Julea Vlassakis

WEBSITE(S)| Microtechnologies Laboratory for Pediatric Oncology

SURF Mentoring

Potential projects/topics: The Microtechnologies Laboratory for Pediatric Oncology in the Department of Bioengineering is seeking applicants for multiple SURF positions. Our lab develops technologies at the smallest length scales of biology to understand the protein interactions and structures that promote tumor growth and cancer spread. We plan to host multiple SURFs in project areas involving: 1) single-cell analysis of engineered tumor microenvironments and 2) single-molecule force spectroscopy, as detailed below. 1) No two cells within a tumor are alike. In Ewing sarcoma, the second most common pediatric cancer, populations of cells that rapidly divide differ from the cells that spread to other parts of the body. To study what makes cancer cells more likely to spread, we are developing single-cell tools for measuring the numerous interacting proteins that govern cell motility and interactions with the surrounding tumor (called the tumor microenvironment). Here, we are seeking undergraduate researchers to conduct studies of the impact of engineered tumor microenvironment composition on cellular structure and protein levels of cancer cells. Additionally, we aim to determine how specific chemical and physical aspects of the cellular measurements impact cytoskeletal protein stability and cell viability. 2) Single Molecule Force Spectroscopy is a powerful method used to apply forces to single molecules. A miniature tug-of-war with DNA can reveal insights on mechanical phenomena at the nanoscale, such as how biological molecules physically interact with each other. Here, we are seeking undergraduate researchers with an interest in learning how to develop models and simulations or to build novel instrumentation to study DNA mechanics and structures relevant to cancer progression.

Potential skills gained: Single-cell analysis, single-molecule analysis, tissue engineering, microfabrication, modeling, assay development/design, bioinstrumentation

Required qualifications: No previous laboratory experience is required. Suggested courses: College-level cellular or molecular biology is recommended. Some college-level calculus and physics are preferred for the single-molecule force spectroscopy projects.

Direct mentor: Faculty/P.I., Graduate Student

Research Areas

The Microtechnologies Laboratory for Pediatric Oncology is focused on the study of protein interactions, signaling and conformations responsible for fusion oncoprotein-driven pediatric cancers. Such pediatric cancers are marked by a paucity of genetic mutations, and instead fusion proteins and their interactions are responsible for cancer cell proliferation and metastasis. By understanding the key protein conformations and interactions of cancer progression, we aim to deliver the next generation of ‘molecularly surgical’ therapies. We design tools to study key macromolecular interactions and structures at the micro and nano length scales of cancer biology.