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Julie Rhoades

Assistant Professor of Medicine
Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering

Biomedical Engineering

Research Focus

Some of the most common tumors world-wide metastasize or invade into the bone, where they can induce changes in normal bone homeostasis resulting in increased fracture risk. The Sterling lab seeks to investigate the signaling pathways that drive tumor growth in bone and bone destruction in order to better understand why tumors establish in bone and to improve therapies for treating tumor-induced bone disease. We primarily focus on studying interactions between tumors and the bone microenvironment in bone metastatic tumors (breast, prostate, and lung), bony invasive oral cancer, and multiple myeloma.   Our major projects include:

Understanding how the physical microenvironment regulates tumor cell behavior: The bone microenvironment is a unique physical structure, both in the 3D layout of the trabecular and cortical bone but it is also many orders of magnitude more rigid than other tissues in the body. Our group uses 3D approaches developed by Scott Guelcher’s group that can simulate the 3D structure and rigidity of bone. These studies have demonstrated that the physical/structural parameters of bone significantly contribute to tumor cell gene expression and behavior.

Developing novel therapeutics for treating TIBD: Our group has previously demonstrated that Gli2 is expressed by bone metastatic (lung, breast, prostate) and invasive (oral cancer) cells that reside in the bone. Therefore in collaboration with Drs. Craig Duvall and Scott Guelcher we have been investigating microparticle/nanoparticle delivery of inhibitors of Gli2 for their ability to reduce tumor burden and bone destruction.

Tumor bone/bone marrow cell interactions:  The bone marrow is a rich reservoir of many progenitor cells. We have spent many years investigating how different cell populations that reside in the bone marrow can alter tumor cell expression and behavior in addition to how tumor cells can alter the normal functioning of these cells.