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Rohan Achar: Improving Diagnostic Tools

Rohan Achar Grand Challenge Scholar Profile

  • Major: Biomedical Engineering and Computer Science 
  • Project: Improving One-Step Protein Microarrays for Immunodiagnostic Applications - The D4 Assay
  • Advisor: Ashutosh Chilkoti

How did you become interested in engineering?

I had a pretty good inclination that I wanted to go into biomedical engineering early on. In high school, I became interested in biology after taking AP Bio, and I really liked math and physics, so I tried to find the subject that had the best intersection of all of them. BME was perfect for that so that’s where I ended up. I was thinking of doing a double major with BME and math, but I ended up pursuing BME and computer science because I had enjoyed doing a bit of programming in high school as well.

What is your research project for the Pratt Fellows Program?  

I was working on a component of the D4 Assay, which the Chilkoti has designed for diagnostic applications. The platform can be used to effectively test for antigens in blood or serum at very low levels. The assay is conducted on a polymer coating that doesn’t allow unwanted proteins to bind to it, and my project was to develop and characterize a new polymer that had more controllable properties. This way, we could tune the parameters of the assay a bit more, making it more precise and easier to use.  

How do you think Duke Engineering has prepared you going forward?

Engineering at Duke is very collaborative, and you might not be able to get that atmosphere at other institutions. The big thing about medicine or engineering is that you are working with different kinds of people every day with different academic backgrounds and interests. Even though the Chilkoti lab is in the BME department, I was able collaborate with and learn from members of an ECE lab on aspects of the D4 assay, discussed antibody engineering with a doctor in the medical center, and got to collaborate with people on all academic levels from professors and grad students to fellow undergrads and high school students—really a diverse array of people. I feel like that was an invaluable asset for me going forward, because I was able to learn something unique from all of them. It was cool to learn in such a collaborative atmosphere, working with people who are experts in their respective fields and then integrating everything into a single project.

Would you recommend the Pratt Fellows program to younger students?

I definitely would. A lot of research that undergrads get to pursue is on the short term, and when you have such a short experience you might not get to see a project go to completion. With the Pratt Fellows program, you have three semesters and a summer, so you get to see a project from the start to the finish. This gives you an opportunity to really learn how to do research well, and I feel like learning that methodology is really important.

What was one of your favorite experiences of your Duke career?

Spending last summer here for the Pratt Fellows program was a highlight of my time at Duke. Some of my friends were staying in Durham over the summer too, and we ended up living together off campus. Getting a feel for the 9 to 5 workstyle in lab and getting to spend so much time with my friends was definitely one of the best experiences I’ve had at Duke.