The world turned upside down for Steven Toro, Ph.D., just before he attended his first ABRCMS meeting in November 2017 in Phoenix.
Two months prior, Toro was an undergraduate student working toward his bachelor’s degree in biology at the University of Puerto Rico when Hurricane Maria hit the island. When he left to attend ABRCMS, the island was still without electricity. It would be almost a year before power was fully restored in Puerto Rico.
“Participating in ABRCMS was a powerful motivator to finish my bachelor’s degree,” said Toro, now a graduate research assistant at UConn Health. “I knew that achieving that goal could help me in the future to be in a better financial position to help my family and myself in the next hurricane.”
Communication is an essential skill for a scientist, Toro said, and his participation in ABRCMS has helped him develop it. He credits the conference with giving him the confidence to set aside his fear and present his research in English (his first language is Spanish). That confidence also helped him overcome his initial reluctance to network and socialize at the conference.
“The number of connections and doors we can open by just being capable of talking to people at a conference is so valuable,” Toro said.
He also has benefited from ABRCMS’ access to graduate school fee waivers, which can be a prohibitive expense for many students.
“When applying for graduate school, having fee waivers is a game changer,” he said.
Toro’s area of research is biomedical engineering. His interest in the discipline arose from an accident in 2012 when he cut his hand while helping his grandfather install a glass window. Deep cuts in his hand and arm required 25 stitches, and his fascination with human tissue and healing began.
At the University of Connecticut Health Center, he is currently studying biomedical engineering with a focus on skeletal tissue regeneration. He’s developing a handheld device that increases the healing of complicated wounds like ulcers and fungus infections.
“Being able to work on the design, characterization and optimization of this technology is a very challenging but satisfying experience,” Toro said. “I love the idea that the long hours I put in reading and working in the lab will eventually translate into helping others improve their quality of life.”
Toro hopes his research results in better ways to treat chronic wounds while improving outcomes for patients suffering from multiple dermal conditions.
“I hope this experience prepares me with the tools to think critically from an engineering perspective when solving biomedical-related problems,” he said. “I’m also learning how to bring a product from the research lab to market and commercialize it effectively.”