New Whitehead Member Piyush Gupta takes aim at normal and cancer stem cells

August 11, 2010

Tags: Gupta LabAwards + Announcements

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Cancer biologist Piyush Gupta joins the Whitehead Institute faculty in September on a mission to shed new light on the mechanisms that determine why some cells in our bodies behave appropriately while others venture down destructive, malignant paths.

“The generation and maintenance of cellular diversity is one of the great mysteries of biology,” says Gupta. “The genetic networks that control normal and cancer cell states remain very much a black box.”

Gupta, who studied cancer biology while earning his PhD under the tutelage of Whitehead Founding Member Robert Weinberg, notes that cellular diversity is found both in normal tissues and myriad cancers. For example, the cancer cells in most epithelial tumors are not homogeneous but can exist in any of several distinct cell states. Current evidence suggests that some of these states—most notably stem-like states—are resistant to conventional therapies and are ultimately responsible for tumor recurrence and metastasis.

While conducting postdoctoral research with Broad Institute Director and former Whitehead Member Eric Lander, Gupta and colleagues conducted large-scale chemical screens to identify small molecules capable of perturbing stem cell function. Using this approach, they successfully identified several chemicals capable of selectively killing cancer stem cells. (A description of this work may be seen by clicking here.)

At Whitehead, Gupta expects to operate in an environment particularly well-suited to his continuing efforts elucidate the genes and signaling pathways that control cell state biology in normal and cancerous tissues.

“Having been here before, I know how wonderful and unique Whitehead Institute is,” says Gupta, who weighed faculty position offers from several other prestigious institutions before deciding on Whitehead. “It is a privilege to be able to engage daily with such a dynamic and supportive community of scientists.”

“We’re delighted that Piyush is joining us,” says Whitehead Institute Director David Page. “His talents are certainly already well known to his colleagues here. His work will add to Whitehead Institute’s substantial contributions to cancer research.”

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