Salk Institute
Cancer CancerCancer

As diseases go, cancer is the ultimate shape shifter. Thought to start with just a single mutation in the DNA of a single cell, it spawns generation after generation of quirky, out-of-control progeny whose genetic instability results in many additional mutations and wild proliferation leading to solid tumors and blood cancers.

Moreover, even when scientists discover drugs capable of reining in its destructive behavior, it tends to outsmart them by morphing, freeing itself to head once more down its renegade path.

Cancer is on course to overtake heart disease as the leading killer of Americans, but despite the urgent need to find new therapies and prevention strategies, scientists conducting cancer research are still working their way through a maze of unparalleled complexity. For one thing, cancer actually refers to more than 100 different diseases. All are fundamentally disorders of tissue growth regulation, and nearly all are caused by abnormalities in the affected cells’ genetic material. Yet that inherent heterogeneity means that researchers continually are racing to keep up with a collection of especially dynamic and perplexing adversaries.

In 1971, President Richard M. Nixon signed the National Cancer Act, dramatically increasing funding for cancer research and launching “our great crusade against cancer [which] should be a cause for new hope among people everywhere.” Throughout the intervening decades, Salk Institute researchers have been at the front lines of that fight. Their studies of the diverse genetic mutations that drive the development of individual cancers have resulted in important contributions that have increased understanding and helped change the landscape for cancer treatment.

Research in the Cancer Center is divided into three programs: Metabolism and Cancer, Mouse Models and Stem Cells, and Growth Control and Genomics Stability. Faculty members in each area are listed below.

Metabolism and Cancer

Janelle Ayres Ron Evans Tony Hunter
Marc Montminy Joseph Noel Satchidananda Panda
Alan Saghatelian Reuben Shaw Ye Zheng

Mouse Models and Stem Cells

Joseph Ecker Fred Gage Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte
Chris Kintner Julie Law Kuo-Fen Lee
Greg Lemke Axel Nimmerjahn Samuel Pfaff
John Thomas Inder Verma

Growth Control and Genomic Stability

Beverly Emerson Diana Hargreaves Martin Hetzer
Katherine Jones Jan Karlseder Björn Lillemeier
Vicki Lundblad Clodagh O'Shea Geoffrey Wahl

Errant gene turns cells into mobile cancer factories
September 10, 2015

New technique maps elusive chemical markers on proteins
July 2, 2015

New drug squashes cancer's last-ditch efforts to survive
June 25, 2015

Targeting telomeres, the timekeepers of cells, could improve chemotherapy
June 24, 2015

Salk scientists deliver a promising one-two punch for lung cancer
November 19, 2014

Findings point to an "off switch" for drug resistance in cancer
October 20, 2014

Modified vitamin D shows promise as treatment for pancreatic cancer
September 25, 2014

Dynamic duo takes out the cellular trash
September 29, 2014

Salk researcher Tony Hunter to receive 2014 Royal Medal in biological sciences
August 5, 2014

New gene discovered that stops the spread of deadly cancer
July 17, 2014

No extra mutations in modified stem cells, study finds
July 9, 2014

Salk professor named grantee in new pancreatic cancer research program
May 27, 2014

Salk's Glenn Center for Aging Research receives an additional $3 million gift from the Glenn Foundation for Medical Research
May 20, 2014

Ability to isolate and grow breast tissue stem cells could speed cancer research
May 2, 2014

Salk Institute study identifies novel regulator of key gene expression in cancer
April 30, 2014

Geoffrey Wahl elected to Academy of Arts and Sciences class of 2014 for outstanding scientific work
April 29, 2014

Salk cancer metabolism expert Reuben Shaw promoted to full professor
April 11, 2014

Scientists reveal potential link between brain development and breast cancer gene
April 7, 2014

Salk scientist Vicki Lundblad wins accolades
March 20, 2014

Salk scientists identify factors that trigger ALT-ernative cancer cell growth
January 13, 2014

