Metastatic disease, that is when cancer has spread and presents in distant sites, continues to cause the vast majority of all cancer-related deaths. In many patients with cancer, metastatic disease surfaces long after successful treatment of the primary tumor. This is so because persistent disseminated tumor cells (or DTCs) find residency at distant sites under a state of dormancy, only to awaken years or even decades afterwards and initiate metastases. This pause in cancer progression is a singular therapeutic window to intervene against future deadly metastases.
Our laboratory is interested in understanding what brings DTCs in and out of dormancy, and how can dormant DTCs be targeted. We centre our efforts in studying this challenge in breast cancer, which most often spreads to the bones, liver, lung, brain and lymph nodes. We aim at dissecting the interactions of DTCs with the unique microenvironment in each distant site, thus providing a roadmap of tissue-specific vulnerabilities that may be explored therapeutically. Because immune cells in tissues are first responders to tissue damage and invading DTCs, we are particularly interested in defining how tissue immunity shapes metastatic efficiency.
In addressing these questions, we employ multiple complementary approaches, including animal and organotypic models, cell and molecular biology techniques, genetic engineering, spatial transcriptomics and proteomics, computational biology, and interrogation of patient samples. We strive to develop strategies to prevent metastases from ever surfacing.