For a complete list of presentations, please see my Curriculum Vitae above. Feel free to scroll below to read more about my previous research experiences that have shaped my development and growth as a scientist!
Investigating Provisional Extracellular Matrix in Scarless Tendon Healing
Tendon injuries are clinically prevalent and debilitating musculoskeletal disorders that heal by forming scar tissue. A major hurdle to the development of therapeutics for tendon injuries is that the biological mechanisms underpinning scarless tendon healing are unknown. Interestingly, the Murphy Roths Large (MRL/MpJ) mouse exhibits a regenerative capacity that extends to tendon. Our group's findings suggest that the improved healing capacity of this mouse strain is driven by local tissue properties rather than systemic contributors. Specifically, the provisional extracellular matrix (ECM), which temporarily fills the injury site and serves as a bioactive reservoir for various glycoproteins and growth factors, exhibits early compositional differences in MRL/MpJ tendons compared to that of wild-type C57BL/6 (B6) mouse tendons. However, the capability of the MRL/MpJ provisional ECM to drive effective cellular events in otherwise scar-mediated environments, such as in B6 tendons, remains unclear. Therefore, my dissertation aims to determine whether the MRL/MpJ provisional ECM harnesses the capacity to modulate tendon-derived cell activity and ultimately elucidate key signaling pathways that promote scarless tendon healing.
Electrospun Piezoelectric Materials for Biomedical Applications
During my first two years at the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD), I worked under Prof. Majid Minary to fabricate polyvinylidene fluoride nanostructures for high-performance piezoelectric materials. I worked with a graduate student mentor to prepare different nanofiber geometries, while working independently to construct a custom electrospinning setup. I helped characterize the mechanical properties and fiber alignment of these electrospun nanostructures. My results showed that twisted nanofiber yarns exhibited enhanced energy harvesting capabilities, implantation of which could increase the efficiency of biosensor devices. This work culminated in an undergraduate research scholarship, a co-authored publication in ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces, and the development of fundamental research skills. Moreover, this experience motivated me to broaden my academic horizons through funded summer research opportunities at other research institutions.
Characterization of Antibiotic-Loaded Acrylic Cranial Implants
Advisor: Dr. Mauris DeSilva | NAMRU-SA | Summer 2014
The summer after my freshman year, I worked under Dr. Mauris DeSilva at the Naval Medical Research Unit in San Antonio (NAMRU-SA) through the Naval Research Enterprise Internship Program (NREIP). I collaborated with a research associate and a team of oral and maxillofacial surgeons to design antibiotic-loaded polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) cranial implants to deliver prophylactic and post-operative treatment after traumatic brain injury. I assessed the antimicrobial efficacy of heat-treated antibiotics and then evaluated the structural integrity of antibiotic-loaded implants. My results demonstrated that this acrylic implant delivery system exhibited suitable antimicrobial activity and mechanical properties for clinical use. This work culminated in a poster and oral presentation to the Department of Maxillofacial Injury and Disease at NAMRU-SA and a poster presentation at the 2014 Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) Annual Meeting. Notably, my interactions with clinicians and patients during my NREIP experience further demonstrated to me how research findings can readily inform improved health outcomes.
Development of Ferrogels for Magnetically-Driven Bioactuators
Advisor: Prof. Stefan Mayr | Leibniz Institute for Surface Modification | Summer 2015
After my sophomore year, I worked under Prof. Stefan Mayr at the Leibniz Institute for Surface Modification in Germany through the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) RISE Program. I conducted an independent project to develop magnetic ferrogels using iron oxide nanoparticles. I investigated different surface coatings to enhance particle stability in aqueous solutions. I then characterized the viscoelastic properties, swelling behavior, and biodegradability profile of ferrogels of varying particle and gelatin concentrations. My results indicated that higher nanoparticle concentrations decreased sol-gel transition temperatures and increased degradation time. This work supported later research that applied magnetic fields to manipulate these materials for use in smart implantable devices, and resulted in an oral presentation at the 2015 DAAD Scholars Annual Meeting. Furthermore, my experience abroad demonstrated to me the importance of fostering international collaborations and adopting a multidisciplinary approach to research.
Composite Bone Cements as Drug Delivery Systems for Osteomyelitis
In my junior year, I began working under Prof. Danieli Rodrigues in the Biomaterials for Osseointegration and Novel Engineering (BONE) Lab to investigate composite acrylic bone cement formulations containing gentamicin as drug delivery systems for orthopaedic infections. I worked with a graduate student mentor and another undergraduate to incorporate calcium phosphate (brushite) and release-modulating phases (lactose) while preserving cement mechanical stability. In addition, I helped establish an in vitro nutrient-deficient bacterial culture model to simulate physiological conditions associated with bone-related infections. Lastly, I performed cell viability assays to assess the cytotoxicity of different cement formulations against bone-forming cells. My results demonstrated that these gentamicin-loaded cements released bactericidal concentrations over several weeks, exhibited satisfactory biocompatibility as per ISO testing requirements, and maintained acceptable compressive strengths. This work culminated in a poster presentation at the 2017 Orthopaedic Research Society (ORS) Annual Meeting, a co-first author publication currently in preparation, and prompted my interest in musculoskeletal research.
Validation of Sample Preparation and Fatigue Testing of Rat Vertebrae
The summer after my junior year, I worked under Prof. Grace O’Connell at UC Berkeley through the Amgen Scholars Program. Under the guidance of two graduate students, I developed a semi-automated sample preparation method for rat vertebral bodies. I adapted existing protocols in the lab and literature and validated a method that provided reproducible testing measurements from cyclic compressive loading. This method can be widely applied to other mechanisms, such as experimental drugs or gene knockouts, which are known to alter bone quality or quantity. This work resulted in both a poster and oral presentation at the UC Berkeley Amgen Scholars Symposium, a poster presentation at the 2016 BMES Annual Meeting, and catalyzed my decision to pursue a PhD.
Evaluation of Biocompatibility of Commercial Dental Cements
During my senior year, I conducted an honors thesis through an international collaboration with Doxa Dental, Inc. to investigate the biocompatibility of different dental cement compositions for titanium (Ti) components used in dental implant systems. Previous work in our lab showed that fluoride-containing cements enhanced the corrosion susceptibility of Ti surfaces, motivating our hypothesis that higher corrosion rates would consequently lead to increased cytotoxicity. My results found that while cell viability for fluoride-containing compositions was not significantly different between cement alone and cemented-Ti surfaces, cell viability varied with different compositions. These findings emphasized the importance of biocompatibility as a key consideration in cement selection for long-term implant success. This work culminated in a first-author publication in the Journal of Prosthodonticsanda poster presentation at the 2018 American Association for Dental Research (AADR) Annual Meeting. After completing this project, I wrote a funded $39,000 grant with Doxa Dental, Inc. and mentored other students in the BONE Lab to continue this work.