Cancer Metabolism and Immunology Research Program

Program Leaders: Wei-Xing Zong, PhD and Christian Hinrichs, MD

Overall Goals:

Centered on cancer metabolism and tumor-host interactions, specifically the concept that tumors are in a parasitic relationship with their hosts; defining and disrupting this relationship can be used as a strategy to target cancer. Cancer driver mutations directly subvert cancer cell metabolism to meet their increased needs of bioenergy, macromolecular building blocks, and adaptation to other stresses arising in the microenvironment. Physical tension between tumor cells and the surrounding stroma influences oncogenic signaling, tumor metabolism, proliferation, growth, and immune cell invasion. The process of metastasis, universally associated with poor prognosis, necessitates that tumor cells transit to, adapt, and colonize new microenvironments. Moreover, cancer cells can suppress anti-tumor immune responses by competing for nutrients and reducing the metabolic fitness of tumor-infiltrating immune cells. All nutrients required for tumor growth are derived from the host circulation and surrounding stroma. Determining how tumors obtain and use these nutrients is revealing new vulnerabilities. Defining and interfering with cancer cell autonomous adaptive metabolic reprogramming can compromise tumor survival and growth. Defining and targeting genetic, metabolic, and physical mechanisms of tumor-host interaction and metastasis can provide great therapeutic benefit. Establishing mechanisms of immune evasion, some of which are metabolic, and means to overcome them is an emerging and critical therapeutic strategy.

Specific Aims:

  • To delineate the role of cell metabolism in the control of tumor cell growth, proliferation, and survival and to modulate metabolic pathways to improve cancer therapy.
  • To identify the metabolic, physical, and immunological relationships between the tumor and host to identify new approaches to cancer therapy.
  • To discover and develop innovative immune-based cancer treatment strategies including cell and gene therapy approaches.

Collaborating Research Programs:

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