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Tumor Biology Program

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Program Leader

El-Rifai, Wael, M.D., Ph.D.
Welford, Scott, Ph.D.
Rai, Priyamvada, Ph.D.


Cancer research is gradually changing from a primary focus on individual gene mutations to a broader, more integrated perspective that includes cellular interactions within the complex biological landscape of tumors. The Tumor Biology (TB) Program at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center focuses on understanding:

  • The cell biological processes that are altered during tumor initiation and progression.
  • How cancers arise and progress.
  • Key interactions between tumor and non-malignant tissue to ultimately develop promising new treatment strategies for cancer patients. By investigating instances of therapeutic failure and resistance, we work to identify molecular alterations that can lead to the development of evidence-based novel therapeutic approaches that target the biological and molecular features of cancer cells.

The Program’s mission is to apply cutting-edge technologies and utilize innovative in-vitro and in-vivo models of cancer to provide leading-edge care for cancer patients in Florida, the United States, and around the globe. Dr. El-Rifai enhances these efforts by:

  • Creating an environment of scientific excellence.
  • Fostering collaborative and synergistic relationships with Sylvester members and investigators across the Miller School of Medicine and the University of Miami.
  • Investing in promising new projects and investigators spanning the continuum of basic science, translational, and clinical research.

Program Goals

The TB Program is organized into three interrelated specific aims:

  1. Define and understand the mechanisms underlying tumor initiation and progression: Members conduct comprehensive, collaborative research investigating how environmental cues and cell-intrinsic signaling that underlie critical tumor initiation and progression. These studies delineate the roles of developmental pathways, cellular stress, and intrinsic tumor resistance mechanisms that promote cancer cell survival, progression, and metastasis.
  2. Determine how inflammation and immunity influence tumorigenesis and the tumor microenvironment: Members are studying how inflammatory signals generated within cancer cells or by the extrinsic effects of obesity, inflammatory ligands, or tumor stromal cells promote tumor formation. They are also investigating how tumors develop and progress in response to changes in innate or adaptive immune function, and how to best direct immune effector cells to target malignant cell growth.
  3. Identify and validate biological and molecular-based therapeutic approaches to cancer: Members are bridging basic, translational, and clinical sciences to facilitate and expedite the translation of bench discoveries into pre-clinical and clinical studies. This work is focused on defining the molecular underpinnings of cancer cells in order to develop knowledge-based, innovative therapeutic intervention strategies for targeting key oncogenic signaling pathways, including Wnt, Notch, Hh, RAGE, AR, and STAT, that can improve clinical outcomes.

Program Members