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Edna (Eti) Cukierman, PhD

About

Professor

Co-Director, Marvin & Concetta Greenberg Pancreatic Cancer Institute

Co-Director, Immune Monitoring Facility

Chair, Institutional Biosafety Committee

Research Program

Lab Overview

Multicolor microscopy image of human pancreatic cancer. Red areas depict cancer cells and cyan marks the desmoplastic tumor microenvironment, which is enriched in fibroblastic cells positive for 3D-adhesions (evident in cyan areas marked by lighter yellow/white colors).  Note the vast areas covered by the fibrous (cyan) desmoplasia in comparison to the modest amounts of cancer cells (red).Image credit: Neelima Shah and Edna Cukierman.Multicolor microscopy image of human pancreatic cancer. Red areas depict cancer cells and cyan marks the desmoplastic tumor microenvironment, which is enriched in fibroblastic cells positive for 3D-adhesions (evident in cyan areas marked by lighter yellow/white colors). Note the vast areas covered by the fibrous (cyan) desmoplasia in comparison to the modest amounts of cancer cells (red).Image credit: Neelima Shah and Edna Cukierman.

The main goal of the Cukierman Lab is to study the biology of desmoplasia. Akin to chronic wounds driven by changes in fibroblastic cell functions, desmoplasia plays a central role in epithelial tumorigenesis. The team research focuses on the study of the bi-directional exchange of information that is produced by cell-extracellular matrix (ECM) contacts known as “three-dimensional matrix adhesions” or 3D-adhesions. Special interest is placed in understanding how desmoplastic 3D-adhesions, formed between cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) and the interstitial ECM, transduce signals that drive pro-tumor effects. 

Cukierman has previously developed a normal fibroblastic primary cell-derived, as well as a primary CAF-derived 3D ECM system, known as CDM, which simulates human desmoplastic stroma progression of epithelial cancers like pancreas, lung, kidney, and more.  The team uses CDMs to investigate mechanisms of ECM-induced CAF activation, and the reciprocal effects imparted by CDMs and CAFs that regulate tumor cell invasion, growth, immunosuppression, axonogenesis, drug efficacy, and others.

Cartoon depicting approaches commonly used by the Cukierman team to study desmoplastic stroma influences on tumorigenesis. Fresh surgical sample pairs of tumor and benign adjacent tissue are used to harvest fibroblastic cells, which are used to generate CDMs. The 3D cultures can be treated to extract the original cells, leaving the natural scaffold as a thin 3D coating material that can serve for culturing new cells. A plethora of cells, including fibroblasts, cancer cells, immune cells, nerves and more can then be study, independently or in combination with other cells, while these reside within the CDMs. Results are then validated in xenografted, human or syngeneic murine, orthotopic and genetic mice models. Validations are also conducted via simultaneous multiplex immunofluorescence using SMIA-CUKIE.Cartoon depicting approaches commonly used by the Cukierman team to study desmoplastic stroma influences on tumorigenesis. Fresh surgical sample pairs of tumor and benign adjacent tissue are used to harvest fibroblastic cells, which are used to generate CDMs. The 3D cultures can be treated to extract the original cells, leaving the natural scaffold as a thin 3D coating material that can serve for culturing new cells. A plethora of cells, including fibroblasts, cancer cells, immune cells, nerves and more can then be study, independently or in combination with other cells, while these reside within the CDMs. Results are then validated in xenografted, human or syngeneic murine, orthotopic and genetic mice models. Validations are also conducted via simultaneous multiplex immunofluorescence using SMIA-CUKIE.

Tissue engineering methodologies serve to question the topographical/architectural vs. biochemical aspects of desmoplasia. Pre-clinical animal models serve to test stromal targeting drugs, while laboratory discoveries are validated in human pathological samples via simultaneous multiplex immunofluorescence. For this, the Cukierman team developed a special analysis software, SMIA-CUKIE.  Multidisciplinary approaches used by this team incorporate molecular biology, biochemical and cell-based assays, laser scanning confocal and multiphoton microscopy, real time multiplex immunofluorescence, quantitative digital imaging analyses, genetic manipulations, tissue patterning, mathematical modeling, and other methodologies.

Importantly, clinical collaborations facilitate testing laboratory-generated hypotheses while translating basic discoveries to the clinic.

