Graduate Student Profile

Students from the top engineering programs around the world seek out Penn's Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Graduate Program for both its excellence and its broad opportunities.  Ph.D. students draw on Penn's multifaceted research environment which may include cross-disciplinary collaboration with research groups across the University, including the Medical School, Materials Science, Physics, Bioengineering, Chemistry, and many more.  The full resources of this Ivy League University together with the cultural and athletic opportunities of the City of Philadelphia make Penn CBE a prime choice to pursue a chemical and biomolecular engineering advanced degree.

Chris Furcht, Ph.D. Student, Matthew Lazzara Research Group

I am originally from Long Island, New York, and received my undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from Villanova University.  The elective courses I took in biotechnology and biochemical engineering as an undergraduate at Villanova University were a primary factor in my decision to undertake a research-oriented career in chemical engineering.  I was fascinated by the interplay between engineering and biology in these courses.  The experimental nature of research in biology has always appealed to me, but I knew I wanted a career incorporating computational aspects as well. 

I decided to attend the University of Pennsylvania for graduate school because it has an excellent chemical engineering program and a tradition of excellence in biomedical education and research.  I have already taken advantage of this by taking several graduate level biology elective courses outside of the chemical engineering program which have strengthened my understanding of the underlying concepts related to my research. In addition, the heavy emphasis on biomedical research at the University of Pennsylvania allows for ample opportunity for research collaboration with research groups within the Schools of Engineering and Medicine.  There is also a great sense of community within the graduate program of chemical engineering. There are ample opportunities to connect with other students outside of a class or research setting, through outings around the city of Philadelphia, participation in intramural sports, and various other events.

My research is focused on exploring differences in signaling between mutant and wild-type epidermal growth factor receptor(EGFR)-expressing lung cancer cells.  A number of cancer-therapeutic molecules have been designed to inhibit the activation of EGFR, but only a small percentage of patients treated with these inhibitors respond favorably.  Response to inhibitor is mostly limited to patients whose tumors carry activation mutations of EGFR, so a better understanding of the differences between cells expressing wild-type or mutant EGFR is essential for developing new treatment options for non-responders.  I am particularly interested in determining the functional importance of the cytoplasmic protein tyrosine phosphatase Shp2 in different populations of lung cancer cells.  Along with elucidation of the underlying mechanisms of lung cancer, the results of this work may also point to inhibition of Shp2 in certain cancers as a new strategy for combination therapies with EGFR inhibitors.