Fulbright Scholar Will Pursue Cancer Research in Canada

August 13, 2020

Fulbright Scholar Lucy Kurtz

Fulbright Scholar Lucy Kurtz

Recent Bioengineering graduate Lucy Kurtz found out she had been selected for a Fulbright Research Award when a notification popped up while she was driving. “I was so emotional I had to pull over. It’s kind of embarrassing, but I think I cried.” Lucy will be conducting research on throat cancer at McGill University in Montreal, Canada from January to August in 2021.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program offers research, study and teaching opportunities in more than 140 countries to recent graduates and graduate students. Administered in the U.S. by the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the Fulbright program was established in 1946 to promote international goodwill through education and cultural exchange.

“I’m extremely grateful and excited,” said the Owensboro native. During her academic career, Lucy amassed a number of other kudos including the Henry Vogt Scholarship (2016), Jill S. Tietjen, P.E. SWE Scholarship (2019) and Habitat on the Hill Emerging Leader Award (2020).

For her Fulbright independent research project, Lucy will be working on developing a 3-D printed matrix model for studying throat cancers, something that takes careful consideration, said Lucy. “It gives you a lot of control for doing research because you can design whatever kind of shape or cellular environment that you want, which is a big asset to studying cancer therapies. You do have to think about how it’s going to be printed, making sure it can actually come out of the machine successfully and create the kind of testing environment to grow cells correctly and with the physical properties to mimic human tissue,” she said.

The current best model for this kind of research, according to Lucy, is live animal models, but there are significant drawbacks to that. “They infect them with cancer cells and try different treatments on the mice, but mice aren’t actually that similar to humans in terms of cancer growth at a cellular and tissue level,” she said. “We want to devise a better and more comprehensive study environment for cancer treatment. Our ultimate goal is that physicians and researchers will know that what they’re testing in this 3D printed model is actually a good representation of what would happen in humans.”

Fortunately, Lucy had the opportunity to have an internship experience at Speed School’s AMIST (Additive Manufacturing Institute for Science and Technology) where she learned the latest cutting-edge 3-D techniques, an experience outside of her standard bioengineering curriculum.   “It gave me an awesome exposure to, some of the 3D printing techniques and the broader world of manufacturing research,” she said.

From Lucy’s early interest in biology, her mother encouraged her to pursue bioengineering. “For her, the general consensus was to find the most marketable path possible,” said Lucy. “I’m glad I listened to her because in other careers, you get the research, development and exploration side, but it’s the tactile aspects of science that get me really excited. Engineering is where the application comes in, and that’s been really gratifying to me.”

Encouragement from Speed School professors were a factor in her successful application for the Fulbright, said Lucy. “I consider Dr. Jonathan Kopechek a fantastic mentor and quality teacher,” said Lucy. “He has been a kind and wonderful advisor.”

Kopechek, assistant professor in bioengineering, said the Fulbright program made a great choice in Lucy. “She is one of those students that really makes our program stronger. I’m excited to see what she does with her next steps here at the Fulbright program. It’s a great training opportunity for her, but I also think she’s going to make a lot of contributions to the research as well.”

Dr. Patricia Soucy is another professor who Lucy considered a mentor since her early days at Speed School.

Soucy, assistant professor in bioengineering, met Lucy in her freshman year through the Society of Women Engineers, where Lucy took on an almost immediate leadership role, she said. “Lucy’s never scared to ask a question and she never stops learning,” said Soucy. “That will propel her far in life. She’s a good example of what bioengineering degrees can do, whether it’s business regulation or industry research at an academic institution.”

Lucy’s undergraduate Speed School experience prepared her for her future and for Fulbright in two key ways, she said. The first was her training in 3-D printing at AMIST, and the other the opportunity for interdisciplinary study. “That’s been a huge asset,” she said.

“For example, In Dr. Kopechek’s class, we got to learn about ultrasound and different coding applications, and how they relate to bioengineering,” said Lucy. “In 3D printing in medical interventions, it’s beneficial how you can really build to the patient and work with the body more than you can in other applications. 3D printing is such new and novel field, but it fits in really well with biocompatibility, which was Dr. Soucy’s class.”

Lucy is currently working in Cincinnati at Johnson & Johnson in their medical device division, Ethicon. “I’m on my first rotation out of three years with their engineering development program, and ideally I would like to be able to come back here after Fulbright to finish my rotations,” she said. For her long-term goals, the engineer is divided in one of two directions.

“Possibly one day, I’d like to work in the regulatory and healthcare policy side, so I wouldn’t mind working at the FDA at some point,” she said. “On the other hand, I have aspirations to work at a startup in the future so, I’m hoping that my experience in research might give me more of the development side of incorporating new scientific evidence into actual deliverable product,” said Lucy. That path may also include pursuit of an MBA at some future point.

As for her Fulbright, Lucy said she is excited about the immersive cultural experience as well. “I’m trying to learn French, since Montreal is about 60 percent French speaking,” she said. “That’s an interesting part, too, that you’re not just going there to work, you’re going there to live.”

“I had always seen research abroad as unattainable, but my experience working in the labs of my professors here at UofL ultimately convinced me to pursue Fulbright,” said Lucy. “I am grateful for this opportunity to represent my school, and I embrace the challenge of solving engineering problems in a new environment.”

Lucy Kurtz selected for Fulbright Research Award