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Molecular and Cellular Biology

City of Hope’s Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, originally Molecular Genetics, was formed in 1982 under the direction of Keiichi Itakura, Ph.D., professor of molecular biology. Research interests in the department include an array of biological systems and problems, but the unifying theme is mechanisms regulating expression of genetic information at both the transcriptional level (where DNA directs the synthesis of RNA) and the post-transcriptional level (meaning how genes control protein synthesis from newly-transcribed RNAs).

The department includes eight independent laboratories, as well as the Electron Microscopy and Atomic Force Microscopy Core Facility, overseen by Marcia Miller, Ph.D. and Zhuo Li, Ph.D.

Investigators within the department actively collaborate with investigators in the medical center, making important contributions to clinical investigations at City of Hope. The faculty also collaborates with the wider academic and scientific community. Faculty members have served numerous leadership roles, including with the National Institutes of Health, American Cancer Society and the Army Breast Cancer Research Program.

Department faculty members also teach and mentor graduate students in City of Hope’sIrell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences. The department offers students the opportunity to carry out research in genetics, developmental biology, molecular genetics, molecular biochemistry, cell biology, molecular virology, and molecular and cellular immunology.
 
Laboratory Research

John J. Rossi, Ph.D. - siRNA, ribozymes, aptamers and genetic therapies
The focus of this laboratory is the biology and therapeutic application of small RNAs, with particular emphasis on small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) and ribozymes as therapeutic agents for the treatment of HIV infection.

Adam Bailis, Ph.D. – Genetics and molecular biology
This laboratory uses genetic and molecular biological approaches to study how DNA replication and repair are coordinated in the maintenance of genome stability.

Mark Boldin, M.D., Ph.D. – Noncoding RNA control of mammalian hematopoiesis, immunity and cancer
Research in this lab is focused on the biology of noncoding RNA and the understanding of its role in the regulation of inflammation and cancer using molecular, biological and genetic approaches.
 
John Burnett, Ph.D. - Gene therapy and genome engineering
With a focus on gene and RNA-based therapies and targeted genome editing, this laboratory develops advanced therapeutics for cancer, genetic diseases, and infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS.

Keiichi Itakura, Ph.D. – Molecular biology
The laboratory of Keiichi Itakura, Ph.D.,studies the role of ARID transcription factors in the development and maturation of adipocytes and carcinogenesis. They also study molecular events in energy balance, as well as the functions of homeobox genes in prostate cancer.

Ren-Jang Lin, Ph.D. – RNA processing and regulatory RNA
The research objectives of this laboratory are two-fold, both centered on RNA: to decipher the molecular mechanism of RNA processing, and to reveal novel roles of RNA in regulating gene expression, with emphasis on aberrant cellular factors linked to human diseases.

Linda Malkas, Ph.D. – DNA replication/repair and human disease
The laboratory focuses on understanding the mechanisms mediating human cell DNA replication and repair and applying these discoveries to the development for new biomarkers and molecular targets for cancer.

Marcia Miller, Ph.D. – Molecular immunogenetics
This lab uses the chicken as their experimental model to study how genetic polymorphism influences the incidence of infection and cancer.

Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology Research Highlights

Genome Editing
Targeted genome engineering technologies have emerged as a genetic tool for biological research and as a new class of therapies in biomedicine.  Using the RNA-guided CRISPR/Cas9 system, zinc-finger nucleases (ZFNs), or TAL effector nucleases (TALENs), several labs are using genome engineering to study the functions of protein-coding and noncoding genes and to develop novel therapeutics for genetic and acquired diseases.
 
Yeast genetics; post-transcriptional processing
The department maintains extensive expertise in yeast genetics and molecular biology. Studies focus on mechanisms involved in homologous recombination and post-transcriptional processing of premessenger RNAs. Research also includes the development and applications of RNA aptamers regulating diverse processes ranging from pre-mRNA splicing to receptor-mediated delivery of small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) to treat cancer and viral infections.

Epigenetics
Defining the epigenetic mechanisms regulating gene expression is vital to understanding both normal development and carcinogenesis. Investigative efforts include determining mechanisms of genetic imprinting and the role of small RNAs in heterochromatin formation. Research on the function of small RNAs is an important program in the department. There is also strong emphasis on how microRNA functions as a post-transcriptional regulator of gene expression. Several laboratories are exploring therapeutic applications of RNA interference.

