The human ovary is covered by a single layer of epithelial cells. Beneath the epithelial cells is the ovarian cortical stroma. Fibroblasts are a major cell type in the ovarian stroma. Recent studies have suggested that fibroblasts activated by inflammation may be involved in tumor initiation. The focus of Dr. Merritt’s research is to learn more about the ovarian stroma, its response to inflammation and how inflammatory stroma may promote tumor initiation in the epithelial cells. Dr. Merritt uses 3-D cell culture models that mix stromal fibroblasts with epithelial cells, allowing her to study cellular communication across the cell types. Recently, she has identified a protein called MMP-3, involved in the inflammatory response of stromal cells. She is now further studying how this protein could act on epithelial cells. Her results could lead to a better understanding of how different tissues act in the ovary to induce cancer.