It's what's on the outside (of cells) that counts
Cells are born, die, and function within the dynamic environment of the extracellular matrix (ECM). Therefore, the ongoing relationship between the parenchyma and the stroma, via the ECM, has the potential to dictate the entire fate of the tissue. My PhD focused on ECM dynamics in colitis, showing that ECM remodeling precedes histopathological signs of inflammation. While I appreciated the complexity of the murine models I was working with, I always thought that if I could reconstruct a custom-made tissue from scratch I would be able to better understand the contribution of each tissue component to the pathological process.
This inspired me to look to the world of tissue engineering, and specifically organs-on-chips, in my quest for that additional layer of understanding of tissue-level processes. In my research at the Wyss Institute, funded by Cancer Grand Challenges, I constructed esophageal organ-on-a-chip culture models with clinically derived human cells to study the role that the stroma plays in the progression of Barrett's esophagus and esophageal adenocarcinoma.
Now, at MIT, I am leveraging my experience in constructing complex 3D culture models to identify targets and test novel drugs for cancer.