Metastasis, Precision medicine
Professor Lees investigates genes that influence cancer development and progression, with particular focus on regulators that control stem cell function.
Acquisition and maintenance of stem cell properties are a crucial hallmark of cancer cells and thus represents core vulnerabilities for cancer treatment. The Lees Laboratory investigates regulators that play important roles in cancer development and progression, particularly ones that influence stem cell function. The lab investigates the molecular mechanisms by which these regulators act, their roles in normal vertebrate development, and how changes in their activity influences tumor development, progression and metastasis, using cell lines and genetically engineered mouse and zebrafish models.
A major area of study are two epigenetic regulators, BMI1 and PRMT5, which are important for stemness and strongly implicated in a broad array of human tumor types. In particular, we are investigating how inactivation of BMI1 or PRMT5 impacts lung, colon and pancreatic cancer, and dissecting mechanisms of acquired resistance. Another Lees lab project investigates how primary cilia promote stemness of stem cells and cancer cells of the breast. Additionally, we are identifying genes that enable the development and progression of uveal melanoma, the most common adult eye tumor. For all of these projects, our goal is to identify regulators that are potential targets for cancer treatment.
Jacqueline A. Lees is director of the MIT Stem Cell Initiative, associate director of the Koch Institute at MIT, associate head of the Department of Biology and associate dean in the MIT School of Science. She completed her graduate work at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (now Cancer Research, UK) at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, investigating the mechanism of action of the estrogen receptor, and received her doctorate in biochemistry from the University of London. She was a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Ed Harlow at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center and Harvard Medical School, supported by fellowships from the Human Frontier Science Program and the American Leukemia Society. Here, she made key contributions to our understanding of the retinoblastoma protein tumor suppressor and the cloning and characterization of the E2F transcription factors. She joined the MIT faculty in 1994 and is a Daniel K. Ludwig Professor. Lees is a Scientific Advisory Board Member for Skyhawk Therapeutic.