Inflammation is major risk factor for cancer and is directly linked to at least 20% of all cancers. Our epithelial tissues, such as the gut, lungs and skin, routinely experience injuries and infections that cause inflammation. A vast majority of inflammatory reactions resolve to restore tissue health. Many studies have examined the role of chronic (non-resolving) inflammation in cancer formation and progression. However, how routine acute or resolving inflammation influences cancer formation has not been closely studied.
We have previously shown that acute inflammation fundamentally changes tissue immune environments and epithelial stem cells. This process, called “inflammatory training”, is known to improve responses to pathogens, vaccine efficacy and, we find, enhance tissue regeneration. Using models of squamous cell carcinoma, a deadly cancer that can develop on many epithelial surfaces, we examine how inflammatory training impacts the initiation of tumors. We will study both the tumor forming cells and their microenvironment to determine exactly which factors are changed by acute inflammation that make tissues hospitable to cancer cells. In doing so, we seek to unearth fundamental knowledge of how tumors form and use this information to develop strategies for early intervention to stop this devastating disease in its tracks.