Understanding the Evolution of Cancer

Dr. Michelle Dawson and members of her research team.The development of cancer is a very complicated process, which occurs over many decades and involves many events from the mutations in a single cell to the development of a solid tumor and the progression to metastatic disease. The complexity of this process reflects the work of evolution, which has erected a series of barriers to prevent the progression of cancer.

In spite of the evolutionary barriers to the formation of cancer and mankind’s work to find new detection and treatment methods, cancer remains one of the leading causes of death. Assistant Professor Michelle Dawson investigates the role of bone marrow-derived cells (BMDCs) in tumor growth and metastasis. This process is mediated by tumor secretion of proangiogenic chemokines that enter the blood circulation and travel to the bone marrow, where they mobilize BMDCs.

By using a variety of techniques, the Dawson research group has found that BMDCs rapidly accumulate in tumors, promoting their growth and metastasis through formation of blood vessels and degradation of extracellular matrix components. Better understanding the migratory process of these cells and their role in the evolution of cancer is critical to developing new detection and treatment methods for the disease.

Currently, Dawson's group focuses on several key areas of research, including:

  • Development of gene delivery vectors that can overcome transport barriers that limit their use as therapeutics
  • Evaluation of normal cell processes that induce changes in cell viscosity and elasticity to develop cancer prediction models
  • Development of stem cell-based gene delivery systems that efficiently target and incorporate in diseased tissues and release sustained levels of therapeutic proteins

The image below shows a hematoxylin and eosin stain of lung tissue from mice with lung tumors. The dark purple region shows a huge metastatic tumor while the surrounding regions show pink cells known as lung parenchyma.

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