Patient Care

Wilmot Scientist Meets Urgent Need in Bladder Cancer with New Tool

May. 29, 2019
head shot of scientist Yi-Fen Lee
Yi-Fen Lee, Ph.D., professor of Urology

A Wilmot Cancer Institute scientist developed a new way to study how bladder cancer spreads and to investigate potential new treatments. The tool, which is described in a top medical journal, Scientific Reports, is essential for the field of bladder cancer research, said lead author Yi-Fen Lee, Ph.D.

Lee’s study focused on the key biological events that cause certain highly tumorigenic cancer cells to escape the lesion and seed in other areas. Her laboratory studied these cells in a new mouse model designed by her lab, and discovered a subpopulation of cancer stem cells that was more likely to metastasize and colonize elsewhere. In addition, the researchers found two genes active in promoting bladder cancer metastasis to the lungs.

“Animal models are invaluable for investigating the complex, multi-step process that enables cancer cells to detach from primary tumors and invade other areas, but the availability of these models is limited,” said Lee, a professor of Urology, Pathology, and Cancer at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “Our approach offers a unique opportunity to purse research that could translate into better treatments for patients.”

Bladder cancer is more common among men. The majority of cases involve non-muscle invasive tumors, but they tend to recur after initial treatment, and can progress to more serious muscle-invading bladder cancer. When the cancer is spreads to the lymph nodes, bones, lungs, or peritoneum, there are fewer treatment options.

Lee also investigates the tiny vesicles released by cells that nurture metastasis and have a role in the patient’s response to treatment. Co-first authors for the study were: Yu-Ru Liu, Ph.D., a staff scientist in Lee’s lab, and Peng-Nien Yin, a technical associate in the lab. Christopher Silvers, another technical associate, also contributed to the research.

Lee’s study, which was funded by the National Cancer Institute, comes on the heels of other recent improvements in understanding and treating in bladder cancer by Wilmot and URMC scientists. Last summer, for example, Edward Messing, M.D., published the results of a nationwide clinical trial showing that a simple, post-surgery step to inject a type of chemotherapy directly into the bladder area significantly reduces the chances of the cancer returning. The results were shared with clinicians throughout the country via the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).