My research interest lies in the microenvironments that affect cancer cells behavior. There has been much intensive research done about how biochemical cues or genetic alterations affect tumor malignancy. Recently, the cancer microenvironment has risen as another important factor that can affect cancer invasiveness and malignant potency. The picture below shows a metastatic melanoma spheroid when it is exposed to more invasive (left) or less invasive(right) microenvironment cues. I am trying to de-couple various microenvironmental factors such as geometric confinement, triple helix structure, and stiffness to investigate how each of these cues alters cancer malignancy.
To achieve this, we have developed microdevices that can detect micrometers range change in protease activity, collagen mimetic peptides that endow triple helix functionality to the cancer surrounding-microenvironment, and the 3D-printed devices to generate geometric cell aggregates. We are now investigating the melanoma cancer cells behavior using these microdevices when they are grown in (or on) the poly(ethylene glycol) based hydrogel.
Current research is underway to examine local changes in MMP-activity in the presence of cell-laden hydrogels, which mimic the propensity of cancer cell aggregates. This highly sensitive and versatile microgel sensor can potentially serve as a platform for not only studying cancer cells but also for monitoring cell-ECM interactions and cellular migration inside various ECM mimicking scaffolds for tissue regeneration.
Figure 1. Image of MMP-sensor-microgels with A375 melanoma cancer cells.