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How I became interested in tissue engineering
This post is part of a series of blog posts written by incoming and second-year graduate students in the Early Graduate Fellowship Mentoring Program. Students were asked to provide a brief description of their research interests and how they came to those interests.
My main research interest is in tissue engineering and biomechanics. I first became interested in research as an undergraduate student when I participated in an independent research study. I worked to develop an analytical fabrication method for preparing surface enhanced Raman scattering substrates (SERS) using silver nanoparticle ink. SERS substrates are nano-scale surfaces capable of greatly increasing Raman scattering which can be used to develop sensitive sensors for detecting chemicals and biomarkers at trace concentrations. This experience is where I developed my interest in research and is what influenced me to pursue other research opportunities at different institutions.
The summer before my senior year at The College of New Jersey I was in the RiSE (Research in Science and Engineering) program at Rutgers University. Specifically, I was in the Cellular Bioengineering program, an NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU). At Rutgers, my passion for research continued to grow, and I also became introduced to a field that really interested and motivated me, tissue engineering. For the first time, I could directly apply what I learned in my biomedical engineering courses (biomaterials, biomechanics, etc.). I worked in Dr. Joseph Freeman’s musculoskeletal tissue regeneration lab, and under his guidance, contributed to a project aimed at developing a biodegradable, composite skeletal muscle scaffold. The scaffold is composed of conductive nanofibers and an electroactive hydrogel and is unique because it has the capability to actuate, or bend, when electrically stimulated, providing contractile forces similar to native muscle. My primary responsibilities included optimizing the characteristics of the hydrogel by finding the concentrations, chemical ratios, and thickness to length ratios that cause the hydrogels to produce the greatest contractile force. In addition, I optimized parameters to produce hydrogels with elastic moduli similar to native muscle while maximizing ultimate tensile strength. I spent additional time exploring electrospinning methods to increase parallel alignment of the nanofiber component of the scaffold. Ultimately this scaffold can be used to regenerate skeletal muscle following traumatic injuries. Participating in the summer program helped me solidify my career plans of wanting to go to graduate school. Shortly after, I was accepted to Rutgers biomedical engineering Ph.D. program which I will be starting this fall.
This summer I decided I wanted to gain experience working in a different lab to learn as much as I could before returning to Rutgers. I am working as an Upstream Bioprocessing Intern at Adello Biologics. This company produces biosimilars, which are drugs that are highly similar in the quality, safety and effectiveness to an existing, branded biologic. Biosimilars have the potential to greatly reduce healthcare costs for patients. While there, I am working with bioreactors and performing experiments to determine the optimal conditions for the cells to produce the most product. Although this field is different than tissue engineering, I learned valuable lab techniques and knowledge about working with cells and their environment that I will be able to apply in graduate school.
Over the past couple of years, I have had the opportunities to perform research with SERS substrates, musculoskeletal tissue scaffolds, and antibody production for use as biosimilars. My main research interest still resides with tissue engineering. I believe that in this field I will be able to apply all of my background knowledge, including my engineering curriculum and various research experiences, with my creativity to help advance the field. Tissue engineering excites me as it is a new, emerging field, and there is still so much to be learned and accomplished that will greatly benefit society.