A National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center

Make an appointment: 800-826-HOPE

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.

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.

Piroska Szabo, Ph.D.– Epigenetics
This laboratory investigates the epigenetic mechanisms governing genomic imprinting using methods of genetics, biochemistry and molecular biology. The group is also involved in environmental reproductive epigenetics.

Research Highlights

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.

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

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.
  • Cancer cells may be known for their uncontrollable growth and spread, but they also differ from normal tissue in another manner: how they produce energy. In healthy cells, energy is derived primarily from aerobic respiration, an oxygen-requiring process that extracts the maximum possible energy from glucose, or...
  • Clinical trials are expensive and complex, but they’re essential for bringing new therapies to patients. Edward Newman, Ph.D., associate professor of molecular pharmacology, just boosted City of Hope’s ability to conduct those studies with a five-year, $4.2 million grant from the National Cancer Institute...
  • Meet City of Hope’s new chair of the Department of Surgery – esteemed pancreatic and hepatobiliary surgeon, researcher and author Yuman Fong, M.D. As one of today’s most respected and recognizable physicians in the treatment of cancers of the liver, bile duct, gallbladder and pancreas, Fong has pioneered and en...
  • For most of her life, Southern California teenager Kayla Saikaly described herself as healthy, even very healthy. She played basketball. She never missed school with as much as a fever. Her worst childhood illness was nothing more than a cold. Then, when she was 13, her nose started bleeding after a basketball ...
  • Neuroblastoma is one of the deadliest childhood cancers, accounting for 15 percent of pediatric cancer deaths. For patients with high-risk neuroblastomas, the five-year survival rate is 40 to 50 percent even with the most rigorous treatments available today. But those odds may improve soon, thanks to a new comp...
  • For breast cancer survivors, a common worry is a recurrence of their cancer. Currently, these patients are screened with regular mammograms, but there’s no way to tell who is more likely to have a recurrence and who is fully cleared of her cancer. A new blood test – reported in Cancer Research, a journal of the...
  • Metastasis — the spreading of cancer cells from a primary tumor site to other parts of the body — generally leads to poorer outcomes for patients, so oncologists and researchers are constantly seeking new ways to detect and thwart this malicious process. Now City of Hope researchers may have identified a substa...
  • Deodorant, plastic bottles, grilled foods, artificial sweeteners, soy products … Do any of these products really cause cancer? With so many cancer myths and urban legends out there, why not ask the experts? They can debunk cancer myths while sharing cancer facts that matter, such as risk factors, preventi...
  • Cancer risk varies by ethnicity, as does the risk of cancer-related death. But the size of those differences can be surprising, highlighting the health disparities that exist among various ethnic groups in the United States. Both cancer incidence and death rates for men are highest among African-Americans, acco...
  • George Winston, known worldwide for his impressionistic, genre-defying music, considers music to be his first language, and admits he often stumbles over words – especially when he attempts languages other than English. There’s one German phrase he’s determined to perfect, however: danke schön. Winston thinks h...
  • Few decisions are more important than those involving health care, and few decisions can have such lasting impact, not only on oneself but on relatives and loved ones. Those choices, especially, should be made in advance – carefully, deliberately, free of pain and stress, and with much weighing of values and pr...
  • Using a card game to make decisions about health care, especially as those decisions relate to the end of life, would seem to be a poor idea. It isn’t. The GoWish Game makes those overwhelming, but all-important decisions not just easy, but natural. On each card of the 36-card deck is listed what seriously ill,...
  • Young adults and adolescents with cancer face unique challenges both during their treatment and afterward. Not only are therapies for children and older adults not always appropriate for them, they also must come to terms with the disease and treatment’s impact on their relationships, finances, school or ...
  • Breast cancer is the most common cancer, other than skin cancer, among women in the United States. It’s also the second-leading cause of cancer death, behind lung cancer. In the past several years, various task force recommendations and studies have questioned the benefits of broad screening guidelines fo...
  • Paternal age and the health effects it has on potential offspring have been the focus of many studies, but few have examined the effect parental age has on the risk of adult-onset hormone-related cancers (breast cancer, ovarian cancer and endometrial cancer). A team of City of Hope researchers, lead by Yani Lu,...