"My favorite part of science is creating new solutions for things previously deemed not possible"

Meet Haylie Helms, PhD candidate in biomedical engineering at the Knight Cancer Precision Biofabrication Hub who uses Biopixlar to recreate tumors with single cell spatial precision.  

Haylie is currently presenting the poster “An engineered breast tumor microenvironment model, with single-cell spatial resolution, to assess spatial dynamics of tumor evolution” at the American Association of Cancer Research meeting that is taking place in San Diego right now.

We spoke to Haylie to learn more about her research and thework that she is presenting at the conference. Read the full interview below and take the chance to meet Haylie directly at the AACR meeting when she is presenting her poster today at  9:00 AM – 12:30 PM PDT (Section 10, Board 19)

Haylie Helms at the AARC 2024 meeting in San Diego


Can you tell usabout the work you are presenting at the conference?

I’ve developed an in vitro breast tumor microenvironment model which we can control the spatial positioning of each individual cell, with 1.6 um resolution.


What are the broader implications of your research?

By systematically manipulatingthe cellular composition and arrangement of the tumor microenvironment, we hope to uncover the fundamental biology of tumor initiation and progression. The long-term goal is to build a library of cellular response to perturbations which can support predictive models for patient stratification or therapy response.


What are your most important findings?

There were clear differences in cellular behavior if the cells were arranged as we see in routine histologic assessment vs if the cells were deposited in a random co-culture fashion. We know the tumor microenvironment isn’t a random agglomerate of cells. Precision engineered models can better recapitulate the complexities of the tumor microenvironment while also providing the flexibility to add or remove variables. 


What prompted you to get involved with this project?

Once we established thesingle-cell printing method with subcellular resolution, we debated what toapply it to first. While spatial omic technologies continue to reveal theimportance of cellular organization in all tissues, we felt we could have animmediate impact within the tumor microenvironment space for cancer earlydetection, intervention, and predictive tumor models.


What do you personally find most exciting about the work that you do?

Being on the cutting edge of technology! My favorite part of science is problem-solving and engineering newsolutions for things previously deemed not possible. The ability to fabricateliving replicas of native cellular microenvironments opens so many newpossibilities.


What in your research has surprised you the most?

How dynamic tissues are. I’m ananatomist by training and spent a lot of time looking at static histology slides. I never imagined how much cells move around and change their morphology in very dense environments.

Read more about the poster  “An engineeredbreast tumor microenvironment model, with single-cell spatial resolution, toassess spatial dynamics of tumor evolution”

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