Dr. Sonal Gupta
The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
Department of Pathology-Research
Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), commonly called pancreatic cancer, is the fourth most lethal cancer in the United States, on the way to becoming the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths by 2030, mostly due to lack of reliable diagnostic biomarkers and therapeutic options. The overall goal of my research is to functionally annotate some of the most recurrent driver mutations in pancreatic cancer using wide variety of biologically relevant in vitro and animal models and exploit the emerging biological insight to develop novel targeted therapeutics. Like most other cancer types, pancreatic cancer has historically been considered a disease driven by genomic alterations. However, emerging evidence shows that apart from genetic changes, epigenetic modifications of chromatin also play a key role in pancreatic tumor pathogenesis. For instance, next generation sequencing of PDAC patient samples has revealed a large number of loss-of-function somatic mutations in members of the chromatin-modifying COMPASS-like complex (MLL3, MLL4, UTX) and SWI/SNF complex (Arid1a and Arid2). The major focus area of my research is to elucidate the molecular basis of how the dysregulation of these and other epigenetic regulators affect pancreatic cancer development, progression and metastasis. To accomplish this, we employ a wide array of research tools from molecular biology, biochemistry, molecular genetics, bioinformatics and immunology in experimental models of genetically characterized patient-derived cell lines, xenografts and various genetically engineered mouse models of pancreatic cancer. Another focus area of my research is tumor immunology, specifically, to understand how PDAC cells evade host anti-tumor immune response.