UCalgary student’s stem cell research paper wins national award | New

Tiffany Dang has a passion for helping others.

The University of Calgary PhD student, who always wanted to work in healthcare, found her calling after earning her undergraduate degree in chemical engineering, with a major in biomedical engineering.

Her research focuses on stem cell bioprocessing, which she says has major implications for helping people with diseases such as diabetes and osteoarthritis by allowing scientists to fine-tune how they control cells for a safe and effective treatment.

An article related to this topic, of which she was the lead author, was recently named the 2022 winner of The award for the best graduate student paper published in the Canadian Journal of Chemical Engineering. The paper was a collaboration between his lab and a Southern California biotech company called PBS Biotech.

Dang’s co-authors on the award-winning paper with ties to UCalgary were Dr. Breanna S. Borys, BSc (Eng)’16, PhD’22; Shivek Kanwar, BSC (Eng)’21; James Colter, B.Sc.(Eng)’17; Tariq Hossan; Dr. Derrick E. Rancourt, PhD; Dr. Michael S. Kallos, BSc(Eng)’95, PhD’99; and, now working with PBS Biotech, Dr. Sunghoon Jung, MSc’03, PhD’09. Other co-authors included Hannah Worden, Abigail Blatchford and Brian Lee of PBS and Reno-based consultant Dr. Matthew S. Croughan, PhD.

Try the challenge

Dang’s article was first published by the CJCE in July 2021 – an achievement on its own merits.

“I was so excited when it was accepted for publication,” says the Schulich School of Engineering alumnus, BSc (Eng)’20. “I considered that was already a huge win because we really wanted to show how traditional (engineering) principles could be applied to a field like stem cell manufacturing.”

Dang admits that she didn’t expect to win the prize because writing the paper was difficult and the reviewers asked many difficult questions.

“I was completely, genuinely shocked and so excited,” she says. “I actually had to forward the email to my supervisor to confirm it because I couldn’t believe it.”

Realize your potential

Dang’s research paper focused on using a traditional engineering tool, computational fluid dynamics modeling, to better understand how the geometry of a vertical wheel bioreactor affects growth and global behavior of stem cells.

“One of the biggest challenges is translating laboratory protocols into large-scale manufacturing to meet the demand for cell numbers,” Dang says. “While it may seem simple to translate these protocols from bench to bedside, there are many interrelated factors that require engineering knowledge to understand.”

Not only did the award validate her article, but Dang thinks it also shows that she is on the right track when it comes to her passion.

She is no stranger to accolades, having received the Rona Hatt Chemical Engineering Leadership Award, the TENET Medical Engineering Scholarship and the Alberta Graduate Achievement Scholarship. She says:

I think the best way to improve the health system is through interdisciplinary research, because it brings innovation. It allows you to work with a wide range of experts, including doctors, clinicians, stem cell biologists and engineers, to push the boundaries of this field.

As she studies for her candidacy exams, Dang is also working at UCalgary’s Center for Pharmaceutical Production Research, finalizing a few projects in hopes of publishing her findings within the next year.

She says both projects aim to better understand the interplay between biological factors and the bioreactor environment, and how this relationship affects the large-scale biomanufacturing of human-induced pluripotent stem cells.

“My goal is to continue to learn as much as possible from my mentors and lab colleagues,” says Dang. “Ultimately, I hope to use my degree to change the landscape of biomanufacturing and bioprocessing in Canada and make Calgary home to many companies in this space.”

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