White Group: for non-scientists
Each cell in the body is encoded with a DNA genetic code. Yet cells must constantly diversify to take on new properties above and beyond that code. In normal situations such as embryonic development, this is a highly regulated process. This is disrupted in cancer since many cells acquire DNA mutations.
Work from our lab has demonstrated that cancer cells often hijack the processes used in embryonic development but do so in an abnormal way. An ongoing mystery is why only a fraction of these cells go on to form tumours and spread (metastasise) to new locations, which is the major cause of death from cancer. There are a variety of ways cancer cells can achieve this, which include alterations to the epigenome (the way in which DNA leads to expression of genes) or by interacting with other nearby cells (also called the microenvironment).
Our goal is to discover the mechanisms that determine if a cell will become cancerous in the first place, and how it metastasises. These discoveries will identify new ways in which these cancers can be targeted by drugs with the aim of future cancer prevention or treatment.