Primary Research Focus
The Vermeer Lab focuses on defining mechanisms of metastasis and identifying novel targets for therapeutic intervention.
Recent work from the Vermeer lab shows that tumors release small vesicles called exosomes that induce tumor innervation. Patients with densely innervated tumors suffer with increased rates of metastasis.
Now that we have identified a mechanism driving tumor innervation, the Vermeer Lab is currently focused on developing ways to block it. The lab studies many different types of solid tumors to better understand at the molecular level why some tumors are more innervated than others. The goal is to define key signatures that result in densely innervated tumors and develop therapies to block this effect.
The lab’s studies span the breadth of scientific techniques from basic/classical approaches (e.g., molecular biology, protein biochemistry and microscopy) to complex in vivo studies using wild-type as well as transgenic mouse models to, finally, proceed to validation studies using human samples.
The Vermeer lab researches changes in tumor cells by not only analyzing genetic alterations but also determining how these changes affect protein expression, localization and function. Importantly, the lab equally focuses on cells in the tumor microenvironment to define how they contribute to disease initiation and/or progression.
About the Vermeer Lab
Lab Projects and News
Tumor innervation and disease progression
Role: Project Principal Investigator
Several projects in the Vermeer lab focus on defining how tumor-infiltrating nerves contribute to disease progression. These projects utilize a combination of basic techniques (western blot, molecular biology), cancer assays (proliferation, migration) and techniques traditionally utilized in neuroscience (neuronal tracing, synaptic transmission) to better understand the neural contributions to cancer progression.
Blocking tumor innervation
Role: Project Principal Investigator
Having defined a mechanism that recruits nerves to the tumor bed, the Vermeer lab is currently working on identifying novel therapeutics to block tumor innervation.
Meet the Vermeer Team
Sarah graduated in 2019 with a degree in Neuroscience from Concordia College in Moorhead, MN. During college she interned for a summer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying the effects of gestational intermittent hypoxia on microglia. After graduation, she spent a year and a half working in a clinical research lab at Mayo Clinic studying REM sleep behavior disorder and its association with Parkinson’s disease. She joined the Vermeer lab in May 2022 where she studies the transcriptional changes of intra-tumoral neurons in head & neck and ovarian cancers, and how mutations in the tumor cells and treatment may influence these changes.
Tony graduated from the University of Chicago in 2015 majoring in Cellular and Molecular Biology. While in college he studied the role of the HDAC1 protein in the epigenetic regulation in T-cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. Following graduation he spent 2 years in the VA hospital system studying genetic predispositions to the development of PTSD. In the Vermeer lab, he studies exosome-mediated neurite outgrowth in head and neck cancers, and how differences in the exosomal cargo of HPV+ and HPV- head and neck cancers leads to differences in innervation and clinical outcomes.
Jeff Barr, PhD
Obtained PhD from The University of South Dakota in 2011. Completed post-doctoral fellowship at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University in the Dept. of Pharmacology and Center for Substance Abuse Research and stayed there as a research scientist until 2020. Research there investigated neuroadaptations in specific receptors, pathways, and circuits involved in reinforcement/reward in response to drug exposure, stress, anxiety, and relapse to drug use. Joined the Vermeer lab September 2020 as a staff scientist. Projects in the lab revolve around characterization of tumor infiltrating nerves including gene expression, morphology, physiological properties, and connectivity. As well as potential contributions of altered neuronal properties to disease progression in multiple animal models of cancer.
Austin Walz, M.S.
Senior Research Specialist
Austin received a master’s degree in science from South Dakota State University, he has also had research training roles at Mayo clinic. He joined the Vermeer Lab in June of 2021 and oversees day to day operations in the lab as well as supervises students, interns, and other technical staff.