Trainee Winner of the 2022 Grant Program!

25 October 2022by Dana Walsh

Congratulations to our three 2022 Grant Program for Scientists & Start-Ups North and South America winners! We are awarding a group of scientists with funding and resources along their journey in the microbiome space. The winners are receiving 90 samples extracted and sequenced, taxonomic profiling, functional profiling, statistical comparative analysis & a CosmosID-HUB bronze subscription!

The winner of the trainee category was Dr. Zachary Gerbec from the British Columbia Cancer Research Center in Canada!

About Dr. Gerbec: Dr. Gerbec began his career in academic research at the University of Wisconsin Madison, where he received his undergraduate degree in chemistry. After spending some time in industry, he went back to graduate school at the Medical College of Wisconsin where he began to focus more on biology and earned a PhD in Microbiology and Immunology with a specific focus on the immune response to cancer. Since then, his interest has shifted to understanding how interactions within the tumor microenvironment control tumor cell function and subsequent disease progression. This interest has fueled his current work attempting to understand how bacteria within the tumor microenvironment regulate both tumor cell and immune cell function to regulate metastasis. His is currently completing a joint postdoctoral fellowship between the microbiology lab of Dr. Brett Finlay lab and the oncology/metastasis lab of Dr. Shoukat Dedhar at the BC Cancer Research Centre. This joint position allows him to take advantage of the lab’s complimentary expertise to dissect the potential contribution of a tumor microbiome to controlling metastasis and disease progression.

Abstract title: Defining and targeting the metastasis-specific microbiome to control metastatic breast cancer

Abstract: The METABRIC biobank contains 2,500 primary breast tumor surgical samples that have been fully characterized, both genetically and clinically, out over 10 years of follow up. As part of a joint project between the labs of Dr. Brett Finlay and Dr. Shoukat Dedhar, we will use these frozen tissue samples available within our institution to sequence and define the microbiome composition of triple negative breast cancer (TNBC). We will do this while controlling for disease stage and other prognostic factors to determine if a specific microbial composition or abundance of specific bacteria independently correlates with greater metastatic potential and worse clinical prognosis. Metastasis is a major barrier to long-term survival, and therapeutic options for aggressive, metastatic forms of breast cancer remain limited. Clinical studies have identified tumor-resident bacteria that preferentially associate with specific breast cancer types including highly aggressive TNBC. However, it is not understood how the intratumoral microbiome directly contributes to disease progression and metastasis and, subsequently, how this contribution effects disease recurrence, metastatic spread, and long-term survival independent of other prognostic factors. Using mouse models, our labs found that TNBC tumors with varying metastatic potential harbor different bacterial species. Also, that certain metastasis-specific bacterium can increase tumor cell viability and even augment metastasis when introduced back into animal models. Based on these data, we hypothesize specific bacteria play a causative role in augmenting metastatic propensity and seek to use the landmark METABRIC biobank of patient samples to define a microbiome composition that is unique to, and indicative of, TNBC tumors with high metastatic potential. We will then use our established model systems to investigate the function of bacteria that correlate with poor survival and high rates of metastasis. These studies will establish a causal link between specific bacteria and metastatic disease and identify mechanistic targets for cancer treatment.

Congratulations to Dr. Gerbec!

Dana Walsh

Dana Walsh is a microbiome scientist whose career has consisted of a blend of wet bench and computational research. Currently, she is a Microbiome Scientist for CosmosID where she helps clients with custom microbiome analysis and interpretation as well as exploring new tools and methods for microbiome studies. She applies cutting-edge tools to integrate multi-omics data, including taxonomic, functional, meta-transcriptomics and metabolomics data, in order to help clients derive meaning from their results.