The Fischell Fellowship in Biomedical Engineering is a unique opportunity for talented and innovative graduate students interested in applied research and product design in the biomedical industry.
Get to know our Fischell Fellows and learn more about their graduate experience. What's their research about, and what could it mean to society? Why did they choose the Clark School and the University of Maryland? What advice do they have for undergraduates considering a graduate degree in Bioengineering?
Advisor: Giuliano Scarcelli
Aston, Penn. native Joshua Webb earned his B.S. in bioengineering with a focus on biomechanics and biomaterials at Lehigh University in 2016. While there, he also minored in health, medicine, and society.
As a BIOE graduate student, Webb is a member of Assistant Professor Giuliano Scarcelli’s Optics Biotech laboratory. Scarcelli’s group studies the interaction of light and matter to devise novel technology for biological research and clinical medicine. Webb was excited by the translational nature of the group’s research, and their efforts to bridge the gap between scientific findings and medical diagnoses.
Currently, Webb and fellow members of Scarcelli’s lab are focused on early detection and better treatment of ocular disorders, particularly those involving the cornea. Webb elaborates: “With the eyes, unfortunately, people don’t typically get diagnosed with a disorder until their eyesight is worsening. Then, doctors can address the issue to make sure it doesn’t get worse, but it’s often difficult for them to actually make the issue better. Knowing this, our lab is working to identify key measurements that may indicate an underlying problem, even before a problem presents itself clinically, and improve the treatment options currently available. We’re focusing on preventing diseases and disorders of the eye before they really impact quality of life for the patient.”
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Advisor: John Fisher
As a bioengineering Ph.D. student in the Tissue Engineering and Biomaterials Laboratory (TEBL), Javier Navarro-Rueda focuses much of his research on a challenge that can not only impact a burn victim’s health, but also his or her sense of identity: facial feature reconstruction. Advised by Fischell Department of Bioengineering (BIOE) professor and chair John Fisher Navarro-Rueda is working with fellow TEBL lab members to produce a regenerative facial scaffold to reconstruct facial tissue damaged by burns. Equipped with a novel dual-chambered bioreactor that Fisher and the group first developed, Navarro-Rueda is able to study stratified 3D cell populations, with the aim to grow layers of skin to match specific dimensions and shapes. Having earned both his B.Sc. and M.Sc. in mechanical engineering from the University of Los Andes, Colombia, Navarro-Rueda was drawn to tissue engineering after learning about Fisher’s work on bioreactors and 3D printing.
“I have always shown excitement for school and studying, first for solving the riddles in physics and mathematics, and later for finding new questions to solve in bioengineering,” Navarro-Rueda said, noting that he had the opportunity to focus a large portion of his studies on materials engineering and design and manufacturing processes.
Today, the knowledge that his research endeavors could one day change quality of life for others keeps Navarro-Rueda motivated.
“Coming from a background in mechanical engineering, I have found that being able to match the problems that you are working on every day to a life – to a patient’s face – really changes your perspective of the impact you can have,” he said. While tissue engineers dream of developing artificial organs and of growing organs in the lab, Navarro-Rueda believes that there are a lot of exciting innovations coming down the pike. “People think of it as sci-fi, but tissue engineers are working tirelessly to reach that technology,” he said. “Imagining the possibility of one day growing a beating heart or having someone walking around with a part that we engineered is a truly exciting motivator.”
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Advisor: Giuliano Scarcelli
Eitan Edrei earned a Master of Science in Physics from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, as well as bachelor’s degrees in both physics and biology. As a member of Assistant Professor Giuliano Scarcelli’s Optics Biotech Lab, Edrei’s goal is to advance the study of light-based imaging and spectroscopic modalities in such that diseases could be detected earlier than ever before.
Using cutting-edge techniques, Edrei is working with fellow researchers to recover information that is lost when light “scatters” through an object – such as cells or tissues in the body. Picture a person shining a flashlight at his or her hand, and examining the light from the other side. In a recent research publication, Edrei and members of Dr. Scarcelli’s lab took two opaque, light-scattering materials – similar to frosted glass – and placed an object between them. Then, they directed a light from outside one of the opaque materials to see what they can discern of the object inside.
