Identify Mechanisms Controlling Immune Surveillance of Stem Cells and Cancer Stem Cells
We are interested in elucidating the mechanisms controlling immune privilege of tissue-resident stem cells. Stem cells are crucial for tissue homeostasis and regeneration and, as a consequence, some have evolved mechanisms to cloak during an autoimmune attack. We aim to identify the molecular pathways behind this immune privilege in order to develop therapeutic strategies to protect non-privileged cells during autoimmunity or inflammation.
Most cancer-related deaths are not due to the primary tumor but the result of metastasis, which often invades vital organs such as lungs, liver or brain. Metastatic growth occurs from specialized cells that escape the primary tumor and disseminate to distal organs where they can re-grow a new full-fledged tumor mass. These cells possess properties that resemble those of tissue stem cells (and sometimes, can even originate from stem cells), and for this reason, they are often referred to as cancer stem cells. Our goal is to elucidate how cancer stem cells interact with the immune system and discover the mechanisms they utilize to escape from immune detection so we can improve immunotherapy to efficiently eliminate them and prevent metastasis.
Understanding how stem cells and cancer stem cells escape from adaptive immune responses will allow us to hijack the immune system to either protect precious cells for regenerative medicine treatments or, conversely, enhance susceptibility to T cell killing of otherwise evasive and dangerous cancer stem cells or disseminated cancer cells.