Innovation Academy Charter School
Tyngsborough, MA

David Wollensak and Vasundhara Singh
Chen Lab | Engreitz Lab

Emilia’s interest in understanding how complex biological systems work together started from a young age. She discovered her scientific interest in an unlikely place: the kitchen. “I've loved to cook and bake since I was very young, but I always wondered why certain ingredients acted the way they did with each other.” This inquiry introduced Emilia to the concept of fermentation, which led her to develop a strong interest in biological concepts. Fueled by curiosity, Emilia applied to BSSP. Emilia notes “I wanted to learn more about the process of designing, conducting and analyzing the data of an experiment.” This summer, Emilia was able to do just that! With her partner Ana, Emilia  worked in the Broad’s cancer program. 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. Trying to address this, Emilia worked on developing accurate 3D cancer models, called spheroids, of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) to better understand the different interactions that take place in the tumor microenvironment. By combining their newly acquired expertise in tissue culture and fluorescence microscopy, Emilia was able to grow spheroids composed of cells derived from PDAC patients as well as established human mammary epithelial cells called HMECs. By the end of the summer, she tested various spheroids and determined the optimal conditions that lead to increased cell viability within the spheroid. By being a step closer to establishing an accurate replicate of the in vivo tumor microenvironment, Emilia’s work will enable the study of signaling relationships between cancer cells and non-cancerous cells present in the tumor, thus creating a tool that will deepen our understanding about cancer.