Trine student assists in biomaterials research

A Trine University biomedical engineering major completed a summer Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) that gave her the opportunity to test materials to see if they might be used in implants or to help repair tissue.

Allison McCrady, a junior from Lancaster, Ohio, participated in the Bioengineering REU at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Worcester, Massachusetts. She worked in the Functional Surfaces and Interfaces Lab under the direction of Amy M. Peterson, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemical engineering.

The lab had already determined through research that changing the first layer of a polyelectrolyte multilayer (PEM) — material made up of layers of polymers with alternating positive and negative charges — alters its surface properties without altering the surface chemistry. That discovery is important, McCrady said, because it allows the properties of PEMs to be tailored for use as biomaterials, used to construct artificial organs or prostheses, or to replace bone or tissue.

McCrady’s task was to coat samples of gold-coated quartz with a PEM and to analyze how rough they were and how they interacted with water. She then cultured fibroblasts, cells found in human connective tissue, on the surfaces to see how well the cells adhered to the surfaces and reproduced. She found that the cells adhered differently to the surfaces based on different first layers in the PEMs.

She was unable to test cell reproduction, she said, because one of the PEMs had too high a concentration of polyelectrolytes for the cells to reproduce. The next phase of research will test a concentration that hopefully will allow the cells to reproduce.

The end goal of the research is to improve the surfaces of biomedical devices such as tissue scaffolds and implants, and to make them more compatible with human tissue.

McCrady will present a poster of her research at the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) national conference in Phoenix, Arizona, in October.

“I really enjoyed my summer in Massachusetts and the experiences I received working in a graduate-level research lab. The experience helped fuel my desire to attend graduate school in the future,” she said.

Photo: Trine University junior Allison McCrady stands with a poster she presented at the end of her Research Experience for Undergraduates at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts.