REU Student Spotlight: Tianna Edwards

By Christelle Paul, SEAS Correspondent

NAME: Tianna Edwards

HOMETOWN: Hartford, Conn.

COLLEGE: University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth

CLASS YEAR: Senior

MAJOR: Bioengineering

HARVARD LAB: David J. Mooney, Robert P. Pinkas Family Professor of Bioengineering

RESEARCH MENTOR: Kyle Vining

What have you been doing in the lab this summer?

I am working on a project involving regenerative dentistry. When a person has cavities, the typical therapy includes drilling a hole in the tooth and filling it with a cement-like substance. This material prevents bacteria from entering and infecting the tooth. The overarching goal of our project is to create a filling for cavities that promotes tooth regeneration, while also protecting the tooth from infection. I am contributing to the creation this material, which is a collagen alginate gel, combined with encapsulated dental pulp stem cells.

What is a challenge you have encountered with this project?

The most challenging part of this project is the time limit. Research goes on for years, but I am only participating in a snapshot for 10 weeks. This is the most frustrating part because I get so attached and invested with the project. Realizing that I won’t have time to see the outcome of our project, or the results of my work in the lab, has been difficult.

Is this your first time working in a lab?

This is my fifth internship, and I began my research journey in high school. I visited the medical center at the University of Conneticuit and sent an email to a professor doing cancer research. He invited me to come speak with him, and that led to a path of research.. My prior experiences have helped a lot. Now I have become confident in my abilities. Also, skills like pipetting and other basic research techniques transfer from every lab. My past experiences have always built on each other and have proven to be invaluable.

Do you see yourself going into dentistry?

I actually see myself going into medicine, the degree I plan to pursue is the M.D./Ph.D., but dentists are also cool. My mentor is an incredibly brilliant dentist. He is well informed, and has been able to answer all my questions so eloquently and thoroughly.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned throughout these past few weeks?

The greatest lesson I’ve learned is to keep asking questions. There is never too much information, because with every result you analyze, with every bit of new information you get, it raises more questions, rather than clears ideas up. It’s harmful to think “this is a stupid question. I shouldn’t ask it” or “I shouldn’t ask that now, he might explain it later.” It only gets harder, so my advice is to ask questions as soon as you become curious.