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Modeling Metastasis and the Tumor Microenvironment

In vitro modeling of advanced cancers is crucial to understanding the disease at a molecular level. 90% of cancer deaths are due to metastasis. Investigating the molecular mechanisms behind how and why metastatic cells are able to escape the primary tumor mass and enter the blood stream is especially important. Advanced tumors sheds hundreds of thousands to millions of cells during their lifetime, however it has been shown that only about one out of every million cancer cells is successful at establishing metastatic disease. In the Zorlutuna Lab, we investigate the discrepancy between the low success rate of metastatic cells and the high mortality rate of metastatic disease. We mimic the metastatic environment using fabrication techniques to combine a well characterized 3D tumor spheroid model system with multiple other cell types under perfusion conditions.  We examine the interactions between cell populations using confocal microscopy and imaging mass spectrometry (IMS) in order to study how cancer cells respond to changes in the tumor microenvironment.