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Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Levi Wood

By Disha Vaswani, Vikram V. and Hyatt Bao Dr. Levi Wood is an Assistant Professor in the George W. Woodruff School ...

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Biomedical Engineer Abroad

By Nabilah Khanam, Hyatt Bao and Vikram V. A few weeks before Ben Rapsas had to present the freshmen convocation speech, ...

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The BME Learning Commons

The Learning Commons (LC) was launched in 2014 with the idea of helping BME students with the 4C’s: Curriculum, Creativity, ...

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Inside the Mind of Abhinaya Uthayakumar

"One of my happiest moments was my 2015 Alternative Service Break experience through Habitat for Humanity. It was a week-long ...

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Inside the Mind of Brandon Holt

"When I would stay in Székelyudvarhely, where my mother grew up, a very small village in Romania that interestingly is ...

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Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Levi Wood

By Disha Vaswani, Vikram V. and Hyatt Bao

Dr. Levi Wood is an Assistant Professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech. Despite being offered the position five years ago, he joined Georgia Tech only recently after the completion of his postdoctoral research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical school. His main area of research is Bioengineering: studying inflammation and its effect on vasculature as well as developing a microfluidic platform to study interactions between cells and proteins which cause the progression of inflammatory diseases.

Dr. Wood first became interested in Bioengineering when he joined a robotics lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a graduate student. He joined the lab to work on robotic hands but switched to a research project developing wearable health monitoring devices which would measure vital signs like heart rate and pulse much like a Fitbit does today.

Later, his advisor set him up with another group at MIT that was interested in growing cells using microfluidic chambers. Dr. Wood was interested in how he could regulate the growth of blood vessels by inserting a scaffold like collagen in the central channel of these chips and seeding epithelial cells in it. For his Ph.D. project, Dr. Wood successfully developed a computational model to predict the elongation rate and the diameter of these blood vessels.

As a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School and at Georgia Tech, Dr. Wood’s work has been primarily related to inflammation in Alzheimer’s disease. The traditional way of thinking about Alzheimer’s disease is in terms of the presence of amyloid beta plaques, extracellular plaques produced by neurons. Previously, it was thought that just targeting the plaques, inhibiting their formation or targeting their clearance could help reduce cognitive decline. However, the results of the first drug came out in 2010, which showerd the progression of the disease only worsening. Later clinical trials, which didn’t show much promise, clarified that the plaques are a part of the picture but not the whole story.

Dr. Wood and his team thought that other factors are involved. The observation of the presence of resilient or mismatched cases which had plaques like those in Alzheimer’s cases, only without cognitive decline helped promote this idea. Also, normal indicators of neuroinflammation, microglial activation and astrocyte reactivity, were not present in these patients. Based on this observation, it appeared as though it was not the plaques that causing the trouble, but something in the inflammatory process.

At Georgia Tech, Dr. Wood’s observations at Harvard Medical School becomes part of a broader research. His research involves analyzing inflammatory protein in the resilient cases, looking for markers of inflammation different in the resilient cases and trying to identify orthogonal axis of inflammation in the resilient cases vs. the Alzheimer’s cases. He and his research team are building in vitro platforms to do the job. While a lot of the focus has been on neurons, they think the interaction between the neurons, the microglia, the astrocytes,the supporting cells, and the inflammatory state that develops are related to the blood brain barrier; the vessels at the periphery of the brain become leaky, so peripheral immune cells and epithelial cells and infections enter into the brain.

With the microfluidic platform, by culturing these multiple cell types and neurons, they are trying to understand what happens when the microglia are exposed to the amyloid beta plaque. While visiting the research lab with graduate student, Johnathan Long, I had the chance to watch a recording that showed how proteins affected the permeability of blood vessels which allowed a stain to cross the epithelial cells into the vessel. This involved the use of phosphorescence to track the interaction between epithelial cells and proteins for the development of blood vessels and test the effect of certain proteins on the permeability of these blood vessels, affecting their leakiness.

In addition to his own research, Dr. Wood very much enjoys the company at Georgia Tech and collaborates with numerous researchers at both Georgia Tech and Emory University, studying vast varieties of subjects including inflammation, trauma to the nervous system and stem cell research. He also teaches dynamics of rigid bodies (ME 2202), a sophomore level mechanical engineering course.

Dr. Wood spends his spare time tutoring homeless children and enjoys spending time with his two cats Rhodi and Dapi, named after the cell stains rhodamine phalloidin and dapi.

This Alzheimer’s and inflammation research is a study that provides engineering tools to the biological problems. This This study, still in its initial stages, is expected to open many doors for the development of treatments for Alzheimer’s disease. This interview with Dr. Wood was not only a very vivid educational experience for me but also an eye opener as to how much more this study, and I, have to learn and how many great possibilities this process of learning will lead to.


Biomedical Engineer Abroad

By Nabilah Khanam, Hyatt Bao and Vikram V.

