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Inflammation Lab Research

 Mast Cell Training in the Tumor Microenvironment

Model of mast cell training in the tumor microenvironment.  A. Malignant cancer cells produce high concentrations of TGF-β1, recruiting mast cells and causing production of inflammatory cytokines such as IL-6, IL-1β, and TNF-α. These cytokines initiate a suppressive effect on natural anti-cancer immunity mediated through cells such as myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) by inhibiting tumor-killing cell types (e.g., cytotoxic T-cells, Natural Killer cells, etc.). The result is progression of the cancer. B. Zoom-in of the mast cell interior showing the proposed molecular mechanism for training through the NLRP3 inflammasome.

We are interested in cell biology questions that have translational importance for diseases and medicine, especially for complementary and integrative health practices already in use by many people.  Generally, we can be characterized as stuyding inflammation, whether this is allergy, wound healing, or cancer.  A lot of the cells and mechanisms we study are effectors of the interactions between innate and adaptive immunity, and our specific projects all contribute to three broader areas: (1) Mast Cell Biology; (2) Inflammatory Modulation; (3) Immune Cell Dynamics in Cancer.

We are currently working on the following:
  • Signaling networks affecting mast cell trained immunity, with special attention to TGF-β1.
  • Characterizing and then targeting the immune system cells affecting recovery from traumatic skeletal muscle injury.
  • The effects of plant-derived natural products on T cell and mast cell biology.
  • In collaboration with the Haughian and Hayward (School of Sport and Exercise Science) labs we are studying the effects of exercise on cancer progression and recovery. Currently, we are focusing on TH17, TH22, and myeloid-derived suppressor cell expansion and function in the context of exercise.  
  • Functional roles of trefoil family factors (TFFs) and their utility as biomarkers across diverse cancer types.  This includes the definition of their receptors, and other major signaling networks overlapping with TFF activities.

We are actively seeking collaboration on these exciting, new projects involving plant-derived compounds and immune system cells:

  • The effects of the alkaloid berberine on antigen presentation and Th cell programming, with the goal of assessing berberine's prophylactic potential for autoimmune pathologies such as rheumatoid arthritis.
  • The anti-cancer potential of cannabinoids (THC, CBD, CBA), directly on cancer cells and on related cells of the immune system.
  • The effects of cannabinoids, more broadly, on myeloid and lymphoid cell biology to determine the antagonistic and agonistic uses of cannabinoids as potential anti-inflammatory supplements.

Representative publications can be viewed via this link.