Cancer is not one disease, but a group of more than 100 different diseases.
Researchers and doctors are finding new ways to prevent and treat cancer, but it is still common and often deadly. The American Cancer Society estimates that cancer is responsible for about 10% of deaths throughout the world, and in the US alone, half of all men and a third of all women will experience cancer during their lifetime. Some of the most common cancers are breast cancer, prostate cancer, and lung cancer. Torrey Pines Institute scientists are conducting intensive research into each of these cancers.
All cancers start when cells begin to grow out of control. Cells become cancer cells because of damage to the DNA that controls all actions inside the cell. This damage is usually enough to kill the cell, but cells that can escape death go on making new cells that the body does not need. Sometimes the cause of the DNA damage is obvious, like cigarette smoking. Cancers can also start because damaged DNA is inherited from parents, but often there is no clear cause. Cancer cells also invade other tissues, which is something that normal cells cannot do. One or two cells may also break away from the original tumor, travel around the body, and continue to grow in other tissues. These complications, called metastases, make cancer very difficult to treat.
Torrey Pines Institute scientists are at the forefront of the search for new ways to prevent and treat cancer. We have programs that are searching for new drugs that cripple essential pathways inside cancer cells. We are harnessing the power of the immune system to seek out and destroy different types of cancer. Our scientists are also leading research to understand the basic inner workings of cancer cells, so that we may find the triggers that start uncontrolled growth. All of our researchers collaborate extensively, because a breakthrough in understanding one cancer often increases our understanding of other cancers.
Principal Investigators are working on the following challenges in the area of Cancer:
- Discovering ways to boost our natural immunity, using vaccines that train our immune cells to kill cancer cells, or to damage the blood vessels that sustain growth of tumors.
- Understanding how cancer cells move around the body to form metastases, and how this can be targeted with new therapies.
- Discovering new drugs that kill cancer cells by interfering with critical pathways inside the cells and making them sensitive to therapy.
- Understanding the relationship between obesity and cancer, and discovering how fats in the bloodstream can protect cancer cells from our immune system.
- Discovering how cancer can develop from ‘stem cells’ that can keep dividing when most other cancer cells have been destroyed.
- Developing strategies to deliver therapeutic genes to tumors.