May 27, 2022

UCalgary student’s stem cell research paper wins national award

Biomedical engineering PhD candidate now turns her attention to two new projects
PhD student Tiffany Dang smiles after winning The Award For Best Graduate Student Paper Published in the Canadian Journal for Chemical Engineering. University of Calgary

Tiffany Dang has a passion for helping others.

The University of Calgary PhD student, who has always wanted to work in the health field, found her calling after completing her undergraduate degree in chemical engineering, with a specialization in biomedical engineering.

Her research is focused on stem-cell bioprocessing which, she says, has major implications for helping people with diseases such as diabetes and osteoarthritis by allowing scientists to fine-tune how they control the cells for safe and effective treatment.

A paper related to this topic, on which she was lead author, was recently named the 2022 winner of The Award for Best Graduate Student Paper Published in the Canadian Journal of Chemical Engineering. The paper was a collaboration between her lab and a southern California biotechnology company called PBS Biotech.

Dang’s co-authors on the award-winning paper with UCalgary connections were Dr. Breanna S. Borys, BSc (Eng)’16, PhD’22; Shivek Kanwar, BSC (Eng)’21; James Colter, BSc (Eng)’17; Tareq Hossan; Dr. Derrick E. Rancourt, PhD; Dr. Michael S. Kallos, BSc (Eng)’95, PhD’99; and, now working with PBS Biotech, Dr. Sunghoon Jung, MSc’03, PhD’09. Other co-authors included Hannah Worden, Abigail Blatchford and Brian Lee of PBS and Reno-based consultant Dr. Matthew S. Croughan, PhD.

Rising to the challenge

Dang’s article was first published by the CJCE in July 2021 — an accomplishment by its own merits.

“I was so excited when it was accepted for publication,” says the Schulich School of Engineering alumna, BSc (Eng)’20. “I considered that already a huge win because we really wanted to show how traditional (engineering) principles could be applied to a field such as stem-cell manufacturing.”

Dang admits she wasn’t expecting to win the award, as writing the paper was challenging and the reviewers asked many tough questions.

“I was completely, genuinely shocked and so excited,” she says. “I actually had to forward the email to my supervisor to confirm it because I could not believe it.”

Realizing her potential

Dang’s research paper focused on using a traditional engineering tool, computational fluid dynamics modelling, to better understand how the geometry of a vertical-wheel bioreactor affects the overall growth and behaviour of stem cells.

“One of the most significant challenges is translating laboratory-based protocols towards large-scale manufacturing to meet the demand in terms of cell numbers,” says Dang. “Although it may seem simple to translate these protocols from the bench to the bedside, there are many interplaying factors which require engineering knowledge to understand.”

Not only did the award provide validation for her paper, but Dang believes it also shows that she is on the right track when it comes to her passion.

She’s no stranger to receiving accolades, having received the Rona Hatt Chemical Engineering Leadership Award, the TENET Medical Engineering Scholarship, and the Alberta Graduate Excellence Scholarship. She says:

I think the best way to improve the health-care system is through interdisciplinary research, as it brings about innovation. It allows you to work with a wide range of experts including doctors, clinicians, stem cell biologists, and engineers in order to push the frontiers of this field.

As she studies for her candidacy exams, Dang is also working in UCalgary’s Pharmaceutical Production Research Facility, finalizing a couple of projects with hopes of publishing her findings within the next year.

She says both projects are about better understanding the interplay between biological factors and the bioreactor environment, and how that relationship affects large-scale biomanufacturing of human-induced pluripotent stem cells.

“My goal is to continue learning as much as I can from my mentors and lab mates,” Dang says. “Ultimately, I hope to use my degree to change the biomanufacturing and bioprocessing landscape in Canada and make Calgary home to many companies in this space.”

The University of Calgary’s multidisciplinary Engineering Solutions for Health: Biomedical Engineering research strategy drives innovations that are saving lives and revolutionizing health care for Canadians.  With collaborative teams focused on human mobility, health monitoring, advanced biomedical imaging, precision biodiagnostics, regenerative medicine and novel medical technologies, our researchers are transforming quality of life and continuously improving the health system.