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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
  • Patients with metastatic colorectal cancer often stop responding to the primary drugs used against the disease, leaving them with few options and little hope. Determined to increase those options, doctors and researchers at City of Hope are conducting two clinical trials that could lead to new treatments for pe...
  • Investigators working at City of Hope are making many significant inroads against many forms of cancer. To do that, they have to take a variety of approaches. Molecular oncology researchers focus on abnormal cancer-associated activity in a cell’s nucleus. One especially prominent factor in many breast and ovari...
  • In light of the new breast cancer screening guidelines, which call for women to have mammograms every other year from age 50 to 74, it’s more important than ever for women to understand their individual risk. On Monday, the U.S. Preventive Services Task force released new breast cancer screening guideline...
  • Cancer patients need, and deserve, more than medical care. They and their families need high-quality supportive care – that is, care that addresses their physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. Health care professionals increasingly understand this, but starting such programs from scratch isn’t easy...
  • Each year, City of Hope patients given another chance at life gather to pose for a picture like this one. Going on its 39th year, the celebration of patients free of blood cancers thanks to bone marrow or stem cell transplants has grown such that a photographer has to scale a cherry picker just to […]
  • Cancer patients who are participating in early-stage clinical trials need extra emotional and physical support due to their additional stress and often unique symptoms. Now an effort by researchers at City of Hope to create a model for such support has received a $6.8 million grant from the National Cancer Inst...
  • The need for improvements in treating malignant brain tumors has never been greater. Survival for many patients with these tumors are sometimes measured in just months. One reason that therapeutic options are limited is that traditional surgery is deemed too risky for many brain tumors, especially for those in ...
  • “Honestly, there’s nothing special about my story,” protested Daniel Samson, as he bounced Layla, his 3 1/2-year-old daughter, on his lap and put on a video for her to watch. “I just want to tell it for my own sake, and share it with other men who may be going through this chaos.” Samson spoke […]
  • As far back as he can remember, Jonathan Yamzon, M.D., wanted to be a doctor. “I knew it from the get-go,” he said, matter-of-factly. “I always envisioned it as the ideal; the supreme thing one could do with one’s life.” The youngest of six children, Yamzon was barely a toddler when his family moved to [&...
  • There’s never a “good” time for cancer to strike. With testicular cancer, the timing can seem particularly unfair. This disease targets young adults in the prime of life; otherwise healthy people unaccustomed to any serious illness, let alone cancer. And suddenly … “I can only imagine what they must...
  • Sure, a healthy lifestyle can lower a person’s risk, but the impact of specific actions is harder to tease out. Diet, exercise, tobacco use, nutritional supplements, alcohol consumption … How important are each of these factors, individually? Does strict adherence to (or rejection of) one get you a pass o...
  • Health care decisions are tough. They’re even tougher when you – or loved ones – have to make them without a plan or a conversation. National Healthcare Decisions Day, on April 16,  is a nationwide initiative to demystify the health care decision-making process and encourage families to start talking. Ult...
  • The statistics, direct from the American Cancer Society, are sobering: Cancer death rates among African-American men are 27 percent higher than for white men. The death rate for African-American women is 11 percent higher compared to white women. Hispanics have higher rates of cervical, liver and stomach cancer...
  • “Lucky” is not usually a term used to describe someone diagnosed with cancer.  But that’s how 34-year-old Alex Camargo’s doctor described him when he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer — the disease is one of the most treatable cancers at all stages. That doctor was ultimately proved righ...
  • Geoff Berman, 61, starts his day with the motto: “The sun is up. I’m vertical. It’s a good day.” Ever since he’s been in remission from lymphoma, Berman makes a special point of being grateful for each day, reminding himself that being alive is a gift. “I just enjoy living,” he said. “I give e...