Dr. Thomas joined Georgia Tech in November 2011 as an Assistant Professor. Prior to this appointment, she was a Whitaker postdoctoral scholar at École Polytechnique Fédéral de Lausanne (one of the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology) developing nanomaterials for cancer immunotherapy and studying the role of lymphatic transport in immunity. Dr. Thomas received her Ph.D. from The Johns Hopkins University as a NSF Graduate Research Fellow where she studied the role of fluid flow in regulating blood-borne metastasis and identified novel biomarkers for the detection of metastatic colon cancers.
Dr. Thomas’s research focuses on the role of biological transport phenomena in physiological and pathophysiological processes. Her laboratory specializes in incorporating mechanics with cell engineering, biochemistry, biomaterials, and immunology in order to 1) elucidate the role mechanical forces play in regulating seemingly unrelated aspects of tumor progression such as metastasis and immune suppression as well as 2) develop novel immunotherapeutics to treat cancer.
Cancer progression is tightly linked to the ability of malignant cells to exploit the immune system to promote survival. Insight into immune function can therefore be gained from understanding how tumors exploit immunity. Conversely, this interplay makes the concept of harnessing the immune system to combat cancer an intriguing approach. Using an interdisciplinary approach, we aim to develop a novel systems-oriented framework to quantitatively analyze immune function in cancer. This multifaceted methodology to study tumor immunity will not only contribute to fundamental questions regarding how to harness immune response, but will also pave the way for novel engineering approaches to treat cancer such as with vaccines and cell- or molecular-based therapies.
Areas of Expertise (4)
Drug Development and Delivery
Selected Accomplishments (2)
Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program Concept Award
Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program Concept Award, 2009
National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship
National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, 2005
The Johns Hopkins University: Ph.D. 2008
University of California - Los Angeles: B.S. 2003
Selected Articles (4)
A significant fraction of the total immune cells in the body are located in several hundred lymph nodes, in which lymphocyte accumulation, activation and proliferation are organized. Therefore, targeting lymph nodes provides the possibility to directly deliver drugs to lymphocytes and lymph node-resident cells and thus to modify the adaptive immune response. However, owing to the structure and anatomy of lymph nodes, as well as the distinct localization and migration of the different cell types within the lymph node, it is difficult to access specific cell populations by delivering free drugs. Materials can be used as instructive delivery vehicles to achieve accumulation of drugs in the lymph nodes and to target specific lymph node-resident cell subtypes. In this Review, we describe the compartmental architecture of lymph nodes and the cell and fluid transport mechanisms to and from lymph nodes.
An integrated, parallel‐plate microfluidic device is engineered to interrogate and fractionate cells based on their adhesivity to a substrate surface functionalized with adhesive ligand in a tightly controlled flow environment to elucidate associated cell‐intrinsic pathways. Wall shear stress levels and endothelial presentation of E‐selectin are modeled after the inflamed vasculature microenvironment in order to simulate in vitro conditions under which in vivo hematogenous metastasis occurs. Based on elution time from the flow channel, the collection of separate fractions of cells—noninteracting and interacting—at high yields and viabilities enables multiple postperfusion analyses, including flow cytometry, in vivo metastasis modeling, and transcriptomic analysis.
Despite the recent approvals of multiple cancer immunotherapies, low tumor immunogenicity and immunosuppressive tumor microenvironments prevent a large portion of patients from responding to these treatment modalities. Given the immunomodulatory and adjuvant effects of conventional chemotherapy as well as its widespread clinical use, the use of chemotherapy in combination with immunotherapy (so-called chemoimmunotherapy) is an attractive approach to potentiate the effects of immunotherapy in more patient populations. However, due to the limited extent of tumor accumulation, poorly controlled interactions with the immune system, and effects on systemic healthy tissues by chemotherapeutic drugs, the incorporation of anti-cancer agents into biomaterial-based structures, such as nanocarriers, is highly attractive to improve the safety and efficacy of chemoimmunotherapy. Herein, we review the recent progress in drug delivery systems (DDSs) for potentiating the immunomodulatory effects of chemotherapeutics in chemoimmunotherapy, which represent among the most promising next generation strategies for cancer treatment in the immunotherapy era.
Hematogenous metastasis is a multistep, selectin-regulated process whose mechanisms remain poorly understood. To investigate this biological pathway of cancer dissemination and better understand circulating cancer cells, we developed a high-throughput methodology that integrates organ-on-chip-like microfluidic and photoconvertible protein technologies. Our approach can ascribe single-cell velocity as a traceable cell property for off-chip analysis of the direct relationships between cell molecular profiles and adhesive phenotypes in the context of physiologically relevant fluid flow. We interrogate how natively expressed selectin ligands relate to colon cancer cell rolling frequencies and velocities and provide context for previously reported disparities in in vitro and in vivo models of selectin-mediated adhesion and metastasis. This integrated methodology represents a versatile approach for the development of anti-metastatic therapeutics as well as to generate and test mechanistic hypotheses regarding spatiotemporal processes that occur over timescales of seconds to hours with single-cell resolution.