Sara Pedron, PhD

Sara Pedron, PhD

Research Assistant Professor
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Urbana, Illinois. 

Abstract 179. Tumor-driven extracellular matrix remodeling influences therapeutic response. 

What are your long-term career objectives? 

Brain tumors develop in a complex and nearly inaccessible environment, which fosters their growth and invasion, and protects them from current therapies. The implementation of new strategies, that inhibit the critical contribution from stromal cells and the extracellular matrix, holds great potential in the development of more effective therapeutic approaches. I am broadly interested in understanding how stromal cells support solid tumor cell growth and the mechanisms to reinstate their healthy function. In particular, I aim to create artificial platforms that study tumor development and therapeutic approaches, with the ultimate goal of applying this knowledge to the clinic and implementing targeted therapies that alter critical tumor-microenvironment interactions to improve patients’ prognoses. I focus on these areas: (1) Construction of complex biomaterial platforms that monitor tumor-microenvironment interactions and allow for high throughput study of sex-specific tumor cell signaling; (2) Implementation of responsive and dynamic biomaterials that mimic the properties of the cellular microenvironment, provide appropriate signaling and real-time monitoring of cell response; (3) Understanding of mechanisms of tumor resistance and establishment of alternative therapeutic targets. As a mentor, I am committed to an accessible, collaborative, and constructive laboratory culture that respects the capabilities of each member. I work towards increasing connections and engaging with colleagues throughout my institution, to advance tumor research and create an inclusive learning environment. Together with some members of the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology Committee on Diversity Task Force, we have established a successful seminar series, the “Lunchbox,” that bridges the gap between scientific research and society. It makes participants feel that they are a part of an inclusive community that encompasses people from different cultural backgrounds. This project has received corporate and academic funding. Our goal is to institutionalize the program, extend the science–society connection to our community, collaborate with local organizations, and increase awareness in areas that have been shown to disproportionately affect racial/ethnic minority groups. I am highly interested in contributing to family literacy programs, aimed at improving parents’ support skills that would have an impact on children’s education and access to careers in STEM. As a native Spanish speaker, I am committed to the values of bilingual education, being multilingual makes individuals more competitive in economic and social contexts, as participants of a global community. My present and future research will significantly advance the development of preclinical tools and the understanding of brain cancer. My career goals include integrating interdisciplinary and diverse teamwork to solve critical healthcare problems.

Please share information about how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted your research over the last two years.

I started my faculty appointment in 2019, just a few months before COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic. Institutions halted operations, schools closed, and only essential activities continued in order to stop the spreading of the virus. The laboratories were closed and in-person meetings and conferences were suspended. These changes unfavorably affected my productivity, in terms of publications and initiation of new projects. As a new investigator, the initial advance in experimental work, the establishment of new projects and collaborations, the mentoring from senior faculty, and the development of a supportive network are vital to success as an independent researcher. The pandemic has hampered the progress in all these areas. Most importantly, as a mother of two little children, I have been facing online learning and quarantines. This situation has decreased the amount of time I dedicated to research, seeking to provide education and emotional support to young individuals that have lost social interactions and leisure time at an age when it is paramount. Nevertheless, online tools have been developed to keep us connected, protocols allowed the safe reopening of research labs and I could count on mentors, colleagues, and friends that supported me during this time. Overall, I have invested more time in reading, writing, project design, and data analysis while we gradually return to normalcy.