Graduate Student Spotlight
Tia Kowal is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Cell and Molecular Biology program
Tia came to us from Millersville University where she earned her B.S. in biology and a minor in chemistry. While at Millersville, she took a histology class where she fell in love with cellular staining and microscopy. After working for several years at an optometrists’ office, she decided that she wasn’t done learning and began pursuing her graduate degree.
In the fall of 2010 she joined Professor Matthias Falk’s lab to investigate how cells respond to a material that could be used for tissue regeneration. The idea is to implant the material into a patient to promote the regeneration of new tissue, as opposed to replacing the tissue with a traditional implant material that just fills in the defect. The project is unique in that it spans several disciplines since there are multiple potential uses for this tissue regenerative material from bone development to in vitro fertilization to wound healing.
The material that she has been working with is a bioactive glass made of calcium and silica that was designed in Lehigh’s Materials Science and Engineering department by Professor Himanshu Jain’s lab. Termed TAMP, “Tailored Amorphus Multi-Porous,” these scaffolds are glass (“Amorphous”) structures that have at least 2 pore types (“Multi-Porous”) and uniquely, the Jain lab has discovered ways for several parameters of the scaffold to be changed to fit the needs of the tissue to be regenerated (“Tailored”).
So far, Tia has primarily focused on how cells respond to the TAMPs though looking at cellular morphology (shape), attachment, and growth. She feels especially lucky that she had the opportunity to use the Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM), since this is a great way to visualize cells on the scaffolds (see pseudo-colored image of cells on TAMP) and a unique skill to learn. Since the TAMP scaffolds are made from calcium and silica, which are both known to induce bone production in osteoblasts (bone cells), she has also looked carefully into whether the TAMP scaffolds cause osteoblasts to produce bone in vitro (cell culture), which would indicate that it will be useful for regenerating bone tissue in patients.
A second project, possible through collaboration with Abington Reproductive group, looks at whether the TAMP scaffolds allow cells to grow more naturally in culture. During the process of in vitro fertilization, a sample of the cells lining the uterus is collected from the mother-to-be and the cells are then grown in culture to act like a nest for the developing embryo. In the body these uterine cells are tall and polarized, meaning that the top of the cells look different than the bottom; however, in culture the cells lose their polarity and grow flat against the dish. This project will look at whether the naturally polarized cells remain polarized in culture if grown on the porous TAMP scaffolds instead of the typical culture vessel, a flat plastic dish. This would be especially useful because when these cells are polarized, they produce and secrete hormones which are important for the development of the embryo. Tia has the unique opportunity with this project to isolate human cells from tissue biopsies provided by the Abington reproductive group.
Outside of the lab, Tia enjoys spending time with her youngest sister who is an undergrad at Lehigh and catching the show when Disney on Ice is in town since her other sister is a skater for the company. She herself also enjoys ice skating, snowboarding, running, swimming and pretty much any outdoor activity, including playing softball for the biology department’s summer league team, The Biohazards.
Dr. Falk's research has been funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health.
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