Cancer research

The JAX Cancer Center explores a wide range of approaches to understanding cancer.

The Jackson Laboratory was founded in 1929 as one of the world’s first cancer genetics research institutions. JAX founder Clarence Cook Little, who had earlier developed the world’s first inbred mouse strains, had observed a high incidence of tumors in certain mouse strains, leading him to hypothesize a genetic basis for cancer.

Today JAX has a National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center that provides education, resource and service initiatives to support cancer research worldwide. More than 50 JAX research faculty members of the Cancer Center — computational biologists and experts in genomic sequencing as well as bench researchers — explore multiple approaches to understanding cancers.

Using special JAX mice developed by Professor Lenny Shultz, Ph.D., that can host human tumor tissue, JAX researchers including Professor Carol Bult, Ph.D., test various chemo treatments — separately and in various combinations — to determine the best available treatments for triple-negative breast cancer and other kinds of cancers.  

Oncologist and cancer researcher Ching C. Lau, M.D., Ph.D., who has joint appointments with JAX, Connecticut Children’s and the UConn School of Medicine, specializes in pediatric brain cancer and bone cancer research. By using the combined approach of genomic medicine and accurate mouse models to choose the best therapy for each patient, Lau hopes to improve the speed and outcome of clinical trials as well as to reduce unnecessary side effects for children with cancer.

Associate Professor Jeffrey Chuang, Ph.D., and Assistant Professor Mingyang Lu, Ph.D., use sophisticated computational approaches to study how tumor cells evolve over time, and how this evolution influences their ability to resist treatment. Their work could lead to the design of personalized therapies for patients with a variety of cancer types.

A better understanding of the very first stages of tumor formation offers the promise of earlier diagnosis and, ultimately, stopping cancer before it starts. JAX Assistant Professors Jennifer Trowbridge, Ph.D., and Duygu Ucar, Ph.D., have devised a technique for profiling the blood tumor cells of patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Their technique could be the basis for a powerful new prognostic tool for a cancer that to date has no screening test, as well as earlier intervention for a better outcome.

Harnessing the body’s natural immunity against cancer is a longtime research goal that is beginning to show promise. JAX Professor Karolina Palucka, M.D., Ph.D., exploits dendritic cells, which control the body’s immune response to tumors, as the basis for new vaccines against melanomas and other human cancers. Assistant Professor Gary Ren, Ph.D., focuses on elucidating how certain stem cells and immune-regulatory cells affect the adaptive immune responses in cancer treatment resistance and metastatic relapse.

JAX President and CEO Edison Liu, M.D., discovered a characteristic genomic fingerprint of triple-negative breast cancer, serous ovarian cancer and endometrial carcinomas, some of the most deadly cancers in women. This tandem duplicator phenotype responds to a specific chemotherapy, cisplatin, offering a more effective treatment approach for these cancers.

Breast cancer researcher and Assistant Professor Olga Anczuków, Ph.D., investigates how changes in gene regulation contribute to cancer. Anczuków studies the role of RNA splicing, a step in the cell’s protein-building process, during normal breast and ovary development, and how errors in this process can lead to transformation into cancer cells, and affect tumor initiation, metastasis and the mechanisms involved in drug resistance.

Charles Lee, Ph.D., FACMG, JAX professor and scientific director of genomic medicine, discovered widespread structural variation in the human genome, in the form of copy number variation (CNV), a state in which cells have an abnormal number of copies of DNA sections, sometimes associated with susceptibility or resistance to disease including cancer. A recent study in the Lee lab revealed two new potential targets for some gastric cancers, and the study approach itself offers a blueprint for expediting the discovery and validation of new drugs.

JAX Professor Yijun Ruan, Ph.D., has a grant from the National Cancer Institute to explore the role of noncoding RNAs (ncRNAs) in cancers, including gastric cancer, and other diseases. Using new technologies, Ruan and his lab will identify novel ncRNAs and the interactions between ncRNAs and their target DNAs. Because ncRNAs are associated with diseases such as cancers, such novel ncRNAs and their target DNAs have the potential to be diagnostic biomarkers and novel genomic therapeutic targets for disease.

JAX Professor and Director of Computational Sciences Roel Verhaak, Ph.D., uses computational biology approaches to analyze genomic data sets from patients with brain tumors, with the main goal of improving understanding of therapy resistance.

JAX Professor George Weinstock, Ph.D., with Erica Weinstock, Ph.D., and colleagues at UConn Health and other institutions, reported in the journal Cancer Prevention Research that eating walnuts may change gut bacteria in a way that suppresses colon cancer.

Get more science

Learn more about cutting edge science and research, in your inbox every other week.