Cellular and Molecular Oncology

Program Leaders: Steven Belinsky, PhD, Mary Ann Osley, PhD, and Michelle Ozbun, PhD

The Cellular and Molecular Oncology Research Program (CMO) is the fulcrum of basic mechanistic science in the University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center (UNMCCC). It facilitates inter-programmatic collaboration and translation to population research in the Cancer Control & Population Science Research (CCPS) Program and clinical-translational research in the Cancer Therapeutics Research (CT) Program to address cancers that are prevalent in New Mexico’s catchment area and the nation.

The CMO Research Program

Our overarching goals are to conduct outstanding cancer-relevant research in order to discover the cellular and molecular mechanisms that govern tumor initiation and drive cancer progression. These goals are accomplished through thematic research encompassing three scientific aims:

  1. Carcinogenic Mechanisms of Environmental Exposures: To discover the molecular and cellular mechanisms by which environmental carcinogens and behavioral risk factors relevant to our catchment area promote cancer.
  2. Genome Regulation: To define the mechanisms and pathways by which genome stability, epigenetic alterations, and transcriptional regulation are disrupted in cancer cells.
  3. Cellular Signaling and the Tumor Microenvironment: To determine how cell signaling pathways, cellular activities, and cell-cell interactions are altered during cancer initiation and progression and within the tumor microenvironment.

The Program is led by Steven Belinsky, PhD, Mary Ann Osley, PhD, and Michelle Ozbun, PhD (incoming program co-leader as of 2020), who bring complementary expertise in the areas of molecular and cellular biology.

The 37 Full Members and 4 Associate Members are drawn from 6 Basic Science and 4 Clinical Departments and Divisions in the UNM School of Medicine, and the UNM College of Pharmacy.

The Program also takes advantage of the expertise of investigators in 2 UNM main campus departments, the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute (LRRI) and Los Alamos National Laboratory, as well as state-of-the-art technologies provided by CCSG-supported Shared Resources.

Annual direct cost funding as of 9/1/2020 equaled $8.7M ($2M from the NCI and $8M peer-reviewed). The discoveries made in this Program resulted in 352 publications, of which 38% were intra-programmatic collaborations and 26% were inter-programmatic collaborations, with a total collaborative publication level of 53%.

Going forward, CMO will promote the growth of our new Program through expansion of program expertise and enhancement of program collaborations. CMO will continue to grow its expertise in discovery of the basic cellular and molecular mechanisms driving cancer, and build on its unique technological capabilities in advanced cell and tissue imaging, computer modeling, and state-of-the-art genomics to drive fundamental research in cancer etiology and progression and translate results to the clinic, our population and beyond.