Finding clues to cancer metastasis in pheromones

Pheromones are chemical substances in the body best known for their purported affects on physical attraction, but cancer cells may also be taking their cues to chart course and decide where to spread. Using her training as a chemist, Dr. Laura Sanchez is infiltrating these communications to predict cancer metastasis and stop it in its tracks. View Halo Profile >>

Tell us about your research…

In nature, both macro and microorganisms utilize small molecules to interact with one another in complex environments. In the Sanchez lab, we are interested in exploiting the chemical communication that is frequently found in nature to begin to understand how cells and microbes utilize chemistry to communicate with one another in complex biomedical environments.

We are interested in exploiting the chemical communication that is frequently found in nature to begin to understand how cells and microbes utilize chemistry to communicate with one another in complex biomedical environments.

To this end, we use advanced analytical techniques in mass spectrometry to directly visualize this chemical crosstalk in a variety of systems including microbial biofilms, ovarian cancer, and host-microbe interactions.

Can you explain that to a non-scientist? 

It is well known that specific cancers prefer to move to specific secondary sites in the human body. For the most part we do not have a complete picture of what is driving this tissue specific movement. To explore this, my lab takes inspiration for nature where microbes and animals can coordinate movement and actions using pheromones.

My lab takes inspiration for nature where microbes and animals can coordinate movement and actions using pheromones.

Pheromones are one class of chemical cues used in the environment and my lab adapts technology and model systems to explore the chemical signaling between specific tissues, with an example being between a tumorigenic fallopian tube and healthy ovary.

How could it someday impact patient lives?

Our technology and unique approach allows us to examine things like ovarian cancer from an entirely different viewpoint. As chemists, we explore and have found that small chemicals are indeed implicated in primary metastasis of ovarian cancer. This will allow us to discover new targets for treatment and we are beginning to think about ovarian cancer as a tri-partite system.

Our technology and unique approach allows us to examine things like ovarian cancer from an entirely different viewpoint.

We are capturing chemical cues from the ovary, the fallopian tube, and also capturing essential nutrients that are consumed overtime, so this may lead to a three-pronged solution rather than just solely focusing on one aspect, like just targeting tumor cells alone.