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Written by Hannah Weems
Faculty in UAB’s Department of Biomedical Engineering are shaping young minds through UAB’s BioBridge program, offered by the Center for Community Outreach and Development (CORD).

biobridge1M.K. Sewell-Loftin (right) and Maranda Tidwell teach a class of high school students about how cells feel and move during this summer's Biobridge program.BioBridge is a weeklong course that provides hands-on experience for rising ninth grade students, covering the fundamentals of cellular and molecular biology and biotechnology using laboratory techniques. Students in this program gain a head start on biology content in the context of cancer research.

M.K. Sewell-Loftin, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Biomedical Engineering, taught the class, “Cell Mechanics: How Do Cells Feel and Move?” alongside Maranda Tidwell, a Ph.D. student in her lab. The two demonstrated cell movement and cancer metastasis by presenting material samples of poly(dimenthyl siloxane), or PDMS, with varying textures. The students held different sections of a rope to pull themselves across the lab, which mimicked cell movement. This activity then linked back to cancer research to describe cancer metastasis, by defining it as “how cancer cells migrate to new locations in the body.”

“We explained that we like to study biological things, like cells, but coupled with ideas, like mechanics, to ultimately improve medical treatments,” says Sewell-Loftin, explaining the students’ introduction to biomedical engineering.

The students learned that it is easier for cancer cells to move when the surrounding tissue has a stiffer consistency. Sewell-Loftin applied this to teach the importance of wearing sunscreen, focusing on community health. Wearing sunscreen will prevent our skin from becoming stiffer, says Sewell-Loftin, which is another way to fight skin cancer.

Sewell-Loftin is an expert in tissue engineering, specifically related to studying the interaction of biomaterials, mechanics, and cell behaviors. Her passion for teaching students of all ages is inspiring young minds and moving medicine forward.