Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Biomedical Engineering

First Advisor

Rebecca Heise

Second Advisor

Anthony Faber


Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer related death worldwide, with more than 1.6 million fatalities each year. Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) accounts for 80-85% of all lung cancers, with KRAS being one of the most prevalent oncogenic driver mutations. Therapeutic approaches for KRAS-mutated NSCLC have been extensively explored due to the US National Cancer Institute RAS Initiative, but methods of directly targeting KRAS or downstream effectors, such as MEK, still have poor results. Previous reports have shown that KRAS-mutated NSCLC activate distinct receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs) depending on the epithelial or mesenchymal state. Epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is known to play a role in the metastasis and poor prognosis of cancer, and is induced by extracellular matrix (ECM) stiffness. Hallmarks of EMT include loss of E-Cadherin and increase in Vimentin. This research investigates the role of KRAS in EMT transition due to increased ECM stiffness in KRAS mutant NSCLC, and how this affects the efficacy of KRAS and MEK inhibition. To understand how KRAS mutations in NSCLC play a role in this stiffness induced EMT, experiments were performed to detect the gene and protein expression of EMT markers, as well as possible sources of mechanosensing, including primary cilia and receptor tyrosine kinases. We hypothesized that KRAS plays a role in activation of mechanosensors and directly correlates to EMT induced by increased mechanical forces. Results show when KRAS was inhibited and there was increased mechanical forces, either from stretch or substrate stiffness, there was a decreased activation of mechanosensors. KRAS inhibition also prevented the cells from undergoing stiffness-induced EMT. This supports our hypothesis that KRAS plays a key role in ECM stiffness induced EMT. Future studies include examining the mechanism behind this phenomenon and in vivo studies.


© Krista Powell

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