This past semester started off on a high note as I passed my PhD candidacy exam. My presentation was entitled “Actuation, Characterization, and Capture of Cancer Cells using Dielectrophoresis (DEP).” I described my previous work on developing an automated DEP characterization system, as well as my current and proposed research on cancer cell capture with DEP. My thesis committee members are Brian Kirby (Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering), Susan Daniel (Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering), and Robert Weiss (Biomedical Sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine).
More recently, I submitted two first-author papers describing my current research on improving cancer cell capture with a combination of DEP and immunocapture techniques. For my thesis, I will continue to work on designing a novel hybrid DEP-immunocapture microfluidic system to improve the capture purity of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) from cancer patient blood. I also plan to make blog posts describing my two submitted papers in more detail once they are published.
Finally, several Kirby Lab members including myself took Prof. Kirby’s “Cancer for Engineers” class this past semester. The class was designed to teach cancer to physical science and engineering graduate students with little to no prior training in biology. We covered different types of cancer, details of oncogenesis and metastasis, clinical case studies, and medical intervention and surgical options. I found the class especially helpful in differentiating between the various types of cancer, as I only have previous experience working with prostate cancer.
I attended the 4th Annual Physical Sciences in Oncology (PS-OC) Meeting from April 17-19, 2013 in Scottsdale, Arizona. Cornell University is one of 12 PS-OC centers across the country. The PS-OC network is sponsored by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). This conference was helpful for me in contextualizing our group’s research within the national network; I found the sections on clinical applications and physical sciences perspectives on metastasis most relevant to our research.
From the NCI PS-OC office:
“The Office of Physical Sciences – Oncology (OPSO) leads the NCI’s efforts to establish research projects that bring together cancer biologists and oncologists with scientists from the fields of physics, mathematics, chemistry, and engineering to address some of the major questions and barriers in cancer research.”
I recently won a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF GRFP) in the 2012-2013 competition. This award, in addition to being a high honor, provides three years of federal funding for my research. My application discussed improving early detection of ovarian cancer through rare cell capture; during my tenure as a NSF Graduate Research Fellow, I will be pursuing this avenue of research.
From the NSF GRFP website:
“The National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) helps ensure the vitality of the human resource base of science and engineering in the United States and reinforces its diversity. The program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees at accredited US institutions.”
I successfully completed my “A exam,” defending my thesis proposal and becoming a PhD Candidate. I was also awarded a Masters of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering as part of the exam. My committee was chaired by my advisor, Prof. Brian Kirby, and also included Prof. Don Koch, and Dean Lance Collins (as proxy for Prof. Pete Diamessis, who is on sabbatical). You can find a copy of my presentation on my website.