Coming together to understand—and stop—the genetic causes of cancer

MasatoAnja BelinskyResearch discoveries rarely happen in a vacuum. That’s why cancer researchers at the U are continually learning about the latest breakthroughs in their fields--both from each other and from scientists across the nation.

Minnesota Masonic Charities helps bring these high-powered collaborations to life by supporting the Masonic Cancer Center’s Genetic Mechanisms Research Program.

Led by Anja Bielinsky, Ph.D., and Masato Yamamoto, M.D., Ph.D., the program aims to define and understand the genetic changes that occur during cancer development, including specific changes that drive tumor initiation and progression, and influence cancer susceptibility. It also aims to develop novel therapeutics that target these genetic changes.

While the COVID-19 pandemic put a hold on the in-person activities that the Genetic Mechanisms Research Program had hosted in previous years, a silver lining for the program is that more members participated in virtual meetings than had previously joined in-person, sparking new collaborations and momentum. This included researchers from the University's Hormel Institute in Austin, Minnesota, who have significant expertise in the causes of cancer. Collaborations between program members also led to a phase 1 clinical trial on an immunotherapy for metastatic GI cancers that Branden Moriarity is leading in collaboration with a bioscience company, and to Yamamoto's development of a clinical-grade 'smart virus' that selectively kills pancreatic cancer cells, which will soon be tested in a phase 1 trial.

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