Student Scholars

AGEP scholars are students interested in pursuing doctoral degrees and becoming faculty members in STEM disciplines. Our AGEP scholars travel to Purdue from undergraduate institutions across the United States, including the 48 contiguous states, Hawaii, Alaska and Puerto Rico.

The scholars bring with them cultural knowledge and experiences that add to the diversity we strive to promote on the Purdue campus. Colleges and departments are introduced to a diverse student population with great potential for graduate school success.

AGEP SCHOLARS 2020-2021

 

Janiel Ahkin Chin Tai_Headshot     

         Janiel Ahkin Chin Tai

         Ph.D. Candidate

         College of Health and Human Sciences

         School of Health Sciences

         Research Video           

Research Title: 

Adverse Developmental Effects in Progeny of Zebrafish that were Exposed to Atrazine during Embryogenesis

Abstract:  

Atrazine (ATZ) is an herbicide that is commonly used on crops in the Midwestern US. ATZ has a long half-life and is a common contaminant of drinking water sources. Although the EPA set the maximum contaminant level at 3 parts per billion (ppb), water sources often exceed this limit. ATZ has been implicated as an endocrine disrupting chemical in multiple species. The current study used the zebrafish model system and tested the hypothesis that an embryonic parental ATZ exposure altered protein expression, morphology and behavior in developing progeny. Zebrafish embryos were collected from adults that were exposed to 0, 0.3, 3 or 30 ppb ATZ during embryogenesis. Proteomic, morphology, and behavior analysis was completed with offspring from each chemical treatment group aged 120 hours. The offspring received no additional chemical treatment. Proteomic analysis found that parental exposure to ATZ regardless of dose led to differential expression of proteins involved in pathways of cancer; neurological disease; and morphology of tissues, organs, and muscular development. Morphology measurements of total length, head width, and brain length were not significantly different (p>0.05). Head length was found to be significantly different between the control group and parental exposure groups, with increasing exposure leading to increasing head length (p<0.05). The light/dark behavioral test detected no significant differences in swimming distance, velocity, or time spent moving/not moving (p>0.05). These findings suggest that a single embryonic parental exposure can alter proteomic expression and morphology in progeny supporting further assessment of adverse impacts in this generation.

 

Arryne Blaine Headshot Official

 

         Arryn Blaine 

         Ph.D. Candidate

         College of Pharmacy

         Department of MCMP

         Research Video

Research Title: 

Analyzing the Role of Beta Arrestin 1 in DOR Agonist Induced Seizure

Abstract:

The opioid epidemic describing the misuse and overuse of opioid drugs has created a widespread public health crisis in the United States. A large percentage of opioid drugs being abused are used to treat chronic pain and target the mu opioid receptor (MOR), one of the three opioid receptors. Drugs targeting MOR are effective in treating chronic pain, but are also highly addictive, contributing significantly to the opioid crisis. Because of this, researchers have begun investigating other drug targets that could treat chronic pain but no longer have this addictive quality. Drugs targeting the delta opioid receptor (DOR) have been experimentally shown to treat pain, as well as other diseases; however, these drugs have thus far failed in clinical trials due to side effects particularly seizures. My project is centered on investigating the biochemical mechanism behind these seizures; specifically understanding why DOR agonists induce seizures. Current research implicates a protein called beta arrestin 1 in the process by which DOR agonists can induce seizures in mice. Mice that lack the beta arrestin 1 protein have markedly higher seizure activity in response to DOR agonists as compared to wild type mice, suggesting that beta arrestin 1 may play a role in this phenomenon. My project is specifically studying the link between beta arrestin 1 signaling and DOR agonists induced seizures.

