Defining the function of ROCK in establishing a tumour-promoting micro-environment
The growth and spread of a cancer is strongly influenced by the environment within which the cancer develops. This environment includes white blood cells resulting from inflammation, blood vessels, fat cells and a type of cell called the fibroblast, which builds up a scaffold of proteins that cancer cells hold on to. I am interested in how this scaffold of proteins and all the other cells within the environment of the cancer, promote the growth and spread of the cancer. We have discovered one of the methods by which cancer cells communicate with other cells in their environment. They do this in order to hijack the normal function of these other cells to help with the growth of the cancer. We believe that by understanding how these communication pathways work, we can identify new targets against which drugs can be developed, to stop cancer cells from modifying their environment in ways that help their growth and spread.
What we aim to achieve
We aim to identify the mechanisms by which cancers hijack the body’s normal extra-cellular support mechanisms to further their growth and spread and use these discoveries to develop new approaches to beating cancer.
What are the next steps and milestones for your research?
The next steps in our research is to identify exactly how cancer cells communicate with fibroblasts to modify the protein scaffold (extra-cellular matrix). Determining whether the enzymes involved in this communication can be targeted by existing or new drugs. Identifying whether these drugs are able to stop the growth and spread of cancers is the next milestone for our research.
What motivates you to pursue cancer research?
I am appalled and fascinated in equal measure by this disease. Appalled at the pain and suffering caused to cancer patients and fascinated by how cancers can so cleverly hijack the body’s own defence and support systems for the own ends. These two contrasting aspects keep my attention firmly focused on trying to understand how cancer works, with a view to identifying new ways to beat it.
My message to supporters:
I highly appreciate the generosity of our supporters, firstly our donors and the also importantly the volunteers who donate their time to publicise the work of the Cancer Council and help us researchers to take our message to the public. This grant will greatly assist my laboratory to work out the mechanisms by which cancers hijack the body’s normal extra-cellular support mechanisms to further their growth and spread. These insights will assist us to develop novel approaches to beating cancer.