Thyroid cancer is a relatively common disease with approximately 30,000 new cases diagnosed in the United States every year. Several million people, typically after the age of 50, have thyroid nodules and an important critical task is to distinguish between benign and malignant nodular lesions. Exposure to ionizing radiation is a well known risk factor for thyroid cancer. The incidence of thyroid cancer has been increasing in the U.S. and many other countries over the last 30 years. In fact, thyroid cancer is the most rapidly growing cancer type in women in the U.S.
The overall aim of our research lab is to understand how thyroid cancer develops, to find novel diagnostic methods for early detection of thyroid cancer, and to understand the mechanisms of cancer development after exposure to ionizing radiation, which would provide basis for the development of novel strategies to prevent or diminish the risk of thyroid cancer following radiation exposure.
We focus on two major areas of thyroid cancer research: molecular genetic alterations in thyroid cancer/cancer diagnosis and the mechanism of radiation carcinogenesis in the thyroid gland. To advance the first direction, we perform broad analysis of mutations present in different types of thyroid tumors and, in collaboration with our colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh and other hospitals, have developed a set of molecular markers to improve the preoperative diagnosis of thyroid cancer in thyroid fine-needle aspiration (FNA) samples.
Another major direction of our research group is to understand the mechanisms of radiation carcinogenesis in the thyroid gland. We are particularly interested in elucidating the role of nuclear architecture in predisposition to chromosomal rearrangements after exposure to ionizing radiation. Recently, we have found that proximity of chromosomal regions participating in the rearrangement is an important factor favoring specific types of chromosomal alterations after radiation exposure (Science, 2000, 290, 138-141; Oncogene, 2006, 25, 2360-2366). We are currently expanding these observations to explore further the role of chromosomal architecture in radiation-induced thyroid cancer. Our ultimate goal is to dissect the mechanisms of DNA breakage and chromosomal rearrangement formation after exposure to ionizing radiation and to develop new prophylactic and therapeutic strategies to prevent or diminish the risk of thyroid cancer, and other cancers, after exposure to ionizing radiation.