To the naked eye, the light revealed nothing more than a indistinguishable blur. But, Edrei and others in the field are working on new techniques to take this “lost” or “scrambled” information and recalculate what the object hidden between the opaque materials actually looks like. Their hope is to apply such techniques to develop low-cost, all-optical modalities that could be used to diagnose diseases earlier and with higher resolution than CT scans and MRIs currently offer.
Outside the lab, Edrei enjoys spending time with his wife – a Ph.D. student studying literature at the University of Maryland – and two kids.
Advisor: Christopher Jewell
Lisa Tostanoski earned a B.S. in biomedical engineering from Bucknell University, graduating Magna Cum Laude with Tau Beta Pi honors. As a Ph.D. student with the Fischell Department of Bioengineering, Tostanoski conducted research in Associate Professor Christopher Jewell’s Immune Engineering Lab, where she focused on directing immunological tolerance. She applied her work to therapeutic vaccines aimed at inducing immunological tolerance to treat autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis more selectively.
In addition to her work in the lab, Lisa served as a mentor to Wheaton High School Biosciences Magnet Program students. In 2017, she became the first student in University of Maryland history to be awarded the prestigious Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for her efforts to develop two novel biomaterials-based strategies to combat multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases. Prior to receiving the award, she was also named a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow in 2014.
In 2017, Lisa became the first student in University of Maryland history to be awarded the prestigious Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for her efforts to develop two novel biomaterials-based strategies to combat multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases. Prior to receiving the award, she was also named a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow in 2014.
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Lisa graduated in the summer of 2017.
Advisor: Kimberly Stroka
Kelsey Gray earned a B.S. in chemical engineering and minors in biochemical engineering and biomedical engineering from the University of Delaware in 2012. During her undergraduate career, she accepted a biochemical engineering research internship with Fischell Department of Bioengineering Professor Gregory Payne’s laboratory, where Gray worked on an industry-university team developing immunosensors for point-of-care diagnostics, and gained experience translating academic research into medical technology.
As a member of Assistant Professor Kimberly Stroka’s Cell and Microenvironment Engineering Lab, Gray’s goal is to develop a blood-brain barrier-on-a-chip that will ultimately have a significant clinical impact. Design of this model will provide a wide variety of opportunity for scientific advancement—from understanding fundamental biological phenomenon to drug development and screening. This model could be used in the context of various diseases involving blood-brain barrier dysfunction—cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, and more—as well as in a healthy context, studying the ability of new drugs to cross the barrier.
Outside the lab, Gray is a mentor for both Wheaton High School and Elizabeth Seton High School students, and a member of the International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineers, Phi Sigma Pi National Honor Fraternity, and the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. In her free time, she enjoys DIY projects, trying new foods, and boating on the Chesapeake Bay.
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After attending high school in Anchorage, Alaska, John Goertz earned his B.S. in physics and cell biology from Seattle University. He decided to combine and use his undergraduate experiences in physics and biology to pursue a career in bioengineering, a field in which he hopes to have an international impact on human health. At the Clark School, he would like to develop low-cost, portable tools for infectious disease diagnostics for use in resource-poor areas. "What attracted me to [the Fischell Department of] Bioengineering at the University of Maryland was the not just its focus on bringing new biomedical tools to the market, but also that the department is very engaged in creating technologies accessible to all socioeconomic tiers," he says.
John's prior research includes atomic force microscopy (AFM) analysis of the interactions between the chaperone protein hsp90 and its client protein, the glucocorticoid receptor, and the creation of MATLAB-based program to aid in the analysis of the AFM images. He has also studied quasi-two-dimensional fluid dynamics, examining the interplay of surface friction, viscosity, and flow speed profiles on vortex shedding, and finding potential flaws in common assumptions made when adapting the well-known Roschko formula from three to two dimensions.
Outside of the lab, John enjoys hiking, cooking, brewing, and practicing the martial art Danzan-Ryu Jujitsu.
