Meet Sandra Stangeland-Molo

I’m a 4th year PhD candidate in the Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering at UNC Chapel Hill and NC State. My PI is Dr. Jacqueline Cole and we study orthopaedic biomechanics with a focus on musculoskeletal deformities and disease. In my free time I enjoy reading, going to breweries, and just exploring new places. I’m also very active in STEM outreach and work with different organizations to make science more accessible to the public, particularly K-12 students. I would like to pursue a translational research career in industry and continue to work towards improving public health!

What instruments are you using for your research and why do you like them?

The instrument that I use most often is the Verios FE SEM. I’m a very visual person so I love imaging in general but this SEM produces such good images. I’m always amazed at what I see. I’ve also used the Zeiss nano-CT and that’s also such a cool instrument. I love the 3D reconstruction images and videos that you can make that allows you to see your sample in such detail. I work with porous materials so it’s fun to see the interconnected porosity that I’m able produce.

What have you been researching and how is it impacting the community?

I study the changes to bone and vasculature (blood vessels) following ischemic stroke, a leading cause of death and long-term disability. In addition to cognitive and motor impairments, bone loss has been seen in a number of individuals post-stroke. Why this happens no one has really figured out. I look at bone and vascular changes in both in vivo (mouse) and in vitro (microdevice) platforms. The work that I’ve really focused on is developing an in vitro microdevice platform to study bone cell and vessel cell interactions directly, which is challenging to do in animals. I recreate the 3D bone and vascular environment and look at the cell-cell signals in both the normal and inflammatory post-stroke environment. We hope to get a better understanding of the events that orchestrate bone loss after stroke to create more targeted treatment strategies.

My research aims to benefit stroke survivors, a large population that is expected to increase as the aging population increases. Stroke-related bone loss increases bone fragility. This is particularly concerning in the aging population, as falls and osteoporosis are fairly common. This in combination with additional bone loss leaves these individuals 4 times more likely to fracture a bone and be hospitalized. I hope to identify the cell signaling events that initiate bone loss so that we can use or create therapeutics to slow or stop bone loss.

“My research aims to benefit stroke survivors, a large population that is expected to increase as the aging population increases.”

What have you learned from your experience at AIF?

I’ve learned more about materials characterization and expanded my expertise to a different SEM platform than what I’ve worked with previously. I’ve learned new ways of preparing my samples to get the most accurate structural imaging. I’ve also become more comfortable talking to staff about how to evaluate my materials using available tools at AIF. 

Best thing about AIF in 5 words or less? 

100% the staff

Is there a staff member at AIF that has helped you?

Chuck Mooney! The man is a saint and a joy to work with!

3D reconstruction of a mineralized bone scaffold used in bone microdevices to support cells. The white areas indicate the scaffold while the darker brown areas indicate pores. The image was created using reconstructions (Dragonfly) of Zeiss nano-CT image data. Data acquisition and image processing courtesy of Ruksana Baby.