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Lauren Miller Expanding Biotechnology Horizons in MIT's Summer Research Program

Friday, July 17, 2015
Lauren Miller

Changing Course: Lauren Miller came to Rose-Hulman seeking a career in the biotechnology industry. She is now looking forward to attending graduate school and making discoveries in bioengineering and regenerative medicine.

Lauren Miller is a naturally curious college student with a drive to solve complex problems and a love for understanding how things work.

Those interests are being enhanced this summer while performing cutting-edge research in biotechnology as one of 20 U.S. college students in Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Amgen Scholars program.

The senior biomedical engineering student from Highland, Illinois, is working in the Laboratory for Biological Hydrogels with MIT Professor Katharina Ribbeck, examining biological gels, such as mucus, and their interactions with pathogens. Specifically, Miller is hoping to discover new methods to attenuate the virulence of opportunistic pathogens, especially for antibiotic-resistant bacteria strains-a growing issue in the medical field.

"As fast as we can create new antibiotics, bacteria develop resistances to them," says Miller after completing the first month of her research. "Currently, we're losing the antibiotic race, and there is a very real fear that we may return to a pre-antibiotic era. Hopefully, our research will highlight the role of mucus in facilitating the maintenance of non-virulent populations of microbes in a healthy human body."

Interests in research, especially areas of tissue engineering, developed as Miller watched her grandfather's twice weekly kidney dialysis treatments. She learned that scientists were working on re-growing organs, but never thought she would eventually be helping others through scientific research.

At Rose-Hulman, Miller took courses in biomaterials and tissue engineering, and became intrigued with the possibilities in the laboratory. She also decided to earn a second major in biochemistry and molecular biology.

"I wanted to work with my hands in a laboratory, doing something that was meaningful-something that could maybe someday revolutionize medical treatments," she says.

Miller has accentuated her academic experiences with several research experiences. She has worked alongside Ross Weatherman, PhD, Rose-Hulman's associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, to examine the biochemistry properties of estrogen receptors-searching to develop a drug that will target breast cancer without providing harmful side effects. She also has had summer internships in product development with Wenzel Spine (Austin, Texas), and safety research and development with Covidien (St. Louis).

Lauren Miller Skel

Select Student: Lauren Miller is one of 20 college students participating in Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Amgen Scholars program this summer. There were nearly 1,000 applicants from across the world for the program.

That background, a perfect 4.0 grade point average, and a lengthy list of campus activities brought her to the top of the candidate pool for MIT's prestigious Amgen program (20 chosen from almost 1,000 applicants from throughout the world), and an honorable mention selection for the 2015 Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program, recognizing the nation's top scholars striving toward careers in science, mathematics, and engineering.

Miller's skills have been put to the test this summer alongside other Amgen program participants from University of California-Berkeley, UCLA, Columbia University, University of Texas-Austin, and Brown University. She also has met other talented MIT faculty researchers, attended an Amgen Symposium at UCLA, and will wrap up the experience with a poster presentation session in Boston.

"Rose-Hulman has provided me with the tools to get here and succeed in a laboratory environment," she says from MIT. "I had never considered graduate school, assuming I would get my degree and work in industry. When I realized that graduate school might be for me, everyone at Rose-Hulman supported me. My academic advisor and department head went out of their way to help me plan my double major, the registrar moved courses around so that I could take everything I needed, and still graduate in four years, and professors have been wonderful in helping me get research experience."

After Rose-Hulman, Miller hopes to obtain a research assistantship and pursue graduate school studies in bioengineering/regenerative medicine, eventually earning a doctorate degree. She would like to work at a university, combining her love of research with an interest in encouraging undergraduate students, similar to the support she received throughout her Rose-Hulman career.

"Professor (Richard) Anthony let me work with one of his senior thesis students late in my sophomore year. The techniques I learned working with bacteria during that experience have been useful this summer at MIT," Miller says. "When I approached Professor Weatherman last year about my interest in graduate school, with little research experience, he said, 'We have to get you some research experience.' Even though it was my life, my education, and really my responsibility, Professor Weatherman wanted me to have research experience as badly as I wanted it. That support has been essential, and has created opportunities for me, like this summer's research experience, that I might never have had otherwise."