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Alay Shah

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Biomedical Engineering
Graduation Year:
May 2020
"Come with an open mindset and be prepared to fail or not get the results you hypothesized."

Faculty Supervisor: Dr. Anna Sorace
Name of Project: Quantifying trastuzumab and chemotherapy-induced cellular alterations in a longitudinal study of HER2+ breast cancer

Please give a brief, simplified overview of your research project.
My project involves evaluating treatment response of HER2+ breast cancer cells in response to the combination therapies of trastuzumab and paclitaxel, which are current methods of treatment for this cancer. The ultimate goal is to find the optimal order, timing, and dosing of these drug combinations in-vitro that will result in maximum HER2+ cancer cell death for potential clinical applications.

Describe the tasks you engage in as part of your work.
My tasks involve taking care of my cell flask through passaging or splitting them, creating drug dilutions for my experiments, and analyzing the imaging data for results, such as the cell growth and cell death rates.

Describe what you thought college might be like before you came to UT. Did you consider research when thinking about college?
I thought college (academics-wise) would be solely dedicated to reading textbooks. But I am so glad I got involved in research, as it invigorates me and enhances the classroom learning experience. Whether I am learning about telomeres in Genetics or calculating a differential equation using Matlab, I can see the relevance of what I learn in class while conducting research.

How did you get involved with your research project?
I emailed some professors whose work I thought was interesting and cancer-related, since that was a personal topic of interest. I got an email back from Dr. Sorace and the lab manager, Tessa, helped to train me in the cancer wetlab techniques.

Do you see your project connecting with your plans for your future?
Definitely, I am interested in pursuing graduate school in BME, particularly in oncology as a career option.

What is the most interesting or surprising thing you’ve gotten to do for this project?
The most surprising thing has been analyzing the data for drawing conclusions. For example, trastuzumab and paclitaxel when given simultaneously were much more effective in cancer cell death than trastuzumab followed by paclitaxel after 24 hours, which is one of the ways it’s currently administered in clinical trials.

What advice would you give to a student who was thinking about research?
Come with an open mindset and be prepared to fail or not get the results you hypothesized. It is through these failures that you learn to approach problems differently and find out why things went wrong.