What is your area of specialization?
My PhD is in Bioengineering with a concentration of biophysics and cell biology. The focus of this work was using a combination of atomic force microscopy and biological assays to investigate the important biomechanical properties of extra-cellular basement membranes with a focus on aging and disease pathogenesis. My undergraduate work was in Engineering Science and Mechanics, however a minor in bioengineering helped identify the direction I wanted to take in graduate school.
What is your current research project?
Stem cells receive both chemical and mechanical cues from their environment which helps drive differentiation. My current work, under the advisement of Dr. Ipsita Banerjee and Prof. Prashant Kumta, is focused on engineering and applying novel platforms to take advantage of immediate microenvironment cues to tailor systems to maximize the response of embryonic stem cells (ESCs) towards a desired end cell phenotype, in our case functional pancreatic endocrine cells. Beyond just passive environmental stimulation, we are also investigating whether multicellular 3D cell culture systems, called organoids, are a more suitable platform to reach our objectives. Additionally, we are developing novel strategies to engineer organ specific vascular systems within 3D tissue constructs to support downstream therapeutic applications.
Tell us about a great experience or opportunity you’ve had in the past year.
Professionally, within the last few years I have really come to appreciate how efficiently a project can be advanced by seeking out and initiating collaborations as opposed to trying to solve every aspect of a project ‘in-house’. Non-professionally I have recently re-invested in putting aside time from work and family obligations to decompress through a newfound addiction to cycling around all of the great trails and backroads in western PA – while trying to avoid all of the potholes.
What do you hope the next step in your career path will be?
I hope the next step in my career, whether within academia or industry, is to go further with developing and utilizing 3D cell culture systems. I feel this is an exciting and widely applicable research area, and that the move towards more physiologically relevant cell culture and tissue engineering platforms will enhance both therapeutic and drug development applications.
If not a scientist, what would you be?
My first work experience was as part of a family owned asphalt and paving company. I also have experience working in landscaping and construction. I enjoy working outside with my hands, so if I was not a scientist I would probably have pursued starting my own business in one of these areas.