Cancer Biology Program

The Cancer Biology (CB) Program aims to provide bidirectional basic and translational & clinical cancer research opportunities that will positively impact cancer incidence and mortality in Hawaiʻi and the larger Pacific. The program will translate these discoveries into therapeutic interventions or biomarker development to reduce the burden of cancer in our multiethnic population. CB investigators focus primarily on cancers with high incidence in our catchment area (breast, liver, lung cancer) and cancers resulting from environmental exposures (mesothelioma). The program encourages a particular focus on cancers highly relevant to our catchment area, which includes the state of Hawaiʻi and the United States Affiliated Pacific Islands (USAPI). The program integrates basic, highly mechanistic studies with translational and clinical research, including investigator-initiated clinical trials (IITs) and the NCI Community Oncology Research Program (NCORP).

To achieve our objectives, the CB program is organized into three overarching themes: Cancer Mechanisms & Targets (CMT), Tumor Biomarkers (TB), and Translational & Clinical Research (TCR). In most cases, a member’s research will focus on one of the three themes but may also contribute to all themes listed. Importantly, the themes are integrated and interconnected. Specifically, studies from the CMT theme will assist in identifying novel therapeutic targets from cancer cells or animal studies, which clinical investigators could further characterize in patients. CMT will also develop the mechanistic justification of novel cancer therapeutics, which could lead to novel clinical trials by TCR. The TB theme will provide new biomarkers that TCR investigators could test in clinical trials. CB research uses many UH Cancer Center Shared Resources, including Analytical Biochemistry, Biostatistics, Genomics and Bioinformatics, as well as several core facilities, including Preclinical, Pathology, and the Microscopy, Imaging, and Flow Cytometry cores. Program members also collaborate extensively with the Population Sciences in the Pacific (PSP) program to develop inter-programmatic research.

To advance the objectives of the program, CB has three specific aims corresponding to these themes:

Aim 1. To generate novel mechanistic insight into the processes that drive tumor initiation, progression, and invasion and to develop novel agents to target cancers.
To address our Cancer Mechanisms & Targets (CMT) theme, program members will investigate the molecular mechanisms leading to tumor initiation, progression, and metastasis. In addition, the group will identify novel drug targets, investigate the genes and pathways confer drug sensitivities or resistance during cancer treatment, and develop novel therapeutics, especially immunotherapies and natural products, against malignancy.

Aim 2. To identify and validate biomarkers related to cancer early detection, treatment, and prognosis.
To address our Tumor Biomarkers (TB) theme, CB members will utilize multiple molecular profiling technologies to identify mechanistically relevant cancer biomarkers that may have the clinical diagnostic, predictive, or prognostic potential for distinct cancer types, particularly those prevalent in our catchment area. These biomarkers will improve overall cancer detection, treatment, and prognostication in our catchment area.

Aim 3. To translate local and national discoveries into more effective preventive, early detection, and therapeutic modalities throughout our catchment area.
In response to our Translational & Clinical Research (TCR) theme, our members develop and evaluate interventions that reduce cancer burden, focusing on the high-incidence cancers experienced by our ethnically diverse catchment population. This includes interventions to improve treatment outcomes by conducting novel IITs and enriching biomarkers based targeted and immunotherapies. Research highlights developing novel anti-cancer drugs (natural products, antibody-dug conjugate, and immunotherapies) and initiating IITs by translating the discovery to the clinic. Further, we contribute to advancing clinical medicine by participating in clinical trials through the NCORP.

CB comprises 40 members, (19 Full member and 21 Associate members).

We also have multiple Interdisciplinary Cancer Research Teams, including Women’s cancer research group; Liver cancer research group, Mesothelioma research group, Cancer Genomics research group and clinical research group.