 

Ali Camara Head Shot          

         Ali Camara

         Ph.D. Candidate

         College of Science

         Department of Biological Sciences

         Research Video

Research Title:

HYPE-mediated AMPylation as a Novel Therapeutic Target for Neurodegeneration

Abstract:

A major hallmark of Parkinson’s disease (PD) is the deposition of the intrinsically disordered protein α-synuclein (αSyn) into intracellular inclusions termed Lewy bodies. HYPE—the sole human representative of a conserved family of adenylyltransferase enzymes—has been shown to covalently modify (AMPylate) αSyn in vitro. Remarkably, HYPE-mediated AMPylation ameliorates many of the neurotoxic phenotypes of αSyn implicated in the progression of PD, such as αSyn fibrillation and membrane permeability. These potentially cytoprotective phenomena conferred by HYPE’s adenylyltransferase activity make it an attractive therapeutic target. Unfortunately, wild-type HYPE is intrinsically inhibited, showing only basal AMPylation levels relative to a constitutively active mutant. To this end, we set out to screen FDA-approved, natural, and semi-synthetic small-molecule compound libraries towards the identification of novel manipulators of HYPE AMPylation. Employing fluorescence polarization (FP) of a labelled ATP analogue on a 384-well microplate platform, we’ve developed a robust, high-throughput assay suitable for monitoring changes in AMPylation. First-pass selection of our combined ~10,000 compound libraries yielded promising hit percentages: 0.3 for activators of WT HYPE, and 0.9 for inhibitors of E234G-HYPE. Challenging neuronal cell culture models of PD with these hits provides molecular insights into αSyn-induced neurotoxicity, and paves the path for novel therapeutic strategies in combating PD.

             

Quincy Clark Headshot

         

         Quintana "Quincy" Clark 

         Ph.D. Candidate

         College of Agriculture

         Department of ASEC

         Research Video 

Research Title:

Investigating STEM retention, attraction, and diversity through agrisciences contexts and engineering education methodologies

Abstract:

A problem that feeds the ever-growing widening of the gap between those students who pursue a career in STEM and students that do not is the lack of preparation in K-12 STEM subjects involving real-world problem-solving. A 2015 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) report indicates that 75% of U.S. 8th graders were not proficient in mathematics or problem-solving when they completed 8th grade. Furthermore, by the end of 12th grade, only 25% of U.S. students were proficient in mathematics or problem-solving. The good news is that agrisciences contexts and engineering education methodologies overwhelmingly influence knowledge and interest in STEM, as well as the likelihood of attraction to, retention in, and an increase in STEM diversity. Therefore, it is imperative to enhance students’ problem-solving skills, thereby enhancing STEM career literacy and exploration. My research is concerned with equitable STEM education using agrisciences contexts and engineering education teaching and learning methodologies. I also investigate the impact that STEM intervention mentoring programs have on enhancing underrepresented students’ preparedness for, and persistence in, undergraduate and graduate school STEM programs. Currently, I am making advances in STEM retention in undergraduate levels through Personalized Learning, which is a National Academy of Engineering 21st Century Grand Challenge, where I am developing STEM learning algorithms for the first tool that will offer highly precise personalized scaffolding of word-problem solutions. I am making advances in STEM attraction in K-12 through agrisciences contexts, where I am developing an online learning tool called STEMulate K-12, which focuses on student’s non-STEM career attractors to create an affinity for STEM. I am also making advances in STEM diversity in K-16 through modeling activities where I am addressing the challenge of promoting awareness of diversity and inclusion to promote a positive social climate in STEM, by developing methodologies for integrating multicultural-thinking in STEM classrooms through in-class problem-solving activities and homework assignments in first-year engineering courses. These research efforts are made possible through agrisciences contexts and engineering education methodologies.

