I trained as an M.D., Ph.D. in oncology. While my clinical training gave me important insights into patient care, my interests over time have shifted to more basic mechanisms of cancer biology. During my postdoctoral training, I became interested in the zebrafish as a model, since it has a unique set of genetic and imaging tools to interrogate cancer.
To better understand each step in tumour progression, I developed a transparent strain of zebrafish called casper which has greatly facilitated imaging. One advantage of using the zebrafish is that it allows us to study tumour development in an intact microenvironment, with all the various cells that contribute to the tumour ecosystem. Our work has centred on understanding how cancer cells co-opt and use programmes commonly deployed during embryonic development.
We have made fundamental discoveries about how neural crest programmes in melanoma affect response to oncogenes, how the anatomic position of the cell determines which oncogenes the cell responds to, and how microenvironmental cells such as adipocytes can promote metastasis. I believe that a deeper understanding of basic cancer biology is central to eventual translation to the clinic, and support trainees who are driven by curiosity-based research.