What controls size? The question seems rather simple, but the mechanisms that control the size of organisms and their internal organs are among the least understood in biology. Moreover, the problem touches upon several fields, including developmental biology, cancer biology, signaling, and gene regulation, underscoring its fundamental nature. My laboratory seeks to determine how tissues normally measure size and control growth in their native (in vivo) environment. By activating or inactivating genes involved in regulation of cell growth, proliferation, and apoptosis in vivo, we plan to unravel the mechanisms by which cells communicate with each other during embryonic development and regeneration. We will pay particular attention to the Hippo pathway, a conserved signaling module that regulates tissue growth in Drosophila, by studying novel mouse strains that will permit us to conditionally activate or inactivate the pathway. The mechanisms that control size during development are likely to be used by cancer cells during malignant progression and possibly by adult organs during regeneration. As a result, we anticipate it will be possible to exploit the insights gained from our studies to develop therapies for cancer and a variety of degenerative diseases.
As an Innovation Fund investigator, Stanger’s lab is teaming up with the lab of Gilad Barnea, Ph.D., in hopes of developing novel means to track cancer cells as they spread. Barnea has created a technology that maps cellular connections in the nervous system, and Stanger is keen to use the technology to track how tumors spread. The pair aims to expand the utility of this unique tracking tool to trace a cancer cell’s movement and contact with other cells—work that could help to better define how and when metastatic disease takes hold.