Development of a 3D in vitro lung cancer model to track genetic instability

Emmanouela Mitta

Nice pair of lungs

Manchester is a partner in an International Alliance for Cancer Early Detection (ACED) that combines expertise and works to develop personalised early detection strategies to reduce treatment, morbidity and mortality burdens associated with late cancer diagnosis. In order to do this, it is important to recognise the key drivers of tumours and to understand the changes in signalling and gene expression.

This is a promising approach to identifying new biomarkers that signify lung cancer development. To identify these biomarkers, tumour models with multiple read-out options need to be developed through tissue engineering technologies. These offer the integration of components of the tumour microenvironment and thus can assist through in vitro modelling of disease progression.

 Emmanouela Mitta, an ACED funded PhD student is working with Sarah Cartmell to further develop existing 3D in vitro models using state-of-the-art tissue engineering which will be used in early detection to identify early changes during lung carcinogenesis.

Research background  

Emmanouela studied Biological Sciences at the University of Leicester where she discovered her interest in cancer biology with her undergraduate research project focusing on colorectal cancer. She then went on to join The University of Manchester, completing an MRes in Translational Medicine, focusing her thesis on pancreatic cancer. This was Emmanouela’s first introduction to tissue engineering and the importance of mechanobiology when looking at tissue samples.

Throughout her time spent working in cancer research during her undergraduate and MRes studies, Emmanouela became interested in studying the extracellular matrix and its mechanics and the importance of early detection in cancer research. This encouraged her to apply for a PhD last year, focusing on the development of a 3D in vitro lung cancer model.

Emmanouela Mitta

Her PhD and the importance of early detection

Emmanouela’s PhD is centred around creating a model that can be used for the early detection of lung cancer by finding lung cancer biomarkers. This model will mimic the in vivo lung tissue and currently Emmanouela is working to find a material that is appropriate for this modelling.

This technique pioneers the early detection and prevention of lung cancer by working to detect cancer at its early stages when it is more treatable. This form of modelling will also enable the personalisation of cancer treatments through profiling the mutations of different patients and simulating their tumour responses to different treatments.

I think we have reached the point, especially with lung cancer, where we’ve realised we need to find not only new treatment options for cancers, but also look for ways to either prevent it or catch it early where it can be treated most effectively.

Emmanouela Mitta

ACED funded PhD student

This will be a great step towards improved patient outcomes in lung cancer, as it will enable early detection through screening of patients for biomarkers alongside better treatment options and management that are specific to the individual patient.

The importance of Team Science

Emmanouela works alongside researchers from varying backgrounds throughout her project. This means she tailors her data to specific audiences and in turn receives varying feedback from different research specialists on both the biological and engineering aspects of her work. She stressed that this aspect of Team Science is integral to ensuring both the coherence and progression of her interdisciplinary research.

When asked about her involvement in the engineering side of cancer research, Emmanouela said: “It gives me hope for my future as well as the future of others. There’s so many cancers that people work on and I think that’s very interesting because every cancer is different, so you are always learning new things.”

Advice to someone wanting to take a PhD in tissue engineering

As a researcher in an interdisciplinary area, Emmanouela recommended that it is useful to have a background knowledge of both cancer research and engineering, as they interplay widely in this form of research.

I would really recommend Manchester for this research as it is very famous for research and materials. We have a lot of expertise and resources here that you can benefit from.

Emmanouela Mitta

Manchester is home to the Advanced Materials Manufacturing group, focused on developing new biotechnologies, as well as the Henry Royce Institute and National Graphene Institute focused on net-generation materials and modelling development for use in a variety of technology applications. There are many opportunities for prospective researchers and the organisation has its own centre for doctoral training and various other opportunities to get involved in.

Hopes for the future

Emmanouela hopes to see an increase in the number of in vitro models that are a balance between biology and engineering, developing advanced materials to better mimic the lung and refined modelling which can be used to improve patient outcomes.

Personally, Emmanouela is focused on enjoying and completing her PhD and is exploring the options available to her in both industry and academia.

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