         

Ashlee Colbert Headshot

         

         Ashlee Colbert

         Ph.D. Candidate

         College of Engineering

         School of Biomedical Engineering

         Research Video 

Research Title:

Smartphone Diagnostic for Asymptomatic Detection of Malaria 

Abstract:

Malaria is a completely treatable and preventable disease. Yet, there are over 200 million cases and over 400,000 malaria related deaths annually. Malaria, caused by the protozoan parasite Plasmodium, is spread by anopheles mosquitoes. Current gold standard methods for detection of the Plasmodium parasite include microscopy and rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs). Microscopy requires expensive equipment that must be maintained in a clinic or lab. Those in malaria-endemic countries may find these clinics inaccessible or time-consuming. RDTs are more feasible for point-of-care diagnostics; however they do not have sensitivity low enough for asymptomatic cases and may generate false positives. Early and asymptomatic diagnosis of malaria is key to preventing malaria related deaths and providing proper treatment. Isothermal amplification assays have emerged as the front runner in point-of-care diagnostics due to their simplistic heating and accurate detection. Here I use one such assay and apply it for use in complex sample matrices on a portable smartphone platform. First, I optimize 3 different loop mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) primer sets for specific and sensitive detection of Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax in blood and urine. Next, I combine this assay with particle diffusometry and analyze the results using a smartphone device. Lastly, I explore a technique using magnetic separation to enrich the sample prior to amplification. The development of this portable platform for the rapid detection of Plasmodium parasites from blood and urine is the first of its kind and can easily be modified for the detection of other infectious diseases.

 

Brenda Gonzales Headshot

 

         Brenda Gonzalez

         Ph.D. Candidate

         College of Science

         Department of Biological Sciences

         Research Video 

Research Title:

Studying Phage G from Head to Tail using Cryo-EM

Abstract:

Bacteriophage, or viruses that infect bacteria, are ubiquitous in nature and are crucial in maintaining bacterial diversity and are implicated in human health. Their abundance and relative ease in purification and replication make them attractive model systems for molecular biology studies. We benefit from studying phages because, apart from their ecological importance, they have been repurposed as antibacterial agents, drug delivery vehicles, and phage display tools, among many other applications. Despite their widespread use, a critical gap in our knowledge of phage diversity still exists. We are focusing our studies on phage G, the largest phage described to date (626kbp packaged genome), to gain a better understanding of its structure and relationship to other tailed phages. Our first aim is to resolve phage G’s helical tail in various conformations using cryo-EM. The second aim is to image phage G’s host attachment infection mechanism. Our current structural studies of phage G suggest it does not behave as all previously reported contractile bacteriophage.  Understanding phage G’s structure will help us find ways to repurpose this exceptionally large phage for antibiotic and drug delivery purposes, and other health related applications.

 

                Matias Kalaswad Headshot

         Matias Kalaswad

         Ph.D. Candidate

         College of Engineering

         School of Electrical and Computer Engineering

         Research Video 

Research Title:

Integration of Vertically Aligned Nanocomposites on Silicon Substrates towards Device Applications 

Abstract:

Devices that can process and communicate more data in a shorter period of time are essential for an information-driven era. To this end, nanocomposite materials are proposed for next-generation devices, due to the materials’ ability to introduce multifunctionality and tune physical properties. In particular, vertically aligned nanocomposites (VANs) offer unique features compared to other types of nanocomposites, such as vertical strain engineering and structural anisotropy. Currently, most VAN systems are produced by arduous fabrication techniques and/or on costly substrates. Furthermore, there is a huge potential to combine the fascinating properties arising from VAN materials with the mature, silicon-based manufacturing processes. Thus, integration of VAN thin films on silicon is a critical step for low-cost and scalable devices with promising applications. In this work, pulsed laser deposition is used to successfully demonstrate nanocomposite thin films with high anisotropy on silicon substrates. Three different oxide-metal VAN systems integrated on silicon are presented, namely: LaSrFeO4:Fe, BaTiO3-Au, and BaTiO3-Fe. In addition, the effects of various buffer layers on the crystallinity, microstructure, and physical properties of the thin films are explored. With an appropriate buffer layer design, the epitaxial quality and the geometries of the nanostructures can be improved significantly, which in turn enhances the physical properties. The integration of VAN material systems which combine the properties of each individual component reveals a promising approach to fulfill the potential applications of VAN thin films, such as magnetic data storage, photonics, and energy conversion.

