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.
  • Eleven years ago, lymphoma patient Christine Pechera began the long road toward a cancer-free life. She had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and told by doctors elsewhere that her lifespan likely would be measured in months, not years. Refusing to give up, she came to City of Hope for a second opinion. ...
  • Brain surgery is not for the faint of heart. It takes courage, as well as curiosity and compassion. The truly great surgeons also have a desire to find new, and better ways, of healing the brain. Enter Behnam Badie, M.D., chief of neurosurgery at City of Hope. Now a pioneer in brain tumor treatment, Badie enter...
  • Elizabeth Budde, M.D., Ph.D., wants to encourage infighting. She aims to turn the immune system on itself — to the benefit of patients with acute myeloid leukemia, or AML. AML arises when abnormal white blood cells grow out of control, amassing in the bone marrow and interfering with normal blood cell developme...
  • Six, to date; more soon. Outpatient bone marrow transplants, that is. Finding new ways to deliver quality care with the greatest benefit is a priority for a patient-centered institution like City of Hope. For example, not every bone marrow transplant patient needs to check into the hospital for treatment. In fa...
  • The best measure of success in the fight against cancer is in lives saved and families intact, in extra days made special simply because they exist. Yuman Fong, M.D., chair of the Department of Surgery at City of Hope, understands what precedes that special awareness. When cancer strikes, one minute a person ma...
  • In cancer, expertise matters. So do survival rates, patient safety, patient services and many other factors. City of Hope understands this, as does U.S.News & World Report. The magazine’s 2014-2015 list of best hospitals for cancer once again includes City of Hope, ranking the institution 12 out of 900 elig...
  • At 29, Kommah McDowell was a successful young professional engaged to be married to her best friend. She worked in the financial services sector and kick-boxed to keep in shape and to relax. Then came the diagnosis of triple-negative inflammatory breast cancer, a rare and very aggressive form of breast cancer. ...
  • The well-known drug tamoxifen might not always be the best choice for premenopausal women who have undergone treatment for breast cancer and face a heightened risk of recurrence. A new study suggests that the aromatase inhibitor exemestane, or Aromasin, works slightly better than tamoxifen in preventing cancer ...
  • At age 44, Bridget Hanchette, a mother of three from La Crosse, Wisconsin, was diagnosed with grade IV glioblastoma, the most aggressive type of malignant brain tumor. The cancer grows and spreads quickly, making it difficult to treat. Most patients with this diagnosis are not given much hope, but Hanchette’s i...
  • Survival rates for childhood cancer have improved tremendously over the past few decades, but postcancer care hasn’t always kept up. More children than ever are now coping with long-term complications and side effects caused by their disease and treatment — one of those being learning difficulties. A new ...
  • When Sheldon Querido, a retired manufacturer’s representative, was diagnosed with bladder cancer, his doctor told him that he’d need to have his bladder removed – and that he’d have to wear an external urine-collection bag for the rest of his life. “My first response was ‘I donR...
  • To stop smoking, two approaches might be better than one. A new study has found that using the medication varenicline, or Chantix – along with nicotine patches – was more effective than the medicine alone in helping people quit. The study, conducted by Stellanbosch University in Cape Town, South Africa, and pub...
  • John Cloer was three months shy of his third birthday in 2004 when he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. For the next three and a half years, he received chemotherapy at City of Hope, finally obtaining long-term remission. His parents Bill and Gina, along with John and his younger brother Steve, r...
  • News about the risks or benefits of widespread cancer screening seem to arrive daily – 3D mammography for breast cancer, CT scans for lung cancer, PSA tests for prostate cancer and now pelvic exams for some women’s cancers. Missing in the headlines is a reflection of how cancer detection is evolving. Today’s ca...
  • Adults with sickle cell disease soon may have a new treatment option: bone marrow transplants. Children with sickle cell disease have been treated successfully with transplantation of bone marrow, more officially known as hematopoietic stem cells, from other people. But the procedure has been less successful in...