Project titleWhat do fibroblasts and immune cells talk about: unraveling secret conversation between CAFs and immune cells

In the past decades, cancer treatment and prognosis were mainly focused on the tumour cells themselves. However, recent studies suggest that tumour progression is affected in many aspects by its tumour microenvironment (TME), consisting of extracellular matrix (ECM) populated by cancer-associated fibroblasts, vascular space-related cells (endothelial cells, pericytes, smooth muscle cells), and immune response cells (macrophages, mast cells, lymphocytes). For this reason, targeting TME components and their interactions with each other seems like a promising way to improve the effectiveness of cancer therapies and prognosis.

Fibroblasts are the most abundant cell type in connective tissues, also largely present in the tumour’s microenvironment in two types: naïve fibroblasts and cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs). Cancer-associated fibroblasts - the main character of this project - is a unique population of cells that significantly promote cancer progression through numerous processes such as angiogenesis, metastasis, differentiation and activation of other pro-inflammatory cells. However, the main challenge associated with the nature of CAFs is their phenotypic and functional diversity in the tumour microenvironment, along with heterogeneity reflected in their origin. Extensive research was conducted on a diverse set of markers expressed by CAFs at different cancer types and stages such as a-SMA, FSP1, FAP, PDGFR-b and vimentin as an attempt to characterize this population. Unfortunately, it was found that these markers are usually also expressed in normal tissue or by other TME resident cells, supporting the notion of heterogeneity.  

For this reason, this project focuses on examining this unique population based on its functionality and extensive crosstalk with immune cells as opposed to the previously discussed expression of different markers. It provides a big picture of interactions of CAFs with other immune cells, exploring numerous pathways that could be then used as potential targets for cancer therapy.

Primary contact nameAdel Fergatova
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Primary contact mobile phone+97455031950
Students/participant(s) programs
  • Biological Sciences
Faculty advisor(s)
Advisor name Email Affiliation
Nesrine Affara Carnegie Mellon University Qatar
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  • Biological Sciences