Alumni Profiles

Pamela Basto, BS '06

From UT Austin to Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology and Stanford University

Fatefully selecting biomedical engineering on her first week of orientation at UT Austin in 2002, Pamela Basto always knew she wanted to have a career where she could design a product that directly helped people. Combining her love for people and engineering, biomedical engineering seemed like the right choice.

Basto Pamela

     Pamela Basto

The Department of Biomedical Engineering, being its inaugural year, offered students a variety of programs that helped cross-pollinate multiple disciplines. Pamela participated in a summer internship program in Houston, co-run by Professor Rebecca Richards-Kortum (currently at Rice University) and Dr. Michele Follen—where 12 students participated in an 80-hour course in clinical anatomy in combination with 8 weeks of clinical rotations at the Texas Medical Center, along with business, ethics, and law classes. Additionally, the program encompassed a full clinical research program and opened Pamela's eyes to the concept and practice of translating basic science.

As an undergraduate, Basto conducted research with Dr. Wolfgang Frey for 3 years. They worked on a project to engineer a microfluidic device that studied interactions of adhesions by growing a culture of cells on the surface and running soluble factors to examine its effects on cell to cell interactions to further elucidate pathological mechanisms.

"Dr. Frey's passion for science was inspiring," she says. "Working in his lab combined with the summer internship program helped me see how collaboration is necessary in order to make technology accessible and usable in practice."

Basto took Frey's device to the summer internship program and worked with Dr. Walter Hittelman at MD Anderson Cancer Center and Dr. Joel Morrisett at Methodist Hospital. There she saw how collaborations between researchers and medical doctors could enhance technology to be more applicable in a clinical setting.

After a life changing chat with Dr. Richards-Kortum, Basto realized that she wanted to pursue academia and collaborate with physicians. She attended Harvard–MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology to obtain her doctorate in medical engineering and medical physics.

While at Harvard-MIT, she conducted her thesis under Professor Robert Langer, a leader in the field of biotechnology. Professor Nicholas Peppas introduced Basto to Dr. Langer after he learned of her undergraduate research and a subsequent National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship she received to continue her studies.

"I wouldn't have thought about joining Professor Langer's lab had Professor Peppas not introduced me," she says. "Additionally, I wouldn't have known about the NSF Fellowship, unless I had seen John Slater in Frey's lab applying for it."

Basto credits her UT experience—her senior design and programming classes, the examples set forth by graduate students, Professors Frey, Richards-Kortum, Follen, Emelianov, and Roy—with helping her on her way to a doctorate.

"UT has the people required for a successful department: inspiring faculty, top-notch staff, and priceless students. We challenge each other to work harder, ask the right questions, and to become better, more well-rounded versions of ourselves. Coming from UT Austin, I have a lifelong peer support network, we have a bond stronger than most," she says.

Currently a first year medical student at Stanford University, she sees her training at Harvard-MIT as invaluable. "Working in Langer's lab and being at Harvard-MIT raised the gold standard of basic science and clinical research for me," she says. "Within my graduate career, I was able to see our work in next-generation vaccines go beyond publications. Our team work lead to issued patents, a biotech start-up, and subsequently an optimized formulation into Phase 1 clinical trials. The rapid launch to clinics would not have been possible without the creative genius and technical know-how of my faculty advisors."

Her future goals are to bridge the gap between science and the clinic. She would like to treat patients and bring technologies from the bench to bedside by leading clinical trials. "Having spent a semester observing the weekly editorial review process of the New England Journal of Medicine at HMS and now diving into clinical work at Stanford prepares me for this route in helping patients."

"One thing my education has revealed, is that a new metric to which research and innovative technology should be measured against, is how efficiently new knowledge gets disseminated to the rest of academia and integrated towards benefitting people. We are all on the same team."

bme alumni at wedding

Pamela Basto recently reconnected with other BME alumni at former classmate Harsha Mittakanti's wedding in March 2014 for an impromptu reunion. Pictured from left to right: Kunal Shah (BS '06), Mae Sattam (BS '07), Jonathan Tran (BS '09), Pamela Basto (BS '06), Jonathan Irwin (non BME), Justin Lo (BS '06), Bryan Pham (BS '06), Amit Mehta (BS '06), Harsha Mittakanti (BS '06), Carmen Rios (BS '06), Justin Choi (BS '06), Irvin Sulapas (BS '06), Zong Law (BS '06), David Cho (BS '06), and Christopher Jew (BS '06).