Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University
Polsky Urologic Cancer Institute

Research

The world-class team of scientists at the Polsky Urologic Cancer Institute are working to drive breakthroughs in treatment and accelerate new discoveries. We strive to change the course of therapeutic developments and redefine treatment options, lead the way in translational and biotechnological research, launch innovative clinical trials that provide patients with early access to the most advanced treatments and enhance the training and education of leaders in the field.

Our Research

 Sarki Abdulkadir Research Program

Studying the mechanisms of prostate cancer initiation, progression and recurrence and strategies to therapeutically target these processes

Research Description

Our laboratory focuses on understanding the molecular mechanisms that drive prostate cancer initiation, progression and recurrence with the ultimate goal of developing therapeutic strategies that target these processes. Our approach includes the genomic analysis of human tumors, cell culture studies and the use of genetically engineered mouse models. We have a strong interest in genomics and gene regulation, oncogenic kinases as potential molecular therapeutic targets and the use of in vivo lineage tracing to define the fates of specific cell populations in tumorigenesis.

Specific projects include:

The role of the oncogenic serine/threonine kinase PIM1 in prostate cancer - PIM1 is coexpressed with c-MYC and dramatically enhances c-MYC-driven prostate tumorigenesis in a kinase-dependent manner. Notably, PIM1 is induced in tumors by hypoxia, radiation and treatment with docetaxel, a common but largely ineffective option for patients with advanced castration-resistant prostate cancer. PIM1 induction by hypoxia/radiation/docetaxel promotes prostate cancer cell survival and therapeutic resistance. Therefore, PIM1 may represent a valuable therapeutic target in prostate cancer. We are using new mouse models of prostate cancer for testing the efficacy of novel PIM1 kinase inhibitors in treating prostate cancer and reversing therapeutic resistance. We have also identified novel candidate PIM1-interacting proteins in prostate epithelial cells. Among the proteins identified are a MYC transcriptional cofactor and a prostate stem cell marker/regulator. We are investigating how PIM1 promotes prostate tumorigenesis by phosphorylating these substrates involved in regulating MYC transcriptional activity and stem cell function.

Cellular and molecular determinants of prostate cancer recurrence - A major clinical problem in prostate cancer is that of tumor recurrence following initial apparently successful therapy. Recurrent tumors may arise from a small number of "cancer stem-like cells" that survive the initial therapeutic intervention and have the capacity to regenerate the tumor. We are using lineage tracing to examine the competence of specific prostate epithelial cell types to regenerate tumors following therapy in mice.

Targeting lethal prostate cancer – We are using our mouse model of lethal prostate cancer based on alterations in Myc, Pten and Tp53 to develop new targeted therapies. One current project involves the targeting of EphB4 receptor tyrosine kinase using an antagonist as a therapeutic strategy.

For more information, see Dr. Abdulkadir's faculty profile.

Publications

See Dr. Abdulkadir's publications in PubMed.

Staff Listing

Meejeon Roh—Research Assistant Professor
Yvonne Feeney—Lab Manager
Younga Yoo—Postdoc
Tanushri Sengupta—Research Associate
Kenji Unno—Research Associate
Rose Njoroge—Graduate Student
Rajita Vatapalli—Graduate Student

Contact Us

Dr. Abdulkadir
Lab Telephone: 312-503-5031

 Qi Cao Research Program

Identifying novel molecular therapeutic targets for advanced prostate cancer

Research Description

Polycomb group (PcG) proteins help to regulate gene expression in normal cells. Research shows that this family of proteins is associated with prostate cancer initiation, disease progression and metastasis. The Cao lab is particularly interested EZH2, a specific protein within the PcG family. The lab’s previous research identified EZH2 as a biomarker for aggressive breast cancer as well as characterized EZH2 as an oncogene which represses multiple tumor suppressors in breast and prostate cancer.  This work has demonstrated EZH2 as a valuable therapeutic target in cancer, and several pharmaceutical companies are developing EZH2- or BMI1- specific inhibitors for cancer therapy.

The Cao lab is also working to identify miRNAs targeting Polycomb group proteins and other oncogenes in cancer. Using bioinformatics, they identified the miRNAs, which target EZH2, EED, BMI1, and RING1B, in cancer. This research suggested that genomic loss of miR-101 leads to the overexpression of EZH2 in cancer. In addition, PRC2 complex represses a set of miRNAs, including miR-181a,b, miR-200b,c and miR-203, which, in turn, repress BMI1 and RING1B. In advanced cancer, loss or epigenetic repression of these miRNAs leads to upregulation of PRC1 proteins BMI1 and RING1B, epithelial-mesenchymal transition regulators ZEB1 and ZEB2, and histone methyltransferase MMSET. This study suggests these miRNAs may serves as therapeutic targets for advanced cancer patients.

For more information, see the faculty profile of Qi Cao, PhD.

