Cancer Biology Chair Hopes to Make Connections to Enhance Cancer Programs
Jun-Lin Guan, PhD, professor and Francis Brunning Endowed Chair in the department of cancer biology, has many goals in his new roles, which include associate director for research at the UC Cancer Institute and co-leader of molecular and cellular basis of cancer at the Cincinnati Cancer Center.
Overarching it all is one thing: making connections.
"I hope to strengthen ties between the basic science within the department and the clinical presence within the UC Cancer Institute to become a more robust and accomplished program,” he says. "I hope to recruit a number of new basic scientists as well, in order to make this a reality; besides building up our basic science programs, we want to see strength in our translational science mission as well.”
Guan, who came from the University of Michigan where he was a professor in the division of molecular medicine and genetics, began his new roles at UC in January. He says this opportunity is one that he is taking on with both gratitude and determination as he delves into the challenges ahead.
Wearing Many Hats But Reaching Goals Through Communication
"I realize that overall, there is a national shortage for basic research funding that we must overcome through the discovery of other sources,” he says. "There is also some anxiety from an internal standpoint, as the cancer biology department has gone without permanent leadership for many years.
"Using my years of experience as a faculty member, I can understand the aspirations and frustrations for researchers in this financial climate; we’re developing a long-term plan to optimize our programs as well as increase our success and our competitive edge.”
Guan says Cincinnati has an abundance of potential resources for support of cancer research. He hopes to explore those options and envisions strengthening partnerships to enhance what can be done on a global scale through the UC cancer program.
Additionally, he says he is excited to see advancements occurring within the Cincinnati Cancer Center, led by Shuk-Mei Ho, PhD, Jacob G. Schmidlapp Chair of Environmental Health and professor at the UC College of Medicine, and is also actively involved as part of the development of that initiative.
He says that sharing ideas and goals as a unified team is an important step to making all of these goals become reality, which is why, at the department level, he has reinstated monthly faculty meetings in addition to hosting a brown bag research meeting for faculty twice a month.
"This allows faculty to talk about their research progress, share ideas about manuscript preparation and discuss grant options in an informal setting where they can also receive important feedback from their colleagues,” he says. "I’m also meeting with faculty members one-on-one to get to know more about their ideas and suggestions about the department and cancer research throughout the campus, which will help me gain more insight on the faculty here and really help to tailor a plan to help everyone reach his or her individual career goals.”
Keeping Breast Cancer Research Interests, Collaboration with Clinicians Priorities
Aside from his leadership objectives, Guan plans to continue his own research. Primarily working in animal models, he is studying autophagy (or "self-eating,” a process of a cell eating its own components) and a certain protein (tyrosine kinase) in breast cancer cells.
"The main problem in breast and other cancers is metastasis—the majority of deaths in patients who have breast cancer are caused by the spread of the cancer to other parts of the body,” he says. "Metastasis has been connected to cancer cell migration as well as more recently to ‘cancer stem cells,’ a sub-fraction of cancer cells that share stem cell characteristics and are able to reinitiate tumor growth at new sites of the body or when transplanted into experimental animals.
"Our studies have shown crucial roles of a tyrosine kinase in the control of both cancer cell migration and maintenance of cancer stem cells, and we want to find out if targeting this protein could help in preventing the spread of cancer.
"Autophagy is also becoming recognized as being important in the spread of cancer, as it has been shown to be crucial to metastatic cancer cells that undergo a lot of stress. We’re looking at the dormancy of cancer cells in patients that are initially diagnosed and treated with cancer who have recurrences years later because we suspect that autophagy may allow these cancer cells to survive.”
Guan says he is working closely with the UC Cancer Institute’s Comprehensive Breast Cancer Center to conduct this research and meet his personal goal of connecting the lab with the clinic. He is looking forward to presenting his research interests to physicians at the UC Cancer Institute later this month.
Guan says the hope, with help from William Barrett, MD, UC Cancer Institute director, is to expand monthly meetings to include cancer scientists and alternate presentations delivered by both researchers and clinicians to stimulate their interaction.
"We have such incredible strength in cancer care and research at the university and the UC Cancer Institute,” he says. "I’m grateful for this opportunity to build on the already incredible reputation and talents of the faculty to create a world-class program.”