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Advisor: Aldo Badano, FDA, Center for Devices and Radiological Health
Mina Choi's previous research experience includes a project that visualized the effects of violent computer games on the brain using EEG at Iowa State University; the design of a neonatal seizure detection algorithm in collaboration with neurologist Dr. Taeun Chang at the Children’s National Medical Center; modeling traumatic brain injury using high intensity focused ultrasound under the guidance of Dr. Vesna Zderic (GWU) and Dr. Matthew Myers (U.S. Food and Drug Administration [FDA]); and her masters thesis under Dr. Aldo Badano (FDA), measuring veiling glare in high-dynamic-range displays and in the human eye. After completing her M.S., she continued her work with Badano as an ORISE Fellow for two years before returning to graduate school. At the Clark School, Mina is interested in pursuing research in medical imaging and simulations. Outside of the lab, she enjoys playing guitar, gaming, hiking and travel. Her past trips include missions to assist dentists in Gambia and to farm and teach in Kyrgyzstan.
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Advisor: John Fisher
Anthony Melchiorri earned a B.S.E in biomedical engineering and a B.A in English from the University of Iowa in 2011. Throughout his time as an undergraduate, he was actively engaged in cardiovascular research in academic and industrial internships, including studies involving cardiomyogenic differentiation of mesenchymal stem cells and heart-related biomedical devices. At the Clark School, he hopes to pursue research in cardiovascular therapies that will ultimately have a significant clinical impact. After earning his Ph.D. would like to launch his own biotech company. "I chose the Fischell Department of Bioengineering because of the variety of opportunities available to BioE graduate students," he says. "The [department's] collaborations with and proximity to the FDA and NIH...provided additional benefits for a student like me, [who is] interested in pursuing research as a career and especially interested in commercialization of medical therapies…The entrepreneurship program [at the Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute] was another influencing factor."
Tony conducts his research in the Tissue Engineering and Biomaterials Lab, where he is developing biodegradable, polymeric vascular grafts. His work is focused on modifying the grafts' surfaces in ways that will increase endothelial cell and endothelial progenitor cell attachment and proliferation. To accomplish this, he is examining both chemical and topological enhancements. He is also exploring the use of 3D printing technology to create tissue engineering scaffolds and other potential medical devices out of the biodegradable polymers synthesized in the lab.
Outside of the lab, Tony enjoys fiction writing, reading, volunteer activities, scuba diving, and playing blues guitar.
In addition to being a Fischell Fellow, he is also a Citrin Fellow and a NSF Fellow.
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Sean Virgile received his B.S. in biomedical engineering from the University of Rochester in May 2010. While an undergraduate, he was named the Barry M. Goldwater Scholar in the spring of 2009. His interests include microfluidics, early cancer detection, and bringing new technologies from the lab to the market. "I chose Maryland," he says, "because of the close-knit community between students and professors, the ease of turning research ideas into start-up companies at Mtech, and the large number of opportunities to perform research not only on campus but also at government facilities such as the FDA and NIH." Sean conducts his research in the Photonic Biosensors Laboratory, where he is designing novel, cost-effective viral DNA/RNA molecular probes for a rapid point-of-care biosensor. He is also one of the co-founders Diagnostic anSERS, which in July 2015 received a National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I grant for the development of a roadside drug test. The startup company produces a system that uses an inkjet printer and nanoparticle-laced ink to print sensors that can be created on-demand, on location, and at a much lower cost than its nearest competitors.
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Advisors: Hamid Ghandehari (University of Utah) and Peter Swaan (University of Maryland School of Pharmacy)
Deborah earned her B.S. in chemical engineering from the University of Maryland in 2006. She conducts her graduate research at advisor Peter Swaan's Center for Nanomedicine & Cellular Delivery, where she is developing an oral delivery system for chemotherapy drugs that are traditionally administered intravenously. Any drug involved in an oral chemotherapy solution would need to survive the harsh environments in the stomach and intestines, pass through the intestinal wall, find its target, and treat a tumor as effectively as an intravenously-delivered drug could. It's a difficult problem but the payoff is a better quality of life for cancer patients, who could receive their treatments at home, and possibly with fewer side effects. Deborah's strategy is to use dendrimers—nano-sized, highly branched synthesized polymers with defined, controllable structures—as carriers for 5-FU, a common chemotherapy drug. Deborah says the process of becoming a Fischell Fellow has taught her a lot about the FDA approval process and what goes into commercializing a new drug. Her experiences at Maryland, she says, are preparing her for her ultimate goal of conducting pharmaceutical or biotechnology research and development in industry.
