Zena Werb, Ph.D.


Research Interests:
Extracellular communication in development and disease

The cellular microenvironment provides cells with information essential for controling development , cell-specific fate determination, gain or loss of tissue-specific functions, cell migrations, tissue repair and cell death. We are studying the role of the microenvironment in controlling embryonic development, mammary gland and bone development and tumorigenesis. Our interests include the critical roles that the ECM, inflammatoryand innate immune cells, vascular development and angiogenesis and degradative enzymes such as the matrix metalloproteinases play in these processes. We are taking genetic and molecular approaches to determine the identity and function of the critical molecules, how their expression and activities are regulated, what the molecular and cellular targets of these genes are, and how these regulate the signaling pathways. We are studying how a developing vascular system regulates bone formation, breast development and tumor growth. For example, we have found that tumor cells metastasize in regions of the tumor where blood vessels are abnormal and where there are abundant inflammatory cells. We want to understand the temporal, spatial and causal relationship between these three compartments, and whether targeting the tumors cells, blood vessels or the inflammatory cells, or all of them can slow down metastasis.

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