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Ten Graduate Students Earn BME Fellowships

A new series of competitive graduate fellowships support research from BME PhD students

In a new effort to support the innovative research of PhD students, Duke University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering recently announced the recipients of 10 fellowships available through the BME Second-Year Doctoral Fellowship Program.

Of the 10 fellowships awarded through the department, seven were named in honor the BME Emeritus faculty who were instrumental in crafting the vision and charting the growth of Duke BME. The remaining fellowships included two BME Second-Year Doctoral Fellowships and the William “Monty” Reichert Fellowship, created to celebrate Reichert and his numerous contributions to the department.

“We want to support our graduate students as they pursue challenging research and advance biomedical engineering at Duke,” says Joel Collier, the director of graduate studies in Duke BME. “This year we had an especially impressive list of applicants.”

Intended for PhD students in the second year of their doctoral programs , these fellowships will support one year of research during their time in Duke BME. To apply for the competitive funding opportunity, candidates had to submit a one-page research description and a letter of recommendation from their advisor, as well as show a strong academic record.

“The BME PhD students are the engine of our research enterprise,” says Ashutosh Chilkoti, the chair of Duke BME. “I’m pleased that the department can support their research through the BME Second-Year Doctoral Fellowship Program.”

Congratulations to this year’s recipients.

Derek Chan – The Theo Pilkington Fellowship

Derek Chan

Undergraduate Institution: Duke University 
Advisor: Kathy Nightingale

Research: Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men in the United States, and early diagnosis is critical for effective management and treatment. However, standard systematic prostate biopsies are not targeted to suspicious regions, leading to a high rate of missed cancer. I am interested in developing ultrasound elasticity imaging techniques to identify and target prostate lesions with high precision. The stiffness of the entire prostate gland can be visualized using this method, with cancerous lesions appearing particularly stiff compared to healthy tissue. Ultimately, the development of an elasticity-based targeted biopsy system will result in an accurate, low-cost procedure for diagnostic confirmation of prostate cancer.

Yuqi Tang - The BME Department Second Year Fellowship

Yuqi Tang

Undergraduate Institution: Rice University 
Advisor: Junjie Yao

Research: Photoacoustic (PA) imaging uses optical absorption as the contrast mechanism and thus visualizes the optical properties of tissue. By complementing PA with ultrasound (US) imaging, which derives contrast from echogenicity and differing mechanical properties of tissue, the dual-modality imaging system can provide general structural and functional information at the same time. One of my research interest is to develop a PAUS microscopy that can monitor the functional disruption and remodeling of the brain’s small vessels during and after stroke. The system will be able to map the small blood vessel functions with rich spatial-temporal details and functional capability, and quantify various morphological and hemodynamic parameters (e.g. microvascular density, blood flow, blood oxygenation, etc.)

Simbarashe Chidyagwai - The Morton H. Friedman Fellowship

Simbarashe ChidyagwaiUndergraduate Institution: Michigan State University 
Advisor: Amanda Randles

Research: My research focuses on quantifying and identifying the key hemodynamic parameters affected by congenital coronary artery anomalies. I intend to achieve this by accurately simulating blood flow in patients with congenital coronary artery anomalies using a massively parallel hemodynamics package developed in the Randles Lab. This allows me to gain insight into the mechanisms by which congenital coronary artery anomalies lead to increased risk of sudden cardiac death, and potentially provide physicians critical predictive power to identify at-risk patients.

Ishaan Puranam­­ - The James H. McElhaney Fellowship

Ishaan Puranam

Undergraduate Institution: Boston University
Advisor: Brenton Hoffman

Research: Atherosclerosis is a cardiovascular disease state in which pathological vascular wall thickening occurs preferentially in areas exhibiting perturbed hemodynamics. However, the majority of mechanistic research regarding this disease has focused on its genetic and biochemical origins. This is largely due to the lack of tools that can probe mechanical variables of the molecular length scales required for biochemical and cell signaling-based studies. My project seeks to identify key components in the pathological signaling pathway induced by alterations in the mechanical microenvironment observed during atherosclerotic development.

