Epigenetics and Translational Research Program

Dr. Ian Davis
Dr. Ian Davis’s current research projects take genomic and proteomic approaches to explore the relationship between  chromatin organization, dysregulated transcription factors, and epigenetics in pediatric and adult solid tumors, in particular Ewing sarcoma and renal cell carcinoma.

Chromatin, the assembly of DNA and its associated proteins, constitutes the template for most nuclear processes, including transcription, replication and DNA damage repair. Faithful regulation of chromatin processes is central to normal cellular function and development. Transcriptional deregulation plays a critical role in the development of many cancers. Mechanisms that result in transcriptional deregulation include alterations in the expression or structure of proteins that affect transcription. Dr. Davis's lab has identified alterations in chromatin organization that underpin oncogenic transcriptional targeting.

Hematopoetic cancers and solid tumors (in particular sarcomas) frequently harbor recurrent and specific abnormalities such as chromosomal translocations and amplifications. In many of these cancers, translocation involve genes that encode transcription factors. Translocations combine features of both native genes to generate unique fused (or chimeric) genes characterized by alterations in expression and structure.

Although the importance of these gene fusions to cancer development has been clearly demonstrated, a fundamental understanding of how these changes mediate oncogenesis remains elusive. Notable examples of translocation-associated transcription factor dysregulation include the MYC or MiT basic helix-loop-helix leucine zipper families which can be amplified or translocated in a wide range of cancers including lymphoma, neuroblastoma, melanoma, pediatric renal carcinoma and clear cell sarcoma.

Dr. Ian Davis and a former post-doc discussing a recent experiment.
Similarly, ETS winged helix-turn-helix transcription factors and PAX3 or PAX7 paired box/homeodomain transcription factors are translocated in Ewing's sarcoma and alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, respectively. In each case, the abnormal transcription factor plays central role in the oncogenic process.

While it is presumed that these deregulated transcription factors mediate oncogenesis by altering target gene expression, we lack a mechanistic understanding of how dysregulation modifies the activity of these transcription factors and their participation in transcriptional networks. Furthermore, in contrast to the success of chimeric kinase inhibition, the molecular attributes of transcription factors make them challenging candidates for therapeutic modulation by small molecules.

Focusing on those classes of transcription factors strongly implicated in oncogenesis, Dr. Davis's lab employs genomic and proteomic approaches to study transcription factor targeting and gene regulation in cancer and in normal development. Through the identification of oncogenic transcriptional mechanisms and relevant transcriptional targets, they hope to develop novel biologically based therapies for these cancers.

For more information about Dr. Davis's lab, please watch the video below or click here for the Davis's Lab Recent Publications