Most cancer research focuses on understanding the biology of the cancer cell, but tumors are composites of many cell types, not just cancerous ones. In addition, although cancers are usually classified by the tissue in which they originate, cancer is a systemic disease that can affect many parts of the body. This is the case in particular for epithelial cancers, such as colorectal, lung, pancreatic, and renal cancers. One example of the systemic effects of cancer is cachexia, the wasting syndrome that’s especially common in people with advanced disease. Cancer can also have a wide-ranging influence on sleep and metabolism. But despite this significant connection, the systemic biological changes that can occur throughout the body in response to cancer have not been well studied.
In this project, Semir Beyaz and Tobias Janowitz aim to decode the complicated, whole-body response to cancer. The first part of this effort is aimed at studying the wide-ranging systemic effects of cancer, including how it interacts with the host’s neuroendocrine system, immune system, and microbiome. The investigators are using experimental animal models and patient samples in their research. They expect this approach to be synergistic, using the same samples to study a range of different connections. The data collected from this project will be used to develop organ system-specific models, which then can be employed to build translational models that predict disease outcomes and patient response to treatment.