From her homeschool of Kansas State University, Megan Richards, a junior majoring in biological systems engineering, has traveled to Virginia Tech this summer to develop her career goals and make her research a priority.

Richards is part of the Biomechanics Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU), a 10-week program led by Pamela VandeVord, professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics. The program offers students the chance to work with advisors and peers in a hands-on lab environment.

Richards' focus is studying glioblastoma cells in the Laboratory for Integrative Tumor Ecology alongside Jill Ivey, a Ph.D. student in the School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences. Glioblastoma cells are known to be the most malignant cell type of brain cancer, Richards said.

“Basically, we are trying to target the physical properties of these malignant cells for treatment, and I’m working to change these properties in order to make this irreversible electroporation therapy more efficient,” Richards explained. “It has the potential to be a more effective technique than the traditional methods like chemotherapy and radiation.

“I have some previous experience with imaging and staining cells to observe treatment therapies, which relates to what I’ve been doing with the experiments in the lab here,” she said. “I worked in a muscle biology lab [at Kansas State], so I had worked with muscle cells, not cancer cells, in the past.”

“Megan has been a true pleasure to have in lab, having hit the ground running from the very first day. These students only have 10 weeks in which to complete their research projects, and in that period Megan has done more than I could have possibly expected,” said Scott Verbridge, assistant professor in the School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences. “She has really been working at the level of a Ph.D. student, and the data she has collected in this short period has laid a strong experimental foundation for what was at the beginning of the summer just a vague idea for a novel means to target glioblastoma cells."

The Biomechanics REU includes 10 students, and all of them will give presentations on their respective projects at the Virginia Tech Undergraduate Research Symposium today, July 30, in the atrium of Goodwin Hall at 635 Prices Fork Road.  

“I think it’s a great change to come from one school to another and see how their program works,” Richards said. “I know Virginia Tech is a very research-based school, and I’ve gotten to see so many different projects going on, not just related to my subject area, but related to others as well.”

Richards said she plans to continue her work in the muscle cell lab when she returns to Kansas State in the fall.

“Right now I'm still deciding between medical school and graduate school, and I think for whichever I end up deciding, this experience will really help me in my future aspirations,” Richards said. “I really want to use my engineering skills within the medical field, and I’d like to be working in the healthcare field regardless.”

Along with her research, Richards has taken part in many of the extracurricular opportunities that the REU offers. This includes social activities, workshops, and building relationships with peer mentors through the Office of Undergraduate Research.

“Virginia Tech gave me a lot of great opportunities; I really wanted to get experience in biomedical engineering because I haven’t really gotten a lot of research experience within this field at Kansas State yet,” Richards said. “There are so many specialties within biomedical engineering. I wanted to expand my knowledge of what exactly I could go into in the future, and coming here really gave me that insight.”

Written by Leslie McCrea, a senior University Honors student majoring in multimedia journalism in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

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