Brooke McGirr, a second-year Ph.D. candidate in the University of Virginia’s Department of Chemical Engineering, has been selected as a trainee on the Cancer Training Grant by its executive committee.

The grant, which is entering its 42nd year of support by the National Cancer Institute, is one of the longest-funded training grants in the UVA School of Medicine. It will provide funds to support McGirr’s stipend, health insurance, tuition and fees.

Her training will include several courses, such as Fundamentals in Cancer Biology, Cancer Signaling and Therapeutics and Advanced Topics in Cancer. She also will attend Cancer Center seminars and the Cancer Journal Club, in addition to participating in faculty- and student-organized cancer training program activities, including Relay for Life.

McGirr is following a relatively untrodden path: Although several biomedical engineering graduate students have been selected for the training grant, she is the first from chemical engineering, said Amy Bouton, principal investigator of the training grant and associate dean of Graduate and Medical Scientist Programs and the Harrison Distinguished Teaching Professor in Microbiology, Immunology and Cancer. It’s a good fit, Bouton said, especially given McGirr’s research and the value the program places on interdisciplinary interactions.

“We found Brooke to be a very strong student with a research project that is clearly focused in cancer biology. We expect that her expertise as an engineer will greatly complement the expertise of our other trainees, who typically train in disciplines within the biological sciences – cell biology, biochemistry, cancer biology, immunology, etc.,” Bouton said, noting that all trainees will benefit from sharing diverse backgrounds and research interests.

McGirr is coming from a chemical engineering research program in which medical applications are a primary focus. She’s been working in Associate Professor Matt Lazzara’s lab, where researchers combine experimental and computational methods to design therapeutic approaches to cancer and other diseases.

“UVA chemical engineering conducts research to address knowledge gaps in chemical sciences to meet societal needs,” McGirr pointed out.

“Complex medical conditions such as cancer benefit from a cross-disciplinary approach,” she said. “The problem-solving skills gained through chemical engineering courses can be applied to many different areas. Specifically, a cell's signaling network parallels chemical engineering process control mechanisms. I’m looking forward to applying my experience to cancer research through my appointment.”

McGirr earned her chemical engineering with a biomolecular concentration at North Carolina State University. She also serves as secretary of the UVA Chemical Engineering Graduate Board and is a member of a historically large cohort in the department’s growing graduate program. The Chemical Engineering Department will welcome 20 graduate students this fall, setting a record for the second straight year.