K.C. Balaji, MD
K.C. Balaji, MD, Professor
Dr. K.C. Balaji is a urological oncologist, a prostate cancer basic science researcher and a pioneer in field of robotic cancer surgery. A medical graduate of Madras University in India, Dr. Balaji completed his clinical and research training through urology residency from University of Massachusetts, Worcester, MA and fellowship in urological oncology from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY.
SYNOPSIS OF AREA OF INTEREST: Study of cell signaling and role of stem cells in prostate cancer development and progression.
DETAILED AREA OF INTEREST: Dr. Balaji's research efforts over a decade has focused on identifying novel signaling mechanisms contributing to prostate cancer development and progression. His laboratory identified a novel tumor and metastasis suppressor role of novel kinase, Protein Kinase D1 (PKD1), in prostate cancer. Detailing of protein interactions of PKD1 in prostate cancer has identified several functionally important interacting substrate proteins including E-cadherin, Beta-catenin, Androgen receptor, Heat shock protein 27 and Metallothioneins (see figure) that influence a variety of cancer cell functions; proliferation, migration, invasion, metastasis, resistance to chemotherapy and radiation. Dr Balaji's laboratory has identified novel phosphorylation sites by PKD1 on its substrate proteins, which provides new opportunities to develop rationale based biomarker development and therapeutic targets. More recently, the laboratory demonstrated that PKD1 phosphorylates Snail, a major transcriptional repressor of E-cadherin, and PKD1 functions as a tumor and metastasis suppressor, at least partly by regulating Snail-mediated epithelial mesenchymal transition (EMT), and that loss of PKD1 may contribute to acquisition of an aggressive malignant phenotype. Loss of PKD1 also induces stem cell like marker expression profile in cancer cells, which has directed the laboratory's attention in studying the role of cancer stem cells or tumor initiating cells in development and progression of prostate cancer through unique in vivo and tissue engineering models. Dr Balaji laboratory's discoveries are particularly exciting because loss of PKD1 in prostate cancer can contribute to castration resistance, a lethal event in patients with prostate cancer that has not been completely resolved yet at molecular level in spite of almost a century of research.