Pelot Receives 2024 Rising Star Early Career Award

1/26 Pratt School of Engineering

The research director of Warren Grill's Duke BME lab was recognized for her work in modeling electrical stimulation of the nervous system

Nikki Pelot receives the Rising Star Award
Pelot Receives 2024 Rising Star Early Career Award

Nicole “Nikki” Pelot has received the 2024 Rising Star Early Career Award from the North American Neuromodulation Society (NANS). As one of the two inaugural winners, Pelot was recognized for her leadership and contributions to the field of neuromodulation.

Pelot studies electrical stimulation to modify signaling in the human nervous system to improve and treat ailments including epilepsy, gastrointestinal disorders, and heart failure. As research director in the lab of Warren Grill at Duke, Pelot leads a team of students and researchers as they pursue neuromodulation projects spanning computational modeling, anatomy, pre-clinical and clinical studies.

In collaboration with Andrew Shoffstall of Case Western Reserve University her team made headlines in late 2022 when they received more than $15 million from the National Institutes of Health’s Stimulating Peripheral Activity to Relieve Conditions (SPARC) program to map the anatomy of the human vagus nerve. This key nerve connects the brain to most organs in the torso, including the heart, lungs, pancreas, stomach, and intestines, and it controls and senses the body’s inner workings. Through highly detailed images, the team’s goal will be to show precisely how the fibers of the vagus nerve map to specific organs.

“By understanding how the vagus nerve is organized, we can better design devices and stimulation parameters to isolate and regulate its activity,” explained Pelot. “These new imaging data will provide unrivaled accuracy to our computational models so that we can develop neural stimulation therapies that are more effective and have fewer side effects.”

Prior to earning her PhD in biomedical engineering at Duke, Pelot studied electrical engineering and physics and conducted research in magnetic resonance imaging. This MRI work, Pelot said, introduced her to the world of biomedical engineering.

When I was looking into graduate school programs, I wanted to work at this intersection of electrical engineering and physics with anatomy, physiology, and disease treatments. Neural engineering was this exciting combination of those interests, especially in the realm of computational modeling of nerves.

Nicole “Nikki” Pelot Research Director, Laboratory of Warren Grill

Pelot has already earned several awards in recognition of her work, including the Golden Electrode Award for Neurotechnology Researcher of the Year, a Graduate School University Scholar award from Duke, a Fulbright Canada Student Award and an NSERC Postgraduate Research Scholarship.

“This award from her professional peers recognizes Nikki’s substantial contributions to advancing neurostimulation therapies, as well as the clear promise and conviction that she will lead our field into a promising future,” said Grill.

Pelot was presented with the NANS Rising Star Award during a plenary session at the 2024 NANS Annual Meeting in Las Vegas. She also presented her SPARC research at the conference, including a talk titled “100 Human Vagus Nerves from Brainstem to Abdomen: Gross Anatomy, Morphology, Ultrastructure, and Fiber Types,” and a poster titled “How Does Vagus Nerve Anatomy Affect Responses to Stimulation?”.

“I am grateful to be nominated for this award by professor Kip Ludwig. I would not have received this award if it wasn’t for the long-standing mentorship, support, and collaboration from professors Grill, Ludwig and Shoffstall, who are my esteemed colleagues and are powerhouses in neural engineering,” said Pelot. “I also extend tremendous and heartfelt thanks to the many exceptional researchers with whom I’ve been fortunate to work. My research is a reflection of their creativity and commitment, and I’m thrilled to be recognized with the inaugural Rising Star Award.”