Marissa Miller

Marissa Miller

Ph.D., Biomedical Engineering

Title: Queuing Theory-Based Modelling of Intracellular Signaling in Initiating Immune Responses
Advisor: Dr. Tadeusz A. Wysocki

I was born and raised in Omaha, NE. During high school, I took a human anatomy and physiology course that sparked my interest in wanting to learn more about the human body and understanding how our body functions. Given my interests as well as my skills in math and science, I went to UNL to earn a degree in Biological Systems Engineering. During my undergrad, I volunteered as a research assistant at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital and was a UCARE student in Dr. Greg Bashford’s Biomedical Imaging and Biosignal Analysis (BIBA) Lab. Both of these experiences helped me apply knowledge from my science and engineering courses into real-world problems. I loved doing research and I knew I wanted to continue my education, so I applied for grad school at UNL. That’s when my future advisor reached out to me saying he had a couple projects that would utilize my biology knowledge and skills in engineering simulation software to use towards a doctoral degree in Biomedical Engineering.

My research projects use a computer modeling approach, called queuing theory, to predict cellular behavior in response to foreign pathogens like bacteria and viruses. Cells use signaling receptors on their outer surface to detect these pathogens. When a pathogen is detected, it initiates a signaling cascade, leading to the production of proteins that can help the cell combat the infection like cytokines and interferons. I use MATLAB software to breakdown the signaling cascade into individual biochemical reactions and calculate their reaction rates so we can analyze the timing and production of proteins. I published my first paper in 2020 titled “Queuing network analysis of the impact of zinc and cadmium on macrophage activation.” I currently have two other research papers submitted and in the review process for publication in scientific journals.

About halfway through my PhD studies while I was contemplating what I wanted to do after graduation, one of my committee members organized a summer fellowship with the National Strategic Research Institute (NSRI) where I could learn about chemical and biological defense research. During my fellowship, I collaborated and networked with people from organizations in the Department of Defense (DOD) that could use my knowledge and expertise in ongoing and future research projects. I attended the 2019 Chemical and Biological Defense Science & Technology Conference and gained an appreciation for the important work national laboratories do for protecting warfighters and civilians. After that conference, I knew that I wanted to make a career out of conducting biology research at a national lab.

My goal post-graduation is to work for one of the national labs or University-Affiliated Research Centers (UARCs) doing defense-related biology research and make a difference in how we prepare and combat weapons of mass destruction. It’s because of the skills I’ve obtained through my time in the Electrical and Computer Engineering department at UNL and my advisor, Dr. Tad Wysocki that have given me these opportunities and opened doors that I could not have imagined five years ago.