We study tumor viruses to learn how they interact with cells and control proliferation and other aspects of cell behavior. Our research focuses on the papillomaviruses and polyomaviruses, small DNA viruses that transform cells in culture and play an important role in several forms of human cancer and other diseases. Our current studies aim to determine at the molecular level how viral oncogenes transform cells and cause cancer and how these viruses use cellular machinery to enter cells. We have discovered a unique mechanism of cell transformation and identified novel cellular proteins required for tumor virus entry.
Based on our understanding of viral oncoproteins, we are developing novel approaches to build artificial transmembrane proteins that can activate or inhibit growth factor receptors, stimulate red blood cell formation, or block HIV infection. In the course of these studies, we have isolated small proteins with unprecedented chemical simplicity, which display no sequence homology to any naturally occurring proteins. Our studies are providing new insights into the mechanisms of cell growth control and protein action and are suggesting new strategies to treat or prevent human cancer.