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College of Graduate Studies

Cancer Biology

Dennis K. Watson, Ph.D. - Division Director

Areas of Research Interest

  • Apoptosis
  • Angiogenesis
  • Migration and Invasion
  • Metastasis
  • Tumor Microenvironment
  • Molecular Profiling
  • Immunotherapy
  • Gene Therapy
  • Small Molecule Intervention

The Cancer Biology Program, an interdisciplinary program leading to a Ph.D degree, was established in 2001 to provide students with training in diverse areas of cancer biology research. Cancer is a multi-step disease resulting from a series of genetic and epigenetic changes that abrogate normal cellular controls. The goal of the program is to develop within each student the approach to scientific thought founded upon basic molecular biology relevant to cancer needed for original research as an independent investigator in cancer biology.

The Cancer Biology Program is composed of MUSC faculty whose interests include basic studies in molecular biology, biochemistry, genetics, cell biology and immunology to translational research focused on problems of immediate clinical applicability. The Cancer Biology curriculum provides an overview of cancer biology and allows students the opportunity to pursue research under faculty mentors who conduct research relevant to understanding the molecular or cellular basis of any aspect of the cause, characteristics and treatment of cancer. Thus, the Cancer Biology Program provides research opportunities in many areas of Cancer Biology including Functional Genetics, Molecular Biology of Cancer, Experimental Therapeutics and Cancer Immunology. Students are encouraged to use the resources and expertise of several laboratories during the development of their cancer related dissertation projects, providing an enhanced experience that increases the expertise and competitiveness of our graduates. Successful students complete a publishable research project under a faculty mentor and present the research as a thesis.

Cancer Biology Course Descriptions

MCBP-725D Topics in Cancer Research
Selected topics will be presented by individual students in Journal Club style. Students will present selected papers 2 times during the course and will be active discussants when other students are presenting.
Recent topics previously covered include:

Tumor metastasis Suppressor Genes
Oxidative stress and cancer
Cancer progenitor cells & drug resistance
VEGF, angiogenesis and lymphangiogenesis
Inflammation and cancer

Bone marrow derived cells
Tumor microenvironmentRTK-targeted therapies
Immune Evasion and Tumor Immunology
MAK Kinases
Apoptosis and mitochondrial fission/fusion
Transgenic and Knockout Analysis

Prerequisites: None.
Credits: 3 (Pass/Fail)
Rosenzweig and Watson

PCOL-725 Advanced topics in Cell Signaling
The vast majority of human diseases involve defects in cellular communication and therapeutic intervention often targets molecules involved in cell signaling. This course will dissect signaling cascades and their alterations in disease states addressing cutting edge issues. The course will be offered each Fall with the theme rotating among three broad topics: Cell Signaling in the Cardiovascular System, Cell Signaling in Cancer, Cell Signaling in the Nervous System. Specific diseases under these broader categories will be selected by faculty or students and then each disease will be dissected by one of the course participants (oral/written) to understand how signaling events are affected, how signaling dysfunction contributes to the onset or progression of the disease and how signaling events might be targeted in a therapeutic attack on the disease. The course is intended for advanced graduate and postgraduate students and will be coordinated with the Cell-Signaling Seminar Series (organized through the Department of Pharmacology) held each Fall, thus allowing seminar speakers to participate in the course.
Prerequisites: None.
Credits: 3

BMB-605B Mechanisms of Cancer Pathogenesis
Prerequisties: None
Credits: 3
Dr. Tilman Heise

MBIM 716 Development of Molecular Cancer Therapies: From Bench to Bedside
This course is organized into 7 sections (1) Introduction to cancer causation, initiation, molecular basis, and genetics; (2) Cancer molecular pathology and diagnosis; (3) Cancer imaging; (4) Immunology of cancer; (5) Drug therapy; (6) Cancer epidemiology, prevention and control; (7) Translational reserch
Credits: 2
Tew and Norris

MCBP 748/BMB 748 Lipids in Pathobiology

This multidisciplinary course addresses biochemical, applied, and translational approaches to the study of lipids.  The course is composed of three main sections: lipid biosynthesis, lipid signaling, and lipids and disease.  The first section is a comprehensive treatment of nomenclature and synthesis of major lipid classes including glycerophospholipids, sphingolipids, and sterols, as well as methodology for lipid study.  The second section addresses roles of bioactive members of these lipid classes in regulation of cell signaling and downstream events.  The third section is largely translational, with many lectures on human diseases that involve the lipids and signaling pathways discussed.  This course contains a brief hands-on laboratory segment.    This course is open this to graduate students, residents, postdocs, and third and fourth medical students.
Credits: 3
Director:  Samar M. Hammad (Co-Director:  Ashley Cowart)
Offered every two years in the Spring

