Meryem Ok researched microfluidic and bulk production of cationic liposomes/siRNA complexes for applications in gene therapy
Meryem at the 2014 MIT-Brazil Networking Event, presenting her summer internship to MIT-Brazil's sponsor Santander Universities.

Over the course of two and a half months in the summer of 2014, Meryem worked with Professor Lucimara de La Torre at the State University of Campinas (Unicamp) School of Chemical Engineering, Department of Materials and Bioprocess Engineering and the Center for Molecular Biology and Genetic Engineering (CBMEG). She also collaborated with the Brazilian Nanotechnology National Laboratory (LNNano), part of Brazil’s National Center for Research in Energy and Materials (CNPEM). Her project was entitled, “Microfluidic and Bulk Production of Cationic Liposomes for RNAi Delivery.” The goal was to help Prof de La Torre's lab transition from DNA-­‐based therapeutics to RNA interference by transfecting HeLa cells with cationic liposomes/siRNA complexes, ultimately for applications in gene therapy.

As a bioengineer, Meryem had previously worked on projects in immunology, DNA damage and repair, and chemically modified antibacterial or photosensitive nanoparticles. “People often ask me what it actually means to be a bioengineer. Biological Engineering is the application of engineering to solve biological problems or, in some cases, the application of biology to solve engineering problems. It is an extremely interdisciplinary field, which is what I love about it.” 

Thank you, MISTI, for providing me with the opportunity to experience the interdisciplinary field of bioengineering, from the nanoscale to the global scale.

 

Meryem became interested in nanomedicine in the fall of 2013 when she participated in a semester‐long Advanced Seminar in Biomaterials at MIT. While she had some previous experience with nanoparticles, working with microfluidic devices was a novel experience for her. “When I first started working with these devices, it took me quite a while to set everything up and reach hydrodynamic stability. However, by the end of the internship I felt like I had developed a certain level of proficiency and facility in manipulating the tubing and flow within the device. Also, it was really fascinating to be able to produce nanoscale biological structures in micrometer-­‐scale channels. To put things in perspective, the thickness of an average human hair is 80,000 to 100,000 nanometers, and I was producing liposomes 1/1,000 of that size, with diameters on the order of 100 nanometers. It gave me confidence as a bioengineer, and it confirmed my newfound passion for nanomedicine.”

In addition to the technical training, interning in Brazil offered Meryem a global perspective on research. She enjoyed working in a university environment with the added bonus of delicious Brazilian food and desserts. Despite some setbacks due to limited resources and inevitable World Cup distractions, Meryem learned to be proactive and creative, like her coworkers, in order to accomplish tasks while in Brazil. “I had to take a lot of initiative as a scientist and collaborate with researchers in different departments and labs, both on and off-­‐campus, given that my project required a variety of materials and analytical instruments.” While in Campinas, Meryem also attended the 4th annual Microfluidics Workshop at CNPEM, where she viewed seminars and participated in discussions on the broad applications of microfluidics in health, energy and electrical engineering, among others. “In Brazil, I had to become comfortable enough with the concepts and scope of my project to discuss and present my work to graduate students, post‐docs and professors in Portuguese. This helped me develop confidence in the subject material and in my ability to interact with other scientists on a global level.”

Link to blog: http://meryemok.wordpress.com/

  • Brazil
  • Internship
  • BioE/ChemE