Teng Wang – The BME Department Second Year Fellowship

Teng Wang

Undergraduate Institution: Peking University, Beijing, China Advisor: Lingchong You 

Research: The world-wide emergence of resistant bacteria is endangering the efficacy of antibiotics, and is predicted to cause devastating cost on human society. Plasmid-mediated horizontal gene transfer (HGT) is one of the major mechanisms that bacteria acquire the resistance through. Understanding plasmid dynamics is therefore crucial to help prevent the menace of a post-antibiotic era. My research plan focuses on three topics: (1) building a general mathematical framework to predict the maintenance and abundance of plasmids in complex microbial communities, (2) establishing a high-throughput method of measuring bacterial conjugation efficiency to screen for conjugation inhibitors in compound libraries, (3) elucidating how HGT assists the functional stability of microbial communities against environmental fluctuations.

James Long - The Stephen Smith Fellowship

James LongUndergraduate Institution: Rice University
Advisor: Gregg Trahey

Research: Ultrasound is a low-cost, non-ionizing diagnostic tool that is used ubiquitously for a wide variety of applications. However, image quality is often negatively affected by anatomical structures, such as the abdominal wall, that distort the propagating acoustic wave necessary to form an image. My research focuses on elucidating the underlying mechanics behind image quality degradation and using the knowledge to adaptively select ultrasound scanner settings in order to optimize lesion conspicuity for the purposes of hepatocellular carcinoma screening. This implications of this work are improved lesion detection rates in difficult-to-image patients and improved detectability of smaller and/or multiple lesions in all patients.

Jacob Heggestad - The Howard G. Clark III Fellowship

Jacob Heggestad

Undergraduate Institution: Northwesten University
Advisor: Ashutosh Chilkoti

Research: The emergence of antibiotic resistant bacteria is a major public health concern. My proposed research project intends to develop a point-of-care immunodiagnostic platform to detect markers of resistance, thereby better informing clinical decisions and promoting antibiotic stewardship. The platform utilizes a completely self-contained sandwich immunoassay on a non-fouling protein-brush coating, thus enabling ultrasensitive detection of protein analytes from complex biological matrices.

Ge Song - The John Strohbehn Fellowship

Ge SongUndergraduate Institution: University of Rochester
Advisor: Adam Wax

Research: Optical coherence tomography (OCT) is currently recognized as the gold standard for identifying retinal structural abnormalities in ophthalmology. However, its availability is limited to large eye centers and research labs due to its high cost and lack of portability. I am working on a low-cost, portable OCT system that includes a fundus camera for image registration. It is a completely standalone system with a total cost under $6,000. Clinical validation and non-inferiority trials will be conducted through human retinal imaging to demonstrate the imaging capabilities of the low-cost OCT.

Katrina Wilson - The William M. “Monty” Reichert Fellowship

Katrina Wilkson

Undergraduate Institution: University of Redlands, California
Advisor: Tatiana Segura 

Research: A lot of stroke-related research focuses around delivering stem cells, growth factors, and/or biomaterials to help regrow lost tissues and mitigate issues of stroke, such as formation of a scar, inflammation, and a lack of blood vessels. Both natural and synthetic polymers can be modified with different chemical handles for adding peptides, growth factors, and various chemicals to aid in recovery. I specifically focus on engineering hyaluronic acid-based hydrogels for brain repair because it is a natural polymer that comprises parts of the extracellular matrix of the brain. This makes it highly biocompatible and low in immunogenicity. Additionally, it has been show to contribute to cellular proliferation, migration, and stabilization of proteins from proteolysis. My hope is to engineer a hyaluronic-based hydrogel in a way so that it will promote vascular formation, new neurons, and the recruitment of endogenous neural progenitor cells as a means to regrow tissue and restore function. 

William Huffman – The Robert Plonsey Fellowship

William Huffman

Undergraduate Institution: University of Tennessee
Advisor: Warren Grill

The nervous system plays an integral role in regulating immunity and fine-tuning responses to inflammatory challenges. Immune function is modulated via signaling in the vagus nerve, and vagal signaling is crucial to immune-regulatory and pro-resolving effects. Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) may be used to treat immune dysfunction. In order to develop better therapies, we must first better understand the effects of VNS and develop new technologies to non-invasively modulate vagal activity. My objective is to combine pre-clinical in vivo experiments with computational modeling to advance VNS by developing less-invasive methods of stimulation and novel approaches to decrease side-effects.