Solid tumor cancer cells live in an extracellular matrix (ECM) that contains tumor-associated stromal cells, immune cells, blood vessels, and biomolecules. Together, these components make up a specialized tumor microenvironment that supports tumor growth and promotes metastasis. To identify tumor-specific markers for progression, or to devise tumor-specific interventions, it is important to study the biological activities and their regulation of the cancer cells in this environment. Weimin Li, MD, has developed native tissue-derived ECM that recapitulates the tumor microenvironment to study cancer-stromal-immune cell interactions and dissect the molecular mechanisms regulating cancer progression. A primary focus of his work is to identify and characterize biomarkers of breast cancer cells that can be used to stratify risks of progression and to follow the effectiveness of treatment. A second focus of this work is to identify biomolecules mediating breast cancer progression as possible therapeutic targets for better outcomes for cancer patients.
Circadian Rhythms and Cancer
Circadian rhythms play an important role in physiology and disease therapy. Circadian rhythm disruption, such as sleep deprivation, jet lag, and shift work, is known to increase susceptibility to metabolic diseases such as cancer, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes along with neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Understanding the regulatory pathways controlling the circadian clock and how these interact with various disease processes is crucial for the prevention and treatment of clock-associated disorders. Yool Lee, PhD, lab is focused on understanding the biological mechanisms of circadian physiology and applying this knowledge to the molecular and cellular impact of circadian disruptions on tumor heterogeneity, tumor microenvironment, and metastatic progression in human osteosarcoma and melanoma. The translational application of his work is directed at the treatment of cancer and aging-related pathologies.