Cell Identity and Signaling

Solving a crisis of identity

Cancer cells suffer an identity crisis in that their biology has diverged so significantly from normal that they no longer function to serve the organism of which they are a part and instead become self-promoting in terms of their own growth and survival.

Investigators in the Cell Identity and Signaling Program (CIS) are committed to understanding and correcting this identity crisis by studying the key molecules and processes that distinguish a cancer cell from a normal cell. 

Using their expertise in biochemistry, genetics, molecular biology and developmental biology, CIS members are engaged in discovery efforts targeting three critical areas of basic cancer research: 

Signaling and cellular growth control

We define how cells of different types respond to extracellular signals and convert those signals into intracellular messages that impact their ability to make growth and differentiation decisions. 

Regulation of gene expression

We investigate how cells control growth and differentiation decisions at the level of gene expression by regulating the activities of gene-specific transcription factors and by employing genome-wide, epigenetic mechanisms to remodel genes and cellular identity. 

Animal models of development

We examine cellular function in the context of tissues, organs or a whole organism and determine how establishment of cell identity is influenced by the environment. 

The majority of CIS program members use mammalian model systems (including genetically engineered mice) for their work, making their observations readily applicable to the human cancer problem. The program does, however, also include investigators who use genetic approaches in yeast, worms, flies, fish and even plants to make rapid progress in identifying molecular interactions and characterizing the importance of these interactions to the basic growth behavior of cells. 

The breadth of research and the variety of model systems represented by the CIS program provide PCCR with unrivaled opportunities to develop new, molecule-targeted approaches for treating and/or managing cancer. 

Program leaders 

Ourania Andrisani, Co-Leader (Basic Medical Sciences)

Chang-Deng Hu, Co-Leader (Medicinal Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology)

View our entire membership list.