 

Keturah Kiper Headshot Official

         

         Keturah Kiper

         Ph.D. Candidate

         College of Human and Health Sciences

         School of Environmental Sciences

         Research Video 

Research Title:

Investigating arsenic (As) and lead (Pb) mixture toxicity as a developmental origin of cerebral amyloid angiopathy (CAA)

Abstract:

Metals such as Arsenic (As) and Lead (Pb) are environmental pollutants, often found in common sites due to their ubiquitous nature and production of virgin Pb. Several epidemiology studies suggest that low-level chronic exposure during the development of the nervous and vascular system may lead to impaired function and development of delicate structures. While compensatory mechanisms may decrease the immediate impact of developmental exposure to As and Pb, the long-term ramifications may provide an environmental origin of cerebral amyloid angiopathy. In this study, we investigated the interaction between As and Pb and the consequences of this interaction on brain development. Zebrafish embryos treated with As showed a dose-response in the morphological assessment of head length and a significant decrease in the mean brain length at 7.45ppm. Embryos treated with Pb showed no statistically significant changes in behavior or morphology at low concentrations. Exposure to an As and Pb mixture, at concentrations equivalent to or below USEPA limits, produced a decreased mean brain length when compared to both the control and individual metals. This decrease in mean brain length when compared to the total body length is still significant. Preliminary mixture data, based on the LC50 data collected on the single components, indicates an additive/ synergistic effect. This study provides evidence for the uses of current mixture toxicology models and further investigation of the developmental origins of CAA.

 

Memoria Matters Headshot

 

         Memoria Matters

         Ph.D. Student

         College of Engineering

         School of Engineering Education

         Research Video 

Research Title:

An Engineering Faculty and an Intention to Make Change for Diversity and Inclusion: Creating Sustainable Change Efforts

Abstract:

Scholars of engineering education have acknowledged a need for greater connection between research and engineering teaching practice in order to see sustainable change in engineering schools. This study examines the contrast between STEM education research on the positive impact of faculty on diversity and inclusion and some engineering faculty’s lack of actual involvement with these issues. We examine the faculty of an electrical and computer engineering (ECE) department at a large research university using Fishbein and Ajzen’s reasoned action model for behavior to determine factors in the department that influence faculty’s intention to make change for diversity and inclusion. We conducted interviews with ECE faculty about diversity, inclusion and department culture, and then an inductive thematic analysis organized around the reasoned action model. The major themes revealed that many faculty do not see involvement with diversity and inclusion as a norm in the department, and do not recognize their power to influence these issues. Our conclusions provide recommendations for engineering departments to meaningfully involve their faculty in improving diversity and inclusion.

 

Eoghan McCroskey Headshot

         

         Eoghan McCroskey

         Ph.D. Candidate

         College of Agriculture

         Department of Entomology

         Research Video 

Research Title:

Assessing the Bioindicator Potential of Springtails (Collembola) in Indiana Farmland

Abstract:

Increasing agricultural production while also preserving biodiversity and ecosystem services is difficult and likely only possible with an understanding of the spatial variation of soil communities as pertains to soil health and sustainability. A spatial biological indicator of soil biodiversity could provide an important link between soil quality, biodiversity, and resultant ecosystem services, but such an indicator is currently lacking. Soil microarthropods such as springtails (Collembola) are extremely common and dense in the upper soil (up to hundreds of thousands per square meter) and are as much a part of the soil as they are in constant contact with it. They are therefore likely to serve as an excellent biological indicator of soil conditions. This project will sample the Collembola communities in several land use types, with special emphasis at present on two types of agriculture: “conventional” and “agroecological.” The composition of Collembolan communities is being assessed to quantify the link between these arthropods and indicators of soil nutrition, including carbon and nitrogen pools, with the aim of developing a Collembolan-based biotic index of soil health. The spatial variation in soil conditions and in Collembola communities will be mapped within sampled fields and made available to participating farmers. In doing so, this project will lay the basic groundwork for future applications of a bioindicator and a biological liaison of soil health.

