Jason R. Cantor

Photograph of Jason R. Cantor
Assistant Professor (also with the Morgridge Institute for Research, Affiliate, Dept. of Biomedical Engineering)
B.S., Cornell University
Ph.D., The University of Texas at Austin
Postdoctoral, Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research/MIT
Phone: (608) 316-4565
Email: jrcantor2@wisc.edu

Studies how environmental factors impact metabolic regulation and requirements with relevance to cancer and immunology

Cancer cells require metabolic adaptations to satisfy demands of proliferation and survival. Though this framework of metabolic rewiring is a nearly universal characteristic of cancer, mechanisms and contexts that dictate the various metabolic preferences and liabilities harbored by malignant cells remain poorly understood. Such diversity may in part clarify why certain drugs that target core metabolic enzymes are not effective in the treatment of all cancers. Similar to malignant cells, normal lymphocytes must also adapt metabolism to satisfy proliferative demands upon their activation from a naïve state. Moreover, emerging evidence suggests that transitions in the metabolic phenotype of different immune cells are also directly linked with both cellular differentiation and immune effector function. Taken together, the resurgence of interest to therapeutically exploit cancer metabolism or modulate immune metabolism for patient benefit will require an improved understanding of metabolic regulation, preferences, and requirements of diverse cancer and immune cell types. 

Cells in culture are commonly used to study metabolism and to discover (or develop) drug candidates that exploit metabolic vulnerabilities. Further, given the scope and flexibility of experimentation possible through the study of cultured cells, in vitro models remain essential tools for studying metabolism and cell biology in general. However, while the influence of environmental factors on human cell metabolism (and immune cell function) is increasingly appreciated, current model systems poorly mimic physiologic conditions and limit efforts to interrogate distinct aspects of the environment in isolation.

The Cantor lab develops and uses novel tools and methods to better understand how environmental factors influence the metabolic regulation and requirements of cancer and immune cells. Such an approach is directed toward addressing fundamental questions in cell metabolism, cancer biology, and immunology. We are particularly interested in identifying and understanding unforeseen biological insights that may have been missed or misconstrued through the use of conventional cell culture (and perhaps even in vivo) model systems, and in uncovering new therapeutic targets with greater in vivo relevance for cancer therapy. A major philosophy of our lab is the integration of engineering with fundamental biology/biochemistry in order to take advantage of experimental principles and approaches often uniquely associated with each discipline. Further, our work also utilizes state-of-the-art technologies in functional genomics, metabolomics, and high-throughput sequencing.

This illustration shows the concept of an effort to shine light on the environmental conditions that help influence thousands of processes occurring inside the cellsThis illustration shows the concept of an effort to shine light on the environmental conditions that help influence thousands of processes occurring inside the cells themselves. Through the design of culture media that more closely mimic conditions encountered by cells in the body, researchers can better model and ideally understand both normal and disease cell biology using isolated human cells growing in Petri dishes. Illustration by Steven Lee/Whitehead Institute.