What makes cancer so deadly is its ability to spread, a process called metastasis. This doesn’t take place on a flat surface like a petri dish; it happens in the 3-D world of the human body. Stopping or even slowing it holds promise for extending the lives of cancer patients.
That’s why biomedical engineering graduate student Lizzy Crist is so interested in modeling the 3-D movements of cancer cells.
“If we can model it outside of the body, then we can experimentally tune certain factors that either promote it or inhibit it, and then we can better develop therapeutics against that,” says Crist, who conducts her research in Professor David Wood’s Living Devices lab.
A former Division III soccer star at Washington University in St. Louis, Crist was named National Collegiate Athletic Association Woman of the Year in 2017 for her leadership in athletics and community service. As an athlete, she learned to deal with failure, a skill that stands her and any other grad student in good stead.
“If I had let the failures get me down, I think that process would have been way slower, but instead I’m still out here running experiments and continuing on,” she says.
Crist also champions efforts to bring more young people who might never have considered a STEM field into the fold.
“We’re often going into schools that may not be exposed to engineering and science as much as other schools,” she says. “It’s really important to go in there and show that engineers are real people, that they’re diverse in terms of gender and race, and that it’s a field that students shouldn’t be afraid to go into.”