Human Avatars: Animal Models of Cancer Metastasis

Animal models of brain and skeletal metastases are essential for understanding the molecular pathways behind distal spread and local growth and invasion of cancer to brain and bone (metastasis). The Brain Tumor Stem Cell Research Lab's animal models allow researchers to analyze host-tumor cell interactions, identify barriers to the metastatic process, and provide platforms to develop and test therapeutic approaches.

Rachel Sarabia Estrada, D.V.M., Ph.D. developed two animal models to study spine metastasis. In one model, Dr. Sarabia Estrada isolated a set of cells that tend to preferentially invade into a specific organ and used these cells to perform subsequent cycles of systemic injections, to eventually select for a group of cells that have a very high specificity for metastasizing to the lab's target areas of interest — the brain or the spine.

In the second model, Dr. Sarabia Estrada, in collaboration with Dr. Quinones-Hinojosa, developed an orthotopic spine model in which primary tumor tissue from patients is cultured and the obtained cells are grown in rodents to subsequently be directly implanted into their vertebral bodies.

Dr. Sarabia Estrada has characterized this model, using functional and biological testing, so that the model closely recapitulates the destructive properties of tumors that proliferate within the spine.

The development of orthotopic animal models for metastatic brain and spine tumors will significantly speed up the development of new therapies and local adjuvant therapies to treat patients with cancer.

Project team

Lab members studying how animal models of cancer metastasis can serve as human avatars include: