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University of Dayton biologist awarded American Association of University Women fellowship for research on cancer migration

By Allison Brace ’22

The American Association of University Women awarded Loan Bui, visiting assistant professor of biology, a $29,680 fellowship to help further her research at the University of Dayton on cures for diseases such as cancer.  

Bui plans to use the grant to build her laboratory at the University and publish biomedical engineering research papers based on findings in her lab. Her goal is to achieve a tenure-track professorship.

Bui joined the University faculty in fall 2020 and immediately started working with UD biology faculty and programs such as the ISE Summer CoRPs to provide students in her lab with experiential learning opportunities and hands-on research in the field.

Bui and her students started developing a three-dimensional microfluidic platform to study breast cancer invasion and target breast cancer metastasis. Microfluidic devices contain chambers and micron-scale tunnels through which fluids can be confined. Bui has a background in biomedical engineering, which she said is a cross-link between the biological sciences and engineering technology. 

Bui and her students are also looking at ways to help accelerate treatment of various cancers. 

“I had only been at the University of Dayton for four months when applying for the fellowship,” Bui said. “It was the students in my lab who really inspired me to apply to this fellowship. Three of the four highly motivated undergraduates initially working in my lab are women, which really empowered me to apply for a fellowship focused on supporting women in education and equity.” 

The American Association of University Women (AAUW) empowers women and girls through research, education and advocacy. The grant program is intended to help women scientists overcome persistent gender stereotypes and bias barriers in their fields by funding research projects that will culminate in scholarly publications.

For the 2021–22 academic year, AAUW awarded $5 million through its fellowships and grants programs to 260 scholars, as well as to community projects and programs that promote education and equity for women and girls.

“Although women make up almost half of biomedical students, they remain underrepresented leaders in medical and research-intensive institutions,” Bui said. “By obtaining a full professorship, I hope to increase the number of women leaders in the field and address this diversity gap by educating and mentoring young female students to succeed in their academic performance and post-graduate professions.”

As an international student who moved to the U.S. from Vietnam for college, Bui said she received lots of help and support from others in obtaining research opportunities. She hopes to offer the same help to the students in her lab.

Bui’s lab is open to students from all backgrounds interested in her research area. The lab began with four undergraduates and has since grown to seven students. Current lab members include health sciences, pre-medicine and biochemistry majors. 

“This fellowship has helped me a lot in supporting student research,” Bui said. “In order to support students, you need not only the lab but also the materials for the experiment, as well as equipment and funding to publish the findings. Having the funding to be able to publish our research strongly enhances the students’ performance and opens the door to other positive opportunities for their future careers.”

Students have the opportunity to customize their experience by choosing the type of cancer they are interested in studying. Bui is supporting student research on brain, breast and pancreatic cancer cells and immune cells. 

“Dr. Bui is an amazing mentor and teacher,” said Taylor Reeg, a senior health science major from Columbus, Ohio. “My time in her lab was incredibly impactful on my experience here at UD and I am so grateful for everything she taught me. Not only did I learn many new lab techniques and terminology by working in her cancer metastasis lab, but she also taught me many life skills. Her passion for her work is undeniable and it creates a truly positive learning environment.”

Laura Bender, a pre-medicine major from Northfield, Ohio, is leading a brain cancer migration research project as a member of Bui’s lab.

“As we prepare to submit an article for a peer-reviewed publication, I am reminded of how blessed I am to have my name on that work as an undergraduate student, which I would not have been able to do without the support and trust of Dr. Bui,” Bender said. “It is through her kindness and patience that I can call myself one of science's pioneers both in our lab and in the field of research.”

Bui received her doctoral degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington in 2017. She finished her postdoctoral training at the University of Notre Dame in 2020.

She is grateful for the resources and research support she has received from Karolyn Hansen, associate professor and UD Department of Biology chair, and Doug Daniels, Integrative Science and Engineering Center executive director. 

“I can already see how supportive the Dayton community is and how motivated the students are to learn,” Bui said. “I really want to use this opportunity to give students valuable experiences here and the students are eager for the opportunity to work with faculty to get experiential learning experiences, so the University of Dayton is a really great place for me to be starting my career.” 

For more information, visit the Department of Biology website.

Photo (from left to right): Laura Bender, Elizabeth Avera, Dr. Loan Bui, Sarah Lamb and Mackenzie Martin. 

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