Emma Gargus, a fifth-year student in the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP), collaborates with an interdisciplinary team of engineers, biologists and clinicians to answer important questions about the mechanisms of ovarian health and disease in the laboratory of Teresa Woodruff, ’89 PhD, dean of the Graduate School and director of the Women’s Health Research Institute.
Where is your hometown?
What are your research interests?
I’ve always been interested in the ways that cells interact with their microenvironments and how these interactions can result in normal tissue function or lead to disease. The overarching goal of my thesis work is to design and fabricate biomaterials for ovarian cell culture.
One project is to understand the structure, mechanical properties and biochemical constituents of the healthy, physiologic ovary and mimic those properties in an engineered material, in order to improve ovarian follicle and oocyte maturation in vitro. By developing these new methods to generate healthy, fertilizable eggs in a dish, we’ll expand the fertility options for young girls who have survived cancer but have diminished ovarian function as a side effect of their chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
My other project is to mimic the properties of an aged and polycystic ovary syndrome ovary to model and understand the mechanisms driving reproductive dysfunction in those conditions and ultimately to develop new treatments to expand the fertility options available to these women.
Why did you choose Feinberg?
When I was looking at physician-scientist programs, I wanted to find a school that would provide excellent clinical training, a collaborative research environment with expertise in biomaterials engineering and an institutional climate where I’d feel at home for the next seven to eight years. Feinberg fit the bill on all counts.
When I met current students in the program and my future classmates during interview week and Second Look, I was impressed with their enthusiasm, talent and drive — plus, you can’t beat Feinberg’s location! As an added bonus, I was impressed with the emphasis that Feinberg put on diversity and inclusion, being one of the first institutions to consider sexual orientation and gender identity as an underrepresented minority.
What has been your most rewarding experience at Feinberg?
My most rewarding experiences at Feinberg have been the opportunities I’ve had to connect to the prouder Chicago community and share my love of science and medicine with young people.
In particular, I have loved being involved with the Oncofertility Science Academyand Women’s Health Science Program, science-based educational programs for high school girls. It’s very inspiring to get to interact with and teach this new generation of learners and potential scientists, clinicians and leaders — my “sisters in science.” Science is so vital to our world and relies so heavily on public support, through government funding agencies like the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation, so it’s critical that we as scientists learn to communicate with the public, demystify what’s happening in labs and get everyone excited about all the incredible things happening in science and medicine.
What do you do in your free time?
In my free time, I play a lot of volleyball — indoor, beach and grass depending on the season. I also enjoy cooking, trying out new restaurants, dancing and competing at trivia with my friends from the lab.
What are your plans after graduation?
After graduating from the MSTP, I will be doing a residency. At this point, I'm leaning towards OB/GYN, probably with a focus on reproductive endocrinology and infertility (REI). Since I'm currently working on bioengineering solutions for female infertility, REI would be a great field where my research interests could be applied to improve patient care.