DNA replication/repair and human disease
Organisms need to safeguard genetic information to prevent the damaging effects of aging and disease. This is accomplished by accurate replication of DNA and by repair of any damage incurred as a result of endogenous or exogenous factors. New exciting details about DNA replication and repair are being discovered. These processes are proving to be highly interconnected, and could lead to treatments for various diseases and age-related disorders.

Biochemistry of DNA damage and repair
Understanding how DNA is damaged, both by mutagens and by treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and the mechanisms governing DNA repair or the failure thereof, are essential to progress in developing better prevention and treatment strategies for a variety of cancers.

ARID transcription factors
This class of DNA-binding proteins plays multiple roles in the normal development of a variety of tissues, most prominently fat, bone and muscle. Recent discoveries suggest that these factors help to create activating "bookmarks" in genes that are crucial for establishing and maintaining the identities of these tissues. Therefore, the study of ARID transcription factors may lead to a greater understanding of medical problems ranging from obesity and diabetes to muscular injury, skeletal defects, and cancer.

Genetic influences in responses to cancer and infection
One project focuses on genetic influences in the incidence of Marek’s T-cell lymphoma.  Another is centered on chicken MR1 polymorphism and microbiota that may caused disease in humans.

Non-coding RNA control of mammalian hematopoiesis, immunity and cancer
Understanding the molecular mechanisms that govern immune cell development and function is key for the advance of novel therapeutic approaches to treat autoimmunity and cancer. Noncoding RNAs, in particular microRNAs, play a critical role in shaping the mammalian immune response and hematopoiesis, and are the focus of our research interest.

Molecular and Cellular Biology Faculty

Molecular and Cellular Biology

Molecular and Cellular Biology

City of Hope’s Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, originally Molecular Genetics, was formed in 1982 under the direction of Keiichi Itakura, Ph.D., professor of molecular biology. Research interests in the department include an array of biological systems and problems, but the unifying theme is mechanisms regulating expression of genetic information at both the transcriptional level (where DNA directs the synthesis of RNA) and the post-transcriptional level (meaning how genes control protein synthesis from newly-transcribed RNAs).

The department includes eight independent laboratories, as well as the Electron Microscopy and Atomic Force Microscopy Core Facility, overseen by Marcia Miller, Ph.D. and Zhuo Li, Ph.D.

Investigators within the department actively collaborate with investigators in the medical center, making important contributions to clinical investigations at City of Hope. The faculty also collaborates with the wider academic and scientific community. Faculty members have served numerous leadership roles, including with the National Institutes of Health, American Cancer Society and the Army Breast Cancer Research Program.

Department faculty members also teach and mentor graduate students in City of Hope’sIrell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences. The department offers students the opportunity to carry out research in genetics, developmental biology, molecular genetics, molecular biochemistry, cell biology, molecular virology, and molecular and cellular immunology.
 
Laboratory Research

John J. Rossi, Ph.D. - siRNA, ribozymes, aptamers and genetic therapies
The focus of this laboratory is the biology and therapeutic application of small RNAs, with particular emphasis on small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) and ribozymes as therapeutic agents for the treatment of HIV infection.

Adam Bailis, Ph.D. – Genetics and molecular biology
This laboratory uses genetic and molecular biological approaches to study how DNA replication and repair are coordinated in the maintenance of genome stability.

Mark Boldin, M.D., Ph.D. – Noncoding RNA control of mammalian hematopoiesis, immunity and cancer
Research in this lab is focused on the biology of noncoding RNA and the understanding of its role in the regulation of inflammation and cancer using molecular, biological and genetic approaches.
 
John Burnett, Ph.D. - Gene therapy and genome engineering
With a focus on gene and RNA-based therapies and targeted genome editing, this laboratory develops advanced therapeutics for cancer, genetic diseases, and infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS.

Keiichi Itakura, Ph.D. – Molecular biology
The laboratory of Keiichi Itakura, Ph.D.,studies the role of ARID transcription factors in the development and maturation of adipocytes and carcinogenesis. They also study molecular events in energy balance, as well as the functions of homeobox genes in prostate cancer.

