Sarcomas are the cancers of flesh and bone. They arise from what are termed connective tissues, or mesenchyme, primarily derived from cells in the mesodermal layer in embryogenesis. Such tissues comprise the majority of the human body, but are apparently resistant to malignant transformation—or the process of turning normal cells into cancer cells—because sarcomas represent only one percent of all cancers.
Although rare in the population, sarcomas have been at the very center of cancer discovery. The first two major types of genetic drivers of cancer were both initially identified through investigation of sarcomas. Tumor suppressors, the genes that a developing cancer must shut down in order to continue growing out of control, were found in families that had a dangerous propensity to develop bone and soft-tissue sarcomas. Oncogenes, the genes whose activation enables a cancer cell to grow rapidly and ignore stop signals from the outside, were initially identified in a virus that caused sarcomas in chickens. Further, the concept that a patient’s immune system might be capable of fighting cancer arose from observations that infections in sarcoma patients occasionally eradicated their tumors.
Sarcomas also provide ideal model cancers for the study of oncogenesis, cancer initiation, or transformation, because they do not derive from a person's behaviors or exposures as far as we can tell. One does not generally develop a sarcoma due to a history of smoking, eating too little broccoli, or avoiding exercise. Sarcomas just happen, apparently at random, but not in an unpatterned way.
The K.B. Jones lab is dedicated to understanding the biology of sarcomagenesis, or the patterned initiation of cancers in mesenchymal tissues. Dr. Jones provides surgical care for patients with sarcomas of all types (There are approximately one hundred subtypes of sarcoma.), but focuses his research on sarcomas that arise in children, adolescents and young adults.