The Host-Tumor Interactions Research Program (HT) consists of basic, translational, and clinical scientists focused on discovering the interactions between tumor cells and their host, and developing strategies to interrupt those interactions in order to target and control tumor progression and metastasis. The central theme of the HT program is that tumor growth, invasion, and metastasis depend not only on the tumor cell alone, but also on the complex interactions between the tumor cells and the host. These sentiments have been embraced by the community as recently summarized by Hanahan and Weinberg, “…the biology of tumors can no longer be understood simply by enumerating the traits of the cancer cells but instead must encompass the contributions of the ‘tumor microenvironment’ to tumorigenesis” (Cell, 2011;144:646). Furthermore, the role the host microenvironment plays in tumor biology provides an exceptional opportunity for novel therapeutic strategies. In light of these realizations, the long-term scientific goal of the program is to develop a detailed and mechanistic understanding of not just the tumor cell and tumor mutations, but also all the components of the host microenvironment that influence cancer and the response to cancer therapy.
The individual scientific goals of the HT program are to:
- Identify and validate molecular targets involved in communication between the tumor and host that contribute to tumor progression using sequencing and antibodies, probes and small molecules, imaging, and computational modeling
- Develop in vitro and in vivo systems to test therapeutics and determine their mechanism of action
- Develop new methodologies capable of discovering and validating novel therapeutic targets
- Establish dynamic, multi-disciplinary collaborations that will accelerate these discoveries
These scientific goals guide our efforts at determining the role and mechanisms of the stromal cells, including the fibroblasts, endothelial and lymphatic elements, the matrix and the inflammatory/immune cells as critical targets for therapeutic intervention. While the scientific goals of the program have not changed since the last competing renewal, an effort to focus the program in order to develop the highest impact science in this area has resulted in evolution of the program.
Mary M. Zutter, M.D. assumed the role of Program Leader of the Host-Tumor Interactions Program in the spring of 2004. She is Professor of Pathology and Cancer Biology, and Ingram Professor of Cancer Research. She received her M.D. from Tulane University School of Medicine and completed a residency and hematopathology fellowship training in the Departments of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of Washington. She was recruited to the faculty of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in 2003 from the Department of Pathology at Washington University School of Medicine. Dr. Zutter focuses on the role of cell adhesion molecules in host-tumor interactions.
Thomas E. Yankeelov, Ph.D. is an Ingram Professor of Cancer Research and a Professor of Radiology and Radiological Sciences, Physics, Biomedical Engineering, and Cancer Biology at Vanderbilt University. He received an M.A. in Applied Mathematics (1998) and an M.S. in Physics (2000) from Indiana University. His doctorate is from SUNY at Stony Brook (2003) where he completed his dissertation at Brookhaven National Laboratory. His research program is focused on integrating quantitative imaging methods and biophysical models for predicting the response of cancer to therapy.