Cell Stress Biology Overview

The Department of Cell Stress Biology is comprised of 12 major research laboratory units, located in close proximity to each other on the campus of Roswell Park Cancer Institute.The Department is also closely associated with the Small Molecule Core and NMR Facility.

The investigators of the Department also represent the core faculty of the Biophysical Therapies Program, an important component of the National Cancer Institute Cancer Center Support Grant (CCSG) awarded to Roswell Park Cancer Institute. A number of adjunct faculty members provide important links to other departments, such as Cancer Genetics and Immunology.

The unifying theme of the research programs within the Department is the exploitation of cellular stress, especially oxidative and thermal stress, as target mechanism of clinical therapies. The broad goals are:

(a) to define molecular and cellular stress mechanisms that might be exploited to aid in diagnosis or treatment of malignant disease;
(b) to develop novel cancer treatment strategies based on these mechanisms;
(c) to bring them to clinical fruition by facilitating interactions with clinicians and basic scientists; and
(d) to provide a training ground for these novel treatment approaches. A highly multidisciplinary approach is taken to achieve these goals; this includes chemistry, biochemistry, biophysics, biology, molecular biology, immunology and numerous clinical disciplines. Several discrete groups of investigators exist within the Department, each focusing on specific, but related, research interests.

Oxidative stress is implicated in the etiology of many human diseases, including cancer. It is also the mechanism by which cancer treatment modalities, such as radiation therapy or photodynamic therapy, exert their anti-tumor effects. Through the study of signal transduction, cell cycle regulation, apoptosis, mitochondrial and/or nuclear DNA damage, mitochondrial dysfunction and genetic instability, the Oxidative Stress Group concentrates on the role of reactive oxygen species (ROS), generated during oxidative stress, in the activation of oncogenic pathways and the response of cancer cells to specific stress environments.

Another physiologically relevant stress is the thermal response accompanying a natural fever and the heat shock proteins that are associated with an elevation in body temperature. The Thermal Stress Group is focused on the interactions among heat shock proteins, the thermal element of fever and the immune response, with the major goal of developing heat shock protein cancer vaccines as well as other thermally activated adjuvants.

The Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) Group, comprising the PDT Center, has been instrumental in driving photodynamic therapy, the sensitization of tumor tissue to destruction by light through the generation of ROS, towards regulatory approval for the treatment of solid tumors. It has exceptionally broad, long-standing, multi-disciplinary expertise in studying this novel treatment modality. The group’s research activities represents a true “bench to bedside” approach, encompassing studies of molecular and cellular PDT mechanisms, the design, synthesis and preclinical testing of new photosensitizing agents, as well as the design and implementation of clinical trials.

An important function of the Department is predoctoral and postdoctoral training, which occurs in conjunction with the academic departments of Molecular and Cellular Biophysics, Molecular Pharmacology, Molecular and Cellular Biology and Immunology. The graduate program reports to the Dean of the Graduate School at the State University of New York at Buffalo through the Roswell Park Division of the Graduate School.