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Caitlyn Miller

PhD Candidate
Story originally published on Aug 2021
I was in 9th grade when my stepdad’s oral cancer returned. I remember feeling helpless because I couldn’t do anything to stop it. I told myself during that time that maybe one day I could do work to invent something that would.

Throughout my high school and college career, I became increasingly interested in engineering and medicine. Realizing that I had the potential to help people through these fields gave me a sense of direction in my life and eventually led me to Stanford. I’m a first generation college student in my family and some days I still can’t believe I’m here.

I rotated in Jennifer Cochran’s lab in the Bioengineering department this year. Her group develops engineered peptides, which are very small proteins, for tumor-targeted delivery of chemotherapy and probes for imaging. Specifically targeting cancerous cells and tumors minimizes drug exposure to healthy tissue and has many other therapeutic advantages.

During my time in Professor Cochran’s lab, I was growing multicellular tumor spheroids using a human glioblastoma cell line to model brain cancer. These three-dimensional tumor models allow us to test the engineered peptides and assess targeting and delivery efficacy, optimal dosage, and tumor infiltration. While imaging, I found that a few fibers had contaminated one of the specimens. Instead of dying or isolating themselves from the foreign fibers, the tumor cells actually used them as a scaffold to form this intricate shape. What caught my eye is how much these cells deviated from the typical, circular projection of tumor spheroids.

I’m continuously amazed at the unpredictable beauty and complexity of biology. The potential outcomes of this type of research inspire me every day – there is still so much for us to discover.

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