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Advisors: Pamela Abshire (Electrical and Computer Engineering) and Elisabeth Smela (Mechanical Engineering)
Marc earned a B.S. and M.S. in electrical engineering at the University of Maryland before becoming a doctoral student in the Fischell Department of Bioengineering. Currently, he divides his time between the Integrated Biomorphic Information Systems Laboratory and the Laboratory for Microtechnologies, where, using "lab on a chip" technology, he is developing a hand-held, optoelectronic microsystem-based biosensor capable of detecting dangerous pathogens present in quantities of only 10-50 cells, then reporting results within minutes. Microfluidic channels will route and analyze nanoliter samples taken from suspect food or water, scanning them for autofluorescence indicative of live pathogen activity. Since autofluorescence is common to many kinds of cells, the device's microfluidic channels must be lined with molecules capable of filtering a sample for the target pathogen(s), and also requires the design of an imaging system sensitive enough to detect light emitted from so few cells. Marc says the interdisciplinary nature of the Fischell Department of Bioengineering and access to advanced, flexible facilities like the NanoCenter's FabLab are what make research like his possible.
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Advisor: Peter Kofinas
Dan, who earned his B.S. in materials science and engineering at University of Maryland, engineered molecularly imprinted polymer hydrogels capable of recognizing and capturing specific peptides, proteins, and larger macromolecular structures—in his case, viruses. In diagnostic and treatment applications, the hydrogels could be used in blood tests as a means of detecting viral infection, for biological threat detection, and in hemodialysis to filter toxins from the blood. The award-winning technology could be integrated into existing medical equipment at a low cost to hospitals and other healthcare facilities, and has already been licensed for further development. Dan's work could also benefit vaccine production by speeding up the filtering of the biomasses from which inactive virus particles are obtained. In addition to his virus-filtering research, Dan has helped create polymer-based products that could be used in packaging to alert consumers to contaminated food, and for blood clotting. He credits the Fischell Fellowship for sparking his interest in entrepreneurship and prompting him to think outside the lab. "It [made me] appreciate what people do to take technology from the lab to industry," he says.
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Advisor: John Fisher
Diana, who earned a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, joined Dr. John Fisher's Tissue Engineering and Biomaterials Laboratory the year it was launched. "I felt he was, like me, very goal-oriented," she recalls. He was very clear about what he thought I could accomplish." She ultimately choose UMD because she felt it fostered not only great research, but also solid academic, professional, and social relationships. During her time at the University of Maryland, Diana explored the design of novel, injectable, biodegradable polymer hydrogels as a support structure for the regrowth of knee cartilage, and conducted in vitro studies to determine the best growing conditions for cartilage tissue within them. The injection of a hydrogel containing healthy cartilage cells into a patient's damaged knee is far less invasive than traditional knee surgery, resulting in less damage to the body, less inflammation, fewer immune responses, and a shorter recovery time. If the implementation is ultimately successful, the implanted cells would grow as the hydrogel safely degrades, leaving behind new, functional cartilage.
Diana graduated in December 2008 and now works at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). She also serves on the BIOE Advisory Board.
Advisor: Srinivasa Raghavan (Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering)
Matt's research in the Complex Fluids & Nanomaterials Group focused on soft matter, materials that are deformable solids or highly viscoelastic liquids. Dowling drew inspiration from biology by designing biomaterials that self assemble and are similar in structure to cells and their organelles to design four soft matter systems: a triggered-release hydrogel created by embedding pH-sensitive vesicles in a gelatin matrix; hybrid biopolymer capsules containing drug-loaded vesicles (hollow spheres made out of lipids) by means of a one-step self-assembly process; therapeutically functionalized biopolymer films; and a biopolymer that transforms a suspension of whole blood or soft tissue cells into a gel. The last application became the driving force behind Remedium Technologies, an award-winning startup company he founded with other graduate students and postdocs in his lab. Remedium's blood-clotting wound care products include a surgical spray, a foam for non-compressible injuries, a "biobandage", and a surgical spray.
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Angela, our first Fischell Fellow, received her bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from the University of Maryland in 1996 and her master's degree in electrical engineering from Stanford in 1998. Her Ph.D. research focused on the design of chemical sensors that could accelerate the detection of toxins like anthrax. She developed systems-on-a-chip capable of performing selective determination of compounds in a variety of fluids, such as blood, urine and saliva. By reproducing multiple laboratory capabilities on a portable, handheld device, she hoped to enable real-time, on-site analysis that could save lives through faster diagnosis.