Primary Research Focus
The de la Puente lab is focused on the role of tumor microenvironment (TME) in cancer progression, drug resistance and cancer immunology.
The TME is highly complex including stromal, immune, and endothelial cells, signaling molecules, oxygen tension, and the extracellular matrix. Classical two-dimensional (2D) cultures fail to provide an adequate model for the complexities of human tumors.
Our lab is developing personalized 3D models of the tumor microenvironment in order to more accurately mimic cell-cell and cell-matrix interactions.
Our lab currently focuses on developing three-dimensional models of solid tumors for personalized medicine. Through these culture models, we hope to gain a deeper understanding of the role of the tumor microenvironment and their accessory cells during cancer progression, drug resistance and cancer immunology for each individual patient.
About the de la Puente Lab
Lab Projects and News
Basic Research in Cancer Health Disparities
Unequal cancer burdens may be due in part to complex biological factors, not only socioeconomic and access to care factors. Our laboratory focuses on developing new research technologies that make it feasible to study biological factors contributing to cancer disparities.
Role: Project PI. Supported by Geographical Management of Cancer Health Disparities Program (GMaP) Region 6 Awards.
Role of Tumor Microenvironment of Tumor Progression, Drug Resistance and Immune Escape in Breast
Patient-derived in vitro breast and ovarian cancer models will be used to study the role of the tumor microenvironment in progression and drug resistance and to screen in vitro drugs to further correlate efficacy with the clinical response in patients.
Role: Project PI. Supported by NIH/NIGMS 5 P20 GM103548-08 (2018-2020)
Plasma for Precision-based High-throughput endpoint analysisPlasma is used as a double source in our laboratory, for the detection of key cytokines that can be used as novel biomarkers in cancer and as the foundation of a 3D physiologically relevant cancer tissue-engineered model that contain the essential components necessary for accurately recapitulating in vivo a tumor microenvironment. Our 3D model contains patient-specific signals providing not only support to cell structure, but also serving as a reservoir for nutrients, growth factors, cytokines, extracellular vesicles, and signaling molecules that help with the development of more personalized models.
Investigate the Role of TME Physical Features on Cancer Immune Escape
There is evidence that oxygen influences many immune cells. It is thus reasonable to speculate that realistic in vitro models should also be able to recreate hypoxia. We hypothesize that the tumor hypoxia induces structural and cellular changes in the TME that reduces the efficacy of the immune cells to target cancer cells and that targeting hypoxia will sensitize cells to interactions with immune cells.
Translational Research: Personalized Medicine
Our lab is developing personalized 3D models of the tumor microenvironment of cancer patients to retrospectively and prospectively evaluate therapeutic efficacy to cancer treatment. The goal is to enable clinicians to build personalized treatment strategies for individual patients based on the ex vivo drug sensitivity of cancer cells.
Meet the de la Puente Lab Team
Kristin Calar, BChE
Associate Research Specialist
Kristin Calar assists with laboratory management including ordering, compliance and oversight of the cell cultures in the laboratory for experimentation. She assists with analysis using microscopy and flow cytometry methods. She investigates the role of the tumor microenvironment in tumor progression and drug resistance using novel 3D tissue engineered cultures. She earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering with a minor in chemistry from the University of Minnesota.
Simona Plesselova, PhD
Simona Plesselova performs complex laboratory experiments and data analysis. She assists in the completion of grant applications, writing of peer-reviewed publications and formal presentations of research results. She investigates how the tumor microenvironment (TME) niche can modify immune cell efficiency to target cancer cells and its influence in chemotherapy resistance. She earned a PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and a Master of Pharmacy from University of Granada, Spain.
Megan Jorgensen’s project seeks to study leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF), a cytokine that activates multiple signaling cascades and has been proven to have a major role in various cancer pathologies, such as pancreatic cancer, colorectal cancer, chordoma and melanoma. Her studies will determine LIF’s role in progression and drug resistance in ovarian cancer. A greater understanding of LIF within ovarian cancer could lead to potential new treatment targets or prognostic markers for clinical use. Megan earned her bachelor’s degree in medical biology from the University of South Dakota in 2018 and is enrolled in the MD-PhD program at the University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine. She is expected to graduate in 2025.
Amrita Bhagia's project seeks to model ovarian carcinoma in the omentum, the most common location for ovarian cancer metastasis. She will be using microfluidics techniques to create an 'omentum-on-a-chip' that will mimic the ovarian tumor microenvironment. Once a model has been created, she hopes to investigate biological and clinical questions relevant to ovarian cancer metastasis.
Amrita received a bachelor's degree in both Biology and Women's and Gender Studies from St. Olaf College in 2019 and a master's degree in Women's Studies and Gender Studies from Loyola University Chicago in 2021. She is currently enrolled in the MD/PhD program at the University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine and is expected to graduate in 2029.
Hailey Axemaker, BS
Hailey Axemaker assists with laboratory experiments and data analysis. She investigates the role that stromal influences within the tumor microenvironment have on drug resistance in ovarian cancer. She earned a bachelor's degree in both Biotechnology and Microbiology with a minor in Chemistry from South Dakota State University.