I once had the misconception that a drug would have equal effectiveness on different patients.Now I realize that I ignored the complexity of individual human physiology. As I started myundergraduate research, I was fascinated to see that cells from different donors often differed intheir responses to the same stimuli. The different responses at the cellular level led me to realizethat drug effectiveness varies among individuals, and a personalized medicine approach willimprove overall medical care. As I continue onto my graduate study, I hope to make an impacton the emerging field of personalized medicine. Several biomedical engineering labs at YaleUniversity have successful projects that could support me to achieve this goal in areas thatinterest me, including cell and tissue engineering. After graduation, I wish to become a researchproject director in a startup biotechnology company and catalyze technological advances inindividualized medical treatment.In my second year as a Biomedical Engineering undergraduate at the University of California,Davis (UCD), I began working in the Heinrich Lab.
I started my research by gaining afundamental knowledge of microscopy, which is vital to the cell-based research that will poweradvances in medicine. I have primarily worked with RICM, developing theory and building anautofocus algorithm, both of which could enable future use of RICM for high-resolutionbiomolecular measurements. I also became adept at performing experiments to measure thegrowing cell-substrate contact area for human neutrophils spreading on antibody (IgG)-coatedglass.
The results show that the overall speed of the contact-area growth is largely independent ofIgG density, confirming that this type of cell spreading is governed by inner protrusion ratherthan cell-substrate adhesion. I worked with a fellow undergraduate to combine RICM withfluorescence microscopy in order to assess the timing of prominent calcium-signaling surgesduring cell spreading. Our results confirm that the timing of calcium bursts is governed by athreshold of the number of engaged Fc?-receptors of the spreading neutrophil.
This projectcontinues to remind me of the benefits to collaborative work in research.As the focus of my undergraduate work transitioned from instrumentation to cell mechanics, myresearch continued to receive a streak of acknowledgement. I proposed designing a pinhole sliderthat can be used with the existing microscope as a key component of the autofocus system. Myproposal, “High-Resolution Imaging of Cell and Molecular Interactions by ReflectionInterference Contrast Microscopy”, was awarded the Provost’s Undergraduate ResearchFellowship (PUF).
This fellowship allowed me to 3D-print my designs and continue to optimizethe autofocus system. More recently, I have been accepted to present my ongoing work ondynamics in cell adhesion, titled “Frustrated Phagocytic Spreading of Human Neutrophils onDifferent Densities of Surface-Immobilized IgG”, at the 2018 Biophysical Society (BPS) AnnualMeeting in San Francisco. I secured a travel award from the BPS as well as one from the UCDavis URC towards attending this meeting.
At the heart of my undergraduate research lies a more general interest in advancing medicaltreatment. Working with the outstanding faculty at Yale University will allow me to achieve thisgoal. I am particularly interested in Dr. Laura Niklason’s research on vascular tissueregeneration; in her lab, I hope to help address the current challenge of producing a uniformlyrecellularized scaffold within vasculature.
Alternatively, I could work with Dr. Kathryn MillerJensento investigate the reactivation of latent HIV in T cells, or with Dr. Thierry Emonet toexamine the role of cell-to-cell variability in odor coding. These projects would allow me to apply my interest in cellular physiology in the context of regenerative medicine, infectiousdiseases, or neuroscience.
I am excited by the wealth of research at Yale University whichinterfaces between cell and tissue engineering and systemic physiology, and would be honored tojoin in any such project.I have started acting on my interest in interdisciplinary research through collaboration. Forinstance, I attended other lab meetings on campus, seeing them as venues to broaden my researchinterests.
I looked for help and advice from researchers in the TEAM prototyping Lab when Iwas developing the autofocus system. I also regularly communicate with fellow students aboutmy research and encouraged lab members to share knowledge through writing research logs onOneNote, a note-sharing tool. Additionally, I corresponded with a collaborating professor topropose holding joint lab meetings to broaden the vision of the members in both labs.Before fully starting my Ph.D.
research, I have much to learn in the areas of experimentalmethods and programming, analysis, and modeling. I look forward to gaining knowledge in theseareas as I begin my graduate studies. For instance, studying advanced mathematics in graduatecourses should support my interest in developing mathematical models to mechanisticallyexplain the phenomena I encounter in experiments.
Also, I have struggled with technical writingunder time constraints in the past, and I hope to learn to excel at this throughout my graduatestudy.I had a skull bone tumor excision surgery at the age of ten. My quick recovery made me deeplyfascinated in the medical field from my early age, impacting my decision to major in BiomedicalEngineering. College education has broadened my perspective on the field, introducing me tocell and tissue engineering. I now hope to work in the area to contribute to the emerging field ofpersonalized medicine.
I am eager to accelerate the process of translating research results intoreal-life applications to grant patients high-quality healthcare. Whatever opportunities may arise,I know that obtaining my Biomedical Engineering Ph.D. at Yale University will provide a strongfoundation for a lifetime committed to making an impact on the future of medicine.