Sarah Shelton, Ph.D. | October 20, 2023| UNC-NCSU


Dr. Shelton earned her B.S. and M.S. degrees in Environmental Sciences and Engineering at the University of North Carolina before joining the UNC-NCSU Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering for her Ph.D. During her doctoral studies under the guidance of Paul Dayton, she developed ultrasound contrast imaging and analysis methods to identify tortuous vasculature for improved cancer diagnosis. She earned a F99K00 award from the NIH to continue her studies of the vascular tumor microenvironment through a postdoctoral fellowship at Massachusetts Institute of Technology with Roger Kamm, with a co-appointment at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute with David Barbie. She rejoined the UNC-NCSU Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering as an Assistant Professor in 2023, and her current research is in the development of microfluidic, organ-on-chip models of disease to uncover how the tissue microenvironment and cellular interactions shape pathology and treatment response.


Microphysiological systems or “organ-on-chip” devices are three-dimensional models of simplified biological tissues that have expanded the types of hypotheses that can be explored in vitro. My work focuses on vascularized models of the tumor microenvironment to understand how the endothelial barrier interacts with circulating cells and the surrounding stroma in order to investigate factors that drive growth, metastasis, and resistance to therapy in oncology.One illustration of the capabilities of these models is the observation of metastasis-on-chip. By perfusing cancer cells through microfluidic vascular models in the presence of plasma proteins, we have begun to uncover how the clotting cascade influences the extravasation of cancer cells. Additionally, I developed vascularized models of the tumor microenvironment using cells from surgical resections to generate patient-specific devices. In this model, cancer-associated fibroblasts altered several functional indicators of endothelial phenotype including vascular morphology, barrier function, angiogenesis, and immune cell recruitment, likely through cytokine signaling. These types of devices allow us to dissect cellular interactions that drive disease using real-time imaging and other biological techniques.