Priscilla Hwang, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering.
Priscilla Hwang, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering.

Biomedical engineering researcher studies breast cancer tumor “on-a-chip”

Priscilla Hwang, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at VCU College of Engineering, is using a 3D “tumor-on-a-chip” model to investigate how cells in breast cancer progress.

Hwang has received an American Cancer Society Institutional Research Grant through the VCU Massey Cancer Center for her research.

Hwang’s interest in cancer research led her to develop models that mimic how cells in the body behave in a more realistic way than 2D models. Her lab creates miniature 3D microphysiological systems, about the size of a quarter. “These microtissues allow us to mimic different tissues in the body but on the lab bench,” she said.

Her project, “Cadherin-3 regulated leader cell driven collective migration,” uses a “tumor-on-a-chip” model that mimics the breast tissue during cancer. “We incorporate primary tumor cells into our tissue model, and because our model is optically clear, we can use microscopy techniques to watch real-time cancer progression,” she said.

Hwang is seeking a greater understanding of how tumor cells sense their surrounding tissue and use these signals at the beginning of the cancer metastasis process.

 

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