Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Grad Isabella Cano taps internships to build biomed career

Grad Isabella Cano taps internships to build biomed career


MAY 10, 2022 — Before Isabella Cano joined UTSA in 2018 as a first-year student, she knew the medical field she wanted to pursue would involve science and math.

Then Cano discovered biomedical engineering.

“I came across biomedical engineering about a year before I graduated high school and it just seemed like the perfect marriage between engineering and the medical field,” Cano said.

Not long after choosing her major, Cano knew UTSA was where she wanted to pursue her degree.

“My goal in life is just to innovate these products and be able to help improve the quality of life for those around me.”

I ended up at UTSA because my family, throughout my life, used to take weekend trips to San Antonio and we really liked the city,” Cano said. “I really liked the diversity and culture of it, so when I found out about UTSA and toured the campus, I saw that that same diversity was reflected on the campus.”

Since becoming a part of the Margie and Bill Klesse College of Engineering and Integrated Design, Cano—

who is originally from Colombia, but grew up in Texas—has been a part of several innovative projects at UTSA. She has also had the opportunity to hone her professional skills at several internships.

As an undergraduate research assistant in the Mechanics of Biological Materials/Structures Laboratory, which focuses on bone mechanics, Cano has had the opportunity to conduct undergraduate research through the implementation of artificial intelligence to create computer models to predict the mechanical properties of trabecular bone. This research aids in the development of prediction technologies that will aid clinicians with prevention of disease-related failure of the tissues, such as predictive models for osteoporosis.

“For me, it was a very challenging experience, because all of my experience had been in engineering design work, such as designing innovative medical devices through 3D modeling software,” she said. “I had not had any experience with the programming side of things. That was something I had to learn. I had never taken a class to teach me how to use the software required in my areas of research. My mentor, Pengwei Xiao, provided a lot of resources, which helped me better understand.”

When Cano was not working in the lab, she also was helping design medical devices at her internship with Central Texas Veterans Affairs and expanding her knowledge in systolic heart disease. During her internship, Cano learned how to analyze echocardiograms and better understand the anatomy of the heart.

“I was able to take what I learned and implement my engineering background and understand how imaging modalities could help continue this field and progress it,” she said. “I also got to do a little bit of design work as well. I designed a 360-degree cell stretching device to examine cells under a microscope. I was able to model it and start a patent of it through the VA.”

At her most recent internship, at Vascular Perfusion Solutions, Cano implemented her skills and knowledge to further develop current heart transplant technologies.

“We have an organ preservation device we’re still trying to get approved by the FDA. At this internship we do a lot of device testing,” Cano said. “We do experiments where we recover an organ from an animal, preserve in the device for a time period, and test it to check its viability after preservation. The main organs we use are hearts, so during preservation we monitor pressure, flow, temperature, and vascular resistance. After preservation, we test the hearts using devices to simulate the body to check how well the organ was preserved. We look at how well the heart performs after preservation based on contractility, vascular resistance, pressure changes and oxygen consumption.

Cano’s internships are representative of the UTSA Classroom to Career Initiative, which enables students to participate in experiential learning opportunities including internships, service learning, undergraduate research and study abroad to gain the hard and soft skills in demand by employers. As Cano learned, these programs provide students with a greater understanding of the marketable skills needed in the workplace. They’re also particularly important in linking classroom success to life after graduation for historically underserved populations.

Cano credits her work in the laboratories for helping her grow as an individual.

“People hear a lot that engineers are not people persons, but I think all these roles have allowed me to be able to grow in myself and grow this confidence,” Cano said. “When I started my freshman year, I was very shy and a little bit more reserved. But I have gone through my four years and have more confidence to speak to someone.”

Cano adds that UTSA’s available opportunities on campus also contributed to her growth. During her time at UTSA, she served as an ambassador for Klesse College—participating in community outreach to various local high schools in San Antonio. 

“This role has been great in learning how to be a role model and team leader. I get to go to events and interact with high school students,” Cano said. “I get to help them with their robotics projects. I get to participate in events where I judge the projects they have been working on and motivate them to continue even if they do not win a prize.”

Cano is also a member of student groups as Quality of Life Plus and the Biomedical Engineering Society.

Since her sophomore year, Cano has also served as a resident assistant (RA) on campus.

“This role is one of the best things I’ve ever done. It’s helped me with building relationships and keeping these connections,” she said. “This role also helped me with time management. This past year I did the internship while still working the RA job and still taking on a full course load. Time management is knowing what to do and when to do it. A lot of times, it was just prioritizing what needs to be done.”

Regardless of the job Cano lands after graduation, she just hopes she can make a difference.

“I do know I want to be in medical devices, wherever that may be. My goal in life is just to innovate these products and be able to help improve the quality of life for those around me, especially those in my community,” Cano said. “Medical devices can be life changing for many people, so I want to be able to impact others by the work I do.”

Valerie Bustamante Johnson

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of The University of Texas at San Antonio.

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University of Texas at San Antonio receives ‘transformational’ $40M gift

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