Bioengineering Education and Experiences for a Career in Cancer Research

Luke DeMarco, E’24, bioengineering, is interested in a career in cancer research. He’s had two co-ops in the area of immunotherapy and cancer research, including at biotech startup Catamaran Bio and at Northeastern conducting research in a faculty member’s lab. He also went on a Dialogue of Civilizations to Italy and has applied for a Fulbright Scholarship to conduct research in Germany.

With an oncology nurse as his mother, Luke DeMarco, E’24, bioengineering, has always had cancer research as an interest and goal. Bioengineering caught his attention because of the logical step-by-step approach that engineering takes toward problem solving. He says, “I thought it would be the best route to take to reach that career goal.”

DeMarco mentions Experimental Systems and Synthetic Bioengineering, a hands-on lab-driven class, as a favorite. He says, “We learned methods of engineering bacterial DNA to produce different physiological effects, like making them glow different colors. We got to design the DNA plasmids ourselves. It was very much a trial-and-error experience and very fun.”

On his first co-op, at biotech startup Catamaran Bio, DeMarco gained exposure to the drug development process. “I got to shadow people editing the drug product to make it more efficient or find new targets. That’s where I learned most of my hands-on lab skills.” He mentions Northeastern’s prime Boston position for bioengineering co-ops. “One of the best things about Northeastern is its proximity to the multitude of small biotech companies sprouting up in Boston. It’s a big opportunity to work on projects that will actually impact patients.”

An elective class, Immunotherapies of Cancer, provided an overview of immunology that solely focused on his primary interest. His professor for the class, Michail Sitkovsky, suggested DeMarco join his lab for his second co-op. Sitkovsky’s lab focuses on how oxygen tension modulates the immune system and how this understanding can be leveraged to make better immunotherapies for patients. His co-op with Catamaran helped lay groundwork for the lab co-op. “Catamaran was editing one type of immune cell to specifically target cancer; my project at the Sitkovsky Lab is looking at the same cell under differing oxygen levels.”

DeMarco is glad that Northeastern has allowed him to pursue opportunities in immunotherapy and cancer research. “There’s space to build your own path and interests, [and] even when Northeastern doesn’t have a specific course, you can always find a co-op.” Outside of his research and classes, DeMarco is the co-president of the Studio Art Club. “I’ve always been interested in art. Through the club, we’re able to provide students with art supplies to make their own artworks, anything from paintings to clay sculptures.”

He also has an interest in history. As part of a Northeastern Dialogue of Civilizations program in Italy, he learned about engineering in the context of Italy’s history, going to museums, exploring the relationship between the U.S. and Italy in literature, and touring the Lamborghini car factory. Dialogue of Civilizations programs are faculty-led programs offered during either the summer after a student’s first or second year. They focus on critical issues facing society at both the local and global levels. Students spend 30 days abroad with a faculty leader from Northeastern to learn about a specific topic or course subject on location, ideal for students looking for a short-term international experience. “We journaled a lot. I got to explore a country I might not have without the Dialogue [of Civilizations] system. It’s nice to have electives different from bioengineering. I met students I’m still friends with now.”

DeMarco plans to go abroad after graduation as well. He says, “I’m applying for a Fulbright Award to do research in Germany. Northeastern was helpful in applying to that, hosting writing workshops, and giving us advice on structuring our essays-. Whether or not I get the Fulbright, I’ll apply to PhD programs to continue in the research direction I’ve pursued at Northeastern.”

Related Departments:Bioengineering