New researcher joins UH Cancer Center faculty

September 20, 2018

The UH Cancer Center’s Cancer Biology Program welcomed Muller Fabbri, MD, PhD, as an associate researcher in June. “I was drawn to Hawaiʻi because of its ethnic diversity and the abundance of natural products that fuels my research interests,” said Fabbri.

Muller Fabbri, MD, PhD
Muller Fabbri, MD, PhD

Fabbri’s research focuses on trying to understand the relationship between cancer cells and other surrounding cells including immune cells, cells that form blood vessel walls, and fibroblast cells that form collagen in the “tumor microenvironment”. Recently it has been found that the tumor microenvironment contributes to the growth of cancer cells.

In 2012, Fabbri discovered that cancer cells secrete microRNAs inside of tiny fluid-filled sacs called exosomes. He showed that exosomes can shuttle microRNAs from cancer cells to surrounding immune cells that carry a protein called TLR8. As a consequence of the interaction, a specific subtype of immune cells called macrophages stop fighting the growth of cancer cells and start secreting other proteins and other microRNAs that promote cancer cell growth, dissemination and resistance to therapy.

Fabbri’s research goal is to develop strategies to interrupt this communication between cancer cells and the tumor microenvironment in order to inhibit cancer growth and the development of resistance to treatment.