Dr. Postovit is the Sawin-Baldwin Chair in Ovarian Cancer and an Associate Adjunct Professor in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology. Her Primary Appointment is Associate Professor in the Department of Oncology, University of Alberta.
Bidirectional communication between cells and their microenvironment is a hallmark of both cancer progression and embryological development. Indeed, in all physiological instances, cells do not survive autonomously, but rather rely on extracellular cues to direct functions as diverse as proliferation, apoptosis, invasion and differentiation. The past decade has seen an explosion of research on cells with the capacity to differentiate in response to specific microenvironmental cues. During embryogenesis, these "stem cells" are the source of all cell lineages and in adulthood they function in tissue repair and rejuvenation. Recent studies have found that cancers may similarly develop from stem cell populations, and that these rarely occurring cells care likely responsible for tumour formation, drug resistance and metastasis. The unifying goal of our research program is to determine what types of microenvironments regulate normal and cancer stem cell plasticity and function, and to elucidate the mechanisms by which such microenvironments elicit their effects. Put in another way, we are interested in epigenetics; or how the microenvironment can regulate cell function by changing which genes can be expressed. Ultimately, these studies will lead to the development of methods to maintain normal stem cell pluripotency and to inhibit cancer cell plasticity and metastasis. This research program is comprised of the following projects:
- Role of oxygen as an epigenetic regulator of tumour progression and metastasis
- Role of the extracellular matrix proteins in the regulation of stem cells and cancers
- Function and regulation of the embryonic protein Nodal in cancer and stem cells
- Microenvironmental regulation of cancer progression at the cancer-stroma interface.
- Microenvironmental regulation of placental development at the feto-maternal interface
- Identifying biomarkers that can predict ovarian cancer
- Identifying targets for the treatment and prevention of ovarian cancer metastasis
Translational Research Team Focussed of Cancers Affecting Women
One of our major goals is to see the work that we do in the lab translate into new treatments or early detection methods for cancer patients: We want to translate our scientific results into clinical practice. To do this, we work in teams. One newly formed team at the University of Alberta is the Ovarian Cancer Research Team. Faculty members in this team include Dr. Helen Steed (surgical oncology), Dr. YangXin Fu (experimental oncology) and Dr. Cheng-Han Lee (pathology). Together with scientists and clinicians in our research programs, we will work together to discover new targets for the treatment and earlier detection of ovarian cancer. This will complement ongoing projects that the Postovit lab has in the area of breast cancer. A great deal of infrastructure, such as tumour banks and a state-of-the-art pathology suite, help aid our translational studies. Moreover, we will be establishing a pre-clinical animal core. This will include animals containing patient derived xenografts (PDX). Importantly, the PDX models will allow our group to test drug combinations on heterogeneous tumours in a manner that is more clinically relevant than clonally derived conventional xenograft models.