About the Research

Dr. Gilbert's research addresses two questions fundamental to cancer and stem-cell biology:

  • What determines where and when cells start to replicate their chromosomes and what happens to this program in cancer cells?
  • How can the process of duplicating and assembling chromosomes help us understand how to re-program stem cell chromosomes so they can be used for therapeutic purposes?

Cancer Research

Nothing is more basic to cancer research than the control of cell growth and division. Different types of cells respond to different signals for growth, but these different pathways eventually converge on a common decision as to whether the cell should replicate DNA.

Understanding the steps that assemble the replication machinery may allow the development of therapeutic approaches that treat the common denominator of cancer as a whole, rather than requiring different treatments for different types of cancer. Knowledge of the critical components of the DNA replication apparatus will allow the use of novel anticancer drugs and the development of new strategies in cancer therapeutics.

Stem Cell Research

All types of cells have the same DNA, but each uses only a fraction of that information. Unnecessary information is packed neatly out of the way, just as we would organize a busy office. One of the hopes of stem cell research is to take a patient's cells from a simple skin biopsy and reprogram those cells to become identical to the patients ailing tissue. This procedure would avoid the need to manipulate human embryos and so would remove the ethical dilemmas raised by embryonic stem cell research. Cellular reprogramming will require understanding how to unpack the genetic information and reorganize it to match the desired tissue. Dr. Gilbert's laboratory has unveiled some of the ways that cells pack away genetic information.

Cellular “Fingerprinting”

The temporal sequence in which segments replicate forms a type of “fingerprint” that may help researchers and clinicians identify different cell types. This knowledge could help doctors determine what kind of cancer a patient is suffering from and help stem cell researchers produce certain cell types.