The Vermeer lab is focused on identifying signaling pathways that initiate and/or contribute to epithelial tumor formation and progression. Metastatic disease continues to be the major cause of cancer associated death. To date, effective treatments for metastatic disease do not exist because very little regarding the metastatic process is clearly defined. Thus, the Vermeer lab focuses on defining molecular pathways of metastasis and identifying targets to block disease progression and improve survival. The laboratory utilizes a number of different approaches including molecular biology, protein biochemistry, flow cytometry, confocal imaging, and immunohistochemistry. All hypotheses are ultimately tested using in vivo animal models and validated with human samples. The ultimate goals of the lab are to bring new therapies to clinical trial and improve patient survival.
Behind the research
As an epithelial cell biologist, Dr. Vermeer’s research has focused on receptor/ligand interactions and downstream signaling as they pertain to epithelial function and phenotype in health and disease. In the realm of human diseases like cancer, Dr. Vermeer’s attention has concentrated on mechanistically understanding how epithelial tumor cells change not only themselves, but their environment in the process of metastasis. Metastatic disease remains the main cause of death in cancer patients with solid tumors. Surprisingly little is understood about the molecular mechanisms driving the metastatic process. Thus, Dr. Vermeer’s laboratory includes studies of how tumor cells gain an increased migratory capacity. In addition, tumor interactions with immune cells alter immune function and phenotype which provide a means for continued disease progression. Thus, defining tumor-immune cell interactions and how they modulate immune cell function is the focus of another project in the lab. Many epithelial tumors are innervated yet the mechanisms driving this innervation are not understood. Given that the extent of innervation correlates with outcome (highly innervated tumors suffer a worse prognosis including increased metastasis), work in the Vermeer laboratory also focuses on defining the mechanisms driving innervation. Finally, it is known that tumor cells release exosomes, yet their function in metastasis remains largely undefined. Exosomes may provide long-distance signals that prime target organs to support metastatic growth. By studying exosomes of different epithelial origins we aim to better understand their function as it pertains to metastasis. Together these projects have one goal, to help define key mechanisms that contribute to disease progression and metastasis and identify novel targets for therapeutic intervention. While very basic in nature, the Vermeer laboratory has a strong translational component and routinely uses pre-clinical mouse models of cancer to test novel therapeutic interventions. The ultimate goal is to bring new therapeutic interventions and approaches to clinical trial.
Cancer associated proteins and the immune response