Cell adhesion plays an important role in tissue structure and function. Most cells in our bodies adhere to their surrounding environment in order to survive and grow normally. The environment where the cell 'sticks' regulates many cellular processes including cell division and differentiation. One trait of cancers is that they do not show normal tissue organization and cell adhesion is not required for their survival. Tumours are relatively disorganized groups of cells. One of the projects carried out in Dr. Lafrenie's lab is to study how cell adhesion to different surroundings can regulate the activity of a cell and to determine how this knowledge can be translated to control cancer cell growth.
A goal of personalized medicine is to identify biomarkers that can be used identify treatments which give the best outcome for a specific patient. Genetic biomarkers can predict how a patient will respond to a specific cancer treatment. Each person has a unique DNA sequence and some of these differences (or sequence polymorphisms) can affect the activity of specific genes. These differences in gene activity can affect the stability of the chemotherapy or the ability to repair damage caused by the chemotherapy. Dr. Lafrenie, in collaboration with Dr Conlon, has shown that specific sequence polymorphisms in the DNA coding for various detoxification and DNA repair genes can predict how well a patient responds to a certain type of chemotherapy compared to patients with a different sequence.
Many cancer patients take natural products as part of their effort to fight cancer. Most patients undergoing treatment for cancer receive either chemotherapy or radiation therapy. While effective, these treatments also result in a host of side effects. Natural products can be used to minimize side effects or as an adjunct to standard therapy – although the impact of these products is often unknown. Dr. Lafrenie’s laboratory is investigating how compounds extracted from various plants used in traditional medicine or as functional foods, might benefit patients with cancer by being able to treat their disease without producing as many unwanted side effects. In addition, understanding how the natural products work informs how they might interact with standard anti-cancer therapies.
Electromagnetic fields are ubiquitous in the modern environment arising from all electrical devices, power lines, and cell phones. These magnetic fields have been shown to have effects on cell behaviour and have been associated with increased human cancer risk in some studies. However, Dr. Lafrenie, in collaboration with Dr C Buckner and Dr. M Persinger, have shown that exposure to a specific time-varying magnetic field can actually inhibit cancer growth and are trying to develop this pattern as an anticancer therapy.