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Undergraduate Research Spotlight: Kennedy Hughes

Kennedy, a white woman, stands in the lab wearing a labcoat

Get to know the people of OSU’s Department of Biomedical Engineering through our series of Spotlight Stories. Read what our BME folks are up to, from our labs' latest research, to our students' plans for the future, to our teams' innovations, start-ups, and other successes.

Student: Kennedy Hughes

What is the name of the research lab you are a part of and the name of your Principal Investigator?

Skardal Biofabrication Lab, Aleksander Skardal, PhD

What are some of the projects Skardal Biofabrication Lab is currently focusing on?

The Skardal Lab uses engineering tools to create complex 3D models of human disease. While we have developed model systems for many different tissues and diseases, our current focus is on creating systems to study cancer. To build these models, we use naturally derived biomaterials that mimic human tissue and utilize engineering tools such as 3D printing and engineered microfluidics to create accurate representations of tumors. Our most recent work includes the development of engineered models of cancer metastasis to study thyroid cancer and adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC), and the development of novel biomaterials and microfluidic blood brain barrier to study glioblasomta.

How long have you been doing research in this lab?

This is my fourth semester in the lab.

What is your role/contribution in the Skardal Biofabrication Lab?

I have primarily worked on projects in the lab related to glioblastoma (GBM), which is a deadly form of brain cancer. I have helped with the development of a new engineered hydrogel biomaterial to study how astrocytes, an important cell in the brain, behave and change in GBM, and I am now working with our lab’s blood-brain barrier (BBB) on-a-chip. To do this, I have grown several types of brain cells such as astrocytes, pericytes, endothelial cells, and GBM cells. I then use these cells to make microfluidic organ-on-a-chip devices to model the BBB. Specifically, this includes making and adding an astrocyte-supportive hydrogel biomaterial and seeding the channels of the device with pericytes and endothelial cells. To validate and study how the brain changes during GBM, I have used techniques such as RT-qPCR and confocal microscopy. Lastly, I have used these systems to test several drugs used to treat GBM with a drug study on these GBM cells, in which I have set up various organoids of different cell lines and performed an ATP assay.

Do you have any publications from your work in the Skardal Biofabrication Lab?

“Tuning a Bioengineered Hydrogel for Studying Astrocyte Reactivity in Glioblastoma”, Depalma, Hisey, Hughes, et al. Under review at Advanced Healthcare Materials.

What is one piece of advice you would give to an undergraduate in BME looking to be involved in research?

Do research on different labs online, and don’t be afraid to email PIs of labs you are interested in to ask if they are looking for undergrads :)

How has this research experience supported you in your personal, educational and/or career goals?

My research has allowed me to extensively build my experience and comfort in the lab. With my range of hands-on experience, I feel that I am more prepared to enter industry and life beyond undergrad. Similarly, I was able to talk about my research experience a lot as I searched for a summer internship, which ended with me successfully securing a job.

Story by Reese Lloyd, BME major