Three WPI Students Earn Competitive NIH Awards

One fellowship and two summer internships at the National Institutes of Health awarded to biomedical engineering students
July 02, 2013

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Regenerating skeletal muscle for people who suffer major trauma, studying how neurons react to certain chemicals, and exploring new treatments for cardiovascular disease—these are the challenges that will engage three Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) students who recently received research funding and internships from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Jonathan Grasman, a graduate student in biomedical engineering, received an NIH Kirschstein Predoctoral Fellowship. The two-year, $61,000 award will support his research using biopolymer microthreads as implantable scaffolds to promote skeletal muscle regeneration. Two undergraduate biomedical engineering majors, Katelyn Cabral '14 and Irena Cich '15, will spend the summer in NIH laboratories in Bethesda, Md., with 10-week funded internships focused on cardiology and neuroscience.

“These awards recognize both the quality of the students and the importance of the work being done by biomedical engineers to fundamentally change the treatment of trauma and disease,” said David Cyganski, dean of engineering ad interim. “WPI is proud to play a role in the further development of regenerative medicine and the treatment of disease.”

The clinical aim of Grasman’s doctoral research, which is co-advised by George Pins, associate professor of biomedical engineering, and Raymond Page, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, is to develop technology that may one day help people who have lost significant amounts of head or neck tissue as a result of trauma, such as car accidents, or illnesses like cancer. “Jon is an outstanding student, scientist, and engineer,” Pins said. “Everyone in our department is thrilled for him. It’s a terrific honor to receive this competitive and distinguished fellowship.”

Cabral, who assists with research in the Pins lab, was accepted into the NIH Biomedical Engineering Summer Internship Program, where she will be working in the lab of neuroscientist Herbert Geller, who studies how neurons react to certain stimuli. “As an undergraduate, Katelyn has become a valuable member of our lab team, and we know she’ll have a wonderful experience this summer,” Pins said.

Cich, who helps with research in the lab of Glenn Gaudette, associate professor of biomedical engineering, earned a slot as an intern at the NIH’s National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute. She will work in the lab of Robert Lederman, MD, testing technology that can be used to suture the heart through a catheter to treat leaking valves. “Irena has been actively involved in research in our lab for two academic years," Gaudette said. "I know the skills she’s developed here at WPI will serve her well, not only at the NIH this summer, but as she continues with her education and career.”

Grasman, from Warminster, Penn., earned a bachelor’s degree in bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh in 2008. Cabral is from Swansea, Mass., and Cich is from Minneapolis, Minn.

“We are so proud of these students’ accomplishments,” said Ki Chon, professor and head of the WPI Biomedical Engineering Department. “Only a handful of students are selected by the NIH each year for these internships and fellowships from hundreds of applications from top universities across the country. This recognition speaks to the quality of our students’ achievement, their innovation, and the rigor of their research.”