Trine student assists in research to prevent transplant organ rejection

Shea KreinbrinkHoping to develop her skills for graduate school, Trine University biomedical engineering major Shea Kreinbrink decided to seek out a research experience for undergraduates (REU) this past summer.

She spent 10 weeks at RISE (Research Intensive Summer Experience) at Rutgers University, helping researchers investigate a possible method to prevent rejection of transplanted organs.

“It was a perfect fit,” the Whitehouse, Ohio, student said. “I've always been interested in tissue engineering and its applications in regenerative medicine to help aid those in need. Ever since high school, it’s really been the only topic to grab hold of my interest and never let go.”

Kreinbrink applied for her REU, and several others, on the National Science Foundation website after hearing about REUs, internships and co-ops during a question-and-answer session for biomedical engineering students at Trine. The Rutgers Cellular Bioengineering REU, one of her top picks, was the first to respond.

Cancer protein could protect organs

The lab where Kreinbrink served is researching PD-L1, a protein used by cancer to escape detection by the body's immune system. Located on the outside of the cell, PD-L1 can attach to its matching receptor, PD-1, on immune cells to suppress their abilities, protecting the area from an immune system attack.

“Researchers have already developed therapies to suppress the PD-L1 mechanism in cancer patients, but my lab asked what would happen if we utilized it to protect the cells we transplant into the body from rejection by the immune system,” she said.

To examine this possibility, researchers introduced DNA into stem cells that allowed those cells to produce the PD-L1 protein on their surface.

“These are the beginning steps to a possible therapy to make transplant organs in the future more available and long-lasting, without the need for chronic immunosuppression and fear of rejection,” Kreinbrink said.

Kreinbrink’s responsibilities included care of the stem cells and culturing them for future use. As an undergraduate, she was not allowed to handle the lentivirus used to transduce the cells, but she was present with her mentor to assist in every step of the process. After the cells were transduced, she captured images to evaluate how well they were expressing the desired proteins.

She said completing the REU demonstrates research experience when she applies to graduate school. It also reflects professional and developmental skills if she chooses to go into industry.

“I loved my experience and would do it again in a heartbeat,” she said. “It only solidified my love for research more and helped me grow as both a person and a professional in my field.”

Last Updated: 09/22/2022