 William Catalona Research Program

Investigating genetic insights into the causes of prostate cancer and its possible treatments and cures

Research Description

For more than 25 years, Dr. Catalona’s research has contributed significantly to the areas of early detection, treatment and cures for prostate cancer. His research aims to provide genetic insights into the causes of prostate cancer. He has discovered several new regions of the human genome statistically associated with prostate cancer. His current research is studying genetic variants associated with aggressive disease in men enrolled in active surveillance protocols from around the country.

Dr. Catalona is also the PI of the Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE) in prostate cancer; one of only eight in the country. This is a multidisciplinary NCI project in prostate cancer translational research.  The overall goals of the SPORE are to investigate: cell and molecular biology of prostate cancer, prevention and risk factors in prostate cancer development; innovative therapeutics and rehabilitation; and quality of life and outcomes research. 

Publications

 Shilajit Kundu Research Program

Prospectively studying quality of life outcomes in patients with urologic cancers

Research Description

Dr. Kundu has successfully conducted and published on prospective evaluations of patients with urologic cancers including prostate, bladder, kidney and testicular cancer. He has found that the impact of cancer treatment goes beyond physical limitations associated with treatment. His current research aims to understand the complexities associated with patient expectations. This includes balancing factors associated with patient satisfaction including patient personality, the physician-patient relationship, information-processing style, and a comforting experience with healthcare environment.

Select Publications

 Joshua Meeks Research Program

Investigating genetic and epigenetic changes in bladder cancer, as well as immuno-oncology in bladder cancer

Research Description

Dr. Meeks’ group focuses on development, progression, and treatment of urothelial carcinoma. Using both murine models and translational approaches, the Meeks lab studies genetic and epigenetic changes, focusing on chromatin remodeling genes and genomic instability, integrating molecular biology and bioinformatics approaches. The Meeks lab also investigates immuno-oncology in bladder cancer, studying the immune response to urothelial carcinoma and manipulation of immune checkpoints to improve outcomes for patients. 

Select Publications

Refer to PubMed for a full list of publications. 

Email Dr Meeks

Phone 312-695-8146

 Alicia Morgans Research Program

Researching patient reported outcomes in prostate cancer patients

Research Description

Alicia Morgans, MD, MPH

Morgans is a medical oncologist and clinical investigator specializing in the treatment of genitourinary malignancies and in researching patient reported outcomes and complications of systemic therapy for prostate cancer survivors. Her work has included the study of patient reported complications, as well as skeletal, cardiovascular, diabetic, and cognitive complications of prostate cancer survivorship. She is currently investigating shared decision-making practices among men with metastatic prostate cancer in an effort to improve patient decision satisfaction and health outcomes through patient empowerment when making treatment decisions.

For more information, see the faculty profile of Alicia Morgans, MD, MPH.

Select Publications

 

 Adam Murphy Research Program

Studying the biologic and environmental sources of health disparities in prostate cancer

Research Description

Dr. Murphy's group investigates etiologies and modifiable risk factors for health disparities in prostate cancer. They study the biological and environmental mediators of serum vitamin D deficiency and prostate cancer risk. Dr. Murphy's group also assesses the role of HIV infection on the incidence and treatment of prostate cancer. Finally, they evaluate barriers of prostate cancer screening for African American men using community-based participatory research methods.

For more information, see the faculty profile of Adam B Murphy, MD, MBA.

Research Coordinators

Michael Dixon, Pooja Gogana

Publications

For a complete list of publications, refer to Northwestern Scholars.

 Edward Schaeffer Research Program

Concentrating on the prostate with an emphasis on diagnosis and treatment outcomes, the molecular biology of lethal prostate cancer and populations at risk for aggressive, lethal disease

Research Description

Molecular biology of prostate development and prostatic disease: Dr. Schaeffer’s most basic research has focused on striking similarities between the invasive, growth charged phases of prostatic development and prostatic diseases. With this work, Dr. Ted Schaeffer proposed the concept that the lineage of a prostate epithelial cell is established early, upon exposure to androgen, and that this lineage affects subsequent re-activation of embryonic growth pathways in pathologic prostatic conditions including BPH and prostate cancer.  This body of work has resulted in an international recognition as a prostate embryologist and established the paradigm of “lineage addiction” of the prostate epithelial cell to androgen signaling.  

Clinical and molecular biology of high risk prostate cancer: Dr. Schaeffer’s clinical and molecular work has brought international recognition to the previously under appreciated observation that aggressive (high risk), localized prostate cancer is frequently lethal and often undertreated. His research  on the clinical-biologic features of men with high risk disease and the molecular underpinnings driving prostate cancers with lethal potential, has had a major impact on our understanding of the disease. His work has defined a new subset of the particularly lethal cancer, outlined the molecular basis driving them and begun to lead clinical trials designed to improve the oncologic outcomes for these men.

