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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 thedepartment 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 theElectron 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 and ribozymes
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
Oncogenic herpesviruses disproportionately cause tumors in immunocompromised patients. This lab studies how genetic polymorphism influences the incidence of cancers caused by oncogenic herpesviruses.

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
Investigations are underway to elucidate how and by what mechanisms genetic variability determines immune responses to virally-induced lymphomas.

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 thedepartment 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 theElectron 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 and ribozymes
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
Oncogenic herpesviruses disproportionately cause tumors in immunocompromised patients. This lab studies how genetic polymorphism influences the incidence of cancers caused by oncogenic herpesviruses.

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
Investigations are underway to elucidate how and by what mechanisms genetic variability determines immune responses to virally-induced lymphomas.

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
  • To celebrate the beginning of Lunar New  Year 2015, City of Hope honored not just a new lunar calendar, but also the diversity of the community it serves. On Jan. 21, as tens of thousands of people celebrated Lunar New Year (and the arrival of the Year of the Ram) in the streets of L.A.’s Chinatown, City of [&#...
  • The breakthroughs that have revolutionized cancer treatment, transforming cancer in many cases to a very manageable and even curable disease, started out as just ideas. “I will often tell patients there’s no therapy we’re using to help them that wasn’t derived from somebody’s idea in some laboratory, working la...
  • The prostate cancer screening debate, at least as it relates to regular assessment of prostate specific antigen levels, is far from over. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended against routine PSA screening for prostate cancer in 2012, maintaining that the routine use of the PSA blood test does mor...
  • Cancer patients should get more than medical treatment. They should get comprehensive, evidence-based care that addresses their full range of needs. That kind of patient-focused care is City of Hope’s specialty. Under the guidance of Dawn Gross, M.D., Ph.D., the new Arthur M. Coppola Family Chair in Suppo...
  • Think twice before tossing out those hormone replacement pills. Although a new Lancet study suggests that hormone replacement therapy could increase a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer, a City of Hope expert urges women to keep this news in perspective. Hormone replacement therapy is prescribed to help allev...
  • Don’t know what to take, or send, that friend of yours in the hospital? Try a paper plate — filled not with cookies or sweets, but an image of yourself. Ilana Massi, currently undergoing treatment at City of Hope for acute myeloid leukemia, can vouch for the power of such a gift. She’s surrounded herself [̷...
  • With precision medicine now a national priority, City of Hope has joined a novel research partnership designed to further understanding of cancer at the molecular level, ultimately leading to more targeted cancer treatments. The Oncology Research Information Exchange Network, or ORIEN, is the world’s larg...
  • The spinal cord is an integral part of the human body, connecting the brain to everything else. So when a tumor grows on the spine, any messages that the brain tries to send to the rest of the body are interrupted, making everyday tasks — such as walking — more difficult. This year an estimated 22,850 […]
  • Each year, thousands of patients with hematologic malignancies undergo allogeneic stem cell transplantation (that is, they receive a donor’s stem cells), offering them a chance at cure. Graft-versus-host disease is a potentially deadly complication of this therapy and occurs in approximately 25 to 60 perc...
  • Bertram Yuh, M.D., assistant clinical professor in the Division of Urology and Urologic Oncology at City of Hope, offers his perspective on the benefits of surgery for aggressive prostate cancer. For men walking out of the doctor’s office after a diagnosis of cancer, the reality can hit like a ton of bricks. Th...
  • Although many Hispanic women face a high risk of mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes – increasing their risk of breast and ovarian cancer – screenings for these mutations can be prohibitively expensive in Mexico and other Latin American countries. As a result, too many women don’t get the information t...
  • Providing lung cancer treatments to patients when their cancer is at its earliest and most treatable stages will now be a more attainable goal: Medicare has agreed to cover lung cancer screening for those beneficiaries who meet the requirements. The only proven way to detect lung cancer early enough to save liv...
  • At City of Hope, innovative scientific research, important clinical studies and vital construction projects are all powered by philanthropy. Generous supporters fuel a powerful and diverse range of progress in science and medicine, enabling researchers and clinicians to improve cancer treatments and create cure...
  • Trevor Hoffman was only 21 when he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, but not even cancer could keep him off his motorcycles. (He has one for racing, and a couple just for fun.) Now a cancer survivor, Hoffman, who lives in La Verne, California, wrapped up his treatment Jan. 19 – just one day […]
  • Valentine’s Day is synonymous with dinner reservations, red roses, heart-shaped boxes of chocolates and — more often than not — unrealistically high expectations. Managing those expectations is great advice for all couples on Feb. 14 — and is especially important for couples confronting a cancer diagnosis. Focu...