Cancer Biology

Overview

Overview


When it comes to cancer, knowledge is power. Just a few decades ago, the biological processes responsible for cancers were largely a mystery. As a result, finding diagnostics and treatments from cancers was a hit-or-miss process. At Salk, we’re changing that. Today, using cutting-edge technologies, we are rapidly demystifying cancers, exposing the molecular mechanisms underlying tumors and leading the search for the next generation of targeted cancer therapies. With the power of knowledge, we are building a future where every cancer and every patient has a cure.

Research


Blood Cancer

More than 156,000 people in the United States are diagnosed each year with leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma, and every 10 minutes, someone dies from one of these blood cancers. We can do better. At the Salk Institute, we are charting the errant genes and proteins involved in blood cancers, searching for weaknesses that can be leveraged to kill these tumors. Discoveries made at Salk have already led to highly effective treatments, including the powerful drug Gleevec. Dozens of other precision blood cancer therapies are in the works. We are focused on the day when every patient’s cancer has a cure.

Beverly Emerson

Professor

Regulatory Biology Laboratory

Martin Hetzer

Professor

Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory

Tony Hunter

American Cancer Society Professor

Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory

Clodagh O’Shea

Associate Professor

Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory

Jan Karlseder

Professor

Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory

Brain Cancer

Brain cancer comes in many devastating forms, impairing a person’s ability to think, communicate and move. Each year in the United States, around 70,000 new cases of brain tumors are diagnosed. And despite progress in genetic analysis and classification, the prognosis for many tumor patients remains poor—brain cancers kill around 14,000 Americans annually. At the Salk Institute, we are searching for new cellular targets to treat brain cancer, explaining the recurrence of brain tumors following treatment and identifying ways to prevent recurrence. In addition, we have developed unique methods for studying brain cancer in mice that should speed the development of new therapies. A brain cancer diagnosis is life changing, but we envision a future where, thanks to science, cancer is defeated and life goes on.

Beverly Emerson

Professor

Regulatory Biology Laboratory

Martin Hetzer

Professor

Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory

Jan Karlseder

Professor

Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory

Axel Nimmerjahn

Assistant Professor

Waitt Advanced Biophotonics Center

Dennis O’Leary

Professor

Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory

Clodagh O’Shea

Associate Professor

Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory

John B. Thomas

Professor

Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory

Inder Verma

Professor

Laboratory of Genetics

American Cancer Society Professor of Molecular Biology

Geoffrey Wahl

Professor

Gene Expression Laboratory

Breast Cancer

In breast cancer, a group of cells forms a malignant tumor that invades surrounding tissue. These cells then often spread to other parts of the body in a process called metastasis. It’s a deadly and all too common disease. In the United States each year, some 230,000 women are diagnosed with invasive breast cancer and 40,000 will die from the disease. At the Salk Institute, we are charting genetic missteps that can lead mammary cells to become cancerous. We are identifying weaknesses in various types of breast cancers, leading to new molecular targets for therapies. And we are developing and testing precision therapies, ranging from groundbreaking drugs to novel tumor-busting viruses. With each discovery, we are demystifying breast cancer and turning knowledge into cures.

Beverly Emerson

Professor

Regulatory Biology Laboratory

Diana Hargreaves

Assistant Professor

Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory

Martin Hetzer

Professor

Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory

Jan Karlseder

Professor

Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory

Clodagh O’Shea

Associate Professor

Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory

Inder Verma

Professor

Laboratory of Genetics

American Cancer Society Professor of Molecular Biology

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer, which affects nonsmokers as well as smokers, is the most common cancer worldwide, causing 1.6 million deaths a year, far more than pancreatic, breast and colon cancer combined. In the United States, over 220,000 people will be diagnosed with lung cancer this year, and 158,000 will die from the disease. At the Salk Institute, we study the errant genetic programming that causes lung cancer, searching for ways to diagnose lung cancers earlier and to kill tumors more effectively. We have developed unique research models to study lung cancer in the laboratory. With these models, we have made important discoveries, including a method for countering a common genetic mutation that often leads to drug-resistant cancers and identification of a possible new avenue for treating certain lung cancers.

Beverly Emerson

Professor

Regulatory Biology Laboratory

Diana Hargreaves

Assistant Professor

Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory

Martin Hetzer

Professor

Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory

Jan Karlseder

Professor

Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory

Clodagh O’Shea

Associate Professor

Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory

Reuben Shaw

Professor

Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory

Inder Verma

Professor

Laboratory of Genetics

American Cancer Society Professor of Molecular Biology

Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest forms of cancer, a fact highlighted in recent years by the deaths of well-known figures such as Steve Jobs and Patrick Swayze. According to the National Institutes of Health, about 46,000 people are diagnosed in the United States each year and about 40,000 die from the disease. Pancreatic cancer is notoriously resistant to therapy, partly because the tumors grow encased in a thick layer of protective tissue. At Salk, we are working on methods to collapse the barrier of cells shielding pancreatic tumors. With this and other lines of research, we are making this seemingly impenetrable cancer much more susceptible to therapeutic drugs.

Beverly Emerson

Professor

Regulatory Biology Laboratory

Ronald Evans

Professor and Director

Gene Expression Laboratory

Martin Hetzer

Professor

Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory

Jan Karlseder

Professor

Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory

Clodagh O’Shea

Associate Professor

Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory

Geoffrey Wahl

Professor

Gene Expression Laboratory

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