 
3D-adhesions formed within in vivo-like fibroblast-derived extracellular matrix
Normal fibroblast-derived 3D culture
Normal fibroblast-derived 3D culture
Primed fibroblast-derived 3D culture
Primed fibroblast-derived 3D culture
Tumor-associated fibroblast-derived 3D culture
Tumor-associated fibroblast-derived 3D culture
Normal fibroblasts on 2D or within normal, primed or tumor-associated 3D ECMs
DIC and immunofluorescence; during ECM production
Tracks of invasive cells moving through control or tumor-associated ECMs
Same cell different substrates; 2D vs. 3D adhesion structures
Model illustrating production of murine fibroblast-derived 3D matrices
Staged in vivo-like 3D stromal matrices; fibronectin (green) and collagen (red)
Tumor microenvironment (desmoplasia)
Human fibroblast within in vivo-like ECM
Simultaneous Multi-Channel Immunofluorescence Analysis (SMIA)
Cukierman lab staff, 2015
Human Pancreatic Cancer - NetrinG1 stroma expression
Some members of the M&C Greenberg Pancreatic Cancer Institute 2020
New Target Could Starve Cancer and Activate Immune System in Fight Against Pancreatic Cancer

Researchers at Fox Chase Cancer Center have identified a new biomarker and potential novel treatment target for pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) that could help starve cancer cells and allow the immune system to attack the tumor. Read the full article here.

Education and Training

Educational Background

  • Postdoctoral Fellow, Craniofacial Developmental Biology and Regeneration Branch (Mentor- Dr. Kenneth M. Yamada), NIH/National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, 1997-2002
  • PhD, Molecular and Cell Biology, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, 1997
  • MS, Biochemistry, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, 1993
  • BS, Biology, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, 1991

Honors & Awards

  • American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) Inducted Fellow, 2020
  • American Society of Matrix Biology (ASMB) Elected Council Member, 2020-2023
  • Worldwide Cancer Research Foundation Award, 2020-2021
  • American Society of Matrix Biology (ASMB) Image Award (dual honor), 2019-2020
  • 5th District AHEPA Cancer Research Foundation, Inc. Award, 2019, 2020, and 2021
  • Distinguished Achievement Award in Cancer Research and Clinical Management –Focus in Pancreas- by the Chinese Society of Clinical Oncology (Chinese’s ASCO), 2016
  • DOD Idea Award with Special Focus in Pancreatic Cancer , 2015-2017
  • Image featured at Dulles and PLH Airports (“Life Magnified” by NIH/ASCB), 2014
  • Member of NIH/NCI’s Tumor Progression and Metastasis Study Section, 2013-2019
  • Temple-FCCC Nodal Award, 2013-2015
  • AACR Career Development Award (continuation from 2004), 2006-2007
  • Olympus BioScapes Digital Imaging Competition (Honorable Mention Award), 2006
  • W.W. Smith Charitable Trust Award, 2005-2008
  • Nikon Small World Competition (Image Distinction Award), 2005
  • AACR Career Development Award, 2004-2006
  • National Pancreas Foundation Award, 2004-2005
  • Fellows Award for Research Excellence at the NIH, 2002
Research Profile

Research Program

Research Interests

Desmoplastic Tumor Microenvironment

  • Cellular and signal transduction mechanisms of fibrous desmoplastic activation, maintenance, and function
  • Pancreatic, lung, renal, and other transformative alterations regulated by cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) and their self-derived extracellular matrices (ECMs)
  • Clinical implications, translational aspects and means of microenvironment activation assessments; compartmental —tumoral and stromal— biomarker detection using multi-spectral and batch digital imaging analyses
  • Decoupling of biochemical and biomechanical influences of desmoplasia by combinational 3D models of cell-derived ECMs (known as CDMs) and biomimetic material engineering

Lab Description

Central premise: We postulate that it is possible to reprogram the desmoplastic microenvironment back to its natural tumor suppressive state and that, by doing so, one could introduce new means of tumor stalling. This idea is based on the fact that desmoplasia is reminiscent of chronic wound healing pathologies, such as chronic inflammation associated with fibrosis.  Ongoing efforts in the lab actively test this hypothesis from a tumor microenvironment perspective.  The goal is to attempt finding means to control desmoplastic activity in a way that these processes could limit pro-tumoral stroma functions yet harness the natural anti-tumor functions of the microenvironment.

