Our research focuses broadly on evolutionary applications to human health and disease. Our work is motivated by fundamental questions in life history theory. We use a combination of genomics, comparative biology and evolutionary theory to help understand trade-offs between survival and reproduction across different levels of biological organization, from molecules to organisms and everything in between.
Life history trade-offs and the evolution of cancer defenses
Nature has beat back cancer many times over the history of life. By cataloguing what reduces cancer risk, initiation, and progression across the animal kingdom we can discover novel anti-cancer strategies traditionally over-looked by human-focused biomedical research. Our approach—exploring cancer-prevention lessons from nature—crosses major disciplinary boundaries, bringing together veterinarians, evolutionists, clinicians, geneticists and cell biologists. See the Arizona Cancer and Evolution Center (ACE) for more project specific details.
Human Variation in Cancer
Trade-offs and cancer vulnerabilities across humans
Many cancers could be prevented if we understood what biological and ecological parameters make some people more vulnerable. Beyond genetic predispositions, lifestyle and environment are major contributors to cancer risk. Individuals who experience adverse childhood events have a higher lifetime risk of developing chronic diseases later in life, including cancer. We study cancer from a life history perspective and our goal is to identify these lifestyle and environmental influences on cancer susceptibility.
Maternal-Fetal Conflict & Pregnancy
Microchimerism and maternal tolerance during pregnancy
During pregnancy, there is a bi-directional exchange of cells between the mother and the fetus, called microchimerism. In response to this cellular infiltration, the maternal immune system induces tolerance for fetal cells. This crosstalk between the maternal-fetal dyad, via cellular exchange, has co-evolved in mammals since the dawn of internal gestation, over 100 million years ago. We aim to understand the role of fetal cells and immune tolerance in maternal-fetal health outcomes. Working with Cottage Hospital, we are currently recruiting pregnant people for the Maternal Health Study. This project is part of a larger Microchimerism Team, with the goal of understanding the role of microchimerism in health and disease.
Maternal-Fetal Conflict & Postpartum
Understanding the link between breastfeeding behavior, inflammation, and maternal health
Breastfeeding evolved as bi-directional exchange between mother and infant, however, much of the research on the benefits of breastfeeding are studied from the health of the infant. Here we aim to use an evolutionary and biologically-informed approach to understand the effects of breastfeeding behavior on maternal health outcomes. See the summary of our work on breastfeeding and immune function here.
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