About Ubaldo A. Soto-Wegner, PhD
Cellular plasticity: a cellular strategy to survive in challenging microenvironments
Cellular plasticity is defined as the ability of the cell to change its phenotype in response to microenvironmental signals. Stem cells are a prototype of cells with high plasticity due to their physiological role in the generation of a variety of different cell types both during development and in tissue regeneration.
Interestingly, most human tumors contain a minor subpopulation of malignant cells with stem cell characteristics and also high plasticity. These cells are known as cancer stem cells (CSCs) or tumor-initiating cells because of their great ability to originate and support tumors.
My lab is studying the mechanism of cell plasticity in various types of breast cancer in order to understand which genes or pathways are responsible for these changes in cell phenotype. We are using four in vitro experimental approaches, either independently or in combination with each other. These approaches are: a) modification of the microenvironment through the use of conditioned media from other cell types; b) overexpress or inhibit genes that are characteristic of another cell phenotype; c) the use of chemicals that modify histone acetylation, thus changing the epigenetic program of the treated cells; and d) growing cells under hypoxia. We pay special attention to modifying genetic programs important in determining the phenotype of breast cancer stem cells.
We used various bioinformatics tools to compare our findings with information contained in databases related to normal and cancer cells.
A new area of research in my labotarory is the study of the role the microbiome plays in the development of breast cancer.