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Cancer Initiation and Cancer Cell Behavior Lab

Photo of Joshua Clair Snyder, PhD

Joshua Clair Snyder, PhD

Office: MSRBI Rm 475A, Durham, NC 27710
Campus Mail: DUMC Box 3287 Med Ctr, Durham, NC 27710

Scientific Focus

Somatic mutations drive phenotypic changes in cellular behaviors. Mutations to cancer causing tumor driver genes may be acquired years, if not decades before clinical diagnosis of cancer. What happens to the cell and how collective tissue behaviors shape the trajectory of a lethal cancer during a prolonged occult tumorigenic phase is a great mystery. Our lab has developed a set of mouse tools for illuminating the earliest initiation phase of cancer. Our primary objective is to map the cellular events and biochemical interactions at work during the initiation phase of cancer in order to discover strategies for the prevention or treatment of lethal cancers. We use the mouse to fluorescently barcode somatic mutations and then observe cell competition, cell adaptation, and tumorigenesis in vivo. Our current focus is three-fold:

Building fluorescent-barcoded mice for visualizing cancer initiation

Cell competition diagramWe have developed Cancer rainbow mice (Crainbow) in order to visualize the effects on cells immediately after oncogene expression. For a full description of Crainbow see our publication in Nature Communications or read our blog article posted to “Behind the Paper” on Nature Cancer Community.

Our goal is to use Cancer rainbow mice for measuring cell competition (or maybe even cooperation) during the occult tumorigenic phase of cancer. All Crainbow models (8 and counting) are immune intact and enable us to study emergent cell behaviors in the presence of a normal immune response. We are also working toward imaging modalities and registration techniques for overlaying of histopathology and lineage tracing data (i.e. “TruRegistry”).

H&E staining

Intestinal stem cell competition in vivo and ex vivo

How do somatic mutations spread throughout the intestine? We recently showed that this can happen one of two ways, either during a postnatal growth phase of the intestine or through oncogenesis of microenvironmental cues (i.e. Rspondins). Read more here and see one of our favorite images from the study below.

Crainbow model
Image from "A cancer rainbow mouse for visualizing the functional genomics of oncogenic clonal expansion." Nature Communications. Volume 10, Article number: 5490 (2019).

Imaging three-dimensional cellular networks during cancer progression

Our lab is recently interested in mapping the cellular behaviors and networks present during the initiation of breast cancer. New protocols for clarifying whole-organoids are being used in our Crainbow mice so that we can three-dimensionally map cell competition during the developmental phase of the mammary gland. Here, is one such movie of a three-dimensional projection of premalignant growth in the mammary gland – stay tuned, more progress in the mammary gland is coming soon!

The Snyder lab is part of the Department of Surgery’s Division of Surgical Sciences and affiliated with the Center for Applied Therapeutics. We have a secondary affiliation with the Department of Cell Biology and are also members of the Development and Stem Cell Biology (DSCB) and Cell and Molecular Biology (CMB) training program, as well as the Duke Cancer Institute.

Selected Achievements/Newsworthy

Hyperspectral fluorescent microscopyAdvanced Training

Routine technologies and tools used by the Snyder lab include hyperspectral fluorescent microscopy, whole-organ imaging, genetic engineering, stem cell biology, mouse models, bioinformatics, scRNAseq, and lineage tracing. The Snyder lab has their own 7-laser, hyperspectral, laser scanning confocal for imaging all day and all night.

Contact Us

Are you interested in imaging, mouse genetics, and discovering how cancer cells are born? We need cancer biologists, molecular biologists, and bioinformaticians interested in all things imaging/big data. We are always looking to grow our team, including a post-doctoral fellowship, graduate student training, technical position, or undergraduate research opportunity. Send us an email.


Want to collaborate or have a reagent request? We like to share and support team science. Send us an email.

Latest Publications

Abe, Shinya, Hiroshi Nagata, Erika J. Crosby, Yoshiyuki Inoue, Kensuke Kaneko, Cong-Xiao Liu, Xiao Yang, et al. “Combination of ultrasound-based mechanical disruption of tumor with immune checkpoint blockade modifies tumor microenvironment and augments systemic antitumor immunity.” J Immunother Cancer 10, no. 1 (January 2022).

Full Text

Osada, Takuya, Erika J. Crosby, Kensuke Kaneko, Joshua C. Snyder, Joshua D. Ginzel, Chaitanya R. Acharya, Xiao-Yi Yang, et al. “HSP90-Specific nIR Probe Identifies Aggressive Prostate Cancers: Translation from Preclinical Models to a Human Phase I Study.” Mol Cancer Ther 21, no. 1 (January 2022): 217–26.

Full Text

Ginzel, Joshua D., Chaitanya R. Acharya, Veronica Lubkov, Hidetoshi Mori, Peter G. Boone, Lauren K. Rochelle, Wendy L. Roberts, et al. “HER2 Isoforms Uniquely Program Intratumor Heterogeneity and Predetermine Breast Cancer Trajectories During the Occult Tumorigenic Phase.” Mol Cancer Res 19, no. 10 (October 2021): 1699–1711.

Full Text

Ginzel, Joshua D., Chaitanya R. Acharya, Ping Wang, Alexis Schmid, Peter G. Boone, Lauren K. Rochelle, Wendy Roberts, et al. “Visualizing Cell Competition and Mechanisms of Occult Tumorigenesis Ex Vivo.” In In Vitro Cellular & Developmental Biology Animal, 57:S10–S10, 2021.