We are conducting paralysis experiments where we inject developing embryos with chemicals that will cause rigid or flaccid paralysis, and then we can use histology methods to see how this affects the developing tendons.

Fischell Department of Bioengineering (BIOE) junior Lizzie Kinnard was exposed to medicine from a young age – growing up as the daughter of an orthopedic surgeon and a nurse in Olney, Md. However she cites a skiing accident as her call to study science.

“My main sport growing up was ski racing, and during my junior year of high school I had a bad crash while training and ended up fracturing my tibia and injuring my knee,” Kinnard explains. “This injury is what sparked my interest in specifically pursuing a career related to sports medicine. I had been an athlete growing up and played field hockey and lacrosse in high school in addition to ski racing. However, I never truly realized how much I took my healthy body for granted until I was unable to continue pushing it to its physical limits.””

In high school, Kinnard fostered a keen interest in biology, mathematics, and physics coursework. She sought a college major which combined these fields, and settled on bioengineering. “I realized that I wanted to use this knowledge to improve people’s health and quality of life so that they can continue pursuing the activities they love,” she says. 

Kinnard's older brother attended the University of Maryland, and Lizzie enjoyed attending football games and other events on campus. “I liked that the University of Maryland was a big school with lots of opportunities, however I loved how the bioengineering department did an amazing job making such a large school feel smaller and more close-knit,” she explains. “I also love that the A. James Clark School of Engineering required BIOE students to take the same pre-reqs with the other engineering programs so that we could become knowledgeable in multiple different subjects like chemistry and calculus. We also have the flexibility to specialize in different tracks. As a pre-med student, I felt like the BIOE curriculum allowed me enough flexibility to take all of my medical school prerequisites while also giving me a formal bioengineering education since a lot of the subjects overlapped."

Now, Kinnard is a BIOE junior focusing on the Pre-Health Professions and Biotechnology and Therapeutics Engineering tracks. Her favorite course thus far is BIOE340 (Modeling Physiological Systems and Lab), where she and her peers design these structures using physics and calculus. “I think this class does an outstanding job of bringing together all of the seemingly discrete engineering courses we take and showing how knowledge in multiple different subjects is necessary for a deep understanding of biological systems,” she explains. “For example, instead of just memorizing the cardiac cycle, I am also calculating the work output of the heart and learning about the different diseases associated with abnormalities in the numbers.”

At the end of summer 2020, Lizzie joined the Kuo Lab as an undergraduate researcher. BIOE Associate Professor Catherine Kuo’s research characterizes structure-property relationships of embryonic tendons during development to identify key regulators of tendon formation that may serve as therapeutic targets to enhance adult tendon regeneration. The lab’s overarching goal is to better understand the structure-property relationships of tendons during embryonic development, which could be used to improve therapeutics involving adult tendon regeneration. Kinnard and fellow Kuo Lab undergraduate researcher Emily Leo’s  postdoctoral mentor in the lab –  Dr. Stefanie Korntner – both study craniofacial tendons using chicken embryo models.

“Since I am specifically interested in orthopedics and sports medicine, this type of musculoskeletal research really appealed to me,” says Kinnard. “Stefanie’s project that I am working on is specifically looking at the development of cranial and facial tendons in the chick embryo. Currently, there is little known about how cranial and facial tendons develop compared to axial/trunk and limb tendon development. We are conducting paralysis experiments where we inject developing embryos with chemicals that will cause rigid or flaccid paralysis, and then we can use histology methods to see how this affects the developing tendons.”

Outside of her research in the Kuo Lab, Kinnard was also heavily involved in UMD’s First-Year Research and Innovation Program (FIRE) - a three-semester program which places freshmen into labs so they can gain hands-on research experience. “I did research in the Transgenerational Brain Initiative Lab starting the spring of my freshman year, and I was a summer scholar and continued work in the lab in the summer of 2019,” says Kinnard. “Our team specifically researches the transgenerational effects of RNA interference in the organism C. Elegans. I worked on cloning a gene during my time in this lab in addition to projects related to deleting genes from the C. Elegans germline using CRISPR/Cas-9.” Kinnard was later named a peer mentor for the organization. She is also a tutor in the Maryland Math Program, and she tutors local elementary school students twice a week via Zoom.  She is involved in the University Honors program, Delta Phi Epsilon, and the Research, Instruction, and Service in Engineering (RISE) Leadership Academy

“Skiing is definitely my biggest passion outside of bioengineering, and ski racing is an experience that has had an incredible impact on my life,” says Kinnard.”During my sophomore year, I co-founded the UMD’s ski racing team (Maryland Ski Team) and I am now serving as its president. We were able to fundraise enough money last year to get the team started. No ski racing experience is necessary to join the team (only skiing experience) and I was able to give people who had never raced the opportunity to try it. We compete against other schools such as the U.S. Naval Academy, Penn State, West Virginia, and Pitt at local ski mountains. During our debut season, our women’s team qualified for U.S. Collegiate Ski & Snowboard Association Nationals.”

Throughout college, Kinnard has spent time shadowing (mainly orthopedic) doctors, learning about common pathologies that surgeons treat. These experiences motivated Kinnard to join the Kuo Lab and become involved in research that has potential to improve sports medicine treatments. “The Kuo Lab places a strong emphasis on actively learning about the different kinds of tendon injuries doctors treat so that our research can have a meaningful impact,” Kinnard explains. “I think that understanding the technical engineering design of different therapeutics is incredibly valuable as an aspiring physician and will allow me to better help patients overcome musculoskeletal pathologies and achieve the best quality of life possible.”

After earning her B.S. in Bioengineering, Kinnard plans bringing her critical thinking and problem-solving skills to medical school. “I hope to apply my experiences in bioengineering to bridging the gap between the research that is going on in bioengineering labs and how doctors are treating patients in clinical settings,” Kinnard says.