Bioengineering is not a field for the cold and calculated—with improving human healthas the goal, I rely on my artistic inclinations to fuel my work. As both a musician and 3Ddesigner,I embrace the synthesis of logic and emotion, which fuels me to lead, design, andcreate. My current research interests revolve around applying 3D-printing principles towardsadvancing tissue engineering. 3D-printing will transform medicine by opening the door to rapidprototyping and customized patient designs in a potentially cost-effective manner. I aim to be onthe forefront of this evolving field, as I believe a PhD in Bioengineering will give me the toolsnecessary to bring this technology towards clinical translation.I learned about the incredible potential of 3D-printing through numerous researchexperiences.
As a freshman, I joined the lab of Professor Rohit Bhargava to initially work oncancer related projects, which derived inspiration from my time volunteering in an oncologyward. I self-led a project dealing with the lab’s main theme: statistical classification models forpredicting cancer malignancy using Raman spectroscopy. I developed a model for a futureproject in investigating the epithelial to mesenchymal transition, a process necessary for tumorinvasion, without the need for chemical stains which could alter the cells. Here, I also had myfirst taste for bioprinting, as the lab developed a printer using sacrificial materials.
I spent over ayear assisting my graduate student on fabricating hollow tubule structures to model the geometryand environment of breast ducts. With helping develop culture platforms and fabricationprotocols, I was eager to further apply 3D-printing to tissue engineering.The following Fall I joined a student design team, under Professor WawrzyniecDobrucki, to fabricate a dynamic artificial heart phantom for use as a CT, MRI, or ultrasoundprotocol calibration tool. I was able to further apply my 3D-printing background to designreusable injection molds and find materials that could mimic a natural heart’s imaging andphysical properties. As the leader of the fabrication and design subgroup, I directed my team’sefforts towards creating multi-chamber phantoms and modeling heart pathologies; for example, Ihad been working with a photocurable liquid monomer to locally simulate myocardial infarction.While I am not fully interested in becoming an imaging researcher, I learned the incrediblepotential that these technologies have for tissue engineering. It was insightful to take patient CTdata to inform my decisions for my phantom molds.
The project has evolved into a startup, withme as one of the vice presidents. It has been a unique opportunity to experience the business sideof biotechnology, leaving me excited for the future potential of entrepreneurship andcommercialization of my research.As a junior with some design experience under my belt, I opted to take a tissueengineering course, under Dr. Pablo Perez-Pinera, focused on fabricating small-scale, 3D-printedbioactuators, or biobots.
Although a rewarding course, I was left disappointed because none ofthe biobots functioned. Thus, I reached out to Professor Rashid Bashir and his graduate student,now Dr. Ritu Raman, who developed the biobots and was invited to join their group. Iinvestigated the potential for long-term cryogenic storage of muscle used to construct thebiobots.
I helped find the optimal conditions for storing them for months and we discovered thattheir force production increased after freezing. Because they are size-limited due to a lack of vascularization, this finding allows for new design flexibility by generating greater force atsmaller scales. It was fantastic to see my work having potential impact on the entire subgroup.After training with the Bashir lab, I wanted to give back to the course that initiallyinspired me. Professor Pinera hired me to optimize existing labs and find alternative methods forfabrication protocols, ideally with 3D-printing.
I spent the summer before senior yeardeconstructing all parts of the protocol and testing different cell and material batches. I foundnew methods to optimize the biobots and have been able to reproducibly fabricate functioningunits. Furthermore, I helped create reusable molds for the biobot muscle tissue.
The molds forforming the tissue are single-time use and require specialized 3D-printers. My method utilizes amolding process using more common 3D-printers and widely available elastomers. The parts canbe reusable, limiting the time and cost of developing the biobots. Reapplying my lab skillstowards solving the course’s prior deficiencies was rewarding not only in the sense that I couldgive back to the professors that I respected so highly, but also because it felt like I was a truetissue engineer.
My research journey has imparted a desire to use 3D-printing as a tool for tissueengineering. Furthermore, my experiences have allowed me to find where the field may becurrently lacking with regards to clinical translation and where other bioengineering principlescan be applied. In engineered tissues, genetic techniques garnered from synthetic biology will benecessary, especially for understanding host-tissue interactions and creating feedback loops forcontrolling cell populations. This could address the issue of controlling the spatial organizationof cells and directing their growth.
For biobot technologies, synthetic biology may provide ameans to yield enhanced functionality, creating therapeutic production and delivery platforms invivo that can degrade after pathological signals are no longer present. 3D-printing is not the fullsolution to tissue engineering problems, but in conjunction with synthetic biology it couldprovide a powerful avenue for clinical adoption.Yale’s extensive expertise in tissue engineering and synthetic biology provides a strongbase for my graduate interests. My ability to adapt has allowed me to reapply techniques learnedacross multiple labs, such as my initial 3D-printing experience with Professor Bhargava up to thebiobot experience with Professors Bashir and Perez. Yale has numerous leaders in theaforementioned fields, which would be an excellent opportunity to further explore these areas. Iam driven to see these technologies through to their full clinical potential, and I hope to be one ofthe researchers that leads the field in the future.