News & Events

Meet CUNY Undergraduate Researchers – Julio Alvarez

September 12, 2011

How do Osteoblasts become Osteocytes: Creating an in vitro model

Julio Alvarez is a biophysics major entering his senior year at Hunter College. During the 10-week C-SURP he worked in Professor Mitchell B. Schaffler’s biomedical engineering lab at CCNY. His project examined the development of bone cells. Osteoblasts are the cells that form bone; they secrete the organic matrix of bone and regulate mineralization. Osteocytes are osteoblasts that have become embedded in the bone matrix. Osteoblasts and osteocytes are shaped differently, however, the mechanisms controlling this difference in shape and appearance are unknown. Julio’s project tested the hypothesis that the physical properties of different substrates (the media on which the cells were grown) could impact the growth and differentiation of bone cells.

Julio found his experience in Dr. Schaffler’s lab to be challenging, rewarding, and fun; he also “learned a ridiculous amount of bone cell biology, physiology, and mechanics.” He expressed a sense of pride and satisfaction when he said the experience was like “jumping on a moving bus.” Julio credits his mentors with giving him the opportunity to think like a scientist: “they wanted me to use the tools I had and think critically and logically, instead of just being handed the answer and told how to do things.” Dr. Schaffler reported back that Julio had been a great addition to his lab and that he has offered him the opportunity to stay on with the project during the upcoming academic year. Julio is still uncertain where he wants his education and training to lead after graduation, but he is considering pursuing the Mount Sinai Post-Baccalaureate Research Education Program.