Dept. of Biology
Epigenetics and Gene Regulation in Cancer and Aging
Ph.D. (Molecular Biology), 1982, University of North Texas Health Sciences Center
Dr. Tollefsbol's research is primarily involved with cancer and aging epigenetics, the underlying mechanisms of cancer and aging and novel therapeutic approaches to cancer. This work has also involved translational research on leukemia, breast cancer, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer and teratocarcinomas as well as other cancers. The single most important risk factor for developing cancer is age; therefore, both cancer and aging have been a focus of Dr. Tollefsbol's research.
Epigenetic processes are heritable changes that do not involve mutations, but rather, modifications of DNA or its associated proteins and Dr. Tollefsbol's laboratory is interested in these processes as controllers of gene expression in cancer and aging in general. We are interested in discovering novel approaches of modifying epigenetic gene expression in cancers and aging and the translational potential of epigenetic-modulating nutritional compounds in inhibiting cancer and impacting aging. The laboratory is using or has plans to use many cutting-edge technological developments in cancer and aging genetics and translational research such as RNA interference (RNAi), chromatin immunoprecipitation assays and microarray analysis as well as proteomics and metabolomics.
Studies on the role of telomerase in cancer and aging have made many lists of the most important future research areas in biological sciences. Dr. Tollefsbol's laboratory is also interested in the epigenetic regulation of the gene that produces telomerase (hTERT) and in unraveling the mysteries of how this gene relates to cancer and aging. Located at the ends of eukaryotic chromosomes and synthesized by the enzyme telomerase, telomeres maintain the length of chromosomes. The majority of human cancer cells express high levels of telomerase and inhibition of telomerase activity kills the cancer cells without effect on most normal somatic cells.
Our laboratory directs a Cell Senescence Culture Facility that provides various types of aging cells to investigators nationwide. This facility is one of only a few of this type in the United States and is designed to not only facilitate studies of aging, but to also participate in new investigations in the mechanisms of cellular aging and age-related diseases such as cancer.