Research in the Beatty laboratory focuses on the immunobiology of gastrointestinal malignancies with a specific focus on pancreatic cancer.
One major project studies the impact of pancreatic cancer development on the immune microenvironment in distant organs. As cancer develops, organs (e.g. liver and lung) commonly become more receptive to metastatic seeding. The biology of this process is poorly understood. We are studying the impact of cancer on the phenotype and function of immune cell subsets in the liver during cancer development to understand how these changes may alter the competency of the immune system to mount a productive response against cancer. As metastasis is the major cause of cancer mortality, a better understanding of this biology may help to guide the development of novel therapies for inhibiting metastasis and to more effectively treat cancer.
The second major project strives to understand the immunobiology of the tumor microenvironment. During cancer development, a complex microenvironment forms. Within this microenvironment, immune cells commonly predominate and establish communities that can foster cancer growth and spread. In pancreatic cancer, myeloid cells are the most abundant immune cell type and are thought to be key mediators of therapeutic resistance to cytotoxic therapies and immunotherapy. We are a taking a reductionist approach to investigating the immune microenvironment in pancreatic cancer by evaluating immune cell communities and networks using multiplex immunohistochemistry and gene expression analyses. We hope to identify rules that direct immune biology in pancreatic cancer with the goal of applying this information to strategically design therapies that recondition tumors with enhanced sensitivity to current cytotoxic- and immune-based therapies.
The third major project seeks to understand rational therapeutic combinations for cancer using genetic mouse models of pancreatic cancer. It has become clear that a coordinated delivery of novel treatments will be necessary to effectively tackle this deadly disease. We are focused on understanding how treatments alter the biology of pancreatic cancer and how to leverage the impact of one therapeutic strategy for improving the effectiveness of another.