Rutgers University is a proud research institution, with our faculty and students engaged in projects that run the gamut from studying healthy eating behaviors to social reform in Gothic literature to circadian rhythms in fungi. Research can shape people’s thoughts and opinions, and ultimately change our world. For computational and integrative biology doctoral student Catherine Rosenberg, her potentially groundbreaking research, which computes and analyzes the calculation of limb volume for lymphedema patients, has the potential to change the lives of thousands of people, herself included.
Diagnosed at age 8 with synovial sarcoma, a rare soft tissue cancer, Catherine survived thanks to experimental radiation treatment. However, the radiation led to lymphedema, a chronic medical condition that occurs when the lymphatic system cannot properly drain fluids back into the bloodstream, leading to severe swelling. For the past 25 years, Catherine has suffered lymphedema in her lower left leg, leading to an array of complications, such as cellulitis infections and hip problems, which led to Catherine spending hours and hours in the hospital. In fact, in 2014, Catherine spent more time in the hospital than she did at home.
Calculating circumference and fluid volume in lymphedema-affected limbs is a key way to diagnose, treat, and monitor the illness. Catherine, who has a strong math and science background thanks to her bachelor’s degree in mathematics and her master’s degree in computational science from Stockton University, knew that the formula used to calculate fluid volume of her leg was incorrect. She brought up her concern to Dr. Eric Chang, a 2002 graduate of the Rutgers University BA/MD joint program and a plastic and reconstructive surgical oncologist specializing in lymphedema at Fox Chase Cancer Center. Dr. Chang asked Catherine to back up her claim; if she could prove that the measurements were inaccurate, he would work with her in finding a better treatment. Catherine immediately got to work, proved her point, and now she and Dr. Chang are fully engaged in research to find a more accurate way of measuring limb volume for lymphedema patients. This past August, they recently received an international and national patent pending status for their limb volume calculation.
Catherine’s research advisor at Stockton encouraged her to seek out doctoral programs, telling her, “This project is going to make a difference in the way medical providers look at and monitor lymphedema.” Inspired by these words, Catherine began to research doctoral programs and found Rutgers–Camden’s computational and integrative biology program, which “sparked my mind at first glance.” When Dr. Desmond Lun, Professor of Computer Science, presented a seminar at Stockton in Fall 2015, Catherine sought him out, to explain her research and to learn more about the program. She decided to apply, earned a full teaching assistantship, and began her studies in January 2016. Dr. Lun now serves as Catherine’s dissertation advisor, and she is continuing work on limb volume calculation as her dissertation topic.
While working toward her Ph.D., Catherine, a former elementary special education teacher for the Little Egg Harbor School District, teaches pre-calculus to undergraduates and each summer serves as a counselor for the Ronald McDonald Camp, a camp for children with cancer and their siblings. Catherine also continues her research with Dr. Chang. They currently have a number of presentations scheduled to discuss their work, including a Lymphedema Education and Awareness Conference in Colorado. They are also working toward publishing a scientific paper of their mathematical findings in the Journal of Mathematical Biology.
Catherine told the Press of Atlantic City, “This project was a match made in heaven for me, leading to a fulfillment of a lifelong dream of researching oncology condition with various medical professionals.” This experience has certainly influenced her career goals. After she earns her Ph.D., Catherine plan to work in a cancer center as a computational scientist, analyzing the overall outcomes of various treatments for different cancers through the use of statistical computer programming and mathematical modeling, and surely changing the lives of thousands of people for the better.
About Catherine Rosenberg
School: Graduate School–Camden
Doctoral Program: Computational and Integrative Biology
Hometown: Little Egg Harbor, NJ
Written by Julie Roncinske