Monika Roy is a PhD candidate in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass). She was the inaugural recipient of the SOT Graduate Intern Fellowship in Toxicology (GIFT) award, administered by the Education and Career Development Committee.
At UMass, I work in Dr. Alicia Timme-Laragy’s developmental toxicology lab. Our research utilizes the zebrafish (Danio rerio) model for understanding how early-life exposures to environmental contaminants affect the development and function of the liver and pancreas. My research specifically focuses on characterizing how the environmental pollutant 3,3’-dichlorobiphenyl (PCB-11) affects liver development, toxicant response pathways, and lipid metabolism.
Over the past two years, I was funded as a National Institutes of Health T32 trainee through the UMass Amherst Biotechnology Training Program (BTP), which focuses on bridging academia and industry. BTP trainees take biotechnology courses and lab training modules, attend an annual BTP symposium, and participate in industrial internships related to their specific field of research. I wanted to explore biotech companies in Boston focused on human liver modeling and liver disease research. During the 2019 SOT Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, I met representatives from Emulate Inc. (Emulate), who shared their Organs-on-Chips technology and research applications. I stayed in contact, and after a few follow-up meetings, I was offered a summer internship for three months at their company.
Emulate develops Organs-on-Chips technology—a human cell-based technology that recreates the organ-level function to model human organs in healthy and diseased states. Their platform is composed of Organ-Chips, instruments, and apps. Each Organ-Chip—which is composed of a clear, flexible polymer—is about the size of a AA battery and contains tiny fluidic channels that are lined with living cells. Culturing cells under continuous flow within the channels of the chip provides more functionality than conventional 3D in vitro models by recreating in vivo intercellular interactions, spatiotemporal gradients, vascular perfusion, and mechanical forces.
They have an experienced team of researchers that work on R&D projects and run services for their collaborators and customers as well. I joined the science team that runs services for collaborators, pairing up with Dr. Dwayne Carter, one of their liver experts. Dr. Carter and other scientists taught me the Liver-Chip protocol through one of the projects using the Liver-Chip. This work helped deepen my understanding of liver biology.
While my research at UMass uses zebrafish to address questions about human responses to environmental chemicals, at Emulate, it was great to study human-relevant responses using the human Liver-Chip. Through these projects, I was also able to broaden my skill sets in aseptic technique, cell culturing, and running various assays. The new skills, experiences, and knowledge I have gained will certainly be useful for my future research projects at UMass.
The BTP courses and other activities helped prepare me for different aspects of this internship, but actually doing the internship helped integrate these components into my training and experience. I feel like I now have a more comprehensive view of what it is like to work in biotech and specifically the role that toxicology can play in this arena. Both inside and outside the lab, everyone at Emulate was helpful. I really enjoyed working with the team and enjoyed hanging out with others at lunch and for fun activities after work. It was also great to explore the Boston area and get a feel for working life in this city. Thanks to everyone at Emulate for the support and mentorship during my time there, and a very big thanks to SOT for the GIFT award, which helped make this internship experience possible.