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Cancer biologists are turning their attention to the normal cells that give rise to cancers to learn more about how tumors grow. The identification of the specific, normal cells that cancers come from could provide critical insight into how tumors develop, according to Dr. Robert Wechsler-Reya, at Duke University Medical Center.
During this week's GEN podcast, Dr. Wechsler-Reya, who published his findings in the August issue of Cancer Cell, explains how this knowledge may help scientists develop more rational and effective approaches to cancer treatment. Regarding the specifics of his research, Dr. Wechsler-Reya describes the type of tumor he and his colleagues worked with and how they identified the specific normal cells that led to the development of this tumor. Noting that mutating a gene is not enough to cause cancer, he further elaborates on why it is important for cancer biologists to learn more about the genes that regulate proliferation, differentiation, survival, and apoptosis in normal cells. Understanding the way these genes are controlled during normal development can shed light on how they go awry in human cancers, he maintains.
Robert Wechsler-Reya, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pharmacology & Cancer Biology at Duke University. He received his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania and did postdoctoral training at the Wistar Institute and at Stanford University. His research focuses on the cellular and molecular mechanisms that control normal development and tumor formation in the cerebellum. His previous contributions include identifying Sonic hedgehog (Shh) as the signal that controls growth of granule neuron precursors, isolating a novel population of neural stem cells in the cerebellum, and demonstrating that each of these cell types can serve as cells of origin for the childhood brain tumor medulloblastoma. Dr. Wechsler-Reya is a recipient of the Kimmel Scholar Award, the McDonnell Foundation 21st Century Award and the Society for Neuro-Oncology's Award for Excellence in Pediatrics Research.