BCREGMED is proud to have sponsored our first student exchange with the University of Southern California. Christopher Luc (UVIC) recounts his experiences in the lab of Dr. Min Yu, Assistant Professor of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at the University of Southern California.

This December I was given the opportunity by BCRegMed to travel to Los Angeles and exchange with the lab of Dr. Min Yu, Assistant Professor of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at the University of Southern California. I was introduced to the work Dr. Yu conducts through the BCRegMed virtual symposium, where I learned of her work with circulating tumour cells, metastasis initiating tumour cells that travel through the bloodstream to distant organs where they invade the healthy tissue and create secondary tumours. Within this work, Dr. Yu uses single cell analysis to better understand the cancer stem cell characteristics of these circulating tumour cells, and obtaining novel insights on how to target these rare populations. I was immediately drawn to Dr. Yu’s research given my own investigations into cancer cells. Within part my research at Dr. Willerth’s lab I work to fabricate artificial 3D-printed hydrogel models for cancer that could possibly used for characterization and drug screening. The most important factor to consider when engineering these cancer models is how to fabricate a structure that accurately represents how cancer cells act in the human body. This is a border where engineering and cellular biology mesh, and where researchers of multiple disciplines can come together. With this and future collaborations in mind, BCRegMed helped fund an exchange where I could learn how to apply the biological single cell analysis techniques Dr. Yu’s lab conducts into my own research to help characterize and improve our 3D-models for cancer.

At USC, I learned about how the Yu lab identifies and captures single circulating tumour cells by directly picking fluorescent labeled cells from tissue samples, and discussed how such methods could be applied to isolate single cancer stem cells suspended in a 3D hydrogel. I learned more about how cells of specific cancers, such as breast cancer, initiate secondary tumours in specific target organs, and brainstormed with students in Dr. Yes lab about the possibility of using 3D-printed hydrogels to model such a specific pattern of metastasis. Lastly, I spent time learning about how transcriptome patterns change in these circulating tumour cells and how to analyze such changes. By knowing how cells change their transcriptome pattern when initiating a tumour in vivo, the same method can be applied to 3D printed models in vitro to validate the models effectiveness and recapitulating the natural response. Furthermore, specific cells and transcriptome patterns can be identified and then related to drug susceptibility to identify what cancer cells are resistant to drug treatments, and what sort of transcriptional changes are they showing to cause such a resistance when compared to more susceptible cancerous cells.

Indeed, this exchange has helped further my own understanding of the field, and new possibilities, such as 3D-printed models for metastasis and tumour circulation, now seem to me like research avenues that vitally need investigating. It’s my hope that this exchange drives collaboration between principle investigators and student-researchers to solve issues such as these, and that students from USC labs such as Dr. Yu’s, can travel to BC universities in the future to propel more learning and collaboration.”

I would also love to add a thanks to all the members of Dr. Yu’s lab (specifically Dr. Mohamed Saleh for being my main mentor during the exchange) and Dr. Yu herself for being so accommodating and helping me learn so much!

Christopher Luc

Have you identified avenues of collaboration with a USC lab? BCREGMED is looking to sponsor more trainee exchanges.
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