Big Ideas

Wenjun Guo, Ph.D.

Cancer develops after a breakdown in normal cell biology. It’s a wrong turn going 100 mph. Our funded doctors are on a mission to stop cancer and to prevent it from driving into other parts of the body. Because science is progressing so rapidly and new technologies are constantly being developed, we know more about the genetics of cancer than ever before. We’ve found mutations that help some cancers to develop, and we’ve found mutations that help some cancers survive traditional treatments. We’ve also learned some mutations are simply bystanders; they don’t push anything off course within the body, but they do exist.

Wenjun Guo, Ph.D., from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, is a V-funded scientist exploring which mutations in breast cancer are important and which are bystanders. Determining this helps us know which mutations to target in treatment. Guo received a 2014 V Scholar Grant, a two-year award to fund young scientists early in their careers. In 2016, through a V Scholar Plus Grant for exceptional scholars, he received an additional year of funding for the same study.

Once researchers can isolate the ones to target, therapeutics can be developed to address those mutations.

“Cancer is devastating. There is an importance here in terms of how it really develops. That’s the driving force,” Guo explained. “We’ve found new genes – some of them promote breast cancer formation, and some of them form metastases. So we’re taking breast stem cells and growing them, manipulating them and putting them back into animal models. This allows us to study how they promote progressions in tumors. If we can unravel the novel mechanisms of breast cancer development, it will help us treat patients with those mutations.”

Determining how – and even if – mutations are playing a role in cancer is key. Once researchers can isolate the ones to target, therapeutics can be developed to address those mutations.

“[In this study], we’ve only tested in pre-clinical models. If we see a dramatic efficacy, we could initiate clinical trials in a few years,” Guo said.

Genes have a very important job – they make us who we are. But sometimes our genes go off track, allowing cancers to develop or to spread. Determining which genes promote growth and which are harmless will allow a targeted approach to treating cancers. Guo and his team are working toward those answers, and with success, better treatment options for those living with cancer.