Sept. 10, 2006
While working out with her Virginia teammates during the summer, Mia Link realized that the end of a session that she had a school commitment and would have to leave as soon as the impromptu scrimmage was over.
"I have to go feed my cells," she exclaimed as she ran off the turf.
While it's not one of the more common phrases heard on the hockey field, it is quite a common occurrence in the biomedical engineering field. It's also what happens when one of the top collegiate players in the nation is also doing cell research for one of the top tissue engineers in the nation.
A member of the USA Developmental Team, Mia Link is a three-year starter for the Virginia field hockey team who has earned both All-American and All-Conference honors. As a member of Dr. Roy Ogle's research staff, Link has participated in ground-breaking experiments that are trying to help scientists understand more about nerve regeneration.
"Hockey and biomedical engineering are very similar in that they both require dedication and discipline," said Link, who helped the USA take home the silver at the Junior Pan Am Games in 2004. "I spend about 20 hours a week playing hockey and 20 hours a week in the lab."
While with the Virginia field hockey team, Link has etched her name in the record books as a forward, and with one season yet to play, ranks in the top-15 all-time in scoring. Her ten-point performance against Bucknell earned her national accolades for the week in 2004, and she ranked among the nation's leaders in scoring that season. As one of the fourth-years in 2006, Link will be key in leading the Virginia side as the Cavaliers look to return to the national tournament. As a forward, one of her primary responsibilities is to put the ball in the cage, something she has done 27 times as a Wahoo.
"Mia is one of the top players in the nation," said Virginia head coach Michele Madison. "Her experience in the US hockey program is invaluable to us here at Virginia."
Her responsibilities in the lab are just as important, although they might be a bit more difficult to understand to the lay person. As a research assistant, Link performs various tasks including changing the medium for the cells in the study, helping build scaffolding for the cells to focus on different methods and surfaces that affect the ability of the stem cells to differentiate.
Talking about tissue regeneration is as easy for Link as talking about her last field hockey game, but it is not something that has always come that easy. She fell in love with the field during her class on tissue regeneration in the Engineering School, and when Dr. Ogle was a guest lecturer in her class, she realized that was the area in which she wanted to concentrate.
"I wrote him an email and asked him if there were an opportunity for me to volunteer with some of his research," recalled Link.
That opportunity developed from a part-time project at the end of the school year to a 10-15 hour-a-week commitment during the summer and into the new academic year. When one of Ogle's primary researchers left the project in the summer, Link assumed some new roles.
Now, during her final season as a Virginia field hockey player, Link is balancing the role of being a member of the US Developmental Squad, a member of the UVa field hockey team, and a member of a top research team that is helping to understand more about the regeneration of nerve cells. With the success she has had on the field, it follows that that same success will follow her into the field of tissue regeneration.