BINGHAMTON RESEARCHERS, SCHOLARS & ARTISTS SPOTLIGHT
Meet a Faculty Mentor
Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering
Amber Doiron, Assistant Professor in Biomedical Engineering, is a mentor for undergraduate research in the Bioengineering Department. Dr. Doiron received her PhD in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin and completed her postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada. Dr. Doiron's research interests include nanotechnology and molecular imaging with a focus on atherosclerosis, commonly known as heart disease.
In her last year of undergraduate study at Colorado State University, Dr. Doiron pursued biomedical engineering research in a Chemical Engineering lab. In the lab, she worked under the guidance of Dr. Kristina Rinker. Dr. Doiron reflects on this experience as what sparked her desire for research: "I found that I loved being able to invest in a project that I could put my name on and be proud of." She went to her first conference to present a poster with her mentor and later published her first paper. Those positive experiences were "tipping points" that made her decide to apply for graduate school. Later when seeking a postdoctoral position after completing research for her Ph.D., Dr. Doiron contacted Dr. Rinker and they had the opportunity to do three more years of research together.
Dr. Doiron's current research topic investigates the mechanisms behind how plaques associated with atherosclerosis form. Plaques are buildup of proteins, cholesterol, cells and cellular debris within the artery wall. Everyone develops atherosclerotic plaque, but what makes one person's plaque dangerous and one person's safe? "Atherosclerosis is a fascinating disease that changes so much through a person's lifetime; from month to month the plaque can change from safe to vulnerable conditions." Dr. Doiron's lab is creating a contrast agent to improve visibility of the most dangerous plaques. Patients undergo magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in order for doctors to evaluate if their plaque conditions have changed. Dr. Doiron's research, which is partially funded by a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant, is working on creating viable contrast agents. Her lab uses nanotechnology to build new contrast agents from chemical particles and test them in cell culture. Through her research, Dr. Doiron aims to provide doctors with better images of heart disease plaques for diagnosis and treatment decisions.
Leigha Jarett is one of ten undergraduate students that work in Dr. Doiron's lab. Dr. Doiron describes her as an active learner who is both ambitious and persistent. Leigha is "pursuing projects that are not easy undertakings for a typical undergraduate." Dr. Doiron was impressed by Leigha's ability to delve into learning about the complexities of atherosclerosis. Leigha took initiative to read through many academic articles and scientific literature to learn more about the disease and experimental procedures. She was also able to create contrast agents in a new way using methods she learned from past lab experiences. Trying new experimental procedures is risky, but "she is willing to take that risk." The results garnered from Leigha's research are not always conclusive. Research is exploratory; sometimes "there are more questions than answers." This is a challenging space to be in. Dr. Doiron compliments Leigha in her ability to continue beyond the initial frustrations of the research.
Dr. Doiron believes every student should get a chance to explore research. However, she is well aware of limited facility capacities. She advises students who want to pursue research to show initiative and be persistent. "Make your presence known." Whether this would be volunteering to attend weekly lab sessions for months prior to getting a position, students need to show faculty their commitment and desire to learn.
....and her Student Mentee
Leigha Jarrett, Junior Bioengineering major
Leigha Jarett is a Junior pursuing a degree in Bioengineering at the Binghamton University Watson School of Engineering. Her hometown is Stony Brook, New York.
Nanotechnology. The average student is intimidated by the connotations they associate with this word. Most think of highly-educated scientists in elite institutions working with advanced machines. However, Leigha did not react this way when she saw the word in Dr. Amber Doiron's research goals on the Bioengineering faculty page. Instead, she thought "It sounded super interesting. Nanoparticles, that sound so futuristic and high-tech and I really wanted to get involved."
Leigha's interest in Dr. Doiron's research resulted from her past summer's research experience at the Core Histology Lab in the Pathology department of Stony Brook University's School of Medicine. The lab focused on finding biomarkers for breast and cervical cancer. There, she assisted medical students with various procedures. She learned for the first time how to slice up tumors, mount them to cover-slips and stain tissue samples for immunohistochemistry techniques. "I loved working in a hands-on environment." This realization pivoted Leigha from her intended Pre-Medical track to an applied science field. Consequently, her sophomore year, she transferred into Watson to study Bioengineering.
The semester she switched schools, Leigha eagerly sought out another experience with disease-oriented research. Dr. Doiron's research on atherosclerosis with nanotechnology stood out to her. Leigha sent emails to begin the correspondence. Initially, Professor Doiron's lab was full, but offered her to attend weekly lab meetings. She did so consistently for months, proving her persistence and eventually secured an independent study for the following semester.
Leigha's independent study was structured differently from her initial expectations. Dr. Doiron's lab had just started the research project, so experimental designs needed to be created. Leigha's primary responsibility was to develop protocols, a set of written procedural methods used in scientific experiments. Instead of finding herself in the lab as she had envisioned: "When I first started, I had to do so much reading" to learn more about solid lipid nanoparticle synthesis, a specific procedure for the research. This learning aspect was especially challenging, and at times frustrating. Leigha recalls taking hours to get through the academic journals and articles, stumbling frequently on new terminology and concepts. She cites Dr. Doiron's support throughout her learning curve. They frequently exchanged emails and Dr. Doiron met with her weekly to explain difficult concepts. After passing the initial hurdles, Leigha understood the importance of her readings. "We needed to have that knowledge because we used the papers to develop a protocol." She applied the knowledge she acquired from readings to create procedures and asked graduate students to compare methods to improve upon her own.
Towards the end of the semester, Leigha was able to use her own protocols to design and carry out experiments. She worked on creating a nanocomplex to be used as a contrast agent in MRI scans, providing physicians with a noninvasive method of disease detection. She continued nanotechnology research in Stony Brook University this past summer after being accepted to the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, funded by the National Science Foundation. With more exposure to nanotechnology research, this semester Leigha returned to Dr. Doiron's lab with more ideas. "When I suggested some changes to the protocol, Dr. Doiron seemed pleased that I had been thinking of my project here in Binghamton over the summer and was trying to find ways to fix some problems we were encountering." Together, the lab has developed a nanocomplex that has the future possibility of being used as an indicator of disease in patients. Leigha and Dr. Doiron are looking forward to testing their contrast agents on cell cultures in the future. Leigha plans to apply for another REU program this summer. She plans to apply to graduate school and obtain a PhD in Bioengineering.
Articles written by: Christina Huang '16