Ashleigh Theberge, Ph.D.

Examining cellular signaling in complex environments with microscale systems

Small molecule and protein signals provide a rich vocabulary for cellular communication. To better understand these signaling processes in both normal and disease states, there is a growing need for cell culture platforms that interface with analytical chemistry tools and recreate key features of the in vivo cell microenvironment. We have developed new microfluidic methods for cell culture that (1) integrate organic solvents for small molecule extraction facilitating downstream metabolomic analysis using mass spectrometry and (2) accommodate the culture of multiple cell types in microfabricated compartments connected via channels to facilitate soluble factor signaling. Our microscale culture systems allow a 10- to 500-fold reduction in volume compared to conventional assays, enabling experiments with limited cells from patient samples. Furthermore, our devices are open, pipette accessible, and mass-producible by rapid injection molding, increasing translation to collaborators in biological and clinical labs without engineering expertise. This talk will highlight our recent work studying the interplay between immune cells, epithelial cells, and stromal cells in prostate disease and asthma.