Emmy Verschuren on Building Cancer Models
Emmy Verschuren, PhD, is a group leader at the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM), where her lab develops in and ex vivo lung cancer models, and investigates the function of key lung cancer tumor suppressors in complex microenvironments. Prior to joining FIMM, she received her PhD from University College London and worked as a postdoc at Stanford University and at a biotech company in the US. Dr. Verschuren spoke to us about the importance of somatic cancer models and why she believes flow cytometry is essential in cancer research.
Q: Would you tell us about your research program?
Dr. Verschuren: We’re working on understanding the complexities of cancer formation, looking for ways cancer formation and progression can be blocked. We are developing a new set of cancer model systems to understand the critical biology of cancer in the laboratory. Along with other labs in our institute, we use laboratory experiments to eventually develop more effective ways to treat prospective as well as actual patients in the clinic.
Q: How are you using the BD Accuri™ C6 flow cytometer in your lab?
Dr. Verschuren: We’re currently using it for our mouse model experiments. We use genetically engineered mouse models, in which timed activation of specific oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes cause the tumors to form.
We use the BD Accuri C6 to profile the tumor cells in different ways. First, we perform standard cell proliferation and cell death assays, which use BrdU incorporation to measure the cycling profile and speed of a cell population.
Second, we use phenotyping to study what types of cells reside in a tumor, such as immunological lymphocyte infiltrates. We use reagents that mark cell surface proteins, such as CD4 and CD8, to identify the types of lymphocytes in a tumor tissue.
Third, we use the BD Accuri C6 to distinguish tumor cells from non-tumor cells, using the tracer molecule GFP, which is specifically expressed in the lung cancer cells. We isolate single cells from the lungs from our genetically engineered animals, and use the flow cytometer to identify which cell populations express the fluorescent marker. We use these results to optimize the procedure for isolating and ultimately sorting the tumor cells on a fluorescence activated cell sorter.
Q: Which features of the BD Accuri C6 are important to you?
Dr. Verschuren: It’s important that it is user-friendly, easy to maintain and work with, and relatively compact, so it’s within reach on a workbench in our lab.
Q: Did anything surprise you when you got it into the lab?
Dr. Verschuren: The most surprising thing is that so many users have seamlessly been able to start using the machine. There have been no technical difficulties, such as blockages in the solution flow. I wish I’d had a BD Accuri C6 when I performed my own experiments in the past!
Q: What do you think is the role of flow cytometry in cancer research?
Dr. Verschuren: I’ve used it throughout my PhD and postdoc work, and now we’re using it again in the lab. It’s an absolutely essential way to accurately measure proliferation of the cell populations you’re working with, and to determine if cells proliferate or die upon a genetic or chemical perturbation. For tumor biologists who study cancer cells in culture, this is an essential method to have in your toolbox.
Q: Five years from now, what do you hope to accomplish in your research?
Dr. Verschuren: I hope that we will better understand some of the common denominators of cancer formation within a complex organism. The goal is to use this information to redefine how we can best manage disease and prevent its development into difficult to manage, heterogeneous, and ultimately deadly forms.
This is a matter of early detection, but the question remains, what are accurate biomarkers or early signs of tumor formation? Are they present in the blood? Can we isolate these cells or markers? And can we use cell profiling to detect them?
Q: What does BD Accuri’s motto, “Flow Cytometry Within Reach™,” mean to you?
Dr. Verschuren: I think this motto is spot on! It has been very rewarding to see the steady flow of nice data coming from our BD Accuri C6 users.
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