PhD Student (afern042@fiu.edu)

Educational History

Ph.D. candidate, Biomedical Engineering, FIU, expected 2011

Doctor of Physical Therapy (post-professional DPT), NSU, 2010

M.S. in Physical Therapy, FIU, 2002

B.S. in Biomedical Engineering, FIU, 2007.

B.S. in Health Sciences, Physical Therapy Track, FIU, 2001.

Diploma in Physical Therapy, University of Oviedo (Spain), 1997.

Graduate Research Assistant
Funded by NIH/NIGMS MBRS-RISE 2007-present (NIH/NIGMS R25 GM06134)

Ph.D. Dissertation topic: Cardiotoxicity assessment of new chemotherapy approaches and development of a fluorescent indicator dilution method to study cardiac capillary permeability. The overall aim of this project is to develop and test new chemotherapeutic agents that cause fewer side effects than currently available treatments. Specifically, we are interested in reducing thecardiotoxicity of chemotherapy drugs because heart dysfunction after chemotherapy is one of the most disabling and life-threatening long term side effect in cancer patients. As part of my dissertation, I am responsible for in vivo tumor models and testing of chemotherapy drugs. I have worked on the development of a fluorescent indicator dilution method that can be used in testing drug cardiotoxicity in an isolated heart setup. This new method can be included in drug testing protocols along with common indicators of impaired heart function, such as changes in contractility measured using the isolated heart setup, or structural and functional changes measured through serial echocardiography. In a tumor-bearing rat model created by inoculation of rat breast adenocarcinoma cells (MATBIII cell line), animals treated with traditional chemotherapy show a significant increase in cardiac capillary permeability surface area product (PSP) compared with control animals as measured by our fluorescent method in the isolated rat heart setup. The changes we observed are consistent with impairments in left ventricular function detected using other measurement techniques in the same animals, such as measurements of pressures inside the left ventricle and serial echocardiography. Therefore, our indicator dilution method can complement classical methods of cardiotoxicity testing in animal models, and can be used as an additional source of information regarding cardiac tissue dysfunction after chemotherapy. We are currently working on the development and in vitro testing of a modified chemotherapy drug that targets the cell nucleus and/or cancer cells specifically. The expectation is that the new drug will be less cardiotoxic and will cause a lesser increase in capillary permeability along with smaller impairments in left ventricular function , while showing at least comparable effectiveness to traditional chemotherapy in killing cancer cells.

Projects

Cancer Therapy Combining the Modalities of Hyperthermia and  Chemotherapy; Novel Fluorescent Multiple Indicator Method to Study Changes in Cardiac Capillary Permeability with Chemotherapy; Design and Synthesis of Anthracycline Conjugates with Reduced Cardiotoxicity; Fluorescent Imaging and Biodistribution of ICG and IR820; Nanoconjugates for Combined Cancer Imaging and Therapy.

Accomplishments

Developed and validated new protocol for fluorescent indicator dilution measurements in isolated heart setups. Developed fluorescence measurement protocols for samples containing fluorescent molecules entrapped in nanoparticle systems. Participated in development of in vivo protocol for biodistribution studies of fluorescent dyes in rats, assisted with injection procedures, and assisted in optical system design for in vivo imaging. Experience with cell culture methods (including cancer cell culture, cytotoxicity assays, and fluorescent imaging of cells) as well as inoculation of cancer cells for tumor induction in rats (AT3B-1, NMU, and MATB III cell lines). Experience with characterization of fluorescent nanoconjugates.

Awards and Honors

2nd Place Best Doctoral Presentation for “Application of a fluorescent multiple indicator method to study changes in cardiac permeability with chemotherapy”. 25th Southern Biomedical Engineering Conference, Miami, FL, May 15-17, 2009.
Graduated Summa Cum Laude, B.S. in Biomedical Engineering, 2007
Outstanding Graduate in Biomedical Engineering. Fall 2006.
Outstanding General Chemistry Student at the University Park Campus, FIU. American Chemical Society, South Florida Section. April 2003.
Graduated Summa Cum Laude, B.S. in Health Sciences, 2001.
Outstanding Student Scholar Award in Physical Therapy 2000-2001. College of Health & Urban Affairs, FIU, April 2001.
“Luis Garcia Pelaez” Graduation Award: Outstanding Graduate, Physical Therapy Class of 1997.
University of Oviedo, Spain, July 1997.
Honor societies: Alpha Eta Mu Beta(Student Advisor 2010-2011, President 2009-2010, Vice President 2007-2009), Tau Beta Pi (Graduate Student Representative 2008-2010), Phi Kappa Phi, Golden Key.