Critical pathway in cell cycle may lead to cancer development
July 11, 2013

Salk researchers identify potential biomarker for cancer diagnosis
July 8, 2013

Protein preps cells to survive stress of cancer growth and chemotherapy
May 23, 2013

Diabetes drug could hold promise for lung cancer patients
January 29, 2013

Aggressive brain tumors can originate from a range of nervous system cells
October 22, 2012

Cold viruses point the way to new cancer therapies
October 16, 2012

Complex wiring of the nervous system may rely on just a handful of genes and proteins
February 10, 2012

New anti-inflammatory drugs might help avoid side effects of steroids
October 24, 2011

First proof in patients of an improved "magic bullet" for cancer detection and radio-therapy
September 12, 2011

Salk findings may give clinicians a way to detect cancer earlier
September 7, 2011

The battle of the morphogens: How to get ahead in the nervous system
September 1, 2011

A new ending to an old "tail"
April 21, 2011

The stemness of cancer cells
December 13, 2010

Mobilizing the repair squad: Critical protein helps mend damaged DNA
December 24, 2009

Good fences make good neighbors:
May 15, 2009

Targeting telomeres, the timekeepers of cells, could improve chemotherapy

June 24, 2015

Telomeres, specialized ends of our chromosomes that dictate how long cells can continue to duplicate themselves, have long been studied for their links to the aging process and cancer. Now, a discovery at the Salk Institute shows that telomeres may be more central than previously thought to a self-destruct program in cells that prevents tumors, a function that could potentially be exploited to improve cancer therapies. Read more»



New gene discovered that stops the spread of deadly cancer

July 17, 2014

Scientists at the Salk Institute have identified a gene responsible for stopping the movement of cancer from the lungs to other parts of the body, indicating a new way to fight one of the world's deadliest cancers.

By identifying the cause of this metastasis—which often happens quickly in lung cancer and results in a bleak survival rate—Salk scientists are able to explain why some tumors are more prone to spreading than others. The newly discovered pathway, detailed today in Molecular Cell, may also help researchers understand and treat the spread of melanoma and cervical cancers. Read more»



Diabetes drug could hold promise for lung cancer patients

January 29, 2013

Ever since discovering a decade ago that a gene altered in lung cancer regulated an enzyme used in therapies against diabetes, Reuben Shaw has wondered if drugs originally designed to treat metabolic diseases could also work against cancer.

The growing evidence that cancer and metabolism are connected, emerging from a number of laboratories around the world over the past 10 years, has further fueled these hopes, though scientists are still working to identify what tumors might be most responsive and which drugs most useful. Read more»



Cold viruses point the way to new cancer therapies

October 16, 2012

Adenovirus, a type of cold virus, has developed molecular tools—proteins—that allow it to hijack a cell\'s molecular machinery, including large cellular machines involved in growth, replication and cancer suppression. The Salk scientists identified the construction of these molecular weapons and found that they bind together into long chains (polymers) to form a three-dimensional web inside cells that traps and overpowers cellular sentries involved in growth and cancer suppression. The findings, published October 11 in Cell, suggest a new avenue for developing cancer therapies by mimicking the strategies employed by the viruses. Read more»



Sending out an SOS: How telomeres incriminate cells that can't divide

March 11, 2012

The well-being of living cells requires specialized squads of proteins that maintain order. Degraders chew up worn-out proteins, recyclers wrap up damaged organelles, and-most importantly-DNA repair crews restitch anything that resembles a broken chromosome. If repair is impossible, the crew foreman calls in executioners to annihilate a cell. As unsavory as this last bunch sounds, failure to summon them is one aspect of what makes a cancer cell a cancer cell. Read more»



Salk scientists use an old theory to discover new targets in the fight against breast cancer

February 07, 2012

Reviving a theory first proposed in the late 1800s that the development of organs in the normal embryo and the development of cancers are related, scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have studied organ development in mice to unravel how breast cancers, and perhaps other cancers, develop in people. Their findings provide new ways to predict and personalize the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Read more»

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