Dr. Thomas’s research focuses on the role of biological transport phenomena in physiological and pathophysiological processes. Her laboratory specializes in incorporating mechanics with cell engineering, biochemistry, biomaterials, and immunology in order to 1) elucidate the role mechanical forces play in regulating seemingly unrelated aspects of tumor progression such as metastasis and immune suppression as well as 2) develop novel immunotherapeutics to treat cancer.
Cancer progression is tightly linked to the ability of malignant cells to exploit the immune system to promote survival. Insight into immune function can therefore be gained from understanding how tumors exploit immunity. Conversely, this interplay makes the concept of harnessing the immune system to combat cancer an intriguing approach. Using an interdisciplinary approach, we aim to develop a novel systems-oriented framework to quantitatively analyze immune function in cancer. This multifaceted methodology to study tumor immunity will not only contribute to fundamental questions regarding how to harness immune response, but will also pave the way for novel engineering approaches to treat cancer such as with vaccines and cell- or molecular-based therapies.