University of Cambridge
For tissues in our body to function optimally, the cells that they are made of must
also perform optimally. To achieve this a mechanism has evolved, called ‘cell
competition’, which leads to the elimination of cells that perform sub-optimally. When tissues are first formed, as cells grow and divide, they compare their fitness with neighbour cells and those cells that are sensed as weaker die and are eliminated. My lab is interested in
understanding how cell competition takes place and its relevance
both in healthy and in disease conditions, such as cancer. For our studies, we use
the fruit fly Drosophila and mammalian cells in culture. Our work is currently
focussing on two fronts.
Firstly, though cell competition happens during embryogenesis, it is unclear
to what extent cells also compete in adult tissues. If competition took place in adult tissues, it could improve the efficiency of cellular turnover, by ensuring that the cells that begin to
fail are the ones that are replaced first. Using the adult fly gut as a model system we have recently shown that competition does indeed take place in adult tissue and have identified some of the genes involved.
Secondly, we wish to understand the role of cell competition during cancer
formation. It has been suggested that competition could have both a tumour
promoting and a tumour suppressive role. Cancer cells could initiate competition
with neighbouring cells, kill them and clear space that they could fill with more
tumour cells. However it has also been suggested that normal cells could identify early cancer cells as aberrant and eliminate them before they expand into a tumour. There are
indications that both phenomena are happening, with one prevaling over the other
depending on the context. My lab is is studying these phenomena in tissue culture and also in Drosophila, where we can induce by genetic manipulation intestinal adenomas.
Interests and expertise (Subject groups)