Research Programs

Cancer is a highly complex family of diseases characterized by aberrant regulation of myriad chemical and biologic processes at the cell, tissue, organ and system levels.  The inherent complexity complicates both cancer diagnosis and cancer treatment, such that breakthrough-level discoveries necessitate a novel perspective conceived at the inter-disciplinary interface. The HCRI program structure fosters cancer-focused convergence research by promoting productive interactions among research groups with distinct expertise and by cross-training young scientists to work collaboratively.


Program Co-Leaders: Laurie Littlepage, Campbell Family Associate Professor of Cancer Research, Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry and Pinar Zorlutuna, Professor of Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering

The goal of the TUMOR-HOST COMMUNICATION (THC) program is to develop analytical approaches, novel technologies, and relevant model systems with which to improve cancer early detection; mechanistically evaluate cancer initiation, progression, and metastasis; and develop advanced models for therapeutic evaluation. Investigators in the THC program focus on two themes: (1) tumor analytics (TA) and (2) tumor microenvironment modeling (TMM).

TA Theme:  Investigators in the TA theme develop, use, and integrate bioanalytic approaches for molecular detection of cancer in tissues, cells, sub-cellular particles, and fluids. Multi-omics technologies (genome, proteome, metabolome, microbiome) and single-cell analytics are employed to investigate cancer-driven alterations in analyte expression patterns and to evaluate spatio-temporal control of analyte expression in normal and neoplastic tissues. Micro- and nanofluidic devices with novel detection systems are developed with point-of-care capabilities.

TA Theme Keywords

  • Multi-omics analysis and integration (genome, proteome, metabolome, microbiome)
  • Single cell analytics
  • Tumor and host exosome analysis
  • Micro/nano-fluidics & detection technologies

TMM Theme: Investigators in the TMM theme develop and use cellular, organotypic, organoid, and ex vivo model systems together with engineered biomimetics to address mechanistic events in neoplasia and evaluate tumor development, progression, and metastasis in model organisms to incorporate the role of the complex tumor microenvironment and provide a platform for testing of novel therapeutics.

TMM Theme Keywords

  • Cell, organotypic  ex vivo, and organoid models
  • In vivo tumor models (xenograft, transgenic, PDX)
  • Engineered biomimetics
  • Tumor:microenvironment interactions
  • Basic biologic processes


Program Co-Leaders: Basar Bilgicer, Professor of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering and Brian Blagg, Professor of Chemistry & Biochemistry

The goal of the MECHANISMS OF TUMOR TARGETING (MTT) program is to pursue cancer-relevant targets with novel therapeutic approaches, delivery strategies, and combination therapies and to develop imaging probes and analysis tools with which to assess target engagement and therapeutic efficacy.  Investigators in the MTT program focus on three themes: (1) drug discovery and delivery (D3), (2) immune therapy (IT), and (3) cancer imaging (CI).

D3 Theme: Investigators in the D3 Theme focus on target identification using high throughput target- and cell-based screening and compound optimization informed by molecular modeling approaches.  Novel drug delivery systems employ targeted nanoparticles and supramolecular interaction platforms.  Paper-based analytics are employed for the detection of counterfeit chemotherapies in low-resource settings.

D3 Theme Keywords:

  • Target identification and drug high throughput screening
  • SAR and computational modeling
  • Drug delivery (targeted nanoparticles, supramolecular assemblies)
  • Counterfeit drug detection

IT Theme: Research in the IT Theme is focused on the use of structural biology and biophysical approaches to enhance T-cell recognition of cancer antigens, identifying cancer-specific alterations in the immune landscape, and testing novel combination therapies incorporating an immune-targeting agent to improve outcomes.

IT Theme Keywords:

  • Biophysics of immune recognition
  • Immunotherapy
  • Combination therapies

CI Theme: Investigators in the CI Theme synthesize and apply novel in vivo imaging agents for use as molecular correlates of target engagement and treatment response and develop novel algorithms for 2D and 3D image analysis, reconstruction and quantification.

CI Theme Keywords:

  • Pre-clinical therapeutic testing
  • In vivo imaging of target engagement & therapeutic response
  • 2D & 3D Image analysis and reconstruction