How does your tumor cell grow?
BY EMILY KULKUS
From her laboratory at Upstate, Dimitra Bourboulia, PhD, is working toward ways to limit the spread of invasive cancers.
Bourboulia was recently awarded a $1.3 million, four-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to study what makes tumor cells grow and spread throughout the body.
She has been investigating for more than a decade the regulation and function of secreted proteolytic enzymes, or MMPs, predominately in tumors that invade through surrounding tissue. In her new project — titled “Regulation of the Extracellular Hsp90 Chaperone Machinery” — she examines how multiple regulators (activators and inhibitors) interact and signal outside the cell to tweak the activity of MMPs.
Normally, cells release proteins that function to build and maintain a healthy surrounding environment, called the extracellular matrix, a well-organized, supporting 3D structure. In cancers and some other diseases, this matrix can be damaged when MMPs fail to perform their function in a normal way.
“This research essentially focuses on key secreted proteins and their binding partners that function as a team not inside, but outside, the cell,” Bourboulia says. “If we want to therapeutically target invasive tumors and limit their spread, we need to understand what makes this extracellular Hsp90 pro-invasive machinery so powerful. Unfortunately, we know how only very few components of this machinery work.”
Her project has direct ties to many human cancers, including kidney, prostate, breast and lung, with a focus on cases where aggressive tumors have spread through the body.
Bourboulia, an associate professor of urology and biochemistry and molecular biology at Upstate, is an expert in extracellular protein signaling and homeostasis. Because of her contribution to deciphering the function of extracellular Hsp90 in cancer, she was presented with the 2020 Ritossa Early Career Award.