Francisca Acosta didn’t always know Biomedical Engineering was for her.
“Up until I went to college, I thought I would go into medicine and be a doctor. I grew up not knowing what a Ph.D. was and I definitely didn’t know about biomedical engineering,” said Acosta who was born in El Salvador and came to Houston when she was five years old for a better life and more opportunities in the United States. Acosta was introduced to medicine by her mom who is a doctor.
“As a child, I would go to her work and I would see people who were not in the best shape go in and leave better so I liked the impact you could make,” she said.
In high school, she was drawn to physics because of a teacher who inspired her and applied to Rice University as an applied physics major.
“In college, I realized high school physics was different than college physics and I realized I wasn’t interested in a basic science degree like biology or chemistry so when a friend of mine, who was a biomedical engineering major, invited me to a seminar, I went.”
During the seminar, Acosta describes that there was a Hispanic woman, Dr. Alicia Blancas, who spoke about research on tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.
“She was one of the only Hispanic females in science that I had ever met so I was really excited to meet her,” she said. “She introduced me to Dr. Jane Grande-Allen’s lab where I worked for 3 and a half years as an undergrad.”
Towards the end of her senior year, Acosta decided to do a post-baccalaureate program at The University of Kansas (KU) to determine if research was what she wanted to do. While at KU she worked in the labs of Drs. Michael Detamore and Arghya Paul. After this experience, she felt confident that she was passionate about research and biomedical engineering.
She then applied to the joint Biomedical Engineering Ph.D. program at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UT Health San Antonio) and The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA).
“I was drawn to the joint program because of the opportunities at both campuses as well as the resources of both campuses. This program inherently embeds medicine into it. For example, I took the gross anatomy course and that probably wouldn’t have been an option if it wasn’t a joint program with the resources of the Long School of Medicine at UT Health San Antonio.”
Acosta is the Chair of the Biomedical Engineering Graduate Student Society at San Antonio (BMEGS-SA), a third-year student in the Biomedical Engineering Ph.D. program, and a MBRS-RISE Scholar.
“I like biomedical engineering because it doesn’t just incorporate all the sciences, but it also incorporates all fields of engineering. It is basically a combination of all the things I like and feel passionate about.”
As chair of BMEGS-SA, she has launched innovative events such as industry tours of InCube Laboratories, SWRI, Incell and Rochal Industries along with numerous other outreach and social events for BME graduate students.
When not organizing events for students, Acosta is in the lab of Dr. Christopher Rathbone where she is working on the development of a tissue engineered vascularized skeletal muscle model for the study of type 2 diabetes (T2D).
“If we could take cells from a person, we can develop a personalized model so we can see how different medications would affect their model without putting the patient into any harm,” she said. “There isn’t a typical day in the lab, which is what I really enjoy.”
Outside of school, Acosta enjoys spending time with her family and running and recently competed in the Rock and Roll half marathon.
This article was written by Charlotte Anthony, marketing specialist at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at UT Health San Antonio.