The Biomedical Engineering REU is designed to provide independent research experience for undergraduate students, broaden participant knowledge of opportunities in academia, industry and national laboratories, and introduce participants to interdisciplinary research in biomedical devices.
The goal of every medical practitioner is to improve quality of life for patients. Biomedical engineering and devices are instrumental in achieving this. The primary focus in each summer research project is biomedical devices designed to enhance medical care through science and engineering, with emphasis in two areas: (1) devices for diagnostics and sensing and (2) devices for therapeutics and intervention.
All projects are designed to be completed during the 10 week program and are a part of a faculty mentor's current research. This allows the student to be involved in many aspects of research, including design, analysis, simulation, and implementation of a biomedical device.
Students are also extensively involved in lab activities, such as weekly lab meetings. Research results are presented during lab meetings throughout the summer and at the end-of-summer in the Summer Research Symposium poster session. Lab members, especially graduate students and postdoctoral associates, are active with summer program research.
Competitive stipend: $6,000
Suite-style room and meal plan
Travel expenses to and from Lincoln
Campus parking and/or bus pass
Full access to the Campus Recreation Center and campus library system
Dr. Greg Bashford, Dr. Eric Markvicka
Biological Systems Engineering, Mechanical & Materials Engineering
Design and development of a wearable ultrasound patch for measuring cerebral blood flow
Ultrasound is a safe, noninvasive method of measuring blood flow in the body. Transcranial Doppler ultrasound (TCD) is a specialized ultrasound modality that measures blood flow in cerebral arteries deep within the brain. TCD may be used as an inexpensive method to measure the brain’s response to stimuli since neural activity is correlated with blood flow in the cerebral cortex. However, methods to continuously monitor brain response are lacking. This REU project will create a wearable Doppler ultrasound device for real-time, continuous monitoring of blood flow velocity to measure brain response. The device will be constructed using soft, “skin-like” materials that closely match the mechanical properties of biological tissue to ensure conformal contact with the curved surface of the human body.
This is a joint REU project where two students will work jointly with Dr. Bashford and Dr. Markvicka. One student will work closely with Dr. Bashford and his lab to learn how to scan subjects using a portable ultrasound device; by the first week’s end, they will be able to measure blood flow in a fellow student. The following three weeks will be devoted to learning and performing data analysis. The other student will work closely with Dr. Markvicka and his lab to learn techniques for creating stretchable electronic circuits from flexible copper clad substrates, by the first week’s end, they will have created a circuit to blink an LED. The following three weeks will be devoted to creating a two-layer circuit with piezoelectric transducer. During the next three weeks, the students will work together to characterize the wearable ultrasound device and measure blood flow in a fellow student. In the final third of the summer, the student will be encouraged to develop (and present to Dr. Bashford’s and Dr. Markvicka’s lab) their own ideas about what the next steps would be if they were in charge. The student also will prepare a poster for the UNL Research Symposium, and if results warrant, draft a paper for peer-reviewed publication.
The field of nanomedicine offers the potential to improve the understanding and treatment of many disease processes by allowing researchers and clinicians the ability to deliver treatments to specific areas of the body, image where the treatments are going in real-time, and track responses. Therefore, the development of multifunctional nanoparticles has garnered significant attention especially for improving delivery into the brain for neurological diseases including traumatic brain injury, brain cancer, and dementia for which there is a significant lack of effective treatment options. These nanoparticles typically consist of a small core that acts as a scaffold to carry imaging agents for tracking nanoparticle localization in the body through various imaging modalities such as magnetic resonance and fluorescence imaging, therapeutic moieties for treatment, and targeting agents for binding cell surface receptors expressed in target tissue. The goal of the Kievit lab is to harness these capabilities of nanotechnology to provide strategies that will improve treatment of various neurological disorders.