A few weeks before Ben Rapsas had to present the freshmen convocation speech, he was 2,368 miles away in Ecuador. Other than having to deal with almost being stuck in the middle of the ocean, almost falling down a volcano, and some very iffy wifi, Ben had the best six weeks of his life!
Ben was on the Spanish Language, Business and Technology (LBAT) program in Ecuador that also included a weeklong exploration of the Galapagos Islands. The program is faculty-led, so Georgia Tech professors teach courses at the local university. Furthermore, participants are fully integrated into Ecuador by living with a host family and using their spanish daily.
Ben was very nervous about having to live with a host family, but luckily he had a great time! They welcomed him like he was their own son. If Ben was running late to dinner, they would leave a plate out for him with instructions on how to heat up the food. He went on picnics with his host family, played soccer with them, and they watched soccer matches together. To Ben, his host family became his family.
Ben also gained another family from the other Georgia Tech students who went on the program with him. From having to work on group projects together and traveling together, Ben got to know his peers. However, he felt like they developed the closest connections when the group traveled to Galapagos Islands. With hardly any technology available to them when they arrived, all they had could do was talk. Ben said that he, “gained some of [his] closest friends on this trip.”
Most importantly, Ben grew as a person – he came out of the program with a higher maturity level. Studying abroad in a non-English speaking country taught him how to take care of himself, be independent and helped him gain more self-confidence.
Ben completed this program because he is pursuing a Spanish minor. As a prospective medical student, he wanted the ability to effectively communicate with his patients in their first language in hopes of making them more comfortable. However, he was very honest that at first, he didn’t think he could do this program because he had only just completed his first year at Tech. But after doing some research, Ben realized that it was the perfect time to study abroad for him, and so he seized the opportunity.
His advice for anyone thinking about studying abroad is this: “To anyone [who] thinks it is not possible to go after your freshmen year or [who is] having any doubts, just do a little research. It might surprise you how much fun you [will] have, all the people you will meet and how the experience will influence what you do five to ten years from now.”


The BME Learning Commons

The Learning Commons (LC) was launched in 2014 with the idea of helping BME students with the 4C’s: Curriculum, Creativity, Connections, and Career. The LC has quickly grown to become an umbrella organization that supports multiple initiatives in the BME department, a few of which include the mentorship program, dinner jackets, FOCUS tutoring, and, of course, Dr. Le Doux’s famous podcasts.

The LC is currently undergoing a transition phase. Walk into a meeting, and you’ll find the members brainstorming ideas to chart a new roadmap for the organization. They have come up with three major goals for the coming years. First, they are looking to improve the academic support provided to BME students by further developing FOCUS tutoring. FOCUS, which stands for Facilitated Open Collaborative Undergraduate Study, comprises of a group of upperclassmen, each with a specific sub-field they’re comfortable with, guiding students struggling with a particular class. FOCUS tutoring is especially popular because students are guided and encouraged to solve problems on their own.

Another area of development that the LC is working towards is improving the freshman BME experience. With the introductory BME class no longer in existence, the freshman often feel rather disconnected with their major. The LC has planned to host TED TalksTM and organize visits to clinical settings to acquaint incoming freshmen with their major.

Finally, the LC plans to organize a medical-themed Hack-a-thon to enhance entrepreneurial spirit in BME students. The event will see students from diverse fields come together in small teams to solve problems plaguing the healthcare field.
The LC has come a long way since its inception in 2014, and by the looks of it, it is just getting warmed up!


Inside the Mind of Abhinaya Uthayakumar

“One of my happiest moments was my 2015 Alternative Service Break experience through Habitat for Humanity. It was a week-long service trip during spring break at Jacksonville, Florida where I had an opportunity to go build houses and work with AmeriCorps. I never knew it was possible to become so close to 17 other people in a week, but the other Tech students, advisors, and I instantly became a family. We were truly making a difference. Having the chance to meet the future house owners and seeing their love and appreciation for our service brought immense joy. This experience will be forever cherished. As a strong believer in “we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give,” I will always be grateful for being a part of this service project.”

Abhinaya Uthayakumar, Editor-in-Chief of The Pioneer
Biomedical Engineering, 4th Year Undergraduate Student

 


Inside the Mind of Brandon Holt

“When I would stay in Székelyudvarhely, where my mother grew up, a very small village in Romania that interestingly is almost entirely Hungarian. It’s a cultural thing that goes back to the fall of Transylvania and Austria-Hungary, but it was pretty cool to drive through so much that was Romanian, with just a small dot of a very different culture in the middle. We stayed in a small hotel higher up on a mountain, and would go down into the town each day to visit family and walk through all these interesting shops and old churches. It was a very different world and an experience I won’t forget.”

Brandon Holt, Senior Writer of The Pioneer
Biomedical Engineering, 3rd Year Undergraduate Student

 


Inside the Mind of Catherine Chou

“I felt the most successful when I traveled to Boston last September to present at a big research conference (TERMIS-WC), thanks to two years of hard work and the support of multiple graduate students, post-docs and PIs here at Georgia Tech and at Gladstone! It was wonderful to see the long hours pay off and also to have the opportunity to converse with some of the top scientists in the world on tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.”

Catherine Chou, Senior Online Editor of The Pioneer
Biomedical Engineering, 4th Year Undergraduate Student