Human pancreatic cancer pathological sample showing a pro-tumor desmoplastic phenotype. Image adapted from Alexander & Cukierman Matrix Biology 2020 and depicts central discoveries included in Franco-Barraza et al eLife 2017. Image credit Neelima Shah and Edna CukiermanHuman pancreatic cancer pathological sample showing a pro-tumor desmoplastic phenotype. Image adapted from Alexander & Cukierman Matrix Biology 2020 and depicts central discoveries included in Franco-Barraza et al eLife 2017. Image credit Neelima Shah and Edna Cukierman

We initially demonstrated that desmoplastic extracellular matrices (ECMs) induce an active myofibroblastic phenotype upon naive fibroblastic cells (Amatangelo et al 2005). Using syngeneic human fibroblasts harvested from patient-matched normal and tumor surgical samples, we are able to prompt cells to produce a human mimetic 3D stroma system. Due to the nature of the 3D system we are poised to dissect mechanisms of cell autonomous desmoplastic fibrillogenesis from mechanisms of ECM and other extracellular factors that regulate fibroblastic function.  This way, we can use our multicellular culturing system to study how cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) use their ECMs in a reciprocal manner to provide nutrition to cancer cells under nutritional stress, impart immunosuppressive local influences, and communicate with other cells in a way that these nurture tumorigenesis and/or deter drug efficacies.

Using the above-mentioned culturing system and validation of uncovered phenotypes in cohorts of pathological human samples, we uncovered signaling mechanisms that include TGFbeta regulation of desmoplastic ECM production as well as ECM controlled integrin signaling, distinct receptor recycling and cytoskeletal reorganization.  The uncovered mechanisms control both pro- and anti-tumor CAF functions and are represented by a desmoplastic phenotype that is indicative of pancreatic and renal cancer patient outcomes (Franco-Barraza et al 2017).

Signaling NetG1 axis. Cartoon depicting the signaling pathways and resulting cell functions driven by NetG1 in CAFs as reported in Francescone & Vendramini-Costa et al Cancer Discovery 2020.Signaling NetG1 axis. Cartoon depicting the signaling pathways and resulting cell functions driven by NetG1 in CAFs as reported in Francescone & Vendramini-Costa et al Cancer Discovery 2020.

The Cukierman team posits that “normalizing” the desmoplastic microenvironment could harness the natural anti-tumor stromal functions.  Hence, a main goal is to be able to design means to impede tumor development and/or progression.  To this end, the team uncovered that the pro-tumor CAF phenotype mentioned above, which is regulated by integrins and CAF-ECM, supports the expression of NetrinG1 (NetG1) in CAFs.  Francerscone & Vendramini-Costa et al 2021, demonstrated that CAFs expressing NetG1 support cancer nutrition and deter anti-tumor immunity.  The study found that CAFs expressing NetG1, but not CAFs that lack the expression of this protein, provide cancer cells with nutrition, and have the ability to sustain cancer cells under starving conditions that are similar to the conditions found in the pancreatic cancer microenvironment.  

Secondary to these, the team also reported that while NetG1 loss (or its inhibition) does not change the amount or architectural appearance of the CAF ECM, it in fact changes the type of fibrous materials being produced in a way that these no longer serve as an added source of nutrition to starving cancer cells. As importantly, the Cukierman Lab also discovered that CAFs deficient in NetG1 have the ability to stop inhibiting, and in some cases even promote, anti-tumor immune responses.  Excitingly, the team uncovered that NetG1 function stands on top of signaling pathways, which particular govern metabolic aspects of CAFs, as well as the ability of these cells to secrete factors that promote tumor growth, as well as factors that inhibit anti-tumor immunity.  In order to effectively obstruct all these functions, it would be necessary to use a combination of drugs that can target each of the main signaling pathways governing all the functions.  Yet, the team reported that simply blocking NetG1 in CAFs effectively and simultaneously limits these above-mentioned functions.  In fact, using an anti-NetG1 antibody, the team was able to halt tumorigenesis in an orthotopic/syngeneic mouse model.   If a similar drug was to be developed, it should have the potential to make a real difference, especially if combined with immune targeting and/or metabolic altering drugs. 

In summary, the current focus of the Cukierman lab is to study the microenvironmental roles that NetG1 and NGL1 play in tumor development and progression.

Added projects use the simultaneous multiplex immunofluorescent approach, combined with other methods, to query if desmoplastic phenotypes indicative of pro-tumor or normalized stroma could be detected in patient biopsies (including liquid biopsies).  These tests serve as laboratory correlates in clinical trials aiming to alter stromal function of solid epithelial cancers, such as pancreatic and other cancers.

