Molecular Mechanisms Underlying Breast Cancer Formation, Cancer Stem Cells, and Metastasis
The Li laboratory investigates the molecular and cellular mechanisms of breast cancer initiation, progression and metastasis as well as cancer stem cells. Specifically, the Li lab studies how specific subsets of breast cells respond to the initiating oncogenes and eventually evolve into cancer. The molecular pathways that are examined by this lab include the Wnt-beta-catenin-LGR4, HER2/Neu, and JAK/STAT, and Bcl-xL signaling pathways. This lab also investigates the impact of pregnancy, obesity/diabetes, and antipsychotic drugs on breast cancer, and explores new approaches to breast cancer prevention. In addition, this group has recently begun to explore the involvement of immune cells in cancer initiation and invasion.
The Li lab uses genetically engineered mouse models as well as human cell lines and patient tissue samples to investigate fundamental questions in breast tumorigenesis. Besides these commonly used experimental systems, the Li lab has pioneered the use of the RCAS-TVA avian retroviral system for modeling breast cancer in mice (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17090666). This method introduces genetic mutations into selected mammary cells (such as stem cells and specific progenitor cells) in the midst of normal cells in the mammary gland in mice at selected times. This method overcomes many of the shortcomings of existing rodent models and more closely mimics human breast cancer formation where only one or a few cells mutate to initiate the cancer development. This unique methodology allows the Li lab to address crucial cancer questions that are otherwise difficult to study, such as early cancer initiation and interactions between mutated precancerous cells and their neighboring normal cells or local microenvironment.