|Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
Computational Biology Department
Zuckerman Research Center
415-417 East 68th Street
14th Floor. Room Z1425
Phone: +1 646 888 3239
I am combining experiments with computer simulations to study how cancerous cells interact with their non-cancerous stromal neighbors. At the moment I am focusing on the interactions between breast carcinoma cells and tumor associated macrophages but the idea is to expand these studies to other scenarios. I am particularly interested in how these interactions, together with the tumor microenvironment, regulate collective tumor properties such as spatial patterns of cell localization, angiogenesis and collective invasion and migration.
I was trained as a developmental biologist. During embryonic development individual cells interact to generate multicellular structures such as cell layers, organs and ultimately an entire organism. These interactions are finely tuned in time and space, orchestration that allows proper embryonic development. I am borrowing these concepts from embryology to study cancer/stroma interactions. Although in this latter case interactions are not so harmonious, they are still crucial and so are their temporal and spatial components. Moreover, the link between individual cancer cell behavior and collective tumor features is not well understood. I think developmental biology can be a very useful tool in this problem.
My approach starts from observations of collective tumor features in vivo such as macrophages patterns in tumors observed in Dr. Johanna Joyce's lab. In a computer model, I test minimal conditions that would allow the emergence of, for example, that pattern. When I have a model that approximate to the in vivo observations, I design experiments to test it. Computationally, I am using a hybrid discrete-continuum modeling approach. I am modifying a modeling framework developed by Dr. Joao Xavier to simulate social interactions in bacterial communities. This approach allows the implementation of realistic biophysical cell properties and behaviors in a large number of discrete agents that can belong to different cell types. Also diffusion of signals, nutrients, gases and/or others are overlaid over agents and regulate their behavior. Experimentally, I am using time-lapse and large tilled microscopy, cell signaling measurements and image analysis to study cells under particular conditions recreated by custom-made culture chambers.
By using this combined experimental and computational approach I aim to bridge the gap between studies of cancer cells at the single-cell level with multicellular properties of tumors. At the same time I aim to unveil simple cell behaviors that, when scaled up, lead to unexpected collective cancer features.
Curriculum Vitae (Link)