By Susan Van Dusen
The Cancer Biology program at the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute brings together investigators studying the basic biology of cancer at the molecular, cellular and in vivo levels. Program investigators use biochemical, genetic and other methodologies to study and understand the mechanisms of malignant transformation, tumor progression and tumor metastasis.
Steven Post, Ph.D., professor in the UAMS College of Medicine Department of Pathology, serves as program leader.
“Cancer biology is very broad based as it applies to basic science discovery. However, our program focuses on understanding the basic science as it relates to tumor cell development and how a cell’s environment either supports or inhibits tumor growth,” Post said.
These types of basic science discoveries are the building blocks that scientists in other areas need to conduct their own research.
“If a basic scientist identifies a process that inhibits tumor cell growth, researchers in therapeutics, for example, could design molecules that target that process, making it more difficult for tumors to grow or spread. This could lead to clinical trials of new therapies, bringing clinical relevance to our initial laboratory discovery,” Post said.
Program members are focused in three main areas:
- Viral oncology, which includes both how viruses initiate tumor formation and how viruses can be used to target tumor cells
- Tumor immune response, which looks at how T cells change their behavior in a tumor and how those changes can be reverted back to the normal immune response
- Vaccine targets, which examines new targets for vaccines and how to make them more effective
Since Cancer Biology was named one of the Cancer Institute’s four research programs in late January 2020, Post and his fellow members continue to solidify the program’s short- and long-term focus. A major goal includes encouraging program members to publish research and submit grants together, as well as collaborate with members of other research programs in the Cancer Institute.
“We need to have interactions across program lines where we establish co-authorships and collaborations between programs,” Post said.
After spending his early career researching cardiovascular health, Post moved into the cancer arena after discovering that the protein he studied also played a fundamental role in the microenvironment of tumors. Similarly, he said, researchers focused on other disease sites may also find unexpected connections to cancer research.
“There is a lot of overlap in biomedical research that allows people to transition their focus from other areas to cancer and bring new ideas to the table,” Post said.