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
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 and appropriate matching layer for acoustic impedance matching. 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 gain direct exposure to 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, biological assays, and/or 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.
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 cell type with many unique properties, including the ability to differentiate into a number of tissue types, home to and aid in the repair of damaged tissue, and modulate immune functions. Along with their therapeutic potential, hMSCs can be easily accessed from a number of adult tissues, which has led to intensive research into hMSCs for applications in tissue engineering, regenerative medicine, and cancer therapy. Such research often focuses on the genetic modification of hMSCs through nonviral gene delivery (also referred to as “transfection”) in order to further enhance hMSC clinical potential, by directing differentiation or enabling the secretion of therapeutic factors. Although genetically modified hMSCs present great potential, hMSC transfection is often associated with both low levels of efficiency and cellular viability, which hinders translation to the clinic.
While research into improving transfection outcomes is generally focused on modifying the delivery vehicle, our lab focuses on identifying and targeting endogenous cellular factors involved in mediating hMSC transfection, by chemical “priming” of cells with small-molecule drugs. Recently, our research has focused on understanding the role of the intracellular innate immune response in hMSC transfection, with particular focus on the type 1 interferon response and its associated factors. The goal of this project is to further our understanding of the type 1 interferon response that occurs during hMSC transfection, developing methods to effectively target response-related factors for improving hMSC transfection outcomes.
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 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 fabricate and characterize biomaterials. 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 primary sensory neurons to determine the effects of the matrix on cell phenotype and protein production.