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Cultivating a Community of Biomaterials Researchers

Duke BME Biomaterials Symposium gives graduate students and postdocs a new platform to share research

With research ranging from gels to improve wound repair to a rapid diagnostic test for Ebola, the first-annual Biomaterials Symposium showcased the variety of biomaterials research taking place in Duke University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering.

Duke BME has been home to a diverse and longstanding research community in biomaterials, which is the study and designing of non-living materials and devices that interact with biological systems. The biomaterials research community at Duke is supported by the Research Triangle NSF Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (RT-MRSEC), and the Center for Biomolecular and Tissue Engineering (CBTE).

In an effort to give graduate students and postdoctoral fellows new opportunities to collaborate and share their research, faculty and students organized the Duke BME Biomaterials Symposium.

“We wanted to show everyone that there was a large community of biomaterials researchers at Duke who could offer guidance and support,” says Tatiana Segura, a professor in Duke BME. “We organized the symposium to give everyone a chance to learn more about what their peers are doing and to cultivate new partnerships.”

Research in the broad field of biomaterials has led to the development a wide variety of implantable biomedical devices, and it continues to be central to the introduction of new medical therapies. With presentations from students in the labs of Ashutosh Chilkoti, Joel Collier, Jennifer West, Segura, Ravi Bellamkonda Shyni Varghese and Brent Hoffman, the presenters showcased the breadth of biomaterials research currently being pursued at Duke, ranging from engineered tissues to delivery vehicles for genes and drugs, diagnostic devices and immune therapies.  

Following the presentations, the symposium attendees voted on the best presentations, awarding Lucas Schirmer, a postdoctoral fellow in the Segura lab, first place for his presentation on hydrogels that can improve treatment of chronic dermal wounds. Joshua Hammmer, a PhD student in the West lab, was awarded second place for his research, “Biochemical Modification of PEG Hydrogels Using SpyCather, a Genetically-Encoded “click” Reaction.”

In addition to the research presentations, scientists were encouraged to create art for the symposium, with many choosing to create images using materials from their labs. The event also featured a social hour, where students could ask more in-depth questions about presentations they were interested in and get to know those in the Duke BME biomaterials world.

“There is such a diversity of biomedical engineering research at Duke that it’s difficult to foster a research community that includes the entire department,” says Sean Kelly, a PhD student in the Collier lab. “Having an opportunity to bring together the biomaterials groups within the department is a great way to build relationships and discover new opportunities for collaboration.”