Research Programs

Program Leadership

Cancer Biology Program

Angela Tyner, Ph.D.

Cancer Biology Program

Nissim Hay, Ph.D.

Cancer Prevention and Control

Lisa Tussing-Humphreys, PhD, MS, RD

Translational Oncology Program

Greg Thatcher, Ph.D.

Translational Oncology Program

Ajay Rana, Ph.D.

Ardith Doorenbos photo

Cancer Prevention and Control

Ardith Doorenbos, PhD

The University of Illinois Cancer Center’s research is well-funded by the National Cancer Institute and is built on a “bench to community” model that not only engages the community but actively involves them in developing research and treatment options. The research programs are divided into three groups: Cancer Prevention and Control; Cancer Biology; and Translational Oncology.

The University of Illinois Cancer Prevention and Control Program advances scientific knowledge related to cancer prevention and control while simultaneously bringing innovative interventions to the underserved and diverse communities in the UI Cancer Center’s catchment area.

The Cancer Prevention and Control Program has assembled talented investigators from multiple disciplines across different departments and colleges at the University of Illinois at Chicago who will examine the role of social and physical environments that have the potential to influence and reduce cancer risk, focusing on developing effective, evidence-based interventions.


Three aims advance the scientific goals of the program: Preventing cancer by identifying and elucidating behavioral, environmental and biological risk factors and use knowledge of these factors to inform the development of multi-level interventions and policies; develop and test interventions to reduce cancer risk or to detect cancer early with an emphasis on both behavioral and environmental policy level interventions is the second, with the third being to improve outcomes relevant for cancer survivorship, including quality of life.

A strong focus on understanding and addressing cancer health inequities in cancer risk and interventions to address these disparities are included in each of the goals. The work of the Cancer Prevention and Control program can be arranged in three major themes:

  • Understanding the adoption of tobacco, alcohol, diet, and physical activity behaviors from childhood through adulthood
  • Understanding how the environment, location, and residential mobility patterns influence health behaviors and cancer risk
  • Developing and implementing effective evidence-based interventions at multiple levels (e.g., individual, community, macro-environment, policy level) to modify cancer prevention and control behaviors

The University of Illinois Cancer Center’s Cancer Biology Program unites scientists conducting basic research using a variety of model systems – mice, drosophila, and zebra fish, among others – to understand molecular and cellular events that contribute to the beginning, advancement, and metastasis of cancer. A major focus of the Cancer Biology Program is to promote outstanding research that will identify new therapeutic targets and approaches for treating cancer, which will be further investigated and validated with investigators in the UI Cancer Center’s Translational Oncology Program.


Three aims advance the scientific goals of the Cancer Biology Program. The first is to determine how cancer metabolism and signaling pathways act individually and are integrated to drive cancer development and progression, identifying new vulnerabilities of cancer. The second – to determine how signaling is relayed to transcriptional control through direct and epigenetic mechanisms, and how genome integrity is compromised, to drive the cancer phenotype. The third is to identify mechanisms by which cancer cells interact with the local extracellular matrix and stromal cells, and inflammatory and vascular systems to allow for invasion and metastasis

Within each of these aims, a strong focus on identifying new therapeutic targets for treating cancer can be found. The work of the Cancer Biology program can be arranged in three major themes:

Cancer Cell Signaling and Metabolism, includes growth factor and cytokine signaling, kinase functions, adaptors, transporters, protein modifiers, and environmental signaling. Focus areas include angiogenesis; cancer stem cells; metabolomics; microenvironment; protein kinases.

Gene Regulation and Genomics, encompasses traditional control of gene expression by transcription factors, alteration of gene expression by micro-RNAs and other noncoding RNAs, as well as epigenetic adjustment of gene expression. Focus areas include transcriptional regulation; genomics; and epigenetics.

Tumor Microenvironment and Inflammation, where program members within employ different aspects of growth control and cell survival that are impacted by tumor suppressors and oncogenes. Focus areas include apoptosis; cell cycle regulation; DNA repair; viruses and cancer.

Applying basic science findings to create new therapies, medical procedures and diagnostics that advance the treatment of cancer.

Scientific Goals: The scientific goals of the Translational Oncology Program are advanced by work in three aims:

Aim 1: To identify and validate targets for cancer therapy
Theme 1: Nuclear receptors and hormone signaling
Theme 2: Epigenetic modulators
Theme 3: Signaling molecules and enzymes

Aim 2: To discover and develop novel anti-cancer agents
Theme 1: Chemopreventive strategies for patient populations at high-risk for developing cancers
Theme 2: Targeted therapeutics used in combination therapy across cancer subtypes
Theme 3: To prevent and circumvent resistance in breast, ovarian, prostate, lung, GI, brain, and oral cancer

Aim 3: To progress agents through clinical trials, defining mechanism of action, and target engagement
Theme 1: Translational biomarkers and molecular pharmacology of Health Equity/Disparities
Theme 2: PET/SPECT/MRI imaging of tumors and drug targets
Theme 3: Clinical trials integrating anti-cancer agents, biomarkers, and Health Equity/Disparities