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UNF graduate student using medical engineering to improve joint surgery

Molly Dobrow in front of a 3D printing machineWhile deciding on a major for her undergraduate degree, Molly Dobrow watched a video and was struck by the intrusive nature of knee replacement surgery. She was inspired to embark on a career in healthcare.  

After earning her undergraduate degree in biology from the University of North Florida seven years earlier, Dobrow was working as a medical technician III at Baptist Medical Center in Jacksonville.  

She was happy in the role but considering next steps that would help her leave more of an impact on the world.  

“The video stuck in my mind. It was shocking knowing that me and most of the people I know will likely need knee replacements someday,” said Dobrow. “The video inspired me to continue my education. Maybe I could help better understand joints and muscles to contribute to research that could help avoid these intensive surgeries.” 

Dobrow has spent the last two years working on many complex materials science research projects and teaching two classes.  

This spring, Dobrow will graduate with a Master of Science in Materials Science and Engineering, and this summer, she will begin a research and development internship with Johnson and Johnson MedTech. 

She’s on a path to helping find a solution to a problem facing millions of Americans. 

Back to school 

While Dobrow considered going back to school, her husband was studying mechanical engineering at UNF. He was the one who encouraged her to consider the engineering program.  

“My husband kept pointing out how the engineering and medical fields overlap,” she said. “He introduced me to some of the engineering research faculty and things clicked.” 

When Dobrow explained how she was interested in better understanding human joint and mobility issues like osteoarthritis, Dr. Laura Habegger, assistant professor of biology and shark expert, presented the opportunity to study shark cartilage in her lab.  

Dobrow quit her job in the Baptist lab and jumped into the waters of a UNF master’s program in 2022. 

Research in progress  

Dobrow’s master thesis research work focuses on the mechanics of tessellated mineralized cartilage in sharks using cutting-edge multi-material 3D printing to manufacture idealized model designs. By studying shark cartilage, she hopes to contribute to research to better understand osteoarthritis and other conditions that impact joint space, conditions typically related to old age but can also be caused by athletic activity.  

“Molly will be such an asset to the medical engineering field bringing a keen intellect and passion for research,” said Habegger. “Her skills with medical imaging make her a highly desirable candidate for any medical engineering doctoral program or a hospital, university or private company.” 

Dobrow has also worked since May 2022 as a graduate research assistant in the UNF Materials Science and Engineering Research Facility (MSERF), assisting with materials characterization test method development for industry and research clients.  

“One of the most interesting projects I worked on while at MSERF was working for Johnson & Johnson MedTech doing a polymer analysis using the Shimadzu QTOF HPLC-MS,” said Dobrow. “This type of machine is only found in advanced laboratories, and it was an incredible experience to work with such highly precise equipment.” 

She also teamed up with biologist Dr. Adam Rosenblatt’s lab to help create 3D imaging of alligator eggs and compare microscope methods. And in a different lab, she conducted research on polymer-induced liquid precursor (PILP) mineralization.  

As a graduate teaching assistant, she helped design the curriculum of UNF’s unique pilot interdisciplinary course, Anatomy in 3D. In addition, she also worked as a graduate teaching assistant for an Algebra–Based Physics I course.  

Dobrow is currently preparing to submit a paper about the interface behavior of multi-material polymeric structures manufactured by material jetting. She presented work this year at the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB) Conference in Seattle, Washington, with the assistance of a graduate research grant from the UNF Graduate School.  

After her internship with Johnson and Johnson this summer, she will start the prestigious biomedical engineering doctoral program this fall at the University of Florida, where she was accepted to work on an osteoarthritis research project with three esteemed faculty researchers.  

“It’s never too late to try something new and work consciously toward the direction of your dreams,” said Dobrow. “It feels wonderful to wake up in the morning and know that the work I am doing is making a difference.”