Anne Cunningham, Undergraduate student, biomedical engineering
Investigates damage due to cancer treatment
“Anne has been enthusiastic about her project since day one. Even though she had no previous experience, she has never hesitated to tackle new procedures, learn new things, or to ask good questions.” -Michelle Tamplin, postdoctoral research scholar
Hometown: Davenport, Iowa
Faculty mentor/advisor: Isabella Grumbach MD, PhD, interim chair and professor, internal medicine, Carver College of Medicine
What is your degree program and anticipated graduation date? Bachelor’s in biomedical engineering, May 2024
Please describe your research: While radiation therapy is highly effective at treating cancer, it often damages the surrounding normal tissues exposed during treatment. In the case of cranial irradiation for brain cancer, many patients will develop cognitive decline within months after their treatment. My research focuses on studying the effects of radiation on normal brain tissues, specifically investigating whether decreases in blood flow can be linked to the development of cognitive decline.
In simple terms, why does this research matter? Currently, the development of radiation-induced normal tissue injury is not fully understood. Normal tissue injury is thought to result from damage to microvessels, but how this damage progresses to disorders like cognitive decline has not been fully described. Understanding this sequence of events is critical for the development of preventative measures and other treatments.
How soon after starting at the University of Iowa were you able to participate in research? I joined the Grumbach lab the summer after my second year.
How has being involved in research made you more successful at the University of Iowa? My involvement in research has taught me that thorough background research is the most important step in problem-solving. As an engineering student the solution is often the focus, overshadowing the importance of the initial problem. With my participation in research, I have been able to reframe my way of thinking to see research as the foundation of all solutions. This emphasis on learning, understanding, and applying the research process has relayed into my coursework and soon my professional world.
What are your career goals and/or plans after graduation? I hope to continue my involvement in research, with a particular interest in cardiovascular biomechanics. While I’m considering both working in industry and pursuing a PhD in biomedical engineering, I’m excited to apply the engineering principles I have learned to advancements in the medical field.
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