About the Department
The focus of the Department of Cancer and Cellular Biology (DCCB) at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine is to perform cutting-edge, multidisciplinary research and provide cancer-focused education that together contribute to the control and cure of cancer.
Cancer – the uncontrolled growth of cells that can disperse and colonize multiple sites in the body – poses a major public health burden. Worldwide, over 18 million people are diagnosed with cancer annually. In the United States, cancer is the second leading cause of death; ~1.8 million people received a cancer diagnosis in 2020, and over 600,000 died from this disease. In spite of these dismal numbers, there is reason for optimism. In the United States, mortality from cancer has been steadily decreasing for the past two decades, chiefly due to improvements in prevention, detection, and treatment that have arisen from technological advances and research discoveries
In a cancer cell, initiating genetic and epigenetic changes alter metabolism and cell cycle controls to enhance proliferation and survival. However, as a cancer cell expands and becomes a tumor, components of the tumor microenvironment – including stromal fibroblasts, vascular endothelial cells, and immune cells -- are in dynamic dialog with cancer cells, providing signals that constrain the growth of early tumors, but can promote later stage tumor growth. Although the term “cancer” is often used to denote a single disease, there is considerable variability in the features of cancers arising from distinct tissues, and within individual tissues. Adding another level of complexity, a given sub-type of cancer can manifest differently in individual patients, affecting disease course and response to treatment. These differences among humans are influenced by unique personal intrinsic characteristics, such as inherited gene variants, or extrinsic factors, including diet, health history, and environmental exposures.
To address the emerging recognition of the complexity of cancer, it has been essential for cancer research to become highly interdisciplinary. The DCCB provides a hub for laboratory research that combines insights from diverse fields of study and fuels the application of basic research discoveries to the clinical setting. Through supporting intensively collaborative work spanning academic disciplines, the DCCB aims to make major advances that improve the understanding of cancer biology and lead to the development of new approaches that reduce cancer incidence and improve cancer treatment outcomes.
The Chair of the DCCB is Erica Golemis, PhD, a national leader in translational research. Investigators in the DCCB perform research in the areas of cell signaling, genetics, epigenetics, immunology, virology, structural and computational biology, and cancer prevention and control. Core faculty members of the Department are located at on North Broad Street, adjacent to Temple University Hospital, and include members of the Fels Cancer Institute for Personalized Medicine. The Department also draws considerable strength and expertise from adjunct faculty at the Fox Chase Cancer Center (FCCC), in programs focused on Blood Cell Development and Function (BCDF), Cancer Prevention and Control (CPC), Cell Signaling and Epigenetics (CSE), and Molecular Therapeutics (MT). Reciprocally, all DCCB faculty members are adjunct members of the FCCC research programs, enhancing their capacity for translational studies. Together, these researchers work collaboratively to generate high-impact discoveries that offer fundamental insights into the etiology of cancer and provide the basis for improved care of cancer patients.
Collaborations across the Temple System
Work in the DCCB is enhanced by access to a rich suite of facilities at the Health Sciences Campus, including at the Moulder Center for Drug Drug Discovery, and additional facilities at the FCCC campus. Together, these facilities support imaging (confocal and multiphoton microscopy, and small animal), cell sorting, chemical synthesis, laboratory animal research, histopathology, genomic profiling, high throughput screening of small molecules and biological agents, immunoprofiling, molecular modeling of protein structure, pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics, and bioinformatics and biostatistics. To achieve maximum relevance and impact, the researchers in the DCCB interact with colleagues in clinical departments and schools and institutes across the Temple system. These include members of the Temple University Departments of Chemistry and Bioengineering, the College of Pharmacy, the Center for Biophysics and Computational Biology, the Kornberg School of Dentistry, and the College of Public Health.
Connections to the Clinic
Collaboration between DCCB researchers and clinical researchers in Medical, Radiation, and Surgical Oncology at FCCC and in the Temple University Hospital System (TUHS) who perform clinical trials of new therapeutic agents are an essential engine for high-impact translational research in cancer. In the clinic, gene- and protein-targeted therapies are now typically guided by insights from genomic and immune profiling of tumors. DCCB members collaborate on correlative studies to generate predictive and prognostic biomarkers for therapeutic response to new and established therapeutic agents, to improve patient outcomes. Reciprocally, rich biospecimen resources at FCCC can be analyzed by DCCB researchers to identify new therapeutic targets.
Connections to the Community
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) endorses Community Outreach and Engagement (COE) as a critical element of cancer research aimed at reducing the burden of cancer. Particularly for LKSOM and TUHS, COE interactions are essential to understand the cancer health disparities that burden the neighborhoods surrounding these institutions. Participation in COE activities helps researchers keep abreast of the real-world factors that influence cancer risk and treatment outcomes, suggesting topics for investigation; reciprocally, COE interventions raise awareness in the community of ways to prevent cancer early and obtain access to better cancer care. COE activities involving DCCB faculty and adjunct faculty are organized through the College of Public Health and the FCCC Office of Community Outreach.
Research Training and Education
In partnership with the Department of Biomedical Education and Data Science, the primary hub of educators, and the Biomedical Sciences (BMSC) Graduate Program, DCCB faculty offer research training in the laboratory and the classroom to undergraduate and graduate students, medical students and medical and postdoctoral fellows. DCCB predoctoral studies are offered through the BMSC graduate program. Faculty at the Fels Institute and adjunct faculty at FCCC actively participate in training students and postdoctoral fellows, with FCCC maintaining an extensive complementary program of training opportunities.
BMSC Graduate program PhD and MD/PhD students who select the CBGN and the MCBS clusters are eligible to apply for a NIH/NIGMS funded T32 Predoctoral fellowship for Training in Molecular Biology and Genetics, with a concentration in Signaling, Epigenetics and Genome Maintenance.