Each week, we chat up a high-tech difference-maker. This week, meet VICTORIA KINDRATENKO, a 2019 Uni High grad and rising University of Illinois freshman who works as a research assistant at both Carle’s Mills Breast Cancer Institute and the UI’s Laboratory of Integrated Biomedical Micro/Nanotechnology and Applications. Her work at the latter helps in manufacturing the devices used by the former. Here’s more via News-Gazette Media intern Ethan Simmons:
How long have you had your assistantships?
I’ve been working at the Mills Institute since the beginning of my junior year in high school, going through this summer and hopefully for the rest of my stay at the UI. My work at the Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory will be my first two semesters at the UI; hoping I’ll be able to go back there for all four years as well.
How did you get involved in all these projects?
It’s a funny story. The summer before junior year, I was volunteering at the new Carle Sports Medicine building on First Street. I was cleaning some equipment, minding my own business, when a man approached me and asked what major I’m planning to pursue. I said I want to do bioengineering with some research. The man said campus has a lot of great bioengineering opportunities, and dropped UI engineering Dean Rashid Bashir’s name.
Later, my supervisor said: “Do you know who you just talked to? That was Dr. James Leonard, CEO of Carle.”
I went home, emailed Bashir, and within the next two days he said he had a lab open and we’d get started during the school year. That’s how it all began.
What’s the gist of what you’re researching?
The lab is researching sepsis and how to identify it before symptoms show themselves. Before a doctor sees it, your body knows. It produces a bunch of chemicals, like interleukin 6, that say: “Hey, I notice there’s something wrong with you,” by producing a bigger quantity than you would have normally.
The lab is focused on making a microfluidic bioship platform to read the chemicals your body produces in response to sepsis. You flow a patient’s plasma sample through it and it has a chamber with a bunch of pillars in it. The pillars capture the samples of patients with sepsis.
Electrodes count how much plasma enters and leaves the chamber and sees how many samples were captured, which tells you if the patient has sepsis or not.
Describe a typical day for you at the Mills Breast Cancer Institute.
I got to help with behind-the-scenes stuff that makes the lab work better. For the electrodes that count the samples, you use a silver epoxy to bond the different components. That’s what I would do. I would bond the chip to the bigger chip that’s plugged into the power, so we can view the voltage spikes that count the samples.
Last summer, I functionalized the capture chambers that would catch the beads, namely the control chambers. I’d coat these pillars in a certain chemical — bovine serum albumin — a blocking agent used to minimize nonspecific samples binding to the chambers. It prevents false readings. I would do that and ensure there was no air in the chamber, which messes up all steps of the research.
Why is your research important?
For sepsis patients, every hour without proper antimicrobial medicine decreases the 72-hour survival rates by 7.6%. It’s drastic — the mortality rate of patients with sepsis is greater than that of prostate cancer, breast cancer and HIV. It’s a huge killer, and I’m happy to be a part of research for something this massive and this important.
How does this fit into your future career aspirations?
I’m majoring in bioengineering and doing pre-med. This assistantship has showed me that I love research, learning new things and using engineering methods to problem-solve. The long-term goal now is to be both a doctor and researcher.
Why is your research important?
For sepsis patients, every hour without proper antimicrobial medicine decreases the 72-hour survival rates by 7.6%. It’s drastic—the mortality rate of patients with sepsis is greater than that of prostate cancer, breast cancer and HIV. It’s a huge killer, and I’m happy to be a part of research for something this massive and this important.
TECH TIDBITS ... from VICTORIA KINDRATENKO
What’s your favorite app? Probably Snapchat because I get to interact with and see all of my friends.
On social media I follow ... my friends and couple of meme accounts because I like a good laugh.
Books or Kindle? What are you reading right now? Books. I’m reading a chemistry textbook right now. I want to be prepared for the UI chemistry class I’m going to take!
Who are your STEM role models? There are two categories: famous people and people I know through my FIRST Robotics team, CTRL-Z. I’ll start with robotics.
Adam Fletcher is our team coach, he taught me about patience and perseverance through tricky situations — when the robot wasn’t working or when a design failed completely. His passion for the students and for the competition helped me drive myself to improve while I was team captain.Then there’s Rosalind Franklin, the only woman working in the lab that took Photo 51 and discovered the structure of DNA. I was devastated that she didn’t get credit for any of that. She’s an incredible woman that in the face of such a male-dominated STEM field, still managed to do something incredible and important.
What tech developments do you like to keep up-to-date on? Since climate change is real, I’ve been keeping up on tech to circumvent more catastrophic climate changes. I’ve also been looking into different projects LIBNA has taken on. You can use your iPhone scanner to see if a patient has sepsis through a small attachment on your phone.