Immune responses play a critical role in preventing tumorigenesis. Sometimes, however, they are ineffectual and can even drive/support malignancy.

We have examined how cancer cells alter and are influenced by their tumor microenvironments (TMEs), and the impact this has on therapeutic responses. Illustratively, in Pancreatic Ductal Adenocarcinoma (PDAC), by profiling liver metastases and matched organoid models, we showed: 1. associations between TME and malignant cell state composition; 2. that autocrine and paracrine signaling can drive malignant cell state transitions, even in an isogenic background, altering the efficacy of frontline chemotherapies; and, 3. that microenvironmental manipulations can be used to control malignant state, and thereby drug responses, rationally, and to improve model fidelity for screening potential therapies. This and related work highlight the potential utility of modulating indirect target cells (T cells in the PDAC TME or basal cells in allergic inflammation) to enhance cures and preventions. 

We are now systematically expanding this work to define how additional environmental and cell-intrinsic factors influence malignant cell state plasticity in PDAC and other cancers toward enhancing treatments.

Dissecting intercellular interactions in tumors