 

Kristos Negron Headshot

         

         Kristos Negron

         Ph.D. Candidate

         College of Science

         Department of Chemistry

         Research Video 

Research Title:

Understanding the Various Functions of Legionella Effectors on the Ubiquitin System

Abstract:

Bacterial effectors are often adaptations used against host systems for the invasive pathogen to successfully infect the host. One such example is LPG2147 (MavC), a bacterial effector found in Legionella pneumophila, that can ligate a ubiquitin moiety onto the ubiquitin conjugating enzyme UbE2N. Upon structural comparison of MavC and another known ubiquitin deamidase, Cif, we found that both structures are relatively similar, except for a ~100-residue insertion found in MavC, named the insertion domain herein. This difference between both structures implies that the insertion domain is likely responsible for UbE2N recognition. To test this, the insertion domain was cloned, expressed, and purified. A crystal structure of this protein domain indicates that this domain is an independently folded motif. This along with binding studies showed that the insertion domain of MavC is an important contributor of UbE2N binding. Another Legionella effector worked in the lab, SdeA, is known to recognize multiple ubiquitinated substrates, even neddylated substrates, which has never been seen on deubiquitinases. In order to understand this phenomenon, we looked to obtain a disulfide bound structure between this protein and a ubiquitin mutant, which contains a ubiquitin in order to observe the flexibility of the active site. A third effector, SidJ, which is known to polyglutamylate SdeA in order to inactivate the effector as a form of regulation. What is not well known, and is the focus of our research, is the exact mechanism of how these effectors work. Overall, all of these effectors have shown that Legionella has adopted a vast array of effectors in order to defend itself against the host immune system.

 

Xavier Ramos-Cardona Headshot

         

         Xavier Ramos-Cardona

         Masters Student

         College of Veterinary Medicine

         Department of Comparative Pathobiology

         Research Video 

Research Title:

Canine CAR T-cells Therapy for Mammary Carcinoma in Dogs

Abstract:

In women, ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is an often-diagnosed breast disease that is widely considered to be a non-obligate precursor of invasive carcinoma. TNBC is the most aggressive and lethal form of breast cancer and predominantly occurring in women at high genetic risk including those with mutated BRCA1 genes. We provide for the first time an immunocompetent animal model for triple-negative DCIS (TN-DCIS) that will facilitate molecular analysis of pre-invasive TNBC and will provide an invaluable resource for identifying and selecting targets for TNBC vaccine immunoprevention or immunotherapeutic intervention.  Unlike most studied rodent models, dogs develop TN-DCIS spontaneously without genetic or chemical manipulation. We have shown that canine DCIS resembles human DCIS with shared histopathologic and molecular features and with similar imaging and behavioral characteristics. Dogs are much more outbred than laboratory rodents, yet certain breeds are at increased risk for developing mammary tumors. Indeed, we have found that 50% of randomly screened asymptomatic hound dogs have premalignant mammary lesions and that mammary TN-DCIS often progresses to invasive carcinoma within one year. Given the many common features of canine breast cancer and the high homology between the canine and human genome, the dog model offers an outstanding opportunity for exploiting TNBC immunoprevention and immunotherapeutic strategies. Moreover, the prevalence and rapid progression of canine TN-DCIS provides a much more rapid and cost-effective alternative to human trials for evaluation of the clinical effectiveness of cancer vaccine strategies. One immunotherapeutic strategy we are testing using our canine TN-DCIS model is chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cells. CAR T-cells have shown promise in treating many malignancies, but in solid tumors has been hindered by many limitations. To overcome these limitations, we designed a genetically engineered universal canine CAR T-cells that must be activated and targeted by a small molecule adaptor before it can kill cancer cells. Our results showed that universal CAR T cells is functional and killed canine mammary tumor cell lines in vitro.

