Brenda Carrillo-Conde did not know what she was getting herself into when she decided to participate in a summer research experience in the College of Engineering at Iowa State University five years ago. The native of Mazatlan, Mexico, was a senior at Monterrey Institute of Technology (Monterrey, Mexico) and planned on a career in industry. Then she made a big decision: to travel with two of her classmates over 3,000 miles to spend the summer at Iowa State as a participant in the Biological Materials and Process (BioMaP) Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) project.
During the REU experience Carrillo-Conde had the opportunity to work with Dr. Balaji Narasimhan and his research team on increasing the effectiveness of vaccine delivery systems and developing new vaccination strategies based on biomaterials. She enjoyed working with Narasimhan over the 10-week program. So much so, that when offered the opportunity to return to Iowa State and continue working with Narasimhan as a graduate student, she happily accepted.
Since then, Carrillo-Conde has been working on the same line of research that she began during that summer five years ago. And the research has produced results. The team has improved the delivery vehicles to be used in vaccine formulations from polyanhydrides microparticles to nanoparticles from the same chemistry but with functional groups on their surfaces. Successful in-vivo trials have been held geared towards creating single-dose versions of existing vaccines (Tetanus Toxoid, Pneumonic Plague, Anthrax, and others). The team is also honing in on more cost-effective production of vaccinations and the development altogether new ones (for example, to protect against HIV).
Collaborations as part of the research have allowed Carrillo-Conde to work with experts from the Chemistry Department, Veterinary Microbiology and Preventative Medicine (VMPM), and the Immunobiology Department at Iowa State. Such interactions have been one of Carrillo-Conde’s favorite aspects of her experience. And she knows that this interdisciplinary work has prepared her for her professional future.
For someone who hadn’t planned on attending graduate school, Carrillo-Conde has come a long way. This summer, she will finish her PhD in Chemical and Biological Engineering, with a minor in Immunobiology.