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Katie Cabral

Ph.D. Candidate, UC Berkeley

And - Podcaster

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Unexpected results can lead to great new projects.

What do you do?

I am a bioengineer who studies how cells organize themselves into larger structures like tissues and organs. Normally, this process happens in embryos, but it is also possible to encourage cells to self-organize in a Petri dish. The long-term goal of my field is to be able to create synthetic organs that are made from human cells, but that were grown in the lab instead of inside a body. These synthetic organs could then be used to replace damaged organs. 

One major challenge in the field right now is how to most efficiently grow blood vessels within these synthetic organs. I am specifically researching how cells can organize themselves into blood vessels, and how the conditions in which the cells are placed influences their ability to become blood vessels.

Why did you choose this field?

I initially chose this field because it sounded like science fiction. Growing human organs in labs seemed like the cutting-edge medicine of the future. But since the field isn’t at the level of whole organs yet, I ended up finding new aspects of the field to be excited about. 

One thing that I fell in love with was the way that cells move under the microscope. It’s exciting to set up an experiment and then watch how the cells interact with each other and move around over time. I had a fantastic AP biology teacher, Mr. Eddy. He was passionate about science and shared that passion with his students. Not only did I learn a ton about biology from him, but he instilled a sense of curiosity that has driven my entire science career.

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

Getting into a top Ph.D. program was a major achievement. In high school, I never considered going to graduate school.

Why do you love working in STEM?

I look forward to doing new experiments and collecting data. The data might support the hypothesis you already made. But it’s even more exciting (though confusing) when you get an unexpected result and have to figure out what it means. Unexpected results can lead to great new projects.

Best advice for next generation?

Imposter syndrome does happen, but don’t let it get you down. You do belong in science!

Inspo quote / fun fact

In my free time, I work on a science podcast called Carry the One Radio. Podcasting lets me learn about new topics and then share what I’ve learned with hundreds of listeners.