Metastatic Cancer Migration Studies on Biomimetic Nanofiber Substrates

What? – My STEP experience was designed to promote growth in three dimensions: research, education and lifestyle with a  cancer prevention based theme. The research dimension, was done with a Biomedical Engineering graduate student and Dr. Lannutti, an Ohio State Materials Science and Engineering professor. During this position, I learned to perform cell migration studies using special computer software and create migration vectors of various drugged cancer cell lines. I learned cell culture techniques like growing, passaging, and freezing cancer cells. By the end of the summer, I worked with cell lines for three lung cancers, three melanomas, four head and neck cancers, and one breast cancer. Figure 1 shows an example of a cell migration study prepared for numerical analysis.


Figure 1: MDA-MB-231 Breast Cancer Migration Study Treated with AKBDEX

The cells above are MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells treated with chemotactic AKB and DEX drugs. Colored lines following the selected cells (stained green) are the result of several images overlaid upon one another like a flipbook. These images when played track a metastatic cancer cell as it migrates along a nano fibrous substrate. Performing these studies was the basis of my research position in Dr. Lannutti’s lab.

The second dimension was devoted to reading literature on cancer pathology. Such texts discussed vasculation, intravasation, metastasis, Epithelial-Mesochymal Transition (EMT), cancer associated fibroblasts (CAFs), and tumor associated macrophages (TAMs).  These provided me with a foundation to my research.

The third dimension was to develop a healthier lifestyle and included rock-climbing at the Outdoor Adventure Center (OAC) and playing pick-up games at campus soccer fields. I believe a healthier lifestyle was necessary for set the tone desired for my STEP experience.

So What? – Becoming comfortable with my STEP experience’s expectations was not as seamless as I anticipated. My prediction was if I remained zealous about gaining experience I would advance quickly and easily. I imagined with the right attitude I could learn techniques and procedures quickly, grasp experimental theory easily, and contribute ideas confidently. I quickly discovered this is not the case. Maintaining steady hands, proper sterile technique, and other lab techniques were challenging to execute.

Yet, several weeks later I noticed improvement. I dosed, fed, passaged, and lysed cells according to conditions, explained procedures to new coming members, and understood intentions behind labs. I offered suggestions towards assembly of patient-tumor biopsy assays and MATLAB program. I also proposed a model for new electrospinning apparatus.

At the end of my STEP experience, I was proud when presenting, explaining, and defending a poster project at the Fall Student Poster Forum. This was an inspiring and rewarding experience for me, since I had never presented in nor attended an event like this.

Now What? –Reflecting now, I consider STEP to have been a successful growing experience. Through STEP, I was able to contact Dr. Lannutti, and was given an opportunity to research in the fall and upcoming spring.

In Summer 2015, I aspire to have applied for, and hopefully receive a Pelotonia fellowship to continue cancer research with Dr. Lannutti for another year. Then I would have the opportunity to design and build a project of my own, become familiar with designing experiments, perform key assays, face experimental decisions, read scientific literature, and attend conferences. Thus, becoming a Pelotonia fellow became an emerging goal while working the lab. It seems to be an excellent continuation of the research and education dimensions established by my STEP experience.

In addition, STEP led me to aspire for the Pelotonia because it would enable me to continue along my third dimension: a healthy lifestyle. I would like to participate in the Pelotonia One Goal Bike grassroots bike tour, and work towards 150 miles. I have decided that training and participating in the annual bike ride will be a once in a lifetime training experience and would return inspiration to my research and education.