The impact of race on the biology of prostate cancer: African American men with prostate cancer are twice as likely to develop metastasis and die of the disease than Caucasian men. The reasons underlying this had been poorly understood however, Dr. Schaeffer’s work on this topic has revealed multiple first in field discoveries on biologic differences in prostate cancers in men of African descent. He has demonstrated a more aggressive biologic subset of cancers in African American men. Several of his teams discoveries include: (1) distinctive anatomic locations of African American tumors, (2) molecular expression signatures of African American cancers that demonstrate decreased reliance on androgen signaling, (3) novel solid tumor gene fusions and (4) divergent biomarkers panels signaling aggressive disease. His work has culminated with over 10 publications on this topic in the last several years including two publications in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. 

For more information, see the faculty profile of Edward Schaeffer, MD/PhD

Select Publications

Dr. Schaeffer's clinical and scientific focus is in prostate cancer, with an emphasis on at-risk populations, diagnosis, treatment outcomes, and the molecular biology of lethal prostate cancer. With over 225 publications, his discoveries in this field have resulted in defining manuscripts that have altered the basic scientific understanding of prostate cancer and have changed clinical care pathways.

Refer to PubMed for a full list of publications. 

 Jennifer Wu Research Program

Understanding the mechanisms of cancer immune evasion and development of novel immune therapy

Research Description

Dr. Wu's research focuses on understanding the very fundamental questions of cancer development and progression with the ultimate goal to translate our knowledge into clinics. Dr. Wu’s laboratory is interested in specific aspects of Onco-immune interaction and cancer biology:

  1. Mechanisms of cancer immune evasion and development of novel cancer immunotherapy with specific focus on the NKG2D signaling pathways
  2. Inflammation and cancer with focus on understanding the role of the proinflammatory cytokine IL-6 in cancer initiation and progression
  3. Cancer biomarker discovery with focus on identifying biomarkers to distinguish progressive vs. indolent prostate cancer and to biomarkers to predict cancer patients at large who will be the better responders to immune checkpoint therapy

For more information please view the faculty profile of Jennifer Wu, PhD.

Recent Publications

View a full list of publications by Jennifer Wu at PubMed

Contact Us

Email Jennifer Wu, or phone at 312-503-1521

 Jindan Yu Research Program

Understanding the genetic and epigenetic pathways to prostate cancer.

The Yu lab focuses on cancer genomics and translational cancer research.  At the current stage, our primary research interest is to understand aberrant transcriptional and epigenetic regulation of prostate cancer and to translate such knowledge into clinical applications.  We utilize high-throughput genomic techniques in combination with bioinformatics/statistical analysis to generate testable hypothesis.   We then test these hypotheses using traditional molecular and/or cellular biological approaches and examine the functional relevance of these innovative regulatory pathways in vitro and in vivo using cell lines and mouse models.  Based on the genetic and epigenetic underpinning of the disease, we pursue translational research to develop new biomarkers and novel therapeutics strategies for advanced prostate cancer.

Select Publications

Kim J, Lee Y, Lu X, Song B, Fong KW, Cao Q, Licht JD, Zhao JC, Yu J.  Polycomb- and Methylation-Independent Roles of EZH2 as a Transcription Activator.  Cell Reports. 2018 Dec 04. PMID: 30517868

Fong KW, Zhao JC, Song B, Zheng B, Yu J.  TRIM28 protects TRIM24 from SPOP-mediated degradation and promotes prostate cancer progression.  Nat Commun. 2018 Nov 27. PMID: 30479348

Fong KW, Zhao JC, Kim J, Li S, Yang YA, Song B, Rittie L, Hu M, Yang X, Perbal B, Yu JPolycomb-mediated disruption of an androgen receptor feedback loop drives castration-resistant prostate cancer.  CancerRes. 2016 Nov 4. PMID: 27815387

View all lab publications via PubMed.

For more information, visit the faculty profile page of Jindan Yu, MD/PhD or visit the Yu Laboratory website.

Contact Us

Contact Dr. Yu at 312-503-2980 or the Yu Lab at 312-503-3041.

Lab Staff

Will Ka-Wing Fong
Research Assistant Professor

Jonathan Zhao, MD, MS
Research Associate Professor

Nathan Damaschke, PhD
Postdoctoral Fellow

Yongik Lee, PhD
Postdoctoral Fellow

Xiaodong Lu, PhD
Postdoctoral Fellow

Gang Zhen, PhD
Postdoctoral Fellow

Xiaoyan Zhu, PhD
Postdoctoral Fellow

Galina Gritsina
Graduate Student

Kevin Park
Graduate Student

Rakshitha Jagadish
Masters Student

 

 

Core Resources

Scientists associated with our institute have access to all of the services, tools and facilities of the Feinberg School of Medicine and the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. Visit the links below to learn more.

Lurie Cancer Center Shared ResourcesFeinberg Research Cores

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