Notre Dame Cristo Rey High School
Methuen, MA

David Wollensak and Vasundhara Singh
Chen Lab | Engreitz Lab

Ana’s motivation to apply to the Broad was fueled by a wish “to experience the depth of research in a learning environment with brilliant scientists that have the same curiosity as me.” Ana was able to see her wish fulfilled this summer, when her and her partner Emilia worked at the Broad studying cancer. To study complex biological systems such as cancer, scientists often establish models that can be manipulated and studied. Unfortunately, some established models fail to recapitulate the environment in which tumors are formed. Often, the failure to recapitulate the tumor microenvironment results from excluding non-cancerous cells that can be hijacked by cancer cells to promote their survival and are crucial for the tumor's survival. This summer, Ana worked on developing accurate 3D cancer models, called spheroids, of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) to better understand the different interactions that take place within the tumor microenvironment. By combining her newly acquired expertise in tissue culture and fluorescence microscopy, Ana was able to grow spheroids composed of cells derived from PDAC patients as well as established human mammary epithelial cells called HMECs. She tested various spheroids and determined the optimal conditions that lead to increased cell viability. By being a step closer to establishing an accurate replicate of the in vivo tumor microenvironment, Ana’s work will enable the study of signaling relationships between cancer cells and non-cancerous cells present in the tumor. As Ana reflects about her time at the Broad, she mentions how much this experience taught her about scientific research and how she plans on using this knowledge to look for undergraduate programs. “I was amazed at the cross-disciplinary environment of the Broad and the diverse roles different scientists play in research, which led me to look for combined interdisciplinary major programs.” She adds that “meeting the Broad scientists was groundbreaking and inspiring.”