CRI Funded Scientists

Helen M. McRae, PhD, CRI-Merck Postdoctoral Fellow

Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Area of Research: All Cancers

How a cancer grows and spreads in the body depends on the cancer cells themselves and also on the surrounding environment. The cells surrounding a cancer can either fight the cancer to stop it growing and spreading, or in many cases they contribute to helping a cancer grow. Macrophages are large immune cells involved in many different processes in the body. Macrophages are often present in solid tumors and in some cases make up half the tumor mass. A high number of macrophages surrounding tumor cells are known to be associated with poor patient outcomes in most solid cancer types. This is due to the macrophages secreting factors that promote blood vessel formation and spread of the cancer, as well as suppressing the function and recruitment of other immune cells that could help kill the cancer cells.

A novel method for stopping the growth and spread of a cancer involves “re-educating” these macrophages to change their function from tumor-promoting to tumor-fighting. Dr. McRae aim to turn macrophages into “tumor fighting” cells by controlling which genes are turned on or off by disrupting a large multi-protein complex that controls access to DNA, called the PBAF complex. She has already shown that genetically deleting one component of the PBAF complex, is able to reduce tumor growth, and now her research will explore how PBAF complexes are working at the molecular level and how they affect other cells in the tumor microenvironment, laying the foundations to exploit the PBAF complex as a new therapeutic target.

Projects and Grants

Epigenetic reprogramming of tumor-associated macrophages

Salk Institute for Biological Studies | All Cancers | 2021 | Diana Hargreaves, PhD

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