4555 WI Institute Medical Research
BS, 1998, Biology, St. Norbert College
PhD, 2003, Cell Biology and Biophysics, Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis
Postdoctoral Research, Department of Pharmacology, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Assistant Professor Cell & Regenerative Biology
My group is interested in understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying breast cancer risk due to breast density. Patients with mammographically dense breast tissue have a four to six-fold increased risk of developing breast carcinomas. In fact, 1/3 of all breast cancer cases are attributed to breast density, making it one of the greatest risk factors for carcinoma. Increased breast density is associated with a significant increase in the deposition of extracellular matrix (ECM) components, most notably the protein, collagen. We have developed in vitro and in vivo model systems to understand why increased breast density results in an increased risk for developing breast carcinoma. Additionally, our group uses multiphoton microscopy and intravital imaging approaches to characterize the collagen structure surrounding tumors so that we can better understand the physical relationship between cells and the collagen fibers found in breast tissue.
We are particularly interested in molecular signaling events related to cell interactions with the ECM. During oncogenic transformation, normal interactions with the ECM are profoundly altered, resulting in cells that lose their polarization and differentiation, lose anchorage dependent growth control, and acquire a migratory, invasive phenotype. Further, we have identified an overall increase in inflammatory signals in tumors that arise in a collagen dense microenvironment. Together, these data demonstrate that collagen density creates an invasive, inflammatory tumor microenvironment leading to enhanced disease progression. We are interested in understanding how physical changes in the ECM determine cell phenotype and signaling related to the recruitment, differentiation and polarization of cells in the tumor microenvironment.