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Spinal Oncology Laboratory for Translational Molecular Genetics

The bony skeleton is one of the most common sites of metastatic spread of cancer and is a significant source of morbidity in cancer patients, causing pain and pathological fracture, impaired ambulatory ability, and poorer quality of life.

In our continuous investigation the mechanism of metastasis in spine tumors and developing animal models and treatments, we seek to understand how cancer cells metastasize to the bony spine.

Animal cancer models of skeletal metastases are essential for:

  • better understanding of the molecular pathways behind metastatic spread and local growth and invasion of bone
  • analysis of host-tumor cell interactions
  • identification of barriers to the metastatic process
  • platforms to develop and test novel therapies before clinical application in human patients.

Thus, the ideal animal model should be clinically relevant, reproducible and representative of the human condition. With this in mind our laboratory develops novel techniques to evaluate our animal models of metastatic spine disease, such as:

  • gait locomotion quantitative analysis
  • correlation of tumor growth with hind limbs function
  • pain response to noxious stimulus to evaluate nociception in rats harboring spine tumors
  • imaging analyses such as bioluminescence and nanoSPECT/CT to detect cancer cells’ metastasis.

We have the unique opportunity to collect human patient samples from the operating room and use them in our research to understand how primary cancers such as breast, prostate, melanoma and lung behave in an immunosupressed animal.

Tumor Metastasis to the Spinal Column

A: Metastasis to the bony structure, primary tumor cells Vertebral column, B: tumor

Tumor cells and the "seed and soil" theory. The bone niche is a specialized microenvironment providing all the required factors for the development of sarcoma cells. A vicious circle is established between the bone microenvironment and the cancer cells. Indeed, some cancer cells dysregulate bone cell (osteoclast and osteoblast) activities, modify vascularization and alter local immunity, thus contributiong to their survival, growth and dissemination. (Sciubba Spinal Oncology Laboratory)


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