Dr Elisabeth Phillips is an emerging cancer researcher who has research interests in cancer, particularly the tumour microenvironment and therapy resistance.
Cancer does not develop in isolation. A milieu of other cells, extracellular matrix component and physical stressors surround cancers as they develop and grow, creating a permissive environment for the initiation, growth and metastasis of cancer. Adipose tissue is present within the tumour microenvironment of several invasive cancers. Adipocytes have the ability to secrete a plethora of chemical signals and can form physical interactions with surrounding cells. This ‘cross-talk’ between cancer and adipocytes enables change of phenotype of both the cancer and the adipocytes, which is thought to be exacerbated under obesogenic conditions. The adipocytes within the tumour microenvironment that display this activated phenotype are named Cancer Associated Adipocytes (CAA).
Our research has used cutting-edge molecular techniques to probe this dynamic cellular interaction in vitro and in clinical samples, with the aim of finding underlying mechanisms that have the potential to be exploited for targeted therapy.
We have used in vitro models with primary human breast adipocytes cultured together with cancer cells and used a combination of OMICs technologies to investigate changes within the breast cancer cells. We have also used mass-spectrometry based proteomics to profile the changes that occur in the secreted factors released by the adipocytes after. Using this data, we are working to identify how to exploit CAAs to target tumours more effectively through studying the pathways that are fundamental to their pro-tumour functions in vitro and in people with cancer through clinical samples.
In addition, we, in collaboration with Dr Khoon Lim (Christchurch REgenerative and Tissue Engineering group), are further developing an in vitro, 3-dimensional model that we will use to investigate the CAA: Cancer interaction using a combination of cell and molecular biology approaches.
Current PhD students
Student: Eleanor Burgess
Thesis title: The role of ascorbate in glioma
Supervisors: Gabi Dachs, Elisabeth Philies, Bridget Robinson and Margreet Vissers
Student: Rebekah Crake
Thesis title: Local and systemic effects of adipocyte-secreted factors in breast cancer
Supervisors: Margaret Currie, Elisabeth Phillips, Matthew Strother, Bridget Robinson
Student: Jessika Wise
Thesis title: 3D breast tumour models for drug discovery
Supervisors: Elisabeth Phillips, Khoon Lim, Margaret Currie and Tim Woodfield
Completed PhD students
Student: Christina Wohlrab
Thesis title: The role of ascorbate in controlling hypoxia factors in renal cell carcinoma
Supervisors: Gabi Dachs, Elisabeth Phillips, Bridget Robinson, Margreet Vissers
Completed MSc student
Student: Mohini Puri
Thesis title: Role of cancer associated adipocytes (CAA) and tumour associated collagen structures (TACS) in breast cancer cell invasion and metastasis
Supervisors: Margaret Currie, Elisabeth Phillips
Completed BBiomedSc(Hons) students
Student: Rebekah Crake
Thesis title: Exploring molecular links between obesity and breast cancer
Supervisors: Logan Walker, Elisabeth Phillips, Margaret Currie
Student: Morgan Jones
Thesis title: Does fat provide energy for breast tumour cell invasion and metastasis?
Supervisors: Margaret Currie, Elisabeth Phillips, Mark Hampton
Student: Anishah Mandani
Thesis title: Development of a metabolic syndrome model of breast cancer
Supervisors: Gabi Dachs, Elisabeth Phillips, Margaret Currie