Talk #106, 10/19/16

Tumor Heterogeneity: the “Imprecision” in “Precision Medicine”

Dr. Geoffrey M. Wahl
Professor, Gene Expression Laboratory
Daniel and Martina Lewis Chair
The Salk Institute
Past President, American Association for Cancer Research


Geoffrey M. Wahl, the Daniel and Martina Lewis Chair, is a professor in the Gene Expression Laboratory, an adjunct professor at the University of California, San Diego in the Department of Biology, and a past- president of the American Association for Cancer Research (2006-2007).

Three cancer relevant projects are currently being pursued in the Wahl lab. The first project focuses on developing technologies for identifying drugs able to disrupt cancer pathways by interfering with specific protein interactions. As most cellular functions require molecular machines comprising multiple proteins, having strategies to rapidly identify molecules that destabilize protein interactions presents a huge opportunity for developing new classes of therapeutic agents.

The second project involves pancreatic cancer, a deadly cancer with a five year survival rate of only 5%. This project involves a collaboration with the labs of Salk professors Tony Hunter and Ron Evans to attack one of the most difficult challenges presented by pancreatic cancers: dissolving the protective meshwork that encases them and that prevents therapies from getting to the cancer cells. The goal of this work is to develop strategies to reduce the protective layer to the extent necessary to enable more effective drug treatments to be implemented, and to use molecular, cellular, and bioinformatic approaches to derive more effective therapeutic strategies.

The third project deals with breast cancer and, specifically, the cells that either originate or contribute to the development of some of the most lethal forms of breast cancer. The Wahl lab isolated and characterized the stem cells that are generated in the embryo and that are destined to form the mammary gland of the adult. They found that the genes expressed in these normal embryonic breast stem cells are also present in some of the most lethal human breast cancers. The lab is now interrogating these cells to develop probes for early diagnosis and to generate new personalized therapeutic strategies for cancers where no such approaches currently exist.

Dr. Wahl’s presentation can be found at the following link:

Tumor Heterogeneity: the “Imprecision” in “Precision Medicine”

Here is a link to an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune that highlights the human side of Prof. Wahl’s research:  his team includes a breast cancer survivor/patient.