NSF Awards Prestigious Graduate Fellowships to 6 Coulter Dept. Students

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The National Science Foundation delivered good news to six biomedical engineering students at Georgia Tech and Emory this month: They received Graduate Research Fellowships from the agency, which is among the most prestigious funding for grad students in the United States.

The fellowships pay for three years of graduate study along with an annual stipend. Students may only apply once, so the stakes are high.

“This fellowship came with valuable comments and critiques that I can use to further develop my project. Most importantly, my graduate studies will be enriched by summer internship opportunities and the vast network of STEM professionals and fellow graduate students who have also been granted this prestigious award,” said Kai Littlejohn, who’s in her first year of her Ph.D. studies. “Endorsement of my research and training from the National Science Foundation is an honor, and I am excited to take advantage of this opportunity to expand upon my ideas.”

This year’s fellows in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering include students working on neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s, cell manufacturing, 3D printing models for surgical planning and device testing, and flow mechanics related to strokes.

“It is a great honor to become an NSF Graduate Research Fellow,” said Retta El Sayed, a second-year Ph.D. student. “I believe this fellowship will open many doors, helping me complete my education and allowing me to make an impact in advancing STEM education and improving the quality of patients’ lives.”

The fellows also include a pair of Coulter BME undergraduates who will embark on their doctoral studies next year.

“The NSF graduate fellowship opens up avenues in the type of work and labs that I will be able to join,” said Ana Cristian, a fourth-year student graduating in May and in the midst of deciding where she will pursue her Ph.D. “Since my research and graduate coursework will be partially funded by an external benefactor, it makes me an extremely attractive candidate for professors.”

More about the group:

Ana Cristian

  • Fourth-year undergraduate
  • Undecided on Ph.D. program
  • Research: “My current advisor at Georgia Tech is Dr. James Dahlman. I work in the Lab for Precision Therapies developing lipid nanoparticles that can efficiently and safely deliver nucleic acid therapies to target cell populations. I have assisted in the development of two new high-throughput screening systems that can be used in any mouse strain to screen for novel lipid nanoparticle formulations.”

Retta El Sayed

  • Second-year Ph.D. student
  • Advisors: John Oshinski & Jason Allen
  • Research: “Currently, I am working on understanding the fluid mechanics and thrombosis formation mechanism in carotid webs (CaWs) using 4D Flow magnetic resonance imaging and computational fluid dynamics. CaWs appear as shelf-like projections in the internal carotid artery bulb and may account for up to 21% of young patients who suffer cryptogenic strokes. This study will be the first to quantitatively measure CaWs flow metrics, which has the potential to define patient-specific treatment options.”

Jakari Harris

  • First-year Ph.D. student
  • Advisor: David Frakes
  • Research: “[My work] aims to produce 3D printed models that not only achieve a specific geometry, but also react to physical stimuli (like pressure) in intentional ways. We will use patient-specific image data and computer simulations to create 3D-printed models that look and move like the real thing. These models will be used for surgical planning and medical device testing among many other things.”

Angela Jimenez

  • Second-year Ph.D. student
  • Advisor: Krishnendu Roy
  • Research: “My research is in the cell therapy manufacturing space, specifically looking at mesenchymal stromal cells — working towards improving the predictive quality of these cells and understanding their applications in mediating inflammatory states.”

Kai Littlejohn

  • First-year Ph.D. student
  • Advisor: Felipe Quiroz
  • Research: “My work involves contributing to a deeper understanding of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). I will engineer disease-related proteins with additional functions (i.e., fluorescence, proteomics) in order to evaluate their assembly behavior in brain cells as it relates to the progression of brain disorders.”

Nadine Zureick

  • Fourth-year undergraduate
  • Pursuing a Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University
  • Research: “My current research is in Dr. Hee Cheol Cho’s lab at Emory University. The focus is on developing gene therapies to treat cardiac arrhythmias. At Johns Hopkins, I will be continuing in the field of cardiac cell and tissue engineering.”


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