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Mission of the Program in Cancer Biology

To train new leaders in the field of Cancer Biology that will develop new knowledge that will translate into improved detection, diagnosis, prognosis, prevention, or treatment of cancer.

Research Areas of Emphasis

  • Cancer Immunity, host tumor interactions, and angiogenesis
  • Cancer Precision Medicine—targeted therapies and drug resistance using mouse modeling, human tumor tissues, and systems approaches
  • Bioinformatic analyses of tumor heterogeneity including genome, proteome, metabolome, and immunome components during tumor progression
  • Basic Cancer Biology—tumor progression, invasion and metastasis

Steering Committee

Ann Richmond, Program Director
Jin Chen, Director of Graduate Studies
Barbara Fingleton
Kimryn Rathmell
Julie Sterling
Alissa Weaver
Chris Williams


News & Events


Keith T Wilson, MD, Thomas F. Frist, Sr. Chair in Medicine, Professor of Medicine, Professor of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology. Director, Center for Mucosal Inflammation and Cancer.

Dr. Wilson’s laboratory is focused on gastrointestinal mucosal inflammation and carcinogenesis. This includes the innate immune response in macrophages and the identification of ways that this response is ineffective. They have also elucidated mechanisms whereby epithelial responses are inappropriate, leading to risk for cancer development. Dr. Wilson and his collaborators recently published their research findings in Oncogene, which discusses, ”Ornithine decarboxylase (ODC1) gene variant (rs2302615) is associated with gastric cancer independently of Helicobacter pylori CagA serostatus”.  The primary cause of gastric cancer is chronic infection with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), particularly the high-risk genotype cagA, and risk modification by human genetic variants. They studied 94 variants in 54 human genes for association with gastric cancer, including rs2302615 in ornithine decarboxylase (ODC1), which may affect response to chemoprevention with the ODC inhibitor, eflornithine (difluoro-methyl ornithine; DFMO). Our population-based, case-control study included 1366 individuals (664 gastric cancer cases and 702 controls) from Western Honduras, a high incidence region of Latin America. The main findings were that the ODC1 variant rs2302615 was associated with gastric cancer (odds ratio = 1.36; p = 0.018) in a model adjusted for age, sex, and CagA serostatus. In addition, the ODC1 SNP association with gastric cancer was stronger in individuals who carried a TLR4 polymorphism. It was concluded that the ODC1 variant, rs2302615, is associated with gastric cancer and supports chemoprevention trials focused on inhibition of ODC.


Tolu Omokehinde, PhD Candidate.

Tolu is the first author of an article published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, entitled “gp130 cytokines activate novel signaling pathways and alter bone dissemination in ER+ breast cancer cells.” The lab of Rachelle Johnson, PhD focuses on breast cancer metastasis to bone and breast cancer dormancy in bone, with an emphasis on the signaling pathways that mediate these processes. Tolu’s research explores and characterizes the function of the gp130 cytokines in several breast cancer cell lines and patient datasets by highlighting the relative expression of the gp130 ligands and cytokine specific receptors, identifying novel signaling pathways activated by the cytokine family, and assessing the in vivo outcomes of breast cancer bone colonization following overexpression of the gp130 ligands OSM and CNTF. His data indicate that all of the cytokines and receptors that are required for autocrine or paracrine OSM, LIF, and CNTF signaling are present in all breast cancer subtypes at the transcript level; however, expression of the receptors (LIFR, OSMR, CNTFR, and gp130) is considerably lower in ER- compared to ER+ disease, suggesting that loss of the gp130-related receptors (not just LIFR, as previously reported), may be associated with more aggressive disease. In addition, analysis of in vitro and patient data indicate that the gp130 ligand OSM promotes spontaneous dissemination to the bone, while CNTF may have the opposite effect. Collectively the data highlight the nuances of LIFR signaling in breast cancer and indicate that future targeting of the pathway will need to focus on the individual ligands rather than the receptor.


Anthony B Daniels BA, MSc, MD, Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, Assistant Professor of Cancer Biology and Radiation Oncology

Dr. Daniels and his team recently published their research in Cancers  “Effect of Intravenous Chemotherapy Regimen on Glove Salvage Success Rates for Retinoblastoma Based on Disease Class-A Meta- Analysis.”  Retinoblastoma is the most common primary intraocular malignancy in children. As the management of intraocular retinoblastoma with CRD has advanced, patient survival rates now exceed 95–98% in developed countries. Although the focus continues to be on maximizing patient survival and treatment safety, the emphasis is now also on optimizing eye (globe) salvage and vision. Given the increasing shift toward replacing standard intravenous chemo reduction with intra-arterial chemotherapy and incorporating adjuvant intravitreal chemotherapy, this meta-analysis consolidates and analyzes the published results of various intravenous chemo reduction regimens. These results are timely and vital so that we can scientifically compare whether (and by how much) novel treatments such as intra-arterial or intravitreal chemotherapy improve patient-based outcomes. For physicians employing intravenous chemo reduction, this meta-analysis provides evidence-based guidance in selecting an intravenous chemotherapy regimen based on the disease severity of their patients. This can help guide future directions of outcomes-based research.


Andreana HolowatyjPhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine

Dr. Holowatyj research is cited in the news article  STAT regarding incidences of  colorectal cancer in young men. The piece is tied to last year’s death of actors Chadwick Boseman and Omhar Carter. Boseman and Carter lived in parts of the country researchers have labeled a “hot spot of death” for early-onset colorectal cancer. Anderson County, SC, where Boseman grew up, and Hinds County, MS, where Jackson is located, are two of 232 counties in the mainland US where men aged 49 and under are at unusually high risk of dying from colorectal cancer. “Examining factors underlying geographic disparities in early-onset colorectal cancer survival among men in the United States” is discussed here in Dr. Holowatyj’s publication in the American Journal of Cancer Research.


Logan Northcutt, BS (Rafat Lab) and Verra Ngwa, MS (Chen Lab)

Logan and Verra have been awarded the 2021 SMDP Scholars Award!! Scientist Mentoring & Diversity Program for Biotechnology (SMDP Biotech) is a one-year career mentoring program that pairs ethnically diverse students and early career researchers with industry mentors who work at companies in the medical technology, biotechnology and consumer healthcare industries. With their mentors, Logan and Verra will attend a 5-day training session to learn about career opportunities in the industry and receive career development coaching. They will also attend a major industry conference.