Jonathan Cooper, Member, Basic Sciences Division

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Jonathan Cooper, Member, Basic Sciences Division

Using basic science to understand and defeat cancer

As a basic scientist, Dr. Jonathan Cooper focuses on advancing our fundamental knowledge of biology, with the goal of finding building blocks that help us understand and defeat cancer.

Cooper is an expert in the signaling pathways that allow cells to communicate with each other – pathways that play a critical role in the transformation of normal cells into cancer cells. By unraveling how this transformation occurs, Cooper’s research could contribute to therapies that prevent malignancy.

More specifically, Cooper’s lab studies members of the Src protein family to understand how they regulate the behavior of normal cells and how they contribute to malignancy. Over the years, the Cooper Lab pinpointed mechanisms that regulate Src, showed that growth factors bring complexes of signaling proteins together and discovered that two human onco proteins, Ras and Raf, bind to each other.

The study of Src and related enzymes, called tyrosine kinases, is important because they are known to aid the development of certain cancers. In fact, roughly a dozen anticancer drugs are now used to inhibit these enzymes and, in many cases, slow cancer’s progression.

More recently, Cooper and his colleagues revealed how cells migrate in the developing brain. This could help scientists understand how other types of cells, including cancer cells, travel throughout the body.

From 2010-2018, Cooper served as director of the Fred Hutch’s Basic Sciences Division, which has made some of the Hutch’s most important breakthroughs. In that role, Cooper used his experience to help researchers work toward discoveries in a variety of areas.

“The Basic Sciences Division’s agenda is to do cutting-edge research into whatever seems relevant, without putting firm constraints on the direction it might go,” Cooper said. As director, his job was "to put creative people together and give them the resources and liberty to follow their instincts. I marvel at the great work they do.”

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