Skip to content

Personal journey propels passion

…for studying birth defects


photo of student holding certificate

Cayden Bro in the Hill Lab at BYU’s Life Science Building in January 2023, holding supplies from New England Biolabs.

logo for raised in the pines

From the beginning, Cayden Bro’s journey has been filled with compassion and determination.  He and his family moved to Castle Pines just blocks away from Buffalo Ridge Elementary School (BRE) when he was 2 years old.

Once old enough to attend BRE, Bro lucked into a spot in Jenn Murdock’s first grade classroom, which he says was filled with encouragement and support.  He recalls struggling with reading and his mom buying a book about beetles for him to read every day after school.  It helped with his reading, but it also sparked his interest in biology.

Bro’s love for science was largely fueled by something personal.  He was born with a craniofacial defect – a cleft lip and palate – and has spent 24 years in and out of doctors’ offices.  His exposure to doctors, medicine and surgeries at an early age inspired him to be inquisitive and ask smart questions about his health, like, “How does the body work?” “How does it fix itself?” and “What happens when it doesn’t?”   

As a teenager, Bro championed for others like him through volunteering at the cleft clinic at Rose Medical Center in Denver.  “I felt a sense of comradery with them,” he shared.  Bro went on to attend Rocky Heights Middle School and Rock Canyon High School, where he graduated in 2017.

Bro spent a year at Brigham Young University (BYU), two years in Brazil as a missionary, and returned to BYU in the fall of 2020.  His studies there have been remarkable, to say the least.  For one, Bro gains class credit through his work in a reproductive systems lab.  He is learning about how zygotes and embryos develop in zebrafish, which are remarkably similar to those of humans.  His focus has been learning about heart defects, but his curiosity and passion for other birth defects, such as his own, remains steadfast.

Bro’s reproductive knowledge gave rise to an incredible academic feat in March.  He was part of a two-person team that came in first place in the engineering school’s Student Innovator of the Year competition.  He and his partner made chick reproduction go wrong for a good reason.  In the hatchery business, about 7.5 billion male rooster chicks are killed each year in what is called chick culling.

“What if we prevent rooster chicks from developing in the first place to avoid the chick culling process?” they thought.  According to Bro, BRO-LESS is a gene silencing treatment given to hens that prevents the development of male chicks – meaning that these chickens will only hatch female chicks – thus no roosters to kill.  The team won $12,000 to help with the development of the process and has filed a patent through BYU.

Bro is applying for graduate school lab-to-clinic programs to study birth complications and gain his dual Medical Doctor and Doctor of Philosophy degrees.  First, he plans to spend a year working under a doctor in that same capacity.  “Complications in the placenta can give rise to a myriad of different birth defects.  I want to focus on taking care of mom and baby during pregnancy and delivery and make sure things go as safely as possible,” said Bro.

His desire to understand the how and why of birth defects and how to identify, reduce and treat for best possible outcomes is unmistakable.  He hopes that his own experience will help him be someone who can lower confusion and worry, provide empathy and offer support for families and children.

Bro graduates from BYU in December with a double major – Bachelor of Science in Developmental Biology and Bachelor of Arts in Portuguese Literature.  His long list of achievements is remarkable, and his humbleness conveys his commitment to be a conduit of hope for others.  The future is certainly in good hands with Cayden Bro.


photo of three men holding trophy

Cayden Bro (middle) and his co-presenter Philip Morrison (left) are pictured with mentor, Dr. Jonathon Hill after their Student Innovator of the Year competition win on March 1.


By Elean Gersack; photos courtesy of Cayden Bro





Recent Stories