Ren-Jang Lin, Ph.D. – RNA processing and regulatory RNA
The research objectives of this laboratory are two-fold, both centered on RNA: to decipher the molecular mechanism of RNA processing, and to reveal novel roles of RNA in regulating gene expression, with emphasis on aberrant cellular factors linked to human diseases.

Linda Malkas, Ph.D. – DNA replication/repair and human disease
The laboratory focuses on understanding the mechanisms mediating human cell DNA replication and repair and applying these discoveries to the development for new biomarkers and molecular targets for cancer.

Marcia Miller, Ph.D. – Molecular immunogenetics
This lab uses the chicken as their experimental model to study how genetic polymorphism influences the incidence of infection and cancer.

Research Highlights

Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology Research Highlights

Genome Editing
Targeted genome engineering technologies have emerged as a genetic tool for biological research and as a new class of therapies in biomedicine.  Using the RNA-guided CRISPR/Cas9 system, zinc-finger nucleases (ZFNs), or TAL effector nucleases (TALENs), several labs are using genome engineering to study the functions of protein-coding and noncoding genes and to develop novel therapeutics for genetic and acquired diseases.
 
Yeast genetics; post-transcriptional processing
The department maintains extensive expertise in yeast genetics and molecular biology. Studies focus on mechanisms involved in homologous recombination and post-transcriptional processing of premessenger RNAs. Research also includes the development and applications of RNA aptamers regulating diverse processes ranging from pre-mRNA splicing to receptor-mediated delivery of small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) to treat cancer and viral infections.

Epigenetics
Defining the epigenetic mechanisms regulating gene expression is vital to understanding both normal development and carcinogenesis. Investigative efforts include determining mechanisms of genetic imprinting and the role of small RNAs in heterochromatin formation. Research on the function of small RNAs is an important program in the department. There is also strong emphasis on how microRNA functions as a post-transcriptional regulator of gene expression. Several laboratories are exploring therapeutic applications of RNA interference.

DNA replication/repair and human disease
Organisms need to safeguard genetic information to prevent the damaging effects of aging and disease. This is accomplished by accurate replication of DNA and by repair of any damage incurred as a result of endogenous or exogenous factors. New exciting details about DNA replication and repair are being discovered. These processes are proving to be highly interconnected, and could lead to treatments for various diseases and age-related disorders.

Biochemistry of DNA damage and repair
Understanding how DNA is damaged, both by mutagens and by treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and the mechanisms governing DNA repair or the failure thereof, are essential to progress in developing better prevention and treatment strategies for a variety of cancers.

ARID transcription factors
This class of DNA-binding proteins plays multiple roles in the normal development of a variety of tissues, most prominently fat, bone and muscle. Recent discoveries suggest that these factors help to create activating "bookmarks" in genes that are crucial for establishing and maintaining the identities of these tissues. Therefore, the study of ARID transcription factors may lead to a greater understanding of medical problems ranging from obesity and diabetes to muscular injury, skeletal defects, and cancer.

Genetic influences in responses to cancer and infection
One project focuses on genetic influences in the incidence of Marek’s T-cell lymphoma.  Another is centered on chicken MR1 polymorphism and microbiota that may caused disease in humans.

Non-coding RNA control of mammalian hematopoiesis, immunity and cancer
Understanding the molecular mechanisms that govern immune cell development and function is key for the advance of novel therapeutic approaches to treat autoimmunity and cancer. Noncoding RNAs, in particular microRNAs, play a critical role in shaping the mammalian immune response and hematopoiesis, and are the focus of our research interest.

Molecular and Cellular Biology Faculty

Molecular and Cellular Biology Faculty

Overview
Beckman Research Institute of City of Hope is responsible for fundamentally expanding the world’s understanding of how biology affects diseases such as cancer, HIV/AIDS and diabetes.
 
 
Research Departments/Divisions

City of Hope is a leader in translational research - integrating basic science, clinical research and patient care.
 

Research Shared Services

City of Hope embodies the spirit of scientific collaboration by sharing services and core facilities with colleagues here and around the world.
 

Our Scientists

Our research laboratories are led by the best and brightest minds in scientific research.
 

