My work in Dr. Bode’s lab this summer is focused on understanding liver cancer and its possible treatments. Cancerous transformation of cells involves changes in nutrient consumption and metabolism. Among nutrients, changes in glucose and glutamine uptake and use are particularly profound and collectively drive the metabolic engine of tumor growth and progression. Cancer cells also undergo different metabolic pathways in order to supply the essential building blocks, such as lipids and nucleic acids, that are required by rapidly proliferating cells. One treatment is to attempt to impair the cancerous cell’s ability to consume nutrients. This in essence starves the cancer which then undergoes necrosis which is cell death.
To date, human cells have been used as a model to study these nutrient transporters, but mouse models of human cancer are needed to assess therapies. The goal of this project is to examine glutamine transporter expression in mouse liver cells and tissue, both normal and cancerous, and catalog the changes in glutamine transporter expression for comparison to cognate changes in human liver. What is novel about our current research project is that we are also using bioinformatics to study the gene expression of the amino acid transporters between mouse and human cells.
By analyzing the expression of the specific genes that encode for the solute carriers we are interested in, we will be better able to determine which genes and proteins to study later on in our project. The technology that we are employing to study liver cancer solute carrier expression, bioinformatics, is a relatively new field of biology and has only become widely used in the past few years. This new technology allows us to be certain that we are now wasting our time or resources screening for certain proteins if they are not even coded for in the cell’s genes, and therefore not expressed. This allows to to pinpoint which proteins to screen for later using more traditional methods such as Western blots.