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. (2015). Semaphorin 7a exerts pleiotropic effects to promote breast tumor progression. Oncogene.
Futscher, B., Novak, P., Jensen, T., Oshiro, M. M., Wozniak, R. J., Nouzova, M., Watts, G. S., Klimecki, W. T., Kim, C., & Futscher, B. W. (2006). Epigenetic inactivation of the HOXA gene cluster in breast cancer. Cancer research, 66(22).
BIO5 Collaborators
Bernard W Futscher, Walter Klimecki

Using an integrated approach of epigenomic scanning and gene expression profiling, we found aberrant methylation and epigenetic silencing of a small neighborhood of contiguous genes-the HOXA gene cluster in human breast cancer. The observed transcriptional repression was localized to approximately 100 kb of the HOXA gene cluster and did not extend to genes located upstream or downstream of the cluster. Bisulfite sequencing, chromatin immunoprecipitation, and quantitative reverse transcription-PCR analysis confirmed that the loss of expression of the HOXA gene cluster in human breast cancer is closely linked to aberrant DNA methylation and loss of permissive histone modifications in the region. Pharmacologic manipulations showed the importance of these aberrant epigenetic changes in gene silencing and support the hypothesis that aberrant DNA methylation is dominant to histone hypoacetylation. Overall, these data suggest that inactivation of the HOXA gene cluster in breast cancer may represent a new type of genomic lesion-epigenetic microdeletion. We predict that epigenetic microdeletions are common in human cancer and that they functionally resemble genetic microdeletions but are defined by epigenetic inactivation and transcriptional silencing of a relatively small set of contiguous genes along a chromosome, and that this type of genomic lesion is metastable and reversible in a classic epigenetic fashion.

Eblin, K. E., Jensen, T. J., Wnek, S. M., Buffington, S. E., Futscher, B. W., & Gandolfi, A. J. (2009). Reactive oxygen species regulate properties of transformation in UROtsa cells exposed to monomethylarsonous acid by modulating MAPK signaling. Toxicology, 255(1-2), 107-114.

PMID: 19014992;PMCID: PMC2665711;Abstract:

UROtsa cells exposed to 50 nM monomethylarsonous acid [MMA(III)] for 52 wk (MSC52) achieved hyperproliferation, anchorage independent growth, and enhanced tumorgenicity. MMA(III) has been shown to induce reactive oxygen species (ROS), which can lead to activation of signaling cascades causing stress-related proliferation of cells and even cellular transformation. Previous research established the acute activation of MAPK signaling cascade by ROS produced by MMA(III) as well as chronic up regulation of COX-2 and EGFR in MSC52 cells. To determine if ROS played a role in the chronic pathway perturbations by acting as secondary messengers, activation of Ras was determined in UROtsa cells [exposed to MMA(III) for 0-52 wk] and found to be increased through 52 wk most dramatically after 20 wk of exposure. Ras has been shown to cause an increase in O2- and be activated by increases in O2-, making ROS important to study in the transformation process. COX-2 upregulation in MSC52 cells was confirmed by real time RT-PCR. By utilizing both antioxidants or specific COX inhibitors, it was shown that COX-2 upregulation was dependent on ROS, specifically, O2-. In addition, because previous research established the importance of MAPK activation in phenotypic changes associated with transformation in MSC52 cells, it was hypothesized that ROS play a role in maintaining phenotypic characteristics of the malignant transformation of MSC52 cells. Several studies have demonstrated that cancer cells have lowered superoxide dismutase (MnSOD) activity and protein levels. Increasing levels of MnSOD have been shown to suppress the malignant phenotype of cells. SOD was added to MSC52 cells resulting in slower proliferation rates (doubling time = 42 h vs. 31 h). ROS scavengers of {radical dot}OH also slowed proliferation rates of MSC52 cells. To further substantiate the importance of ROS in these properties of transformation in MSC52 cells, anchorage independent growth was assessed after the addition of antioxidants, both enzymatic and non-enzymatic. Scavengers of {radical dot}OH, and O2- blocked the colony formation of MSC52 cells. These data support the role for the involvement of ROS in properties of transformation of UROtsa cells exposed to MMA(III). © 2008 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.

Futscher, B. W. (2018). Epigenetic silencing of lncRNA MORT in 16 TCGA cancer types. F1000Research.