Resources
  • Simultaneous Multichannel Immunofluorescence Digital Imaging Analyzer
    Software for multi-spectra analysis (SMIA-CUKIE)
    github.com/cukie/SMIA-CUKIE
  • Quantitative SMIA-CUKIE software outputs representative of assorted stromal marker expression and localization values as well as patient outcomes
    Analyses were conducted in tissue microarrays corresponding to Fox Chase Cancer Center’s PDAC and RCC patient cohorts collected and followed from 1991 to 2012. Data was used in Fanco-Barraza, et al., 2017. 

Download the spreadsheet for review. [XLS, 151KB]

Extramural Affiliations
Lab Staff

Ralph Francescone, PhD

Postdoctoral Researcher

Room: W429
215-214-4219

Janusz Franco-Barraza, MD, PhD

Senior Postdoctoral/Research Associate

Room: W428
215-214-4219

Jaye Gardiner, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow Researcher

Room: W429
215-214-4219

Tiffany Luong, BS

Scientific Technician I

Room: W428
215-214-4219

Charline Ogier PhD

M&C Greenberg Pancreatic Cancer Institute Postoctoral Fellow

Room: W446
215-214-3742

Kristopher Raghavan

PhD Candidate

Room: W429
215-214-4219

Debora B Vendramini Costa, PhD

Postdoctoral Associate

Room: W428
215-214-4219

Additional Staff

Former Personnel
Ashish Abraham
Jennifer Alexander
Michael Amatangelo
Daniel Bassi
Dorothy Beacham
Kimberly Brown
Remedios Castelló-Cros
Lauren Cheifitz
Gil Cukierman
Jonte Desire
Xiaoshen Dong
Stephanie Elbe
James Flaherty
Sarah Goldston
Vivekanad Gupta
Kelci R. Holman
David Khan
Melissa Lech
Raj Madhani
Ruchi Malik
Roderick Quiros
Poornima Rao
Mastan Rao Chintalapudi
Rebecca Roth
Dustin Rollins
Brad Rybinski
Neelima Shah
Jeffery Simons
Jerry So
Julie Sosa
Matthildi Valianou
Fernanda Villamar
Olga Villamar
Corinne Watson
Gary Wilk
Galia Wilk
Stephanie Wirtshafter
Daniel Zinshteyn
Alexander Zenin

Publications

Selected Publications

Francescone R, Barbosa Vendramini-Costa D, Franco-Barraza J, Wagner J, Muir A, Lau AN, Gabitova L, Pazina T, Gupta S, Luong T, Rollins D, Malik R, Thapa RJ, Restifo D, Zhou Y, Cai KQ, Hensley HH, Tan Y, Kruger WD, Devarajan K, Balachandran S, Klein-Szanto AJ, Wang H, El-Deiry WS, Vander Heiden MG, Peri S, Campbell KS, Astsaturov I, Cukierman E: Netrin G1 promotes pancreatic tumorigenesis through cancer associated fibroblast-driven nutritional support and immunosuppression. Cancer Discovery 2021, 11:446-79. ( equal contribution) PubMed

Alexander JI, Vendramini-Costa DB, Francescone R, Luong T, Franco-Barraza J, Shah N, Gardiner J, Nicolas E, Raghavan KS, Cukierman E: Palladin isoforms 3 and 4 regulate cancer-associated fibroblast pro-tumor functions in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma. Sci Rep 2021, 11:3802. Open Access

Gabitova-Cornell L, Surumbayeva A, Peri S, Franco-Barraza J, Restifo D, Weitz N, Ogier C, Goldman AR, Hartman TR, Francescone R, Tan Y, Nicolas E, Shah N, Handorf EA, Cai KQ, O'Reilly AM, Sloma I, Chiaverelli R, Moffitt RA, Khazak V, Fang CY, Golemis EA, Cukierman E, Astsaturov I: Cholesterol Pathway Inhibition Induces TGF-beta Signaling to Promote Basal Differentiation in Pancreatic Cancer. Cancer Cell 2020, 38:567-83 e11.  PubMed

Zhu Z, Achreja A, Meurs N, Animasahun O, Owen S, Mittal A, Parikh P, Lo T-W, Franco-Barraza J, Shi J, Gunchick V, Sherman MH, Cukierman E, Pickering AM, Maitra A, Sahai V, Morgan MA, Nagrath S, Lawrence TS, Nagrath D: Tumour-reprogrammed stromal BCAT1 fuels branched-chain ketoacid dependency in stromal-rich PDAC tumours. Nature Metabolism 2020. PubMed, other link

