Dr Tiffani A. Jones

Dr Tiffani A. Jones

Tiffani A. Jones, PhD received both a B.S. in Biology and a PhD in Genetics from the University of Utah

As an undergraduate, she investigated the mechanisms of cellular entry used by Uropathogenic E. coli. In graduate school she used the genetic model system of the fruit fly to study mechanisms of cellular morphogenesis, a process known to precede metastasis in cancer development.

As a postdoctoral scientist, Dr Jones combined her background in microbiology and fly genetics to study the relationship between host-associated microbes and cancer in the laboratory of Dr Karen Guillemin at the University of Oregon. Her project dissects the virulence mechanisms of Helicobacter pylori, a bacterial pathogen that is the primary cause of stomach cancer. H. pylori promotes cancer formation through the injection of a multifunctional protein, CagA, into the stomach lining. Tiffani has modeled this process by generating transgenic flies that express CagA in their gut cells, and she has shown that this causes excessive cell proliferation in these cells.

Helicobacter pylori is a bacterial pathogen found in the stomach of over 50% of the world’s population. Many individuals infected with this pathogen are asymptomatic, however, 10-20% of individuals infected with H. pylori will develop ulcers, and about 1% of infected individuals will develop stomach cancer.

H. pylori strains that produce CagA are associated with an increased risk of cancer. Intriguingly, recent studies have shown alterations in gut microbial communities upon H. pylori infection, which could influence disease risk. Complementing these findings, Tiffani has shown that CagA expression alters gut microbes in her fruit fly model, and that these microbes in turn enhance the excessive cell proliferation seen in this model.

To complement her work with the fruit fly, Tiffani is also investigating the role of CagA expression in the gut of the model vertebrate, the zebrafish, which harbors a gut community of a similar complexity to that of humans. CagA-expressing zebrafish have already been shown to develop intestinal tumors. Tiffani’s work will dissect the roles of host genetics and resident microbial communities on cancer development in this model.

Tiffani’s goal is to understand how interactions between host genetics and microbes promote cancer

Tiffani’s long-term goal is to understand how interactions between host genetics and environmental factors such as microbes promote cancer initiation and development. These investigations will provide valuable new insights into the microbial context of cancer formation and offer the promise of new microbial-based diagnostics and interventions to prevent the initiation or slow the progress of cancer development.