T32 – Targeting Tumor Cell Biology Program – About

The T32 training program in Cancer Biology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute was first awarded in 1979, and over the past 36 years has grown and evolved along with the Institute.  At this time, this program serves as the basic science training vehicle for the NCI’s largest Comprehensive Cancer Center, the DFHCC (Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center).

The research conducted at DFHCC has led to substantial contributions in the field on oncology therapeutics, such as Gleevec, Iressa, Herceptin and Avastin.  DFHCC is composed of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School, the Harvard School of Public Health, and the four major teaching hospitals in the greater Boston area: Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital and Boston Children’s Hospital.

DFHCC is organized into a matrix of ten disease and eight discipline-based programs allowing trainees in our T32 Targeting Tumor Cell Biology Training Program to be exposed to a wide variety of oncology disciplines.  Our basic scientists fall into one of two discipline-based programs, Cancer Cell Biology or Cancer Genetics.  These organizational relationships foster interaction and collaboration between basic scientists, clinicians and population scientists that have led to shared grants, collaborative research leading to publications together, and joint symposium and retreats.

Our T32 training program Targeting Tumor Cell Biology embeds basic scientists into the disease-based programs of a working Cancer Center, and provides funding support and training in essential laboratory and analytic skills, and in career skills necessary for success. This approach provides the motivation for young scientists to address the cancer problem and an understanding of the complexities of human cancer biology, together with training in developing and deploying cutting edge science. Future scientists also require specialized preparation in career skills, including scientific writing and presentations, laboratory management, teaching, responsible conduct of research, and the regulatory needs for drug development. The DFHCC provides this needed mixture of a working Cancer Center, an outstanding scientific environment, and dedicated career mentoring.

Our trainees at the predoctoral level are encouraged to enroll in the Cancer Biology training track, a program of courses at Harvard Medical School specifically focused on cancer biology.  These courses cover the Cell Biology of cancer cells including: the molecular basis of cellular compartmentalization, protein trafficking, cytoskeleton dynamics, mitosis, cell locomotion, cell cycle regulation, signal transduction, cell-cell interaction, and the cellular and biochemical basis of diseases. The Molecular and Systems level cancer course covers novel molecular and systems-level approaches to cancer cell biology, including: identifying alterations in cell cycle machinery, functional genomics, proteomics, interactomics, chemical biology, and systems biology.  Biology of the Cancer Cell examines the molecular basis of human cancer including: cancer epigenetics, alterations in DNA repair, tumor suppressors and oncogenes, cancer cell signaling, metabolism, angiogenesis, and heterogeneity.  Students also receive training in Human Pathology with emphasis on mechanisms of disease and modern diagnostic technologies. The course contains integrated lectures, labs, and a student-driven term project leading to formal presentation on a medical, socioeconomic, or technological issue in human pathology.  Students are also able to take additional elective courses in a variety of disciplines including proteomics, bioinformatics, immunology, tumor metabolism, human genetics or chemical biology.  This gives our predoctoral trainees exposure to the wide variety of fields of investigation of cancer biology.

Postdoctoral trainees are welcome to sit in on any graduate student courses offered at Harvard Medical School.  Additional support for postdoctoral Fellows can be obtained through the Dana-Farber Postdoc and Graduate Student Affairs Office (PGSAO).  The office runs a series of programs and events on career building and resume writing, networking, how to apply for grant funding, manuscript writing, intellectual property and technology transfer, mentoring and teaching.  Confidential guidance and career consultation is available from the faculty directors.  The annual PGSAO retreat allows trainees to present their research in a poster, and the monthly Brain Lunch event gives trainees an opportunity to practice that all-important job talk and receive feedback on their performance.  The office also runs the Responsible Conduct of Research course, which is mandatory for all of our T32 trainees.  This course covers scientific misconduct, running a lab, mentoring trainees, plagiarism, peer review and responsible authorship, and collaborative research.

Our trainees are also encouraged to participate in the wide variety of seminars and symposia on offer at Harvard Medical School and beyond.  The Seminars in Oncology series showcase a prominent external cancer biology investigator from around the world, and once a month this investigator is from DFHCC. Students are assigned a series of papers from a selected speaker and go to lunch with them for follow-up questions on their work.  The DFHCC Swerling Lectures are hosted annually at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.  Three world-renowned speakers within a defined field of expertise are invited to give a lecture. Following three presentations in the same afternoon, there is a reception and dinner for the Lecturers. Before and after the lectures, time is set aside for speaking individually to DFCI students and faculty and to the greater scientific community at Harvard Medical School.  For trainees considering an industry career, the Pipelines in Oncology seminar series provides an opportunity to interact one-on-one with these leaders in oncology.  This series features oncology program leaders from industry discussing promising projects and products in their oncology portfolio, with a focus on the rationale for choosing to develop new clinical candidates. During the visit, postdoctoral trainees can sign up to meet one on one with these leaders in oncology. In the past year, eight leaders in Oncology from companies including Novartis, Bristol-Meyers-Squibb, Onyx Pharmaceuticals, and Micromet have presented in this series.

At the level of academic departments and graduate programs, there are retreats and poster sessions that draw students, postdocs and their mentors from all of DFHCC. These include (annually) the BBS Program retreat on Cape Cod, the BBS Poster Session in the Warren Building and the Division of Medical Sciences Picnic. These large gatherings invite graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty across departmental and hospital boundaries. Training grant mentors Andrea McClatchey and David Kwiatkowski lead the DFHCC Programs in Cancer Cell Biology and Cancer Genetics. As Program leaders Andrea and David work hard to create a sense of community for our trainees in DFHCC and to foster long-term commitment to cancer research. Each year, the two of them organize retreats, often with a Disease-based Program. The curriculum fellow for the Cancer Biology Area of Concentration/Landry consortium, Megan Mittelstadt facilitates monthly, informal meetings for trainees and faculty, and a program specific spring symposium. A recent addition to our Cancer Biology Training Program is the Biannual Symposium for active trainees. This event brings trainees and mentors together to present on their projects and research developments.

Interested in becoming a trainee? To be eligible for trainee funding, you must be either a US citizen, or a US permanent resident. We are particularly interested in prospective postdoctoral trainees who have published in top-tier journals and recent productive graduates. Prospective predoctoral trainees must have already joined the laboratory of one of our training grant mentors, and have passed their PQE. We will give preference to those students who have chosen the Cancer Biology Training Track for their graduate work. Funding is provided to predoctoral students for 3 years, or until graduation whichever is soonest.

Please have your mentor enquire on your behalf here. You will need to submit a copy of your CV, a description of your planned research project, your mentor’s Other Support information, and a letter of support from your mentor when you are invited to apply.

Training slots are for 3 years; reappointment to the Training Grant is not automatic. Current trainees must reapply each year for continued support.

Highlighted Trainee Project


This picture is a representative image of a metaphase spread with sister chromatid exchanges after exposure to mitomycin C. The number of sister chromatid exchanges represents the homologous recombination repair frequency in the cell. In this assay, one sister chromatid is stained light gray while the other sister chromatid is stained dark gray. Sister chromatid exchanges are depicted as a checkered pattern of alternating light and dark gray on one sister chromatid. Loss of DNA repair proteins or exposure to various DNA damaging agents can alter the frequency of sister chromatid exchanges indicating changes in homologous recombination repair frequency.

Amie Holmes, PhD