Lauren Brown

Cell and Tissue Engineering to Advance Medicine

Lauren Brown ’23 conducts research in the Laboratory for Multiscale Bioengineering and Mechanobiology with implications for improving understanding of wound healing, cancer metastasis, and human brain development and patterning.

Lauren Brown '23

Biomedical Engineering
Commonwealth Honors College
Medford, MA

What drew you to this field of study?

I have always loved doctor’s appointments. Ever since I was little, I have been fascinated by medicine and the human body. When my dad was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s Disease, I knew I wanted to pursue a career that went beyond diagnosing and could affect the future of medicine. I decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering; from there I discovered my passion for research. As my research interests grew, I realized it is no coincidence that I want to advance disease modeling and treatments through cell and tissue engineering.

How do you conduct your research?

During my freshman year at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, I joined the Laboratory for Multiscale Bioengineering and Mechanobiology headed by Professor Yubing Sun, where I worked on a project using rat embryonic fibroblast cells to study their collective migration and rearrangement, which plays a key role in processes like wound healing and cancer metastasis. I learned advanced analysis techniques, and found that I truly enjoyed being immersed in research. My work here culminated in a research article published in eLife. It was inspiring for me to contribute to research and see my name on this published work this early on in my academic career.

Currently, I am conducting my honors thesis research in Professor Sun’s lab. I am studying the effects of environmental toxins including di-butyl phthalate (DPB)—commonly found in paint, shower curtains, and hairspray—on embryonic brain formation, using an in vitro drug screening model developed by one of my mentors, Tianfa Xie, who is a recent graduate from Professor Sun’s lab.

Taking part in this research has affirmed my interest in cell and tissue engineering for studying disease progression. In preparation for my honors thesis, during the 2021–2022 academic year, I performed experiments with Tianfa Xie to gain practical experience and learn the necessary techniques. From my work this past year, I am the second author of a research article currently under review with Science Advances.

In summer 2022, I also participated in the Center for Engineering Mechanobiology (CEMB) Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program at the University of Pennsylvania. Conducting biology research in a microscopy-focused lab was exciting. It reaffirmed my desire to do research involving advanced imaging techniques, and to pursue a doctoral degree in bioengineering and a career in academia. From this research, I submitted an abstract to the Biomedical Engineering Society Annual Meeting in October 2022 and offered a poster presentation.

Research is always changing and it’s exciting to be a part of. I enjoy knowing that what I’m doing today could provide not only new insights but also pose new questions to be explored.

Lauren Brown '23

What do you see as the impact—or potential impact—of your work?

The model that I am utilizing for my honors thesis has the potential to serve as a mechanism for investigating human brain development and patterning. In vitro models that can recreate functional organs and tissues can be more accurate than animal testing. The model I am using could also serve as a high throughput drug screening platform, which could reduce the need for animal testing.

For my thesis project, my aim is to further validate the model and investigate the effects of environmental toxins on embryonic brain formation. As it is challenging to study embryos in vivo, I am motivated by the prospect of being able to provide further insight into embryonic development and discovering new possible teratogens (agents/factors that cause malformations of embryos). This could impact women’s health-care research.

How does your faculty mentor support your research?

My faculty mentor Professor Sun has been the biggest advocate for my future at UMass and beyond. His mentoring style is very involved but hands-off at the same time. As the committee chair of my honors thesis, Professor Sun has given me confidence that I am capable of accomplishing my goals and security that I am not on my own. During my time at UMass, Professor Sun has supported my progress by informing me of valuable summer opportunities and writing letters of recommendation for me. Without his support, these opportunities would not have been possible. I have always felt that he is truly invested in my future and wants to see me succeed.

What do you find most exciting about conducting research?

What I find most exciting about research is having a direct impact on the future. Research is always changing and it’s exciting to be a part of. I enjoy knowing that what I’m doing today could provide not only new insights but also pose new questions to be explored. Research has helped me to think more independently and creatively, and has helped strengthen my communication skills.

What are you most proud of?

Besides this award, I am most proud of attending the Biomedical Engineering Society Annual Meeting this past October in San Antonio, Tex. I submitted an abstract from my REU experience and offered a poster presentation. It was truly a wonderful experience to learn about exciting research in the field and connect with the researchers who are behind the work.

How has your research enhanced your overall educational experience at UMass?

Becoming involved in Professor Sun’s research has undoubtedly been one of the most impactful experiences I have had in my undergraduate career. Participating in on-campus research has strengthened my undergraduate curriculum, allowing me to apply what I have learned in the classroom to the lab. After being sent home due to the COVID-19 pandemic my freshman year, I felt disconnected from UMass and the Biomedical Engineering Department. Rejoining the campus community as a junior and conducting research once again helped me to rekindle my academic interests.

What are your plans for the future?

I am currently applying to graduate school to pursue a PhD in bioengineering, with the goal of advancing disease modeling and treatments through cell and tissue engineering. I hope to come out of graduate school with the ability to engineer robust disease models and treatments and validate their efficacy. I also hope to mentor the next generation of engineers—especially women, first-generation college students, and underrepresented minorities—and to equip them with the skills to pursue careers in bioengineering.

Why would you recommend UMass to a friend?

I would recommend UMass to a friend because as a first-generation college student, I never dreamed that I would be able to accomplish all that I have during my undergraduate career. The College of Engineering faculty are deeply committed to student success and are eager to offer their support and guidance.


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