Post-Doctoral Fellow Catherine McCusker Receives Grant From American Cancer Society

“Microenvironment Control of Tissue Regeneration in Amphibian Limbs”

The goal of this research is to better understand how the growth and development of cancers can be controlled by altering the microenvironment surrounding cancer cells.   Evidence shows that cancer cells are strongly influenced by their biological environment, and under the proper conditions can be forced to form normal tissues. For example, some amphibians share the amazing capacity to suppress the development of cancer in carcinogen-exposed limbs through the activation of the regenerative response. This phenomenon occurs with carcinogens that cause genetic modifications, suggesting that the limb microenvironment has the capacity to control the growth and patterning of mutated cells. These observations present the exciting possibility that cancer progression can be controlled through alterations in the microenvironment. However, more information is needed to understand how unspecified cells interact with, and are controlled by, their microenvironment. The amphibian limb regenerate, called the blastema, provides an excellent platform to study these complicated three-dimensionalinteractions in vivo. These blastema cells share many similarities with cancer cells; they proliferate rapidly, they migrate, and they share many of the same molecular signaling pathways. Using the axolotl amphibian model I will study how 1) the microenvironment surrounding the blastema cells controls their specification and 2) how cell-cell interactions control growth within the blastema. This study will provide key information to understand how the microenvironment around cancer cells can be manipulated to make them behave more like normal cells.

Catherine McCusker’s CV (pdf)