Metastasis, which is the spread of cancer cells from a primary tumor to other areas in the body, remains the main cause of cancer related death. Awareness of the clinical importance of metastasis and our basic scientific understanding of the metastatic process has improved substantially over the past few decades. However, many aspects of metastasis are still not well defined and our ability to identify patients at high risk for cancer spread is limited. In addition, cancer treatments are not metastatic-specific, so despite aggressive treatments many patients still progress to a metastatic disease state. Dr. Williams' research aims to address these issues by identifying aggressive disease early and uncovering key regulators of metastasis for inhibitor development.
Cancer cells are constantly shedding small fragments, which can be readily detected in the blood. This project will develop a test that analyzes these fragments, identifying cancer patients and determining the aggressive nature of their disease. It also aims to uncover how cancer cells move and grow within the body by forming tiny 'feet-like' structures called invadopodia. Understanding their role in cancer progression will shed light on how cancer cells move and grow within the body, validating them as targets for metastatic inhibitor development. Overall, this research program will make powerful strides towards ending metastasis, the most significant cause of cancer mortality.