Meet a Trainee: Lauren Gapinske

Lauren GapinkseAs one of our initial trainees, Lauren Gapinske joined the MBM program as a second-year graduate student January 1, 2018 and is expected to graduate in 2021. She is a PhD student in the bioengineering program, and also completed her undergraduate degree in bioengineering at the University of Illinois. She works in the lab of Dean Rashid Bashir where she conducts tissue engineering research for the advancement of skeletal muscle bio-machines. She completed her master’s thesis on “Cryopreservation of tissue engineered skeletal muscle” (August 2018) and is currently working on her dissertation, “Engineering of robust, clinically relevant neuromuscular tissue models.”

Lauren has presented her research on these topics at multiple venues, including the BMES National Conference (October 2018), IEEE EMBS Micro and Nanotechnology in Medicine Conference (December 2018), MBM Retreat (2018 & 2019), Emergent Behavior of Integrated Cellular Systems (EBICS) Retreat (August 2018 & July 2019), UIUC Department of Bioengineering GradBMES Conference (May 2018), and the BMES Cellular and Molecular Bioengineering Conference (January 2020).

She is the first author on the 2019 article “Long-Term Cryopreservation and Revival of Tissue-Engineered Skeletal Muscle” in Tissue Engineering Part A and contributed to an article on “Integration of Graphene Electrodes with 3D Skeletal Muscle Tissue Models” in Advanced Healthcare Materials (January 2020). Her contribution to “Simulation and fabrication of stronger, larger, and faster walking biohybrid machines” has been published in Advanced Functional Materials in 2018.

She also contributed to book chapters including Genome Editing and Engineering: From TALENs, ZFNs and CRISPRs to Molecular Surgery and 3D Bioprinting in Regenerative Engineering: Principles and Applications (2018). Lauren also contributed to the review article “3D Printing for Preoperative Planning and Surgical Training: A Review” in Biomedical Microdevices (2018).

Lauren Grant presents a lecture on biobots
Lauren Grant presents a lecture on biobots to GAMES participants, June 2019

Lauren has established herself as a leader among her peers. She was one of the first four members of the MBM Student Leadership Council (2018-2019) and took a leadership role in coordinating the 2018 Summer Journal Club. In 2018 she led an outreach activity on CAD design and 3D printing for the Worldwide Youth in Science and Engineering (WYSE) summer camps. In 2018 and 2019, she co-led an educational outreach program on biobots with Gelson Pagán-Díaz through the Girls’ Adventures in Mathematics, Engineering, and Science (GAMES) Camp, an Illinois-based summer program designed to give academically talented high school girls an opportunity to explore engineering and scientific fields.

In April 2018, she traveled to the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C. where she co-led an exhibit on biobots with Gelson Pagán-Díaz. Lauren also organized a Beckman Open House booth on biobots in 2019. Her community outreach activities through MBM include assisting with the MBM booths at the Beckman Open House in March 2019 and the Urbana Farmer’s Market in June 2019. She also traveled to the NSF-NRT Annual Meeting at Northwestern University in September 2019 to represent MBM at the poster session. Lauren has also mentored multiple REU and other undergraduate students in 2018, 2019, and 2020.

Lauren Gapinske with the MBM poster at the 2019 NRT meeting
Lauren Gapinske with the MBM poster at the 2019 NSF-NRT annual meeting in Evanston, IL

Lauren has completed coursework in topics including integrative neuroscience, tissue engineering, cell & molecular neuroscience, MEMS-NEMS, biosensors, optics, stem cell bioengineering, quantitative biotechnology, and advanced topics in bioengineering. She had planned to complete an external research experience with Dr. Kamm at MIT in the summer of 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this experience was postponed.

Research Highlights:

Lauren completed her study on the cryopreservation of tissue engineered skeletal muscle, which was published in Tissue Engineering Part A. She optimized a protocol for the freezing and revival of skeletal muscle tissue prior to differentiation, which not only preserved viability and morphology, but increased force production and the expression of late-stage myogenic markers as compared to the unfrozen control tissue. This publication also included a study which examined the effect of E-64, a broad-spectrum cysteine protease inhibitor, on the lifespan of tissue engineered muscle. Treatment with E-64 allowed for the extension of skeletal muscle lifespan (time until tissue rupture) up to 200 days in culture.

Lauren has since been utilizing C2C12 myoblast cell lines transfected with various connexin isoforms to attempt to electrically couple skeletal muscle cells through the formation of gap junctions. She is currently working to integrate neuronal tissue within her skeletal muscle bioactuator to achieve motor-neuron driven locomotion of a biomachine. Lauren is also collaborating with the Perez-Pinera lab to develop a skeletal muscle tissue model to assess the effectiveness of a gene-editing technique for the treatment of duchenne muscular dystrophy.