Understanding crosstalk between cancer cells and tumor microenvironment
We focus on understanding how quiescent stem cells are activated during tissue regeneration, and how the dysregulation of stem cells can initiate and progress cancer. Skin cancers arise from stem cell populations, and exploiting their properties offers a novel framework for cancer therapeutic strategies. The tumor microenvironment can transmit a gradient of signaling factors, oxygen, and metabolites to cancer (stem) cells depending on the distance from local sources. We are particularly interested in transforming growth factor β (TGF-β ). In skin cancer, TGF-β has a dual role: it inhibits proliferation and functions as a tumor suppressor early on, but promotes growth, invasion and metastasis in advanced tumors. However, how TGF-β can elicit different cellular responses in early and late-stage tumors is poorly understood. Using fluorescent reporter systems to monitor, manipulate, and track TGF-β signaling in mouse skin cancers in vivo, we tackle important cancer biology problems with the highest level of tissue and cell specificity, and in a relevant physiological system.