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Kaltenmark invited to attend 2017 National Collegiate Research Conference

Kathryn Kaltenmark, undergraduate in the Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME), was recently accepted by the Harvard College Undergraduate Research Association to present her research at the 2017 National Collegiate Research Conference (NCRC), to be held January 19 through January 21, 2017 at Harvard University.  NCRC says the application process this year was extremely competitive as we received a large number of impressive applications from many talented and highly qualified individuals, and our executive board and faculty review committee faced the difficult challenge of selecting few than 200 undergraduates across the United States and several other countries. Kathryn’s acceptance speaks to her outstanding accomplishments and potential as an aspiring scholar and researcher. Kaltenmark is advised by Jennifer Leight, Assistant Professor, BME.

Kaltenmark joined Professor Leight’s group as an undergraduate researcher in November 2014. The Leight lab looks to use biomedical engineering principles and techniques to study the tumor microenvironment. Currently, they are studying the role of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) which are enzymes that are known to play a role in remodeling the tumor microenvironment. This remodeling allows for tumor cells to proliferate resulting in tumor progression and eventually, tumor metastasis. It is known that during tumor progression, matrix stiffness of the tumor microenvironment increases. However, it is not yet known how this change in matrix stiffness regulates MMP activity. Dr. Leight and group hypothesize that increase in matrix stiffness associated with tumor progression will lead to higher levels of MMP and metabolic activities of tumor-associated cells. To investigate this hypothesis, they are utilizing a poly (ethylene glycol) hydrogel system functionalized with a fluorogenic MMP sensor to pursue two aims: 1) visualization and quantification of in situ MMP activity and tissue stiffness in murine mammary tumors and 2) encapsulation of isolated fibroblasts in hydrogels with precisely tuned stiffness. Preliminary results indicate higher MMP activity in tumor tissue vs normal tissue and increased MMP activity in stiffer hydrogels. A better understanding of the underlying mechanisms of the tumor microenvironment will help lead to more effective cancer therapeutics.

When asked what interested her in the field of biomedical engineering, Kaltenmark said her mother had a serious health scare over four years. “The underlying mechanisms to health problems and disease fascinate me. I am intrigued how biomedical engineering techniques and principles can be utilized to explain the problems that myself and others face. I am concerned that there is currently inadequate research in the field of women’s health and aim to pursue a career focusing on women’s health,” said Kaltenmark.

Kathryn will be graduating this spring. Upon graduation she is planning on applying to medical school and working in the healthcare industry for one year prior to starting medical school.

Congratulations Kathryn!