 

Mayra Rodriguez-Gonzalez Headshot        

         Mayra Rodriguez-Gonzalez

         Ph.D. Candidate

         College of Agriculture

         Department of Forestry and Natural Resources

         Research Video 

Research Title:

Ecosystem Services in the Chicago Region: Distribution, Accessibility, and Management 

Abstract:

Ecosystem services are the benefits humans obtain from nature, linking social and ecological systems together. Incorporating these into planning can enable better and more sustainable land management decisions. However, traditional ecosystem service assessments generally only consist of identifying their distribution, leaving unanswered many questions about their relationship to local social systems and what these relationships means to local management and planning. Hence, this study looks at the distribution of high-rate multi-ecosystem service providing areas, known as hotspots, across the Chicago metro-region in relation to local social context, identifying disparities between the provisioning of high-rate ecosystem services and the sociodemographic composition of its beneficiaries, and, then, translate these findings into potential planning strategies. Specifically, we use a mixed-methods approach to: (1) map areas providing multiple types of ecosystem services at high rates (hotspots), (2) link these hotspots to sociodemographic data and on-site survey data, and (3) integrate these findings to develop a typology of ecosystem services hotspots that can inform future planning and management. This methodology will provide insight on the socio-ecological dynamics underlying human interactions, especially in urban ecosystems, across the Chicago metro-region, and help identify factors that can potentially make ecosystem services more easily available to a greater range of beneficiary groups. This in particular opens a dialog to characterize accessibility, or the potential to reach and benefit from ecosystem service providing areas, and make it an active component of management strategies, particularly in urban systems.

 

Hector Rodriguez-Simmonds Head Shoot

         

         Héctor E. Rodríguez-Simmonds

         Ph.D. Candidate

         College of Engineering

         School of Engineering Education

         Research Video 

Research Title:

Investigating the Experiences of Diverse LGBTQ+ Engineering Students in South Florida

 Abstract:

In the past two decades, the U.S. has seen a rise in the number of out LGBTQ+ individuals, especially younger adults. This number is projected to increase in the future. LGBTQ+ individuals often face discrimination based on their gender identity and sexual orientation, which may cause them to struggle within educational settings. Educational researchers have begun to explore some of these issues broadly. Within engineering education specifically, researchers have begun to explore ways in which LGBTQ+ individuals experience engineering culture in their post-secondary education; however, this population is still understudied and under-supported. Additionally, the experiences of students who sit at the intersections of LGBTQ+ and other underserved identities in engineering (e.g., women, racial and ethnic minorities, and persons with disabilities) are often not investigated in the current body of literature. These students not only navigate their queer identities but also their other underserved identities throughout their engineering pathways.                                                             My research focuses on the experiences of these populations by explicitly considering how someone’s background, culture, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender intermingle in engineering spaces. There is a small but growing body of research regarding how to support LGBTQ+ students in engineering; this work has investigated some of the issue’s LGBTQ+ engineering students face. However, the current body of work leaves LGBTQ+ engineering student’s racial, ethnic, cultural, and other identities under-investigated. For example, there is research that investigates how to best support Latinx engineering students. However, there is very little research that examines how students at the intersection of both gay and Latinx identities experience their engineering education experience. Engineering culture has been described as meritocratic, depoliticized, technically focused, objective, and value neutral. How do these aspects of engineering culture affect LGBTQ+ students, particularly underserved students?                                                                                                        My research begins to fill the gap in the literature by focusing on the areas of intersection between a student’s sexual orientation, gender, and ethnic-racial identities in engineering. My research will address the gap by understanding the experiences of LGBTQ+ students in engineering to provide evidence-based ways to create learning environments in which Queer students of varied backgrounds can openly be themselves, free from constraints of needing to pass as straight or white, free from feeling the need to eliminate or cover their ethnic culture or any other part of themselves; or manifest some prescriptive notion of gender to be successful in engineering. The results of this work will help bring visibility to and support students at the intersection of racial/ethnic and sexual orientation minorities in engineering.                                                                                                                       The goals of this dissertation are to 1) describe the experiences of LGBTQ+ engineering students at various, gender, ethnic, and racial intersections, 2) to better understand how their intersecting identities affect their engineering education experience, and 3) to suggest changes that will improve the engineering education experience of these students. This work will, for the first time, create an intersectional narrative of LGBTQ+ students in South Florida. Highlighting this sub-group of engineering students will support engineering educators to build more supportive spaces for LGBTQ+ engineering students of varied backgrounds.

