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Leight awarded Pelotonia funded grant for cancer research

Jennifer Leight, assistant professor,   Biomedical Engineering, has been awarded a grant by The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center Intramural Research program to develop a platform for the culture of human tumor tissue and measurement of cell function, enabling new drug screening and personalized medicine applications. The grant money comes from funds raised by Pelotonia, an annual bike ride that raises money for cancer research at Ohio State. The inaugural ride has raised more than $184 million. The 2-year, $150,000 grant is for her work as primary investigator on “Ex vivo avatars to study patient specific responses to breast cancer treatment”. The grant runs from January 1, 2019 to December 31, 2020. The summary of the grant is below.

The vast majority of druggable targets identified by in vitro screening using traditional cell culture methods on plastic plates do not translate to clinical success. To overcome this obstacle, numerous studies have demonstrated that three dimensional (3D) cell culture, which more closely mimics the in vivo microenvironment, better predicts drug efficacy as compared to traditional two dimensional (2D) culture. However, these in vitro methods use immortalized homogeneous cell lines, which lack the heterogeneity and variability in treatment responsiveness observed in vivo, both patient to patient and variability in cells of the same tumor. Therefore, new technologies are needed that enable in vitro experimentation of more relevant tumor models. To address this need, we are developing the core capabilities for a 3D cell culture platform in which one can culture microexplants of human tumor tissue while simultaneously measuring cell viability and matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) activity. Here, we will conduct a pilot drug screen to assess the effects of current treatments on MMP activity of human breast cancer microexplants cultured in an in vitro hydrogel system. We will leverage the strength of our interdisciplinary team with expertise in biomaterials assay development, cancer cell pathology, and oncology to develop these cutting edge 3D hydrogel culture systems. Achieving the objectives outlined here will address significant barriers in the field, and future applications are far reaching, not only for screening cancer therapeutics, but also in other contexts in which MMP activity plays an important role, such as heart disease, arthritis, and tissue regeneration.

This project is the work of a highly interdisciplinary collaboration with co-PIs Dr. Clara Lee - Department of Plastic Surgery, Dr. Daniel Stover - Department of Internal Medicine, and Dr. Rulong Shen - Department of Pathology of the OSU College of Medicine.