Dr. Jichao Chen
The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
Departments of Pulmonary Medicine and Biochemistry/Molecular Biology
- Lung development
- Organ size control
- Lung cancer
The research in our lab focuses on how cellular behaviors such as proliferation and differentiation are controlled in the context of organ architecture, and how such control mechanisms are bypassed by tumor cells. The lab takes a developmental biology approach to study how cells assemble into organs of specific structure, and seek to identify genes and pathways important in development, disease, and regenerative medicine.
We are particularly interested in the mammalian lung — a three-dimensional tree-like structure made of thousands of interconnected tubes. Different tubes in the same network differ in their sizes and constituent epithelial cell types. We seek to understand how such spatial heterogeneity is encoded in the genome and the associated cellular mechanisms. We ask (1) how the diameters of different tubes are coordinated to generate the tapering pattern commonly seen in most branched networks; (2) where and how the tubular network ends and is connected to the sac-like alveoli where gas exchange takes place; (3) how the normal processes are disrupted in lung cancer in both mice and human. We expect the underlying mechanisms will be generally applicable to other organs.
The size and complexity of the lung have made these questions difficult to study. Our lab has developed novel imaging methods to visualize the lung on both macroscopic and microscopic scales. In combination with mouse genetics, bioinformatics and chemical genetics approaches, we are understanding the lung at genomic, molecular and cellular levels.