[Brainmap]: Michelle Farkas, Ph.D. - Looking at Disease in a New Light: Chemical Biology-Enabled Tools and Platforms for Studying Cancer

Wednesday, May 9, 2018 - 12:00 to 13:00
149 13th Street (Building 149), Room 2204


Title: Looking at Disease in a New Light: Chemical Biology-Enabled Tools and Platforms for Studying Cancer

Michelle Farkas, Ph.D.

Dept. of Chemistry, University of Massachusetts, Amherst


Research in the Farkas group involves the development and use of molecular tools in order to study, image, and treat cancer subtypes. Significant advances have been made in understanding and treating cancer, however, there remain many unknowns, especially in the arena of how and why particular diseases become aggressive and metastasize. We are specifically interested in the roles that macrophages, and separately, altered circadian rhythms, play in cancer.  Our work has focused on their investigation via generation and use of platforms that enable detection and tracking in biologically-relevant models, followed by perturbation and study of those systems with small molecules. Macrophages have the ability to interconvert between immune stimulating- and suppressing subtypes, and are recruited and contribute to oncogenic microenvironments. Because breast and other tumors generate macrophage chemoattractants, we are taking advantage of this characteristic and developing cell-based imaging and drug delivery agents via chemical modification of their surfaces, which will be a focus of this seminar. We have found that following several types of bio-orthogonal reactions, viability and macrophage-specific characteristics (e.g. phagocytosis and chemotaxis) are retained. Functionalized cells also continue to migrate toward and interact with cancer cells in vitro and in vivo. We are also engineering macrophages to possess reporters in order to discern phenotypes and modulating their capabilities via small molecules and supra-molecular entities.

About the Speaker:

Michelle grew up in Northern New Jersey and was an undergraduate chemistry major at Wellesley College. Upon graduation, Michelle joined the Discovery Chemistry group at Bristol-Myers Squibb in Wallingford, CT, where she worked on anti-viral compounds and methods development. Michelle then traveled west and obtained her Ph.D. under the direction of Professor Peter Dervan at Caltech in 2010, followed by postdoctoral research at UC Berkeley in the laboratory of Professor Matthew Francis as a DOD BCRP Postdoctoral Fellow. Michelle joined the faculty at UMass, Amherst in Sept. 2013 where her lab focuses on the use of chemical biology methods to study cancer. Michelle has received a Novartis Graduate Fellowship in Organic Chemistry and a Tobacco Related Disease Research Program Dissertation Award as a graduate student, a Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program Postdoctoral Fellowship, an ABRCMS Travel Award, and was named a finalist for the Beckman Young Investigators Program in 2017.