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Ovarian Cancer

In high grade serous ovarian cancer, the 5-year survival rate is less than ten percent, and there are an estimated 21,000 new cases each year of ovarian cancer, with 14,000 women succumbing to the disease each year. A contributing factor to these numbers occurs because most patients present with widespread disease at the time of diagnosis due to a lack of diagnostic tests. Goal 2 of the Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH) Strategic Plan calls for ‘work toward devising minimally invasive technologies for rapid and accurate screening, diagnosis, and treatment of diseases.’ 

In collaboration with Joanna Burdette's lab at UIC, we seek to (1) exploit and expand our knowledge of imaging mass spectrometry (IMS) to probe the small molecule signaling that governs early metastasis of ovarian cancer and (2) identify molecular signatures for various types and stages of ovarian cancer.

Funding: NIH K12 BIRCWH scholarship (2016-2018, Completed), UIC CCTS Pilot Grant (2017-2019, Completed), RCSA Scialog Award (2019-2020, Completed), NIH R01 CA24042301 (2020-2025), Foundation for Women's Cancers - Laura Crandall Brown Foundation Ovarian Cancer Early Detection Research Grant (2023-2024)

Host- Microbe Chemical Communication

A major area of research is now dedicated to how beneficial bacteria—our “microbiome”—are required for nutrient acquisition, immune and tissue development, and to preferentially occupy niches that otherwise can be overtaken by pathogens. Bacteria dedicate up to 25 % of their genetic material to chemistry, but little is known about how bacteria use chemistry in a host. Therefore a major question now is to understand how chemical communication between the host and colonizing microbe mediate specific interactions. This project integrates the bioanalytical imaging expertise of the Sanchez Lab, the animal and genetic expertise of the Mark Mandel Lab, and the chemical probe synthetic strategies expertise of Terry Moore's Lab. 

Funding: Chicago Biomedical Consortium Catalyst Grant (2017, Completed), NSF IOS #2220510 (2022-2025)

Polymicrobial Communities

In nature, organisms exist in close physical proximity and often either compete for resources or rely on metabolic exchange for community survival. Cheese rind communities are relatively simple mixed microbial communities (~10-12 microbes/rind) and these communities can be recapitulated in a lab setting. There has been increasing speculation that the microbes we ingest may play a role in our overall health. In collaboration with Benjamin Wolfe's lab at Tufts University, we are investigating how microbial pairs isolated from cheese interact with one another. 

Funding: NSF MCB #1817955 (2018-2021, Completed)

The Specialized Metabolites of Pathogenesis

Biofilms are sessile surface-attached bacterial communities encased in a complex matrix. Biofilm formation is a contributing factor to virulence and persistence of up to 80% of microbial infections in the human body. It is, therefore, of the utmost importance to detect these pathogens in the biofilm state prior to infection of a host. The Sanchez lab uses state-of-the-art MS techniques to study the specialized metabolites involved in biofilm formation in two clinically relevant Gram-negative pathogens. Defining the specialized metabolites of pathogenesis will allow us to test the hypothesis that there are specific specialized metabolites produced by the pathogens in the biofilm state that can be monitored using mass spectrometry. We collaborate with Fitnat Yildiz's lab on this project. 

Funding: ASP research starter grant (2017-2018, Completed), 2018 Vahlteich Award (Completed)

Other Collaborative Projects

Title: A new paradigm for the creation and mining of microbial libraries for drug discovery. Collaborators - Brian Murphy UIC, Mingxun Wang UC Riverside. Funding NIH R01 NIGMS (2018-2022) 

Title: Development of a high throughput platform for screening directed evolution libraries. Collaborators - Shaun McKinnie UCSC. Funding NIH R21 NIGMS (2023-2024)

Expansion Mass Spectrometry

Single cell analyses can be accomplished at the genomic and transcriptomic level and have provided insight into how variable individual cells can be within a single sample. However, nutrients and metabolites have remained elusive due to the lack of amplification strategies and mainly rely on direct measurements accomplished using mass spectrometers. To address this current gap in technical capabilities we have formed a highly interdisciplinary team to physically expand single cells to allow for direct measurements of nutrients at the subcellular level. This project integrates the bioanalytical imaging expertise of the Sanchez Lab with Lydia Kisley's lab expertise in soft materials and super-resolution microscopy. 

Funding: RCSA Scialog award (2022), Allen Distinguished Investigator award (2022-2025)

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