Chemical Engineering Student Wins Honors Early Research Award

Lauren Gerbereux

Third-year Chemical Engineering undergraduate student, Lauren Gerbereux,  recently received the Honors Early Research Award for her research project entitled: “Optimization of Hypoxia-Inducing Cryogels”. The Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships grants this award to support compelling undergraduate projects executed under the mentorship of department faculty. This project is being completed in the laboratory of Professor Bencherif.

Lauren has strong interests in biomaterials and tissue engineering, and her research focuses on the optimization of hypoxia-inducing cryogels applied for cancer modeling. While several cancer models exist, they are unable to reproduce the complexity of a native human tumor. These models fail to emulate the structure of a tumor and do not simulate the state of low oxygen, hypoxia, generated by human tumors to resist anti-cancer drugs. Hypoxia has often been left out of cancer models because current hypoxia-inducing technology is bulky, expensive, unreliable, and often inaccessible.

Recently, Prof. Bencherif’s LAMP Biomaterials Laboratory has designed advanced 3D preclinical cancer models capable of inducing hypoxia. Cryogels, hydrogels made by cryopolymerization, are biomaterials that can effectively simulate the tumor microenvironment. With the incorporation of active molecules that deplete oxygen in these cryogels, hypoxia-inducing cryogels (HICs) were created. HICs have the potential to perform as a new cancer model. They have been proven to not only increase cancer cell resistance against anti-cancer drugs but also to inhibit immune cell responses. However, HICs still need to be optimized to be considered as a viable cancer model. Lauren’s independent project pursues this objective. The success of her project will lead to a greater understanding of HICs in the scientific community and enable each characteristic of the advanced cryogels to be customized for specific practices in academia or industry. Optimization of HICs will overcome hurdles associated with current technologies used to induce hypoxia and greatly improve methods for screening anti-cancer drugs, thus paving the way for innovative breakthroughs in cancer research that would be otherwise unattainable.

Lauren plans to graduate from Northeastern University in 2022 with a BSc and Masters degree in Chemical Engineering with a minor in Biochemical Engineering. Lauren explains that “working in Professor Bencherif’s LAMP Biomaterials lab has enabled me to explore and discover my passion for research, especially research focused on advancing efforts to fight cancer. I am now considering pursuing a PhD post-graduation, something that had never crossed my mind before. I am truly excited to see what other opportunities my project opens my eyes too!”

Related Departments:Chemical Engineering