SPUR 2022: Lipid metabolic reprogramming drives liver cancer

Background

The transformation of a normal cell into a cancerous one necessitates a profound remodeling of cellular metabolism to support the proliferative phenotype. In perhaps no other tumor type is this change as all-encompassing as in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), wherein a very metabolically complex hepatocyte must transition its function away from supporting whole-body metabolism and towards tumorigenic growth. Changes in lipid metabolism are well documented in the development of steatohepatitis that precedes HCC, but whether and how altered lipid metabolism directly contributes to HCC remains unknown. In this project we are working in a zebrafish model to study changes in lipid metabolism that occur upon the transition from a normal cell to a cancerous one. Studying lipid metabolism in cancer is difficult and to address the important questions of not just what is different but how and why they are different, new tools and methods are needed. To address this challenge, our lab is developing new analytical methods to quantify not just steady-state levels of lipids, but also integrate isotope tracing to understand lipid metabolic fluxes. This project will utilize state-of-the-art mass spectrometry tools and is ideal for a student with a strong chemical and analytical background with a deep interest in cancer biology.

Student Role

The Ducker lab is a biomedical research laboratory conducting laboratory-based experiments in cancer research. The lab consists of graduate students, technicians and postdoctoral fellows. As an undergraduate student researcher, you will be asked to fully participate in the functioning of the research group. You will be assigned to work with a permanent lab member who will guide you day-to-day in your laboratory work. Examples of experiments that you may perform include genetic engineering of mammalian cells using CRISPR/ Cas9, the culture of human cancer cells in vitro, developing analytic methods for mass spectrometry and working with high complexity mass spectrometry data through simple coding in R. The student will read background papers and perform their own literature searches for information relating to their specific experiments and summarize that research in a presentation. The exact experiments that the student will perform will depend upon their specific skills/ interests and the current experiments in the lab over the summer experience. The lab has weekly group meetings in which lab members share their progress and the student will present his/her summer research at the end of the experience.

Student Learning Outcomes & Benefits

A summer research experience in my laboratory will help prepare the student for future laboratory work in academic or industry as well as expose them to medical research questions and techniques that may be helpful in applying to professional school in the health sciences. A summer in my laboratory may lead to the opportunity for additional work experience with me or another research PI and eventual publications which would be helpful for applying to a PhD program in the sciences. Prior undergraduate researchers in my group have gone on to PhD programs in pharmaceutical chemistry and technician jobs in research laboratories.

Gregory Ducker
Assistant Professor

Biochemistry
School of Medicine

I run a small, tightly knit group of biomedical researchers. If you work in my laboratory, you will benefit from frequent one on one interactions with myself. In addition to weekly meetings, I will help you to implement your experiments and troubleshoot your project. A student should expect a supportive and positive environment from myself, but one with high expectations. This experience is in a professional research lab and my chief goal as a mentor is to help a student develop their technical skills, knowledge base and critical thinking abilities to be able to be a high-functioning member of a laboratory research group.