Richard Hynes has conducted seminal work on the role of cell adhesion in normal and pathological processes, starting with the discovery of the extracellular matrix (ECM) protein, fibronectin, in 1973. Subsequently, he investigated its connection via integrin transmembrane receptors to the actin cytoskeleton and identified and analysed many of the key proteins involved in cell adhesion.
The molecular connection via integrins mediates both biochemical and mechanical signal transduction between the ECM and the cell, controlling many aspects of cell behaviour. It also plays major roles in embryonic development, physiology (for example, haemostasis and immunity) and pathology (thrombosis, fibrosis, inflammation, autoimmunity and cancer). Drugs that interfere with integrin-mediated adhesion are in clinical use to treat many of these pathologies.
Most recently, Richard’s laboratory has focused on detailed investigations of the ECM, the complex protein meshwork supporting cells and tissues, and its functions in cancer progression. In particular, his team has shown the essential role of cell–ECM and cell–cell interactions in promoting metastatic spread of cancer cells, which is responsible for 90% of cancer deaths.