Corrin is the recepient of the Investing in CU Engineering (ICUE) Graduate Fellowship.
Corrin, tell us about your research. What is it that you study?
Currently, I work in Dr. Maureen Lynch’s mechanobiology laboratory, researching breast cancer bone metastasis. Advanced breast cancer commonly metastasizes to the skeleton, and is incurable. Patient prognosis is poor alongside a myriad of devastating symptoms such as bone loss and severe pain. Mechanical stimuli from exercise is known to promote bone remodeling, increasing bone volume and inhibiting bone metastatic tumor formation. The molecular mechanisms and the influence tumor cells have on bone cells are still under investigation.
My research explores the potential impact and mechanism breast cancer has on mechanically loaded bone cells. Specifically, I use a breast cancer cell line that is chemotherapy-resistant, as are patients with bone metastasis, and I expose it to various radiation treatments, mimicking front-line clinical therapy. I will collect signaling proteins secreted by the cancer cells after radiation and measure their abundance via oncology antibody arrays. Then, I will feed these proteins to bone cells cultured in real bone tissue explants (explants are devitalized bovine trabecular bone, where osteogenic cells are implanted and attached within), then apply mechanical signals to mimic human physical activity. This system models the mechanical bone environment while also exposing bone cells to secreted tumor factors. I will observe the downstream effects the tumor factors may have on the bone cells through gene expression, molecular markers and histology. My experimental approach will create a better molecular understanding of how cancer dysregulates bone cells. My findings have the potential to translate to therapeutics, improving patient outcomes.
How did you first get involved in your research and what drew you to it?
My first semester at CU, I engaged in multiple laboratory rotations, one of which is my current placement. Throughout my rotation in Dr. Lynch’s lab, I gained insight by actively participating in activities such as shadowing, attending informative meetings, and collaborating with fellow lab members. Immediately I was drawn to the breast cancer bone metastasis research and the innovative questions the lab was addressing. I was intrigued by the different technical skills such as histology, imaging, molecular biology and mechanical engineering. Furthermore, the lab environment felt very supportive, collaborative and well managed. Considering all these factors, I reached a decision to join Dr. Lynch’s lab.
What kinds of challenges do you encounter in your research?
Working in a wet lab with biological materials presents several unique challenges such as biological variability and contamination. Not only can biological materials be challenging to work with, but additional complexity arises when researching novel experimental methods, which further complicates troubleshooting. In addition, occasionally experiments do not yield the expected or desired results, which can be challenging.
What advice would you share with a student interested in studying biomedical engineering or your specific field?
I would suggest exploring your interests to identify the specific aspects of the field that captivate you the most, as biomedical engineering is a multidisciplinary field that combines biology, medicine and engineering. You can explore your interests not only through literature review but internships, research opportunities or projects to give yourself hands-on experience. In addition, reach out to mentors within the field who can offer personalized guidance for your goals and can help you navigate decisions.
As a Master student, what role has mentoring played in your work?
Mentoring has played a central role in shaping and advancing my research endeavors. Through the guidance and insights provided by Dr. Lynch, I have been able to navigate the complexities of my field with greater clarity and purpose. Dr. Lynch’s expertise has enriched my understanding of current literature and has propelled me toward novel inquires. Overall, mentoring has been pivotal in refining my research questions and empowers me to contribute meaningful knowledge to my field.
How do you plan to utilize your reward money?
My plan is to use these funds strategically to support various aspects of my academic journey. A portion will go towards tuition, ensuring I can fully engage in my academic pursuits. Additionally, some of the reward money will be allocated to cover living expenses, and other bills such as groceries. This will alleviate financial stress, allowing me to zero in on my thesis while also growing personally and professionally.
What do you love best about attending CU Boulder?
I hold a deep appreciation for CU Boulder due to the wide array of opportunities the school has offered me from research projects, to serving as a teaching assistant (TA), this fellowship and extracurricular activities. The opportunity to TA is especially meaningful to me, as I recognize not all master students are afforded this privilege. In addition, I love the flexibility within my program regarding course selection, giving me the opportunity to finely tailor my education to align with my career aspirations. I can strategically curate a curriculum that hones in on the specific skills, knowledge and expertise crucial for my career path. I also am enthralled by the research endeavors being undertaken at the school and particularly within my own lab.