Sahai E, Astsaturov I, Cukierman E, DeNardo DG, Egeblad M, Evans RM, Fearon D, Greten FR, Hingorani SR, Hunter T, Hynes RO, Jain RK, Janowitz T, Jorgensen C, Kimmelman AC, Kolonin MG, Maki RG, Powers RS, Pure E, Ramirez DC, Scherz-Shouval R, Sherman MH, Stewart S, Tlsty TD, Tuveson DA, Watt FM, Weaver V, Weeraratna AT, Werb Z: A framework for advancing our understanding of cancer-associated fibroblasts. Nat Rev Cancer 2020, 20:174-86. PubMed

Franco-Barraza J, Raghavan KS, Luong T, Cukierman E: Engineering clinically-relevant human fibroblastic cell-derived extracellular matrices. Methods Cell Biol 2020, 156:109-60. PubMed

Cheng Y, Franco-Barraza J, Wang Y, Zheng C, Zhang L, Qu Y, Long Y, Cukierman E*, Yang Z-j*: Sustained hedgehog signaling in medulloblastoma tumoroids is attributed to stromal astrocytes and astrocyte-derived extracellular matrix. Lab Invest 2020, 100:1208-22. (*Co-Corresponding) PubMed.

Padhi A, Singh K, Franco-Barraza J, Marston DJ, Cukierman E*, Hahn KM, Kapania RK, Nain AS*: Force-exerting perpendicular lateral protrusions in fibroblastic cell contraction. Communications Biology 2020, 3:390. (*Co-Corresponding) PubMed

Ben Baruch B, Mantsur E, Blacher E, Franco-Barraza J, Cukierman E*, Stein R*: CD38 in cancer-associated fibroblasts promotes pro-tumoral activity. Lab Invest 2020, 100:1517-31. (*Co-Corresponding) PubMed

Alexander J, Cukierman E: Cancer associated fibroblast: Mediators of tumorigenesis. Matrix Biol 2020, 91-92:19-34. PubMed

Ruggeri JM, Franco-Barraza J, Sohail A, Zhang Y, Long D, Pasca di Magliano M, Cukierman E, Fridman R, Crawford HC: Discoidin Domain Receptor 1 (DDR1) Is Necessary for Tissue Homeostasis in Pancreatic Injury and Pathogenesis of Pancreatic Ductal Adenocarcinoma. Am J Pathol 2020. PubMed

 

Other/Selected

Malik R, Luong T, Cao X, Han B, Shah N, Franco-Barraza J, Han L, Shenoy VB, Lelkes PI, Cukierman E: Rigidity controls human desmoplastic matrix anisotropy to enable pancreatic cancer cell spread via extracellular signal-regulated kinase 2. Matrix Biol 2019, 81:50-69. PubMed

Kaur A, Ecker BL, Douglass SM, Kugel CH, 3rd, Webster MR, Almeida FV, Somasundaram R, Hayden J, Ban E, Ahmadzadeh H, Franco-Barraza J, Shah N, Mellis IA, Keeney F, Kossenkov A, Tang HY, Yin X, Liu Q, Xu X, Fane M, Brafford P, Herlyn M, Speicher DW, Wargo JA, Tetzlaff MT, Haydu LE, Raj A, Shenoy V, Cukierman E, Weeraratna AT: Remodeling of the Collagen Matrix in Aging Skin Promotes Melanoma Metastasis and Affects Immune Cell Motility. Cancer Discovery 2019, 9:64-81. PubMed

Franco-Barraza J, Francescone R, Luong T, Shah N, Madhani R, Cukierman G, Dulaimi E, Devarajan K, Egleston BL, Nicolas E, Alpaugh KR, Malik R, Uzzo RG, Hoffman JP, Golemis EA, Cukierman E: Matrix-regulated integrin αvβ5 maintains α5β1-dependent desmoplastic traits prognostic of neoplastic recurrence. eLife 2017, 6:e20600. PubMed

Franco-Barraza J, Beacham DA, Amatangelo MD, Cukierman E: Preparation of extracellular matrices produced by cultured and primary fibroblasts. Curr Protoc Cell Biol 2016, Chapter 10:10.9.1-.9.34.  PubMed

Amatangelo MD, Bassi DE, Klein-Szanto AJ, Cukierman E: Stroma-derived three-dimensional matrices are necessary and sufficient to promote desmoplastic differentiation of normal fibroblasts. Am J Pathol 2005, 167:475-88. PubMed

Cukierman E, Pankov R, Stevens DR, Yamada KM: Taking cell-matrix adhesions to the third dimension. Science 2001, 294:1708-12. PubMed

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