Master’s thesis experience at Heidelberg University

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Krupansh Desai. Image: private

I was particularly fascinated by the lecture on Biomaterials for Cancer Research during the third semester of the Elite Master’s Programme “Advanced Materials and Processes” (MAP). This episode of my life motivated me to work on a similar topic in my Master’s thesis. Taking the advantage of the possibility to do an external Master’s thesis, I got  the opportunity to carry it out in the research group of Prof. Christine Selhuber at Heidelberg University, Germany. This work was jointly supervised by Prof. Aldo R. Boccaccini, Head  of Institute of Biomaterials at FAU.

The aim of this research project was to decipher the role of ECM stiffening in triggering intratumor heterogeneity using 3D tumor-like scaffolds. My research activities primarily revolved around the following:

  • Optimisation of encapsulation parameters (i.e. frequency, electrode, voltage, flow rate) for obtaining alginate gelatin 3D microbeads of spherical shape and desired size.
  • Encapsulation of triple-negative breast cancer cells (MDA-MB-231 cell line) in these 3D tumor-like stiff environments to study intratumor heterogeneity in vitro.
  • Investigation of the encapsulated cells for morphological (i.e. cell morphometry), cytotoxicological, and biomechanical (single-cell stiffness, and single-cell traction force measurement) intratumor heterogeneity.

Apart from the scientific learning, I enjoyed the renaissance architecture of Heidelberg Castle and a picturesque view of the city from Philosophenweg. During my stay there, I also got the opportunity to participate in my first ever group retreat in Trifels (in Rheinland-Pfalz) for two days. It was indeed a fun experience. The retreat involved scientific talks, a group hike to Trifels Castle, and playing indoor games installed at Jugendstilhotel Trifels. Furthermore, we had regular barbeques in the spring to socialize and get to know each other as this was completely lacking during the COVID pandemic. As a sweet gesture, the PhD students and postdocs from our group helped me with my PhD applications and job interviews.

In a nutshell, if you like living in historically vibrant cities and at the same time want to contribute to cancer research and help mankind, this research group is the perfect place for you!

By MAP student Krupansh Desai (matriculation group 2019)