The Ngo lab is interested in understanding how communication between different cell types influences tissue form and function during development, repair/regeneration, and disease. To study this process of cell-cell communication, we use biomaterials and microfabrication techniques to build engineered tissue models with which we can observe and perturb cellular interactions and measure the resulting effects on cell and tissue behavior. We use molecular biology, synthetic biology, and cell engineering tools in conjunction with our tissue models to identify signaling molecules of interest, as well as the spatiotemporal dynamics of these signals. We will also re-purpose our tissue models as tissue therapies, in which we will use cell-cell communication to drive regeneration or mitigate disease in the surrounding tissue microenvironment. While our tools and platforms can be applied to any tissue, disease, or regenerative event, we are particularly interested in cancer, vasculature, and the brain microenvironment.

Engineering vascularized tissues

Blood vessels are present in nearly every tissue in the human body. Not only does vasculature supply nutrients and oxygen to the surrounding tissue, but signaling from vascular cells has also been shown to influence tissue form and function. The ability to build vascularized tissues enables the development of tissue-on-chip platforms for drug screening, artificial tissue implants for regenerative medicine, and therapies for ischemic cardiovascular diseases. We are interested in understanding how to engineer functional vasculature by controlling extracellular matrix cues and the exchange of signals between different vascular cell types.

Vascularized tissue models as synthetic metastatic niches

Cancer metastasis, or the dissemination of tumor cells from a primary tumor to distant tissues, remains the leading cause of cancer-related deaths. Identifying the cues that cause tumor cells to metastasize can contribute to the development of new therapies for cancer. Blood vessels often serve as a highway between the primary tumor tissue and metastatic tissue sites, and tumor cells need to be able to migrate towards vasculature and enter and exit from blood circulation in order to metastasize. We are interested in understanding how communication between tumor cells, vasculature, and tissue-resident cells influences metastasis and the establishment of secondary tumor sites.

Vascularized tissue therapies for regeneration

Stem cell transplantation is a potential therapy for regenerative medicine; however, clinical translation is currently hindered by challenges in controlling stem cell survival and fate decisions post-transplantation. Within the human body, several types of stem cells have been shown to reside near vasculature, and vascular cells and the surrounding extracellular matrix provide signals that support stem cell survival and influence fate decisions. We seek to build tissues that can influence regenerative outcomes by directing stem cell behavior post-transplantation.

Vascularized organoids to study development

During development, blood vessels are in close proximity to parenchymal cells (i.e., the cells that form functional tissue). We are interested in building vascularized organoid models in order to understand how vascular signals influence parenchymal form and function, and how parenchymal cells reciprocally influence vascular morphogenesis and the acquisition of tissue-specific properties.