Student Will Represent UCI in Competition

By Anna Lynn Spitzer

Supporters can log on to
starting Tuesday, May 22, and help Westerhof win a monetary
prize for professional development. The IGERT Lifechips 
Fellow is a graduate student in molecular 
biology and biochemistry.

Working at the micro- and nanoscale, graduate students in UC Irvine’s LifeChips program combine elements of biology, engineering, physical sciences and medicine to produce pioneering healthcare technologies.  The program is funded by the National Science Foundation through IGERT – its Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship program.

Next week, IGERT is sponsoring an online video and poster competition intended to use those media to help the public understand its vast array of multidisciplinary projects. 

UCI IGERT LifeChips Fellow Trisha Westerhof is representing the university in the May 22-25 competition. Her project, a platform that provides researchers the ability to characterize key cells from tumor biopsies, could lead to personalized treatment for breast cancer. 

Called a “micropallet array,” the prototype isolates, identifies and magnetically collects single-cell samples, enabling cellular analysis at the molecular level. The project utilizes biomedical engineering, cellular and molecular biology, and confocal microscopy.

Westerhof, who was nominated to represent UCI by her advisors G.P. Li, Mark Bachman and Dr. Edward Nelson, thinks the competition can achieve important goals. “I feel it is a great way to disseminate the cutting-edge research being conducted at UC Irvine to the public, as well as other IGERT programs across the country, so that we can learn from each other, discuss our findings and make connections,” she says.

“The Micropallet Array: A Novel Nanotechnology to Characterize Tumor Cellular Profiles and Enable Single Cell Analyses of Rare Tumor Cell Subsets” is one of 114 projects from 112 IGERT programs across the country entered in the competition. 

The micropallet arrays consist of microfabricated polymer pedestals, which are coated with components that help individual cells stick to them. Westerhof says the research has demonstrated that the approach can detect rare cells within a population better than conventional cell-sorting methodologies.

“Overall, the micropallet array technology provides significant benefits over existing sorting technologies,” she says, including limiting pre-analysis agitation of the cells and the capacity to recover and analyze single cells.

“The ability to further characterize and analyze these cells at the molecular level will help us better understand the biology behind cancer stem cells. These studies…have tremendous potential to be translated into clinical studies and to create personalized treatment strategies for breast cancer patients.”

This year’s poster/video competition features a public vote to decide which presenter was most effective in publicizing his/her project’s scientific knowledge to a broad audience. Viewers vote by visiting the competition site ( and “liking” a presentation on their Facebook accounts. 

Additionally, LifeChips faculty, trainees and alumni can participate in the “Community Choice” vote by logging onto their accounts at and voting.