The student working with Dr. Kievit’s group will be introduced to nanoparticle drug delivery vehicles as well as various mechanisms to gain entry into the brain and treat disease. Simultaneously, the student will be trained on various aspects of our work from nanoparticle synthesis and characterization strategies, to biological assays that assess nanoparticle treatment effects, to imaging nanoparticle delivery with MRI and fluorescence systems. Once this is complete, the student should be able to formulate a hypothesis on how to achieve the project goal as well as methods to test this hypothesis. During the middle of the summer, the student will use their developed skills to test their hypothesis by generating and interpreting characterization and imaging results. During the final third of the summer the student will reformulate their hypothesis based on their preliminary results and use their methods to re-test this hypothesis (search and re-search!). During this project, the student is expected to gain an understanding of the limitations of neurological disease treatment and how nanoparticle engineering strategies can be used to overcome these limitations. The student will get hands-on experience in nanoparticle synthesis strategies, characterization methods, and use of different imaging systems. The student will also get the experience of processing, analyzing, and interpreting experimental data, as well as data presentation in written and oral form.
Molecular Mechanosensors of Flow-induced Stem Cell Migration
Migrating mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) contribute to homeostasis and modulate the repair of damaged tissues in vivo . MSC migration-dependent regenerative medicine strategies such as cell therapies have, however, suffered from low efficiency in cell homing to the target tissue. While conventional soluble factor-driven static chemotaxis experiments have revealed some aspects of MSC migration and homing , there is a huge knowledge barrier with regard to how mechanical environments such as fluid flow-induced shear stress affect MSC migration . Considering MSCs in vivo are exposed during migration to fluid flows in the blood vessel and interstitial space, this study investigates how physiologically relevant fluid shear conditions will affect MSC migration behavior.
The REU student will learn by week two how to apply fluid flow stimulation to the cells using a well-defined macro-flow chamber and how to analyze cell migration with the imaging tools developed in the lab. In weeks three through six, s(he) will be able to test the effects of physiological fluid shear stresses (5, 10, 20 dyne/cm2) on MSC migration in the absence or presence of a silenced molecular mechanosensor, e.g., small hairpin RNA (shRNA) of focal adhesion kinase (FAK). In the final third of the summer, the student will be encouraged to develop his/her own idea about which molecular mechanosensor would be tested as a potential effector to mediate flow-induced MSC migration. The student will prepare a poster presentation for the UNL Summer Research Symposium, and potentially draft a manuscript for a conference abstract or journal paper. Throughout the summer, in parallel, the student will be taught how to formulate hypotheses based on observed fluid shear-induced MSC migration behavior, and perform relevant literature reviews.
Robotic Technology for Next-Generation Minimally Invasive Surgery
Robotic tools are becoming a standard fixture in medicine, and particularly in surgery, where they can help enhance dexterity and visualization in minimally invasive approaches. Inserted, in-vivo robots (like miniature surgeon arms inside the abdomen) can have particularly high functionality. However, the small electric motors that typically drive these surgical robots are problematic: they take up too much space for too little force and speed capability, and electrical connections multiply the possible failure modes and reduce reliability.
Dr. Nelson’s lab is developing strategies for actuator integration and modularity to increase functionality and reliability of these surgical robots while dramatically lowering cost. The specific research purpose of this project is to investigate the efficacy of different actuator and linkage layouts to maximize robot functionality and reliability. The REU student will perform hands-on testing of prototype robot components (beginning in week 1) and collect data (beginning in week 2) on their performance. As (s)he gains familiarity with the project, the participant will progress to computer-aided design (by week 4) and simulation and prototype fabrication (by week 6) of his/her own original designs and/or modifications to existing designs. It is expected that along the way, (s)he will learn and apply principles of robot kinematics and dynamics, biomaterials selection, and engineering design methodology, along with somewhat lighter exposure to anatomy/physiology and computer science.
