Evaluation of Caffeic Acid Transport in an In Vitro 3D Model of Hepatocellular Carcinoma; Why They Object: Vaccine Hesitancy among U.S. Parents Refusing Childhood Immunizations

Way, Lillian, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Earle, Joshua, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Norton, Peter, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Wilkins, Luke, MD-RADL Angio/Interv, University of Virginia
Brautigan, David, MD-MICR Microbiology, University of Virginia

The United States has made substantial progress in improving health thanks to scientific innovation and advances in medical technology. However, the incidence of some diseases still remains high due to limitations in preventative measures and treatments. Two top health risks in the United States are the development of cancer and infectious diseases. While mortalities associated with infectious diseases have declined thanks to antimicrobial treatments and vaccines, these agents still remain a significant health threat. Similarly, overall cancer rates have been on the decline due to reductions in smoking and increased preventative screening, but in the United States, many cancer cases are still predicted for this year. In order to mitigate these health risks new effective treatments need to be developed, or if these treatments already exist target audiences need to be reached with efforts to increase acceptance of public health guidance. My technical project in biomedical engineering focused on designing a model of a highly prevalent cancer to evaluate the transport of a new drug, while my sociotechnical research project was aimed at identifying contributing factors to vaccine hesitancy and actions of various anti vaccination groups and organizations involved in order to better understand the reasons why parents in the United States may object against vaccination.
For my technical project, my teammates and I designed a tissue model of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), a common type of liver cancer, outside the body in which to evaluate the transport of caffeic acid (CA), a novel anti-cancer drug. Previous research by our advisors had found that CA reduced tumor volume significantly when used in conjunction with a standard trans-arterial embolization (TAE) procedure. TAE aims to restrict tumor blood flow by delivering particles to occlude arterial blood supply, which can play a significant role in downstaging HCC for an increased chance of the patient becoming eligible for transplant. Our tissue model was developed in a cell culture insert plate with extracellular matrix proteins and the HepG2 liver cancer cell line using standard cell culture techniques. The model was then used to assay for the transport of solutes that included a tracking dye, labeled protein, and different formulations of CA. These data will serve as a tool for the optimization of improved TAE procedures and provide a solid foundation for further animal and human testing and eventually, implementation into clinical practice to improve prognoses and extend lives of HCC patients.
In my sociotechnical research, I gathered information from many sources to better understand why parents object to childhood immunizations. My research primarily focused on analyzing both previous studies on the topic as well as identifying and diving deeper into the different groups that play a role in vaccine hesitancy including vaccine hesitant parents, anti-vaccination activists, and United States health officials. Vaccine hesitancy is a complex topic and many studies have attempted to uncover trends in the reasons why parents refuse to vaccinate their children. In reality this group is heterogeneous and difficult to categorize. The problem that so many people, including officials of the Center for Disease Control, are trying to solve is how to reduce vaccine hesitancy sentiment to continue protecting children, and everyone in America, from what are now easily preventable diseases that would have once been considered life threatening. This problem has only been exacerbated by the world we live in, getting information off of the internet and social media platforms. Perhaps better education and public information will lead to a more positive public perception toward vaccination from those who object. This starts in the United States but the goal should be vaccination access across the globe.
Working on these two projects in tandem greatly added value to both. In my biomedical engineering technical project, I gained knowledge in identifying and developing new therapies and treatments to treat diseases such as liver cancer. Through my sociotechnical research project, I was better able to see how different groups may perceive medical advances differently and think through how education and other tools could be utilized to combat hesitancies to opt for choices that keep everyone safe. Taken together, I now have a better understanding of not only how impactful a new drug or procedure may be to improving a person’s life but also the underlying social and ethical considerations that need to be prioritized with any new medical innovation, in particular how the new technology is perceived by the public.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Hepatocellular Carcinoma , Caffeic Acid, 3D cell culture model, vaccine hesitancy

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering
Technical Advisor: Luke Wilkins, David Brautigan
STS Advisor: Joshua Earle, Peter Norton
Technical Team Members: Caroline Doyle, Ella Frazier

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