Two Petit Institute Graduate Students Receive Philanthropic Educational Organization Award

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Marian Hettiaratchi and Ariel Kniss, Ph.D. candidates in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University, are two of 85 doctoral students nationwide selected to receive a $15,000 Scholar Award from the Philanthropic Educational Organization (P.E.O.) Sisterhood. Both were sponsored by the Georgia P.E.O. Chapter.

The P.E.O. Scholar Awards (PSA) were established in 1991 to provide substantial merit-based awards for the women of the United States and Canada who are pursuing a doctoral level degree at an accredited college or university. The P.E.O. Sisterhood, founded January 21, 1869, at Iowa Wesleyan College, Mount Pleasant, Iowa, is a philanthropic educational organization interested in bringing increased opportunities for higher education to women. There are approximately 6,000 local chapters in the United States and Canada with nearly a quarter of a million active members.

Hettiaratchi is a third year Ph.D. candidate. She received a BSc. in Chemical and Biomedical Engineering in 2011 from the University of Calgary, where she worked on several stem cell bioprocessing projects at the Pharmaceutical Production Research Facility (PPRF) under the supervision of Arindom Sen, Ph.D. She is currently co-advised by professors Todd McDevitt, Ph.D. and Robert Guldberg, Ph.D., working on a project that aims to improve biotherapeutic strategies for bone regeneration and repair. Hettiaratchi is developing novel glycosaminoglycan-based biomaterials for the sustained delivery of pluripotent stem cell morphogens to bone injury sites. This project presents a unique “cell-free” strategy for harnessing the regenerative potential of pluripotent stem cells by capturing and delivering the potent proteins they secrete.

Kniss is also in her third year of graduate school working with associate professor, Melissa Kemp, Ph.D., and professor, Hang Lu, Ph.D. She graduated summa cum laude from Bucknell University in 2011 fulfilling degrees in Mathematics and Biology. The overall objective of her research is to better characterize the cross talk between calcium and Reactive Oxygen Signaling (ROS) during T-cell activation and to ultimately determine subpopulation heterogeneity. The innovation of this lies in the combined use of novel microfluidic devices capable of applying robust dynamic stimulation with soluble cues, such as hydrogen peroxide, and a controls-based computational model capable of extracting key dominant pathways within the complex signaling network.

In addition to the PSA, Hettiaratchi is also a recipient of a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) doctoral fellowship and has presented her work at national and international conferences, including the annual Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine International Society – Americas (TERMIS-AM) conference and Regenerative Medicine Workshop at Hilton Head Island.

Kniss is a Georgia Tech President's Fellow and also received a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship in 2012. She has presented her work at the Frontiers in Systems and Synthetic Biology (FSSB) Conference in 2013 and at the 2014 ImmunoEngineering Symposium.


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