PATH-792 Anatomy, Histology and Histopathology of the Laboratory Mouse
This course is offered as an elective course during the first three weeks of the summer semester. The anatomy, histology, and histopathology of the laboratory mouse will be presented. Emphasis will be placed on differences between human and mouse so future investigators who may use a mouse model of human disease will understand approaches to developing new modes as well as limitations of a given model. Lectures will present anatomy, histology, basic principles of pathobiology and unique mouse pathology. Lab sessions will be used to demonstrate the proper way to perform a pathological examination on properly euthanized animals. Tutorials using glass and virtual slides will be included. Students will learn and execute a necropsy (term for post-mortem examination in veterinary medicine) of the mouse. Two Genetically Engineered Mouse (GEM) models will be introduced by Drs. Awgulewitsch and Spyropoulos at the end of the course to reinforce the significance of understanding differences between mouse and human anatomy, histology, and pathology. Due to the brevity of the course, only a limited number of pathological entities will be included. 3 credit hours. Prerequisite: PATH 789, Graduate Histology: Introduction to Pathology, or CELL 609: Medical Histology, or by permission of the course directors.
Robert W. Olilvie, Ph.D. (, Kristi L. Helke, DVM, Ph.D. (

Cancer Biology Faculty

Alexander Awgulewitsch, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Transgenic mouse models for skin cancer and the role of Hox genes in skin development & cancer

Craig Beeson, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of Drug Discovery & Biomedical Sciences
Development of topoisomerase I inhibitors

Narayan R. Bhat, Ph.D.
Department of Neurology
Growth factor signaling and gliomagenesis

David J. Cole, M.D.
Department of Surgery
Mechanisms of T-cell recognition of tumor antigens to translate into ongoing clinical cancer vaccine/gene therapy trials

L. Ashley Cowart, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Biochemistry and Molecular Biology 
Role of sphingolipids in diabetic cardiomyopathy

Stephen Ethier, Ph.D.
Professor, Endowed Chair
Pathology & Laboratory Medicine 
Primary Specialty: Breast Cancer; Cancer Genetics/Genomics, Signal Transduction

Weiman Fan, M.D., M.P.H.
Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
Molecular Oncology, experimental therapeutics, and tumor growth regulation

Sebastiano Gattoni-Celli, M.D.
Radiation Oncology
Immunotherapy of cancer

Monika Gooz, M.D., Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of Medicine
Role of ADAMs in tumorigenesis

Stanley R. Hoffman, Ph.D.
Function of specific ECM proteins and MMP's in metastasis & tumaor angiogenesis

Philip H. Howe, Ph.D.
Professor and Chair
Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Signaling pathways activated by TGFB1 and Wnt and their potential cross-talk in cellular models of differentiation and cancer

Jennifer Isaacs, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Dept of Pharmacology
 Role of cancer secreted chaperones as mediators of tumor promotion and metastasis

Michael Kern, Ph.D.
Department of Regenerative Medicine & Cell Biology
Target genes of homeobox transcription factors in cancer: microarrays and beyond.

Keith Kirkwood, Ph.D.
Associate Dean for Research
College of Dental Medicine
Head and Neck Cancer Progression

Dhandapani Kuppuswamy, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of Medicine, Division of Cardiology
Use terminally differentiated cardiac cells to identify factors that could negatively influence cancer cell growth

Robin C. Muise-Helmericks, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Regenerative Medicine and Cell Biology
Hollings Cancer Institute
Role of the Ets family of transcription factors in angiogenesis and lymphoid development


Anna-Liisa Nieminen, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Sciences
Mechanisms of photodynamic therapy, Thiol-dependent sensitization of tumors to hypoxic cell killing

James S. Norris, Ph.D.
Microbiology & Immunology
Apoptosis & apoptosis signaling, bystander effect, ceramide, combined chemotherapy-gene therapy, and apoptosis inducing gene FasL, TRAIL, & BAX

Besim Ogretmen, Ph.D.
Department of Biochemistry
Regulation of telomerase and roles of sphingolipids in cancer chemotherapy

Visu Palanisamy Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Craniofacial Biology
Regulation of mRNA stability mechanisms in oral cancer

Chandrakala Puligilla, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Pathology & Laboratory Medicine
Molecular Induction, Cellular Fate Specification and Patterning of the Mammalian Auditory System

Sakamuri V. Reddy, Ph.D.
To understand normal and pathologic bone remodeling with a focus on osteoclast and osteoblast cell development/function in the bone microenvironment

Steven A. Rosenzweig, Ph.D.
Cell and Molecular Pharmacology
Tumorigenesis, angiogenesis, hypoxia-inducible factor, IGF-binding proteins, receptor tyrosine kinases, and protein:protein interactions

Mark Rubinstein, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Surgery
Immunotherapy aproaches for cancer therapy

Natalie A. Sutkowski, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Microbiology & Immunology
Viral-associated head and neck cancers

Eleanor K. Spicer, Ph.D.
Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Post-transcriptional regulation of human bcl-2 expression

Demetri D. Spyropoulos, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of Medicine
Lymphoid, breast, bladder, prostate, & colon cancer

Stephen Tomlinson, Ph.D.
Microbiology & Immunology
Role of complement & complement inhibitors in tumorigenesis and immune response to cancer

Christina Voelkel-Johnson, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Microbiology and Immunology
Apoptotic signaling and resistance mechanisms, metastasis, cancer therapy

Dennis K. Watson, Ph.D.
Laboratory of Cancer Genomics
Pathology & Laboratory Medicine
Mechanisms of cancer initiation, progression, and metastasis

Elizabeth Yeh, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Cell and Molecular Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics
Breast Cancer, Apoptosis, Autophagy

M. Rita I. Young, Ph.D.
Professor of Medicine
Department of Hematology Oncology
Cancer motility, Angiogenesis, Imunotherapy


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