Increased tissue stiffness represents a hallmark of breast cancer that is mediated by physicochemical alterations of the extracellular matrix (ECM);however, the mechanisms through which enhanced ECM stiffness promotes tumor angiogenesis, and hence growth, are poorly understood. This project investigates the hypothesis that paracrine signaling by breast cancer cells increases fibronectin (Fn) matrix assembly by adipose-derived stem cells (ASCs), thereby enhancing the pro-angiogenic capability of both ASCs and endothelial cells to promote tumor vascularization. To investigate this hypothesis we propose a combination of biochemical and physical science approaches that will enable us to quantify the impact of tumor-derived soluble factor signaling on the conformation and rigidity of ASC-deposited Fn matrices. Specifically, we will use Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer (FRET) imaging and the Surface Forces Apparatus (SFA) to measure Fn mechanics at the macromolecular and cell/tissue level, respectively, and will assess the impact of these parameters on pro-angiogenic signaling in vitro and in vivo. This work will be accomplished in three specific aims:
In Aim 1, we will evaluate Fn matrix assembly by ASCs in the presence or absence of tumor cell- conditioned media and identify signaling molecules contributing to these changes.
In Aim 2, we will analyze the contributions of ASC-regulated Fn matrix characteristics towards a tumor-associated, pro-angiogenic phenotype of ASCs and endothelial cells.
In Aim 3, we will determine whether ASC-regulated Fn matrix assembly promotes tumor angiogenesis, stiffness, and growth in vivo and evaluate the contributions of the signaling molecules identified in aim 1 in this pathogenesis. Transforming growth factor beta (TGF-beta) signaling will be the initial focus of the proposed studies, as this factor modulates tumorigenesis, cell contractility, and Fn assembly. Additionally, we anticipate identification of novel factors already implicated in Fn mechanics yet with an undefined role in tumor vascularization. By correlating Fn conformation and mechanics with pro-angiogenic signaling in the tumor microenvironment this work will broadly impact our understanding of the connection between tumor stiffness and vascularization and may lead to the identification of novel anti- angiogenic targets and improved therapies. While the emphasis in the proposed studies is to determine the role of ASCs in this process, a variety of other physiological and pathological situations critically rely upon ECM mechanics (e.g., organogenesis, atherosclerosis). The culture systems and mechanical testing strategies developed as part of this project introduce radically new approaches to investigate these processes.

Public Health Relevance

Sustained angiogenesis is a hallmark of breast cancer that is influenced by extracellular matrix (ECM) mechanics;however, it remains unclear whether or not fibronectin (Fn) matrix assembly by tumor-associated adipose-derived stem cells (ASCs) may play a role in this process. This research will integrate biochemical and physical science tools to determine the effect of tumor-derived soluble factors on the rigidity of ASC-deposited Fn matrices and evaluate if these changes promote tumor vascularization. This interdisciplinary strategy has the potential to not only revolutionize our understanding of tumor angiogenesis, but also to provide widely applicable approaches to study other physiological and pathological processes that depend on Fn mechanics.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Cancer Institute (NCI)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Biomaterials and Biointerfaces Study Section (BMBI)
Program Officer
Knowlton, John R
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Cornell University
Engineering (All Types)
Schools of Engineering
United States
Zip Code
Seo, Bo Ri; Delnero, Peter; Fischbach, Claudia (2014) In vitro models of tumor vessels and matrix: engineering approaches to investigate transport limitations and drug delivery in cancer. Adv Drug Deliv Rev 69-70:205-16
Infanger, David W; Lynch, Maureen E; Fischbach, Claudia (2013) Engineered culture models for studies of tumor-microenvironment interactions. Annu Rev Biomed Eng 15:29-53
Wan, Alwin M D; Chandler, Emily M; Madhavan, Maya et al. (2013) Fibronectin conformation regulates the proangiogenic capability of tumor-associated adipogenic stromal cells. Biochim Biophys Acta 1830:4314-20
DelNero, Peter; Song, Young Hye; Fischbach, Claudia (2013) Microengineered tumor models: insights & opportunities from a physical sciences-oncology perspective. Biomed Microdevices 15:583-93