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A Chemical Biology Approach to the Study of Polysialic Acid in Cancer

Elizabeth Willis

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Funding source

Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)
Most of the cells in the adult body are tightly connected to adjoining cells, and these connections provide the framework for architecture of organs. Being tightly joined to your neighbor prevents cells from moving around the body (i.e., heart cells stay in the heart and liver cells stay in the liver). However, many cancers have developed a way to break these tight connections, allowing cells to move freely. This is important for tumors, where new blood vessels must move into the tumor to provide it with oxygen and nutrients. It is also crucial for the spread of many cancers, where cells from one tumor move to other areas of the body to form secondary tumors. The process involves coating the surface of the cell in a special molecule, called PSA, which allows them to slide against one another, instead of sticking. My proposal involves using cutting edge technology to determine both where and when this non-stick PSA coating appears. This approach is a fusion of chemistry and biology which will allow me to investigate the nature of the coating with an unprecedented level of detail. The results will provide scientists with new targets for chemotherapy in our ongoing efforts to improve the lives of Canadians and people around the world.

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