Learning how to grow cells in biomaterial scaffolds at the University of Colorado Boulder – By William Skinner

After a year of CDT-ISM training in the field of engineering, and with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, the final step to teeing up my PhD, which aims to detect chemical changes in the cellular environment using Raman spectroscopy, was gaining cell culture experience.

In January 2019 I joined the Anseth research group at the University of Colorado in Boulder, a world leading group in the field of biomaterial scaffolds for cell culture. The goal of my three month stay was to gain experience in the culture of cells in bespoke biocompatible gels, which provide cells with an environment more akin to our body than the typical petri dish. Additionally, I was to investigate how best to incorporate the sensors which my group in Edinburgh, the Campbell group, had previously designed and tested in more conventional cell culture. During my visit I gained unparalleled training in a field which at the start of my PhD seemed extremely daunting. Over these three months Anseth group members helped develop my cell culture technique and plan a research trajectory for the coming year. By the end of the visit we were confident that the sensors could be incorporated into the cell culture platform and that I had the skills to replicate and expand on this work in Edinburgh as a major chapter in my PhD thesis.

My visit to the University of Colorado was also an amazing insight into how different labs operate. Going from my research group of three PhD students in Edinburgh to one of four postdocs and eighteen PhD students in Boulder was a huge change in research environment. Experiencing the pros and cons of both systems has certainly influenced my development as a researcher. I found that, upon my return to Edinburgh, I was incorporating some of the positive and productive aspects of research life in Boulder into my work in Edinburgh. Coupled with this was a new found confidence in a field which 3 months prior was alien to me. I would strongly encourage fellow CDT-ISM members to take advantage of funding opportunities to develop new skills and experience new research environments at other institutions. A huge thank you to Prof Kristi Anseth and her research group, especially Andrea and Megan, for being so welcoming and the CDT-ISM for funding the research visit.