High Throughput Screening of Clinical Compounds that Prime Nonviral Gene Delivery in Human Mesenchymal Stem Cells
Human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs) are a multipotent cell type found in numerous tissues in the human body, such as bone marrow, fat, and muscle. Due to hMSCs multipotency and ease of obtaining, they have become one of the most widely researched stem cell types in fields such as tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, and applications like targeted delivery of drugs/secretion of therapeutic proteins, and cancer therapy. An area of high interest within these areas is genetic modification of hMSCs, which could be used to differentiate hMSCs, or to produce therapeutic proteins and signaling molecules. However, potential clinical success of genetically modified hMSCs has been hindered by low efficiency of gene transfer to hMSCs via nonviral vectors. While previous research has focused on modifying the delivery vector to increase transfection of hMSCs, the Pannier Lab is focused on identifying endogenous cellular factors, altered through chemical priming of clinically approved drugs that are important for successful nonviral gene delivery to hMSCs.
The student working with Dr. Pannier will be taught the basics of cell culture and nonviral gene delivery within the first three weeks, while also learning to analyze current literature and think critically about experimental procedures to formulate pertinent research questions. For the following three to four weeks, the student will assist Dr. Pannier in screening a library of compounds for priming nonviral gene delivery in multiple donors of hMSCs from various tissues, while also proposing and testing protocols for validation of hits (compounds that significantly increase transgene expression compared to a vehicle control). The remaining third of the summer will consist of data analyses to group and sort hits, while also analyzing compounds that significantly effect nonviral gene delivery to hMSCs, to begin to tease apart the mechanisms that are causing these effects.
The REU participant is expected to gain experience in critical thinking and literature searching pertaining to research, while also learning basic cell culture techniques and assays through extensive hands on learning. The student will learn the basics of nonviral gene delivery to hMSCs, and how chemical priming can alter nonvriral gene delivery outcomes, and will also learn to process and analyze data to produce meaningful results. Finally, the Pannier Lab hopes that the student will gain a deeper understanding of what takes place in a research lab, while also gaining a deeper appreciation for science, engineering, and research.
Fabrication of Microscale Hydrogel Beads Using Cross-flow-based Droplet Generation
Microscale hydrogel spheres have been widely used for biomedical research, such as cell encapsulation or three-dimensional cell culture. This project aims to fabricate such hydrogel beads using our cross-flow-based drop generator. In this effort, the water-based pre-polymer solution of a hydrogel will be injected through a syringe needle into mineral oil that rotates in rigid body motion. Then, monodisperse droplets of the solution will be generated at the needle tip by the motion of the oil, and the polymerization of the droplets will be controlled by either ultraviolet light or chemical cross-linkers.
The REU student will immediately participate in the project based on the following plan: (s)he will be trained for the cross-flow drop generation and general hydrogel fabrication (weeks 1-2); participate in fabricating hydrogel beads using the cross-flow-based drop generation (weeks 3-5); learn image processing and conduct data analysis to characterize fabricated hydrogel beads (weeks 6-7); and then develop her/his own ideas to improve the project, prepare a poster presentation for the Summer Research Symposium, and draft an abstract for a conference (weeks 8-10). In parallel, the student will join the lab journal club throughout the summer to learn literature review and scientific writing, and be mentored to conduct a literature survey for her/his own project-related question and develop a hypothesis on the process of hydrogel bead fabrication.
Biomaterials and therapeutics to prevent low back pain
Low back pain is one source of orthopedic pain recognized as a widespread clinical problem resulting from degeneration and innervation of the intervertebral disc. Prevention of nerve growth into the intervertebral disc and reduction of painful stimuli has the potential to prevent disc-associated low back pain independent of disc degeneration. Our lab develops natural biomaterial scaffolds to prevent undesired nerve growth and reduce nerve stimulation. This project will work on developing and characterizing these natural material scaffolds and drug delivery devices to treat low back pain. Over the course of the first two weeks, the REU student will learn basic lab techniques such as how to isolate natural scaffolds, how to make decellularization chemicals, and how to decellularize tissue. During weeks three and four, the student will learn cell culture techniques and assays for analysis. For the remainder of the summer, the student will culture various cell types including nucleus pulposus cells, macrophages, and/or stem cells in the decellularized tissue matrices to determine the effects of the matrix on cell phenotype and protein production.