Research Programs

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.

Detecting cancer early can lead to a successful health outcome. Screening tests regularly catch breast, cervical and colorectal cancers, and lung cancer testing is recommended for some people who are at high risk. Vaccines can also help lower cancer risk, as can making good choices like maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding tobacco, limiting the amount of alcohol consumed, and protecting the skin.

Scientific Goals: Two aims advance the scientific goals of the program:
Aim 1: Identify and understand the etiology and progression of cancer risk behaviors across the life course, focusing on individual, psychosocial, organizational and community-level factors; and
Aim 2: Develop interventions to modify cancer risk behaviors that will enhance secondary prevention.

Within each of these aims, there is a strong focus on understanding and addressing cancer health inequities in cancer risk and interventions to address these disparities. The work of the Cancer Prevention and Control program can be arranged in three major themes:

Theme 1: Understand the adoption of tobacco, alcohol, diet, and physical activity behaviors from childhood through adulthood;
Theme 2: Understand how the environment, location, and residential mobility patterns influence health behaviors and cancer risk; and
Theme 3: Develop and implement effective evidence-based interventions at multiple levels (e.g., individual, community, macro-environment, policy level) to modify cancer prevention and control behaviors.


How does a normal cell become a cancer cell? That’s what researchers in the University of Illinois Cancer Center’s Cancer Biology program are exploring to develop new and better ways to prevent, detect and treat this potentially deadly disease.

Scientific Goals: Two aims advance the scientific goals of the Cancer Biology Program:
Aim 1: Promote inter- and intra-programmatic collaborations that will enhance the understanding of the genetic, cellular, molecular and biochemical mechanisms that trigger tumor development, progression and malignant behavior, as well as exploiting the outcomes of certain signaling and metabolic pathways in cancer cells used in cancer therapies by employing genetic proof of concept in mouse models.
Aim 2: To promote translational studies and drive basic science discoveries into pre-clinical and clinical development of novel cancer therapies, in collaboration with the Translational Oncology Program.

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

Theme 1: Cancer Cell Signaling: Cancer Cell Signaling 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
Theme 2: Gene Regulation: The Gene Regulation theme 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; epigenetics
Theme 3: Oncogenesis and Tumor Suppression: The program members within this theme 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