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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Research and Practice

The faculty of the BMB Department conduct research to gain new insights into the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying normal and abnormal cellular processes, and their relevance as targets for improving health and treating disease.

Key areas of interest in the department include the study of pathways and mechanisms involved in the maintenance of genome integrity and protein homeostasis, in response to various stresses. We have a major focus on understanding the dysregulation of these processes in cancer, in reproductive and germ stem cell biology, and in aging. The biological settings in which we characterize these processes include normal physiology, bacterial and parasitic infection, cancer, neurodegenerative and other chronic diseases. Our experimental approach to these important topics is exceptionally broad, ranging from genetic engineering to live cell imaging to the study of molecules by X-ray crystallography, and likewise makes use of a range of genetically-tractable model organisms including mice, yeast, flies, and worms.     

Key research areas

Quality Control in Biology: Understanding Disease Risk at a Molecular level

Quality control in biology refers to cellular mechanisms that detect and define “damage” incurred to biological macromolecules (e.g., DNA mutation or misfolded protein) and targets them for repair and recycling, or disposal. Failure of quality control pathways is at the source of many diseases including cancer, various neurodegenerative conditions, and aging. We approach questions related to quality control at the structural, biochemical, molecular, cellular, tissue/organ, and organismic levels. This area of interest builds on historically strong areas of research in the Department, including DNA repair mechanisms and post-translational modifications of proteins, such as ubiquitination, sumoylation, and poly(ADP)-ribosylation.

Cancer biology from mechanisms to patient populations

Cancer in a leading cause of mortality in the U.S.. As a basic science department in the leading School of Public Health, BMB is uniquely positioned to not only uncover the basic underpinnings of cancer biology but connect those findings to the public health implications of the disease and perform community engagement and outreach. BMB has a long history of revealing the molecular mechanisms of cancer. Current BMB research includes studies of specific cancer types, including melanoma, colorectal, and breast cancer. We research areas such as genome integrity, cellular signaling pathways, drug resistance, and the importance of the tumor microenvironment. BMB uncovers cancer mechanisms at the molecular and cellular level and in larger contexts, such the impacts of systemic factors like age, sex, and race in the pathogenesis of cancer. BMB’s long running, NCI-funded training program includes cancer researchers from across the Schools of Public Health and Medicine.

Aging-Related Chronic Diseases

Aging-related diseases are diseases that occur at a higher frequency with increasing age. Examples include cancer, and several neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. Longer life expectancies are driving a steady rise in the overall incidence of these diseases in the U.S. and throughout the world, thus demanding novel approaches for their prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. This department has a long-standing interest in the molecular mechanisms and pathways responsible for the maintenance of tissue and cellular homeostasis in response to cytotoxic and genotoxic stress associated with aging, and in defining how the failure of these mechanisms progressively leads to overt disease. BMB has expertise in oxidative stress, inflammation biology, the role of noncoding RNAs and epigenetics, all of which play key roles in aging-related diseases.

The Reproductive and Developmental Origins of Health and Disease

We are interested in defining and characterizing the interrelationships between generic and epigenetic factors, nutrition, and the environment that influence the odds for a healthy life or, alternatively, determine the risk for childhood and adult-onset disease, and infertility. This area of interest builds on the Division of Reproductive Biology’s expertise in the areas of germ stem cell biology, gametogenesis, and fertilization. Here again, questions are approached at the biochemical, molecular, cellular, tissue/organ, and organismic levels, such that efforts under this initiative mesh naturally with other initiatives on quality control in biology, and aging-related diseases.