The lab utilizes a multitude of strategies to identify critical pathways required to promote tumorigenesis. These include high-throughput bioinformatics and structural modelling, siRNA screening, and precision genome editing to establish various functional genomic approaches to identify novel drivers. Utilizing bioinformatics we identify novel kinases enriched for functional mutations to hone in on activated enzymes that can serve as drug targets. We then assess the structural consequences of a subset of mutations in the respective kinases, where crystal structures are available, to determine if the mutations likely increase or decrease catalytic activity. These approaches have been successful in identifying kinases with activating mutations in lung cancer (ABL1 - Testoni et al EMBO Mol. Med. in press), as well as novel tumor suppressing kinases in colon and lung cancer that include MLK4 and DAPK3. In a second approach we use genetic dependency screens to identify mutationally activated drivers of lung cancer. Targeted genetic dependency screens are an effective way to uncover low frequency oncogenes that can serve as targets for therapeutic intervention for tumors of any origin. Specifically we identified FGFR4, PAK5, and MLK1 as kinases that harbour novel Gain of function (GOF) mutations in lung cancer patients and these mutations result in hyperactivation of the MEK/ERK pathway. The mutation frequency for the genes we identified ranged from 2-10% of lung cancers; given the frequency of lung cancer in the population, these targets could be exploited by pharmaceutical companies for drug discovery development. Going forward we are focused on novel drivers of the 3q amplicon that play a critical role in promoting tumorigenesis in lung squamous cell carcinoma and head and neck cancers. These novel drivers can serve as targets of therapeutic intervention and an intense effort will focused on the mechanisms by which the novel kinases promote tumorigenesis. In addition, we will study novel kinases predicted to harbor GOF mutations in cancers such as melanoma.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Cancer Institute (NCI)
Investigator-Initiated Intramural Research Projects (ZIA)
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Basic Sciences
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Torres-Ayuso, Pedro; Sahoo, Sudhakar; Ashton, Garry et al. (2018) Signaling pathway screening platforms are an efficient approach to identify therapeutic targets in cancers that lack known driver mutations: a case report for a cancer of unknown primary origin. NPJ Genom Med 3:15
Edwards, Zoe C; Trotter, Eleanor W; Torres-Ayuso, Pedro et al. (2017) Survival of Head and Neck Cancer Cells Relies upon LZK Kinase-Mediated Stabilization of Mutant p53. Cancer Res 77:4961-4972
Testoni, Ewelina; Stephenson, Natalie L; Torres-Ayuso, Pedro et al. (2016) Somatically mutated ABL1 is an actionable and essential NSCLC survival gene. EMBO Mol Med 8:105-16
Antal, Corina E; Hudson, Andrew M; Kang, Emily et al. (2015) Cancer-associated protein kinase C mutations reveal kinase's role as tumor suppressor. Cell 160:489-502