Bernard W Futscher
Assistant Research Scientist, Cancer Center Division
Associate Professor, BIO5 Institute
Investigator, Center for Toxicology
Professor, Pharmacology and Toxicology
Professor, Cancer Biology - GIDP
Primary Department
Department Affiliations
(520) 626-4646
Work Summary
Bernard Futscher's lab is studying the molecular origins of human cancer. Understanding epigenetic dysfunction in human cancer has been Dr. Futscher's primary research focus since establishing his own independent laboratory. This epigenetic research has moved into the area of noncoding RNAs and their potential role in cancer cell immortality.
Research Interest
Bernard Futscher, PhD, and his lab focus on the molecular origins of human cancer. More specifically, the lab group has 3 inter-related research objectives based on the underlying concept that developing an in-depth understanding of epigenetic mechanismsresponsible for governing cell fate will allow for the development of more effective strategies for the prevention, treatment, and cure of cancer. First, they wish to identify which epigenetic mechanisms participate in the transcriptional control of genes important to growth and differentiation. Second, they seek to determine how these epigenetic mechanisms, and therefore epigenetic homeostasis, become compromised during oncogenesis. Third, using a new and more complete understanding of epigenetic control of the genome, Dr. Futscher and his team are developing rational new therapeutic strategies that seek to repair these defects in the cancer cell and transcriptionally reprogram the malignant cancer cell to a benign state. To reach their objectives, a variety of in vitro models of cancer have been developed to address emerging hypotheses that are inferred from the literature in basic and clinical science as well as our own data. Results from these in vitro studies are then translated to the clinical situation to determine their meaning in the actual clinical face of the disease. Similarly, they attempt to take information obtained from the genome-wide assessment of clinical specimens in order to help guide our thinking and develop new hypotheses that can be tested experimentally in our in vitro models.


Jeixun, L. i., Hua, S. u., Chen, H., & Futscher, B. W. (2007). Optimal search-based gene subset selection for gene array cancer classification. IEEE Transactions on Information Technology in Biomedicine, 11(4), 398-405.
BIO5 Collaborators
Hsinchun Chen, Bernard W Futscher

PMID: 17674622;Abstract:

High dimensionality has been a major problem for gene array-based cancer classification. It is critical to identify marker genes for cancer diagnoses. We developed a framework of gene selection methods based on previous studies. This paper focuses on optimal search-based subset selection methods because they evaluate the group performance of genes and help to pinpoint global optimal set of marker genes. Notably, this paper is the first to introduce tabu search (TS) to gene selection from high-dimensional gene array data. Our comparative study of gene selection methods demonstrated the effectiveness of optimal search-based gene subset selection to identify cancer marker genes. TS was shown to be a promising tool for gene subset selection. © 2007 IEEE.

Futscher, B. W. (2016). Epigenetic silencing of MORT is an early lesion in cancer and is associated with luminal, receptor positive, breast tumor subtypes. Journal of Breast Cancer.
Futscher, B., Oshiro, M. M., Kim, C. J., Wozniak, R. J., Junk, D. J., Muñoz-Rodríguez, J. L., Burr, J. A., Fitzgerald, M., Pawar, S. C., Cress, A. E., Domann, F. E., & Futscher, B. W. (2005). Epigenetic silencing of DSC3 is a common event in human breast cancer. Breast cancer research : BCR, 7(5).

Desmocollin 3 (DSC3) is a member of the cadherin superfamily of calcium-dependent cell adhesion molecules and a principle component of desmosomes. Desmosomal proteins such as DSC3 are integral to the maintenance of tissue architecture and the loss of these components leads to a lack of adhesion and a gain of cellular mobility. DSC3 expression is down-regulated in breast cancer cell lines and primary breast tumors; however, the loss of DSC3 is not due to gene deletion or gross rearrangement of the gene. In this study, we examined the prevalence of epigenetic silencing of DSC3 gene expression in primary breast tumor specimens.

Futscher, B. W., Micetich, K. C., Barnes, D. M., Fisher, R. I., & Erickson, L. C. (1989). Inhibition of a specific DNA repair system and nitrosourea cytotoxicity in resistant human cancer cells.. Cancer communications, 1(1), 65-73.

PMID: 2534817;Abstract:

In this report we present evidence which suggests that pretreatment of a highly nitrosourea-resistant human colon tumor cell line with non-cytotoxic doses of streptozotocin (STZ) prior to, or simultaneously with, 1,3-bis(2-chloroethyl)-1-nitrosourea (BCNU) exposure produces synergistic increases in cytotoxicity of several logs over the cytotoxicity produced by exposure to BCNU alone. STZ pretreatment or simultaneous treatment with BCNU allowed BCNU-induced DNA interstrand crosslinks to form in this cell line, in which BCNU alone did not induce DNA interstrand-crosslinks. Reversal of the schedule (i.e., STZ following BCNU) was less effective in producing synergistic cell kill or increased DNA interstrand crosslinking. Replacement of BCNU with fresh BCNU was not effective in producing increased cell kill and produced no observable interstrand crosslinking. Direct assays for guanine O6-DNA alkyltransferase activity confirmed that more than 75% inhibition of this important DNA repair system occurred following exposure to 2.5 mM STZ and that the inhibition was virtually complete when STZ pretreatment was combined with BCNU exposure.

Futscher, B. W., Oshiro, M. M., Wozniak, R. J., Holtan, N., Hanigan, C. L., Duan, H., & Domann, F. E. (2002). Role for DNA methylation in the control of cell type-specific maspin expression. Nature Genetics, 31(2), 175-179.

PMID: 12021783;Abstract:

The nucleotide 5-methylcytosine is involved in processes crucial in mammalian development, such as X-chromosome inactivation and gene imprinting. In addition, cytosine methylation has long been speculated to be involved in the establishment and maintenance of cell type-specific expression of developmentally regulated genes; however, it has been difficult to identify clear examples of such genes, particularly in humans. Here we provide evidence that cytosine methylation of the maspin gene (SERPINB5) promoter controls, in part, normal cell type-specific SERPINB5 expression. In normal cells expressing SERPINB5, the SERPINB5 promoter is unmethylated and the promoter region has acetylated histones and an accessible chromatin structure. By contrast, normal cells that do not express SERPINB5 have a completely methylated SERPINB5 promoter with hypoacetylated histones, an inaccessible chromatin structure and a transcriptional repression that is relieved by inhibition of DNA methylation. These findings indicate that cytosine methylation is important in the establishment and maintenance of cell type-restricted gene expression.