City of Hope’s Irell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences equips students with the skills and strategies to transform the future of modern medicine.
Develop new therapies, diagnostics and preventions in the fight against cancer and other life-threatening diseases.
 


NEWS & UPDATES
  • Anyone who tours City of Hope will almost certainly be taken by two key buildings: Helford Clinical Research Hospital and Beckman Research Institute. The heart of the campus, in more ways than one, the two buildings are a stone’s throw from each other. The hospital is dedicated to treating cancer patients...
  • In June 2012, 28-year-old Emily Bennett Taylor was getting ready to celebrate her second wedding anniversary with her college sweetheart when she discovered that she had Stage 4 lung cancer. Taylor was a former college athlete, had led a healthy and active lifestyle and had never smoked. She quickly began treat...
  • “Skin cancer” was pretty much the last thing on the mind of a healthy, outdoorsy kid like Tanner Harbin. “I like hockey – playing it and watching it,” the 23-year-old from San Dimas said. “I like to go off-roading with my dad – we have a Jeep and we have a cabin up in Big Bear, so […]
  • Skin cancer is an enticing field to be in these days. Just ask Laleh Melstrom, M.D. M.S., one of City of Hope’s newest surgeons. “In the last few years, melanoma has been the type of cancer that has really shown the most progress in terms of treatments,” Melstrom said. “It’s the one cancer in 2015 that is...
  • Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States today, and its incidence is on the rise. Forty to 50 percent of light-skinned Americans who live to age 65 will have skin cancer at least once in their lives. Most of these skin cancers – about 3.5 million cases – are the […]
  • The connection between lifestyle and cancer is real. Knowing that, what can individuals do to lower their risk? City of Hope physicians recently came together to answer that precise question, explaining the links between cancer and the choices we make that affect our health. Moderator Vijay Trisal M.D., medical...
  • White button mushrooms seem fairly innocuous as fungi go. Unlike portabellas, they don’t center stage at the dinner table, and unlike truffles, they’re not the subject of gourmand fervor. But appearances can be deceiving when it comes to these mild-mannered Clark Kents of the food world. In a study ...
  • Doctors often recommend preventive screenings for several cancers, based on hereditary or genetic factors, but brain tumors aren’t one of them. Primary brain tumors, which originate in the brain rather than spreading from another location, seem to develop at random, and doctors have little insight into wh...
  • Stopping cancer starts with research. To that end, STOP CANCER has awarded $525,000 in grants to City of Hope for 2015, supporting innovative research projects and recognizing the institution’s leadership in advancing cancer treatment and prevention. Founded in 1988, STOP CANCER underwrites the work of le...
  • Cancer may not be the disease many people think it is. Normally, cancer is considered to be a disease in which cells multiply at an extremely high, and unusual, rate – increasing the likelihood of genetic mutations. But increasingly, leading researchers at City of Hope and elsewhere are contending that cancer i...
  • “Of all forms of inequality, injustice in the health care system is the most shocking and inhumane.” By the time the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke those words in Chicago in 1966, the Civil Rights Act had been passed, the Voting Rights Act was the law of the land and the March on Washington was […]
  • Eight years ago, Matthew Loscalzo surprised himself by accepting the offer to become City of Hope’s administrative director of the Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center and executive director of the Department of Supportive Care Medicine. At the time, he was administrative director of the Sc...
  • The mental fog that patients can experience after undergoing chemotherapy treatment for cancer has a name: “chemo brain.” “Many patients report hearing or reading about chemotherapy-related cognitive deficits, but few are actually prepared to deal with these changes,” said Celina Lemon, M.A., an occupational th...
  • Cancer treatments have improved over the years, but one potential source of treatments and cures remains largely untapped: nature. Blueberries, cinnamon, xinfeng, grape seed (and skin) extract, mushrooms, barberry and pomegranates all contain compounds with the potential to treat or prevent cancer. Scientists a...
  • In the U.S., there are more new cases of skin cancer than the combined incidence of cancers of the breast, prostate and lung, according to the American Cancer Society. Each year, 5 million people are treated for skin cancer. Here, Hans Schoellhammer, M.D., assistant clinical professor at City of Hope | Ant...