P&S Journal: Winter 1995, Vol.15, No.1
The Renaissance Reshaping Cancer at CPMC
To better focus basic research activity in the direction of cancer-related subjects, CPCC consolidated its seven basic research programs into four programs. Research projects further removed from direct application to cancer are no longer accepted in the center. The four programs are molecular oncology and virology, headed by Dr. Stephen Goff, the Higgins Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics and professor of microbiology; developmental biology and genetics, headed by Dr. Debra Wolgemuth, associate professor of genetics and development; immunology, headed by Dr. Leonard Chess, professor of medicine; and radiation physics and biology, headed by Dr. Eric Hall, the Higgins Professor of Radiation Biophysics and professor of radiation oncology and radiology.
"Basic science is still curiosity-driven, not medically driven, at CPCC," says Dr. Maxwell E. Gottesman, professor of microbiology and of biochemistry and molecular biophysics and CPCC associate director of basic research. "But we want to arouse the curiosity of basic scientists so they realize that their research may have medical relevance. Oncogenes and studies of signal transduction, the biochemical circuitry within cells, can be used clinically."
The developmental biology and genetics subdivision links basic research on the genetic control of normal growth and differentiation to the understanding of the genetic control of oncogenesis. Future directions in this program include increased interaction with clinical programs, such as the women's cancer program and the clinical genetics group, and the Columbia Human Genome Project group.
Like the other divisions, the immunology subdivision aims to foster translational research that relates to understanding the immune response in cancer. Ongoing research in the division includes understanding the structure and function of a variety of immune cell receptors; immune cell differentiation and the immune response; monoclonal antibodies and idiotypes; the immune characterization of leukemias and lymphomas; the regulation of cytokine function and expression; and transcriptional regulation of the immunoglobulin and T-cell receptor genes.
The future direction of the molecular oncology and virology subdivision includes promoting communication between basic and clinical laboratories, expanding the use of oncogene probes as diagnostic tools, expanding the use of gene therapy for cancer treatment, continuing to understand the role of viral and cellular oncogenes in human disease, and understanding the basis of tissue specificity of various oncogenes.
Goals of the radiation physics and biology subdivision include improving the determination of risk of environmental exposure to radiation and using radiobiological principles to design new radiotherapy treatments.
One measure of the basic science division's strength has been its ability to attract new researchers. Since 1990, 25 new faculty members have joined the cancer center. The basic science division has 79 members and last year published 1,195 articles with grant support of $14.8 million. Many significant advances in understanding cancer have come from the basic science division (see table on page 16).