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Researcher Highlight: Emily Fabiano

Posted by on Monday, January 22, 2024 in News.


Emily Fabiano, 3rd year Biomedical Engineering PhD student in the Reinhart-King Lab

Research Summary:
My research focuses on understanding the intersection of cell migration and bioenergetics in breast cancer. Specifically, I investigate the role that cell-matrix adhesions play in regulating bioenergetics, aiding in more efficient cancer cell migration that enables cancer cells to metastasize. Upon pursuing my project, I have had the opportunity to learn and use an array of lab techniques spanning from CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing to using biosensors that can report live, spatial bioenergetic utilization in cells. Additionally, I have learned about the process of micromolding collagen using PDMS stamps generated from wafers designed in the VINSE cleanroom. Such a technique has allowed our lab to develop a novel collagen microtrack platform that mimics the architecture and physiological stiffness of the in vivo tumor microenvironment to study cell migration behavior. Considering that metastatic breast cancer is a leading cause of death in women, I hope that the research I am pursuing in combination with the extensive research being done in the field may shed some light on approaches to developing more effective therapeutics. Fortunately, I have had the opportunity to present my work and projects that I am co-author on, both oral and poster presentations, at the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) Annual Meeting for the past 2 years, as well as many conferences within the Vanderbilt community.
Considering my college journey and the unique challenges I faced as a first-generation college student, part of my time as a graduate student has also been spent writing and promoting an editorial published in Cellular and Molecular Bioengineering, entitled “How to Thrive as a First-Generation College Student in Engineering.” In this work I have provided detailed tips for students to succeed as first-generation college students, with emphasis on the STEM fields, based on my experience. My hope with publishing this editorial was that it will be used as a teaching tool and a resource for first-generation college students so that they may feel more at ease rather than on their own to navigate college and the unique challenges posed to first-generation college students. I have found that as a result of this work and having had the opportunity to share it at the BMES Annual Meeting, that I have received immense positive feedback for how useful this editorial has been as a resource for both professors and students.

My Journey:
Amidst being a first-generation college student and an undergraduate during the COVID-19 pandemic, my college journey has been far from traditional. With little knowledge and resources about the college admissions process, I initially attended community college unsure about what I even wanted to study. However, with guidance from professors, I eventually pursued an A.S. in Engineering Science, and then transferred to Rutgers University where I pursued a B.S. in Chemical Engineering. Nevertheless, half my time at Rutgers was spent on Zoom, in addition to my internship at Brystol Myers Squibb that I worked endlessly to obtain, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So, on top of the social and emotional impact of the COVID-19 shutdown on society, myself and many other students became stripped of opportunities to gain skills pursuing hands on research I had hoped to obtain. This lead me to feel much uncertainty if I should even apply to graduate school. While I did apply to graduate schools, the COVID-19 pandemic hindered my year of applicants from being able to visit programs to sense what the graduate school communities were like, which made it even more daunting to commit to a graduate school program.
Ultimately, upon deciding on Vanderbilt for graduate school, I quickly found that through my involvement with VINSE in various ways I have always felt a very strong sense of community from them. It continues to be evident that the VINSE staff puts considerable time and dedication into giving students a memorable experience whether it be through attending their annual poster session or attending a community building event, such as the annual VINSE picnic. My involvement with VINSE has also opened my eyes to the opportunities that students have, K-12 through college, to become exposed to fields spanning from science and engineering to medicine. For example, with VINSE I had the opportunity to mentor a student from the University of Puerto Rico through the VINSE Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, providing me an opportunity to enhance my leadership, communication, and mentoring skills and providing me connections beyond the Vanderbilt community. This REU program, in addition to other VINSE events, aids in building a strong sense of community both inside and outside of Vanderbilt with a multidisciplinary approach. Further, VINSE has also provided me the opportunity to present my work as part of their Seminar Series, sharing how we utilized devices made with the help of the VINSE cleanroom. Considering the immense resources and support the VINSE team provides to students, I look forward to their continued support throughout my graduate school journey and beyond!

Contact: Emily Fabiano

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