In I was able to find one
In 2011, my sophomore year at UC Davis, I took a biotech class where I proposed to develop a
gel-based stem cell paste that could be applied to burn patients, using their own cells to promote
quicker recovery with less pain. The professor liked the presentation, but said the idea was too
futuristic. Two years later, I saw an article about a German company that embraced the same
idea in their product, the Skin Cell Gun. The gun applies the patient’s healthy cells as a mist over
the burn tissue.
Looking back, I realize that this news was a turning point in my academic career. It reinforced my
instincts and interests, encouraging me to explore novel medical research. Later I realized that
the name for this was regenerative engineering medical sciences. I was hooked.
One of my more memorable undergraduate experiences was participating in the Biological
Undergraduate Scholars Program (BUSP). BUSP is an NIH funded program for first-generation,
underrepresented minority students who have a strong interest in academic research. Through
BUSP, I was able to find one of the best research mentors and PI, Dr. Mark Zern. Dr. Zern opened
the door to academic research, and introduced me to the endless possibilities of stem cell
therapeutics and their implications on human health.
The lab focused on liver cells (hepatocytes) as an alternative clinical therapy for liver disease.
After about six months, I began working independently to investigate a new cell culturing method
for human embryonic hepatocytes (hEH). I hypothesized that by using matrigel instead of mouse
feeders, we would produce a relatively homogenous cell population from human embryonic stem
cells (hESC), demonstrating the phenotype of hepatocytes found in a human liver.
I tested this hypothesis by using commercial hESC, and established lab culture protocols,
analyzing functionality and cell characteristics. My project had setbacks, including cell line
problems, colony expansion, incorrect differentiation and negative test results. With each
instance, I analyzed what went wrong, improving on subsequent trials. I presented my work at
undergraduate conferences, ABRCMS (March ’12) and the UC Davis Undergraduate Research
Conference (May ’12, ’13).
In the fall of 2012, I received the highly competitive UC Davis President’s Undergraduate
Fellowship to test whether mimicking 3D cell growth using hyaluronan acid hydrogels would yield
more successful in vivo results. Preliminary results showed similar morphology and cellular
functionality. I proposed further analyses that compared the 3D-engineered model to its 2D
counterpart. Dr. Zern retired in 2015, and I was unable to investigate my hypothesis further. It
was thrilling, and I had found a space where both my passion met a skillset I had cultivated and
The creative problem solving involved in my research has been, without a doubt, the defining
factor in my decision to pursue a graduate degree. Apart from learning extensively about cell
culturing, I found great pleasure in designing and assisting with novel experiments Dr. Zern’s lab
was working on. Having a strong desire to pursue bioengineering graduate work, I joined Dr. Geoffrey Gurtner’s
lab at Stanford University. His work with hydrogels as engineered constructs for cellular delivery
in vivo was very interesting to me. After about three weeks in his lab, I began to work
independently on developing a biomaterial/cell combination that would be most suited for tissue
regeneration. I also took on lead roles in another lab project to test the use of RNA small molecule
therapeutics for drug delivery into a wound bed. This November and December I plan on
publishing two first author manuscripts that detail my work.
I have also been an active collaborator with other postdocs and students in the lab, learning
about a variety of bioengineering research areas. Additionally, I began learning coding programs,
such as R, to be able to efficiently process large data sets in my cellular analysis experiments. The
opportunity to learn from and work with Dr. Gurtner has broadened my perspective on stem cell
biology. This experience demonstrated to me how well-suited engineering can be in measuring
and modeling complex cellular behavior. Working with him also solidified my passion to pursue
graduate work in biomedical engineering.
I am interested in regenerative medical research and am convinced that the intersection of stem
cell biology and engineering will unlock new treatment options for a variety of illnesses. The
potential is momentous. I have invested a significant amount of time to understanding stem cell
biology through my hepatocyte differentiation experiments. I have also learned how
manipulations of cellular microenvironments with engineered 3D constructs yield better cell
survival in vitro. Now, I want to use my foundation in stem cell biology to study biological systems
from an engineering perspective.
The bioengineering graduate group is the best fit for me because it integrates interdisciplinary
collaboration at its core. Yale faculty are pioneers in their fields who are leading the way to new
frontiers in bioengineering. I would like to work collaboratively with Yale faculty to identify
potent DNA sites that can be targeted via engineered nanoparticles. I would like to test models
of engineered bio-scaffolds to determine how targeting cellular machinery can accelerate tissue
Working with Professor Laura Niklason would enable me to learn more about manipulation of
cellular microenvironments by using micro-engineered systems. Professor Mark Saltzman’s work
in using engineered microenvironments would allow for me to conceptualize nanoparticle
delivery through biomolecular design. Working with Professor Andre Levchenko would allow for
me to combine my understanding of cellular microenvironments in order to develop a cell
therapy via drug delivery. These are just a few of the faculty whose work I find interesting.
Without a doubt, Yale’s biological engineering program would give me the tools needed to
leverage fundamental scientific engineering principles for social impact.
With the guidance of Yale faculty, I want to conceptualize my research interest in order to be
able to measure, model something as complex as the human body’s cell in an understandable
way using verified mathematical and engineering principles. I then want to pursue a post-doc
position and subsequently a career in academia dedicated to the creation and dissemination of
cutting edge knowledge. With this pathway ahead, I will be able to further conceptualize my ideas
and collaborate across disciplines with other leading pioneers to develop something novel that
can be used for treatment against diseases that afflict many.