Gas and Liquid Gradient Bioreactor to Mimic Tumor Microenvironments; Under Representation of Women in Clinical Research

Wood, Elizabeth, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Ferguson, Sean, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Genetta, Thomas, MD-RONC Radiation Oncology, University of Virginia

Despite the millions of dollars allocated to medical research annually, many major gaps still exist in the field of biomedical research. My capstone team aimed to develop a solution for a major shortcoming in the field of cancer research, and I aimed to address the lack of female representation in research in my technical thesis.
Cancer remains one of the leading causes of deaths across the globe, despite worldwide efforts to research cancer biology and develop therapies (Sung H, Ferlay J, Siegel RL). One major barrier to cancer research is inaccuracy of in vitro tumor microenvironment modeling, which prevents researchers from efficiently screening anticancer drugs (Liu X, Fang J, Huang S). Currently, data on proliferation, differentiation, and migratory capacity of cells is obtained through the use of traditional, labor-intensive tissue culture methods (Liu X, Fang J, Huang S). These methods subject cells to static conditions of fixed temperature, atmosphere, and media compositions, acquiring a molecular/biochemical/histological “snapshot” of a dynamic cellular response (Rogers M, Sobolik T, Schaffer DK). These methods are extremely limited in their ability to replicate one of their most critical aspects of tumor microenvironments: the presence of multiple overlapping gas (NO, O2, etc.) and solute (growth factors, cytokines, nutrients, etc.) gradients (Sleeboom JJF, Eslami Amirabadi H, Nair P, Sahlgren CM). There is a need to develop a more accurate understanding of cell behavior in tumor microenvironments and in response to various therapeutics. The ultimate goal of my capstone project was to develop and validate a novel bioreactor that will allow for more accurate in vitro simulation of the dynamic tumor microenvironment. I aimed to combine two distinct, gradient-generating technologies into a single device which will enable the delivery of simultaneous gradients of both gas and liquid solutes to cultured cells.
Annually approximately 1.3 million drug related medical events occur in men while more than 2 million similar events occur in women (a drug related event is a bad bodily reaction which can range from hives to death) (Guardian News and Media. 2015). The increased rate of incidents occurring in women can be attributed to the systematic issues in the fields of medical research and drug production in the United States. These fields have been traditionally dominated by white men who prioritized making products for themselves. In 1977 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a government organization responsible for protecting public health, recommended excluding women, especially those who were pregnant or of child bearing age, from clinical trials in the United States (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). Throughout my technical thesis I aimed to use the framework of inclusive innovation in order to detail the gender gap in medical research, discuss the ongoing effect this has had on modern medicine, and show how placing women in positions of power helps to remedy these issues by resulting in more adequate female representation within research studies.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Tumor microenvironment, bioreactor, tissue engineering, microfluidic device, 3D printing

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering
Technical Advisor: Thomas Genetta
STS Advisor: Sean Ferguson
Technical Team Members: Emma Lunn, Evan Clark, Elizabeth Wood

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