By John Lewis
A Trine University senior followed her passion over the summer to a Research Experience
for Undergraduates (REU) at the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE).
Alayna Willitzer, a biomedical engineering major from Cecil, Ohio, went to Wisconsin
to research her favorite field of study: tissue engineering.
To that end, she joined Vipin Paliwal, Ph.D., an associate professor at the MSOE,
to test the toxicity of Diclofenac and help identify safe doses for individual patients.
The team used 2-D and 3-D cell culturing with rat liver cells in order to find accurate
information of how the drug affects the liver.
“Diclofenac is a prescription drug intended to reduce inflammation and joint pain,
that in some cases causes liver damage and failure,” explained Alayna. “2-D cell culturing
can be used for testing toxicity, but 3-D cell culturing better approximates its effect
on a living being by growing a miniature, simplified organ. We chose to do both to
get more well-rounded data.”
Working with Paliwal granted Alayna greater insight into experimental protocol and
procedural design for lab work, as well as giving her many helpful critiques for her
paper and presentation.
At the conclusion of the 10-week program, Alayna presented her findings to students,
staff and faculty of the MSOE, as well as industry professionals.
Alayna joined this REU already knowing that she enjoyed research in the field of tissue
engineering. She said MSOE felt like the best possible learning experience, especially
since the advisors were already working in her future field. She is grateful to have
gotten the chance to go to her first choice of REU, a perfect fit for her.
“My favorite time in the lab was when I first successfully cultured 3-D cells,” she
recalled. “I had to do a lot of practice making sure the microwells in the hydrogel
were perfect. If the microwells collapsed in on itself, then the cells were not going
to grow, so being able to see that I had successfully made the organoids was a big
accomplishment for me.”
“This REU program just solidified my love for research, and that it is something I
would like to pursue,” she said.
She plans to attend graduate school after graduation to earn a Ph.D. in tissue engineering
or a related field.