Nine BME students selected as University Scholars for 2019-2020

Congratulations to Alexis Brake, Jonathan Charles, Fiona Cheung, Maximillian Diaz, Leyda Marrero, Tran Ngo, Yan Carlos Pacheco, Alexia Poulos and Julia Withrow who were recently selected as Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering University Scholars for 2019-2020!

The University Scholars Program introduces undergraduate students at the University of Florida to the exciting world of academic research. In the program, students work one-on-one with UF faculty on selected research projects. Through this initiative, students will take away an understanding of and appreciation for the scholarly method. The program will consist of undertaking a full research project during the fall and spring semesters of the academic year, under the guidance of a faculty member. The University Scholars Program serves as an exceptional capstone to the academic careers of UF students.

The Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering selected its best students and we are proud to have the following BME awardees:

Alexis Brake
Mentor: Dr. Kevin Otto
Research project description:
In the field of neural interfaces, chronically implanted neural interfaces in the CNS lead to an encapsulating glial scar. While other non-mammalian species have shown remarkable ability to fully regenerate tissue, such as the axolotl, the African Spiny Mouse (ASM) is the only known mammal able to fully regenerate injured tissues with minimal scarring. The unique regenerative abilities of this species make it a prime candidate for investigating the foreign body response (FBR) to implanted devices, which has traditionally been a highly variable and complex system to understand. Alexis’ project will provide a baseline examination of the cellular morphology of the African Spiny mouse brain in the context of implantable neural interfaces and is intended as the first step in investigating how the regenerative abilities of the African Spiny mouse could impact current understanding of the FBR and neuroregeneration.

Jonathan Charles
Mentor: Dr. Jennifer Nichols
Research project description: To use ultrasound imaging and subsequent analysis to accurately create scalable models of the human wrist that can assess the functionality of a post-operative hand and wrist in a patient.

Fiona Cheung
Mentor: Dr. Aysegul Gunduz
Research project description: Humans have an innate ability to recognize patterns and to predict subsequent events. This ability comes from the complex widespread simultaneous processing and integration of information from distant brain regions. Fiona’s project will involve analyzing local field potential data from human stereo EEG recordings through implementing coupling connectivity measurements between distant brain regions.

Maximillian Diaz
Mentor: Dr. Ruogu Fang
Research project description: To utilize retinal imaging to diagnosis Parkinson’s disease. I will be obtaining retinal fundus images from Parkinson’s subjects at the UF Movement Disorders Center and then apply a machine learning network to detect any potential biomarkers to diagnosis Parkinson’s disease. The hope is that retina images are cheaper than current scans utilized to detect Parkinson’s and that retina images could be taken during regular ophthalmology visits.

Leyda Marrero
Mentor: Dr. Carlos Rinaldi
Research project description:
A major obstacle in breast cancer is overcoming resistance to chemotherapeutics, specifically antimitotic drugs. My goal in this project is to understand the effect of magnetic nanoparticles as a means to apply nanoscale heating and potentiate the drug action. The project is based on the delivery of a chemotherapeutic agent followed by magnetic mild-hyperthermia (thermal treatment) at 42°C by using superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles (SPION) to treat breast cancer cells in vivo. We are currently studying the effect of the combined treatment through image analysis of histological sections of breast cancer in athymic nude mice.

Tran Ngo
Mentor: Dr. Christine E. Schmidt
Research project description: Peripheral nerve injuries often result in longstanding disability with loss of sensory and/or motor function. 3D bioprinting of natural extracellular matrix-based bioinks such as hyaluronic acid (HA) and collagen can be used to build custom scaffolds for long-gap nerve regeneration. In this project, Ngo has focused on fabrication and characterization of HA-based hydrogel scaffolds as a potential bioink for 3D bioprinting that has been mechanically matched to native peripheral nerve tissue. She will also 3D bio-print Schwann cells with the optimized HA-collagen hydrogel to mimic the microenvironment of native tissue and embed microarchitecture into the scaffolds to support axonal elongation and nerve regeneration.

Yan Carlos Pacheco
Mentor: Dr. Kyle Allen
Research project description: While osteoarthritis is described as a degenerative disease of the knee, there are many other molecular and physiological changes that occur in the joint. One way we are trying to analyze disease progression is by studying the changes in synovial fluid viscosity. In order to do this, we are using a novel technique called magnetic particle translation (MPT). For my project, I will be using MPT to test synovial fluid under various conditions.

Alexia Poulos
Mentor: Dr. Cherie Stabler
Research project description: Type I Diabetes (TID) is an autoimmune disease that targets the insulin-producing β-cells of the pancreas. Our aim is to engineer a compatible biomaterial for use in encapsulating islet cells and allowing for transport of insulin, oxygen, and important cellular nutrients, while also protecting the islets from immune rejection. In a broad overview of the encapsulation process, we use a layer by layer (LbL) approach to encapsulate the islets in functionalized polymers, such as alginate. We have been working to combine these coatings with cerium oxide nanoparticles (CONP), which have been studied for their antioxidant properties. The goal of this research is to formulate and optimize these nanoscale coatings of alginate/CONP to mitigate oxidative stress and provide better protection from the foreign body response.

Julia Withrow
Mentor: Dr. Welsey Bolch
Research project description: In this project, Julia will be working on developing slabs of proton tissue equivalent materials (PTEMs) to perform a full dose characterization for proton therapy applications. With these new equivalent human tissues for proton therapy (PT), a more realistic approach of the real dose distribution in patients treated with PT can be achieved. Julia will be working on developing a computational voxel phantom based on CT scan images obtained from the anthropomorphic reference phantom from previous research. Proton irradiation will be conducted and out-of-field organ doses will be measured and compared with calculated organ doses obtained with the computational phantom. Julia hopes to be able to improve the accessibility and affordability of proton therapy for cancer treatment with the improvements and more detailed research continuing to be conducted on the specific benefits and concerns of proton therapy in comparison to traditional radiation therapy.