BME Senior Contributes to Cancer-Fighting Research

el sayedRetta El-Sayed, a senior BME student, has worked in a variety of roles on a team that seeks to improve imaging capabilities for cancer research.Many aspiring scientists wonder how they’ll find the right lab to launch their research career. Retta El-Sayed was pulled right in by a giant magnet.

For the past two years, El-Sayed, a senior majoring in biomedical engineering, has worked in the UAB Cyclotron Facility, studying exotic radioactive isotopes with the facility’s team of radiochemists. [Learn more about the high-speed world of cyclotron research in this Mix feature.]

It all began when El-Sayed was a sophomore. A friend in medical school invited her along on a tour of UAB’s cyclotron, a 60-ton behemoth used to create the radioactive particles needed for PET imaging. “I wasn’t expecting anything,” she says, but during the tour she got excited about the cyclotron and its potential for creating new types of imaging for cancer research: “I think it’s one of the coolest pieces of research equipment at UAB.”

She emailed Suzanne Lapi, Ph.D., director of the cyclotron facility, to ask about volunteering in Lapi’s lab. “She ended up hiring me,” El-Sayed says. “It was really cool.” El-Sayed has worked with doctoral student Stacy Queern to produce Zirconium–89, an isotope that can be used to study the effects of the drug trastuzumab on breast tumors. She helps Tolulope Aweda, Ph.D., label antibodies with radioactive isotopes such as Copper–64 and Gallium–68, and assists Adrianna Massicano, Ph.D., in electroplating copper coins with chromium, a crucial step in producing manganese–52.

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