Utilizing Innovative Technology to Better Detect Cancer

Sophia Nelson enjoyed her time working as an undergraduate researcher within the Pritzker Institute of Biomedical Science and Engineering through the university’s RES-MATCH program.

Sophia was matched with Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering Kenneth Tichauer in the Advanced X-ray Imaging Laboratory on the project titled “The ADEPT Cancer Imager: Wet Lab.” The goal of the ADEPT Cancer Imager project is to better detect cancer spread in surgically excised lymph nodes.

Within the first week Sophia successfully cultured MDA-MB-231 green fluorescent protein-transfected human breast cancer cells. This process allowed her to become familiar with fume hoods—limiting exposure to hazardous or toxic fumes, vapors, or dust—incubators, water baths, optical microscopes, centrifuges, the autoclave, and safe-handling practices of certain reagents and enzymes.

Sophia explains, “I worked alongside my peer in her research to dissect pig lymph nodes that matched the size of that of a human and freeze them to further inject a spheroid containing the cultured MDA-MB-231 cancerous cell line.” Nelson was then tasked with finding a cost-effective, tissue-clearing method that could easily be implemented with the dissected lymph nodes.

However, as the spring 2020 semester switched to remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sophia was unable to finish compiling the lymph node photos for a 3D model in MATLAB.

“Overall this experience was very valuable in gaining transferable skills such as critical thinking, independence, and communication for future careers,” says Sophia.

She adds, “I think the hardest part about getting involved with research is finding which lab interests you and how you can apply your skills to the lab. RES-MATCH creates an amazing opportunity for undergraduates looking to get into research because you gain insight into a majority of the faculty’s work and can reach out with confidence in what you want to do.”

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