalities.
Physicians, physician-scientists, and basic researchers in the program work together to translate basic science discoveries to appropriate cancer patients.