The Taipale lab at the University of Helsinki is part of the Academy of Finland's Finnish Center of Excellence in Tumor Genetics Research (2018-2023). Our group is interdisciplinary, and composed of both biomedical and computer scientists. Our main scientific interest is in understanding of how growth factors and oncogenes drive cell proliferation.
Organ specific growth control remains one of the major, unresolved questions in developmental biology. It is not understood what determines organ size and shape, and it is not clear why tumors arising in different tissues harbor different oncogenic mutations. Much of what we do know about physiological mechanisms controlling cellular growth in mammals has been revealed by human cancer genetics. These studies have revealed that a large number of genes can contribute to aberrant cell growth. More than 350 genes have been linked to cancer and mutations found in cancer are often cell type specific, suggesting that different pathways in different cell lineages are coupled to the cell cycle machinery. Our hypothesis is that the problems of organ-specific growth control and specificity of oncogenes to particular tumors represent two sides of the same coin; that is, mutations in tumors are tissue specific, because tumors arise by the most economical mutagenic route, aberrantly activating the organ-specific growth mechanisms.
We are taking a systems-biology approach to understand how tissue-specific factors collaborate with oncogenic signals to drive cell proliferation. For this purpose, we have developed computational and experimental methods to identify direct target genes of oncogenic transcription factors that are commonly activated in major forms of human cancer. In addition, we are using genome-editing technologies to identify genes required for cell cycle progression. Combining these two sets of data allows identification of specific transcription factors and gene regulatory elements which drive growth in particular tissues and tumor types.