 

Zulaida Soto-Vargas Headshot

         

         Zulaida Soto-Vargas

         Ph.D. Candidate

         College of Science

         Department of Biological Sciences

         Research Video 

 Research Title:

Uncovering mechanisms of extracellular vesicles secretion and uptake in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)

 Abstract:

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is essentially incurable, comprising over 85% of lung cancers. The development and progression of cancer is greatly driven by intercellular communication mediated by cell-derived extracellular vesicles. Exosomes, circulating small extracellular vesicles ranging in diameter from 50-150 nm, serve to shuttle bioactive molecules in the tumor microenvironment. Increasing evidence suggests that cancer-derived exosomes constantly re-shape the tumor microenvironment by mediating cross-talk between different cells. Moreover, cancer-derived exosomes have also been implicated in chemoresistance and metastasis of the primary tumor. Therefore, secretion and uptake of cancer derived sEVs are determinant steps for the development of tumor metastasis. However, the mechanisms through which cancer-derived sEVs are secreted and in turn interact with recipient cells are understudied. Therefore, there is a critical need to understand the mechanisms through which oncogenic sEVs are secreted by cancer cells and are taken up by non-cancerous cells. In our research, we use non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) as our cancer model to study the biogenesis, secretion, and uptake of cancer-secreted sEVs. With this study, we aim to discover novel pathways in which exosome-mediated cell-cell communication confers oncogenic properties to the host cell. Our long-term research goal is to identify novel targets that can be impinged upon for cancer therapeutics, to develop new inhibitors that can target cancer exosomes and impede further metastasis of the primary tumor.

 

Odalys Torres-Luquis Headshot

         

         Odalys Torres-Luquis

         Ph.D. Candidate

         College of Veterinary Medicine

         Department of Comparative Pathobiology

         Research Video 

Research Title:

Lymph-Circulating Tumor Cells show Distinct Properties to Blood-Circulating Tumor Cells and are Efficient Metastatic Precursors

Abstract:

The leading cause of breast cancer-associated death is metastasis. In 80% of solid tumors, metastasis via the lymphatic system precedes metastasis via the vascular system. However, the molecular properties of tumor cells as they exit the primary tumor into the afferent lymphatics en route to the sentinel lymph nodes (SLNs) are not yet known. Here, we developed an innovative technique that enables the collection of lymph and lymph-circulating tumor cells (LCTCs) en route to the SLN in an immunocompetent animal model of breast cancer metastasis. We found that the gene and protein expression profiles of LCTCs and blood-circulating tumor cells (BCTCs) as they exit the primary tumor are similar, but distinct from those of primary tumors and lymph node metastases (LNMs). LCTCs, but not BCTCs, exist in clusters, display a hybrid epithelial/mesenchymal phenotype and cancer stem cell-like properties, and are efficient metastatic precursors. These results demonstrate that tumor cells that metastasize through the lymphatic system are different from those spread by blood circulation. Understanding the relative contribution of these cells to overall peripheral blood-circulating tumor cells is important for cancer therapy. Whether these two types of cell occur in cancer patients remains to be determined.