Professor, Molecular Biosciences; Judd A. and Marjorie Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences
TRIST-Skin Cancers,Tumor Invasion, Metastasis & Angiogenesis
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Research in the LaBonne lab focuses on the regulation of, the neural crest, a population of embryonic cells that give rise to a wide range of pediatric and adult cancers including neuroblastoma and melanoma. These proliferative, migratory, tissue invasive stem cells undergo an epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) at a key stage in their development, and migrate extensively to populate target tissues throughout the embryo. A number of proteins that control key aspects of normal neural crest development are misregulated neural crest derived tumors, therefore examining the regulatory programs that control the normal development of neural crest cells can provide important insight into how such programs are inappropriately reactivated during tumorigenesis. Dr. LaBonne's laboratory actively studies these links, with neuroblastoma and melanoma as a major focus of study. Moreover, as it has become increasingly clear that the mechanisms that control developmental and pathological EMT's are highly conserved, the neural crest has emerged as an important in vivo model system for understanding the cellular and molecular events underlying this process during tumor progression. Dr. LaBonne's laboratory studies the function and posttranslational regulation of two classes of transcription factors, Snail family repressors, and Twist-related activators, that are key molecular regulators of EMTs in both neural crest development and in tumor progression. Dr. LaBonne's group also collaborates with Dr. Meade in the Department of Chemistry on the characterization of novel cobalt (III) Schiff base compounds designed to interfere with Snail function, and in evaluating the therapeutic potential of these agents as inhibitors of pathological EMTs and tumor cell invasiveness.