MARIA SALAZAR ’20 (DUNCAN)
Anxious to be involved in bioengineering research, Maria Salazar ’20 secured a place in the lab of Antonios Mikos at the beginning of her sophomore year at Rice. Working under Eric Molina, a graduate student, Salazar was part of an innovative project to improve preclinical studies of osteosarcoma and other bone cancers.
“A big issue in preclinical research,” Salazar explains, “is that the surface where we grow cells is often made of plastic. Once that research moves to a clinical setting, the cells behave differently in the human body than they did on a plastic surface. To solve for this, we are developing a tumor microenvironment that mimics bone.” If successful, this type of microenvironment would provide a platform for drug testing for bone cancer tumors.
Salazar’s ongoing work in the Mikos Lab seamlessly complements her classwork. “While we were working on the tumor microenvironment, we ran a number of different tensile and engineering tests to detect the mechanical properties,” Salazar says. “Not only was I able to see firsthand the concepts I was learning in class, I was miles ahead in subjects like tensile tests because I had already done them myself.”
She was also fortunate to take a biomaterials class from Professor Mikos. “Being in a class with a professor who is also your principal investigator was a great experience,” Salazar says. “You get to see all aspects of his work. It’s really inspiring to see someone who is equally passionate about teaching and research.”
Salazar is thoughtful about the experiences and opportunities at Rice that have helped to define her professional goals and personal outlook. “As a younger student, I thought schools like Rice were unattainable. Even if I could gain acceptance, I thought that the tuition would be a hardship for my family. At the time I applied to Rice, I knew that I wouldn’t be eligible for financial aid because I came from a middle-class family — we were in that in-between space, but I was fortunate to receive scholarship support.”
“The opportunities I’ve been given at Rice have definitely changed my life and my future, and The Rice Investment is making this great education available to so many more deserving students,” Salazar says. “I’m incredibly thankful to the donors who made my scholarship possible, and I hope to one day be able to give as generously as they have.”
A rising senior, Salazar, who continues to work in the Mikos Lab, plans to attend medical school after graduation to study neurology.