Advisor: Sarkis Mazmanian
Lab Website: https://sarkis.caltech.edu
Current Research: Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects 1% of the population over the age of 65 and represents the second most common neurodegenerative disease. Although PD is predominantly classified as a brain disorder, non-motor symptoms, including chronic constipation and gastrointestinal distress, often precede motor symptoms in up to 80% of PD patients. These findings suggest that the billions of microbial organisms that inhabit our gut, collectively termed the gut microbiota, may be implicated in disease pathogenesis. Indeed, discrepancies in the gut microbiota composition and levels of bacterial metabolites have been observed between healthy and PD patients. Despite these preliminary findings, precisely how peripheral factors from the gut influences PD progression remains poorly understood. Reem’s work in the Mazmanian lab aims to elucidate the role of the gut microbiome and bacterial metabolites on neuroinflammation in PD and attempt to explore whether we can harness the power of the gut microbiome for the development of innovative and non-invasive therapeutic strategies for PD patients. Reem received her undergraduate degree from Brown University in 2016 with a B.S in Biology.
In Reem's words: "I’m currently the first woman in my immediate and extended family to pursue a PhD and a higher education in STEM. Being a Middle Eastern woman in science has played a strong role in motivating me to pursue an advanced degree and a career in biological research. The traditional gender roles entrenched in many Arab communities often deter women from getting advanced degrees, especially in the sciences. While I have fully embraced my cultural heritage, challenging these traditional values has been a cornerstone of my own academic and extracurricular choices. Over the years, advancing my scientific knowledge has provided me the liberation and motivation to challenge traditional values and fulfill my future according to my personal standards of achievement. I hope that my experience growing as a scientist at Caltech will make me better equipped to work towards closing the gender and ethnic gap that currently exists in the STEM fields and pave the way for other female students pursuing a similar career track."
Reem anticipates: "Participating in the BLP will provide me exposure to the challenges that accompany technology commercialization and will allow me to acquire a diverse skillset to overcome these limitations. I hope to leave this program as a scientist with a strong foundation in clinically-relevant research and a well-rounded professional. In the future, I hope to translate these skills to assist in the development of new diagnostic and therapeutic strategies for health conditions such as neurodegenerative disorders. I also look forward to being part of a community with individuals from diverse academic and research backgrounds with similar professional goals."
Advisor: Michael Elowitz
Option: Chemical Engineering
Lab Website: http://www.elowitz.caltech.edu/
Current Research: The specific molecules and interactions of most cell signaling pathways are well known, but how those interactions give rise to critical cell functions, or even what full set of functions are possible, is less clear. Heidi uses the Bone Morphogenetic Protein (BMP) signaling pathway as a model system to study how cells “compute” gene expression outcomes from combinatorial signaling inputs, which is important to understanding the unique roles of BMP at all developmental stages as well as its use as a therapeutic. Heidi attended North Carolina State University on a Park Scholarship, where she studied Chemical Engineering and English as a part of the Benjamin Franklin Scholars Program.
Heidi's inspiration: “Chemistry and physics have a set of organizing principles, mostly expressed as equations (e.g. the wave function or Maxwell’s equations). For biology, we still have to build these frameworks, and they will include equations as well as something like narrative, as in the case of evolution. And then these principles will show us the true space of biological inventions that could exist, but don’t yet.”
In Heidi's words: “I prefer to use Facebook in Latin.”
Advisor: Mikhail Shapiro
Option: Biological Engineering
Lab Website: http://shapirolab.caltech.edu/
Current Research: Ultrasound is among the most widely used biomedical imaging modalities, but has limited ability to visualize dynamic molecular and cellular processes due to the lack of suitable nanoscale contrast agents. Gas Vesicles (GVs) ― hollow protein nanostructures isolated from buoyant microbes, have emerged as a new class of nanoscale imaging agents for ultrasound. The genetic encodability of these acoustic biomolecules provides a unique opportunity for engineering their mechanical, acoustic, surface and targeting properties at the level of their constituent proteins. Anupama’s work in the Shapiro lab has harnessed this opportunity to establish a molecular engineering platform for tuning GV properties for functional and multimodal ultrasound imaging. Akin to working with Lego pieces, the molecular engineering platform is modular and versatile, enabling production of GVs that give more distinct signals for non-invasive imaging in biological tissue, target specific cells such as cancer and immune cells, and create multi-color ultrasound images. Anupama is currently extending this platform to engineer nanoscale acoustic biosensors: GVs whose ultrasound signals change dynamically in response to the activity of specific molecules in their environment. Anupama earned her B.E.(Hons.) in Bioengineering at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and worked as a research assistant at the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in Singapore, before starting graduate school at Caltech. Anupama has received a number of awards, including the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship (2014), the SIA-NOL Full-Ride Undergraduate Scholarship (2006) and the 23rd NUS Faculty of Engineering Research and Innovation Merit Award (2009).
Selected Publications and Presentations:
R. W. Bourdeau, A. L-Gosselin, A. Lakshmanan, A. Farhadi, S.R. Kumar, S. P. Nety and M.G. Shapiro. Acoustic reporter genes for non-invasive imaging of microbes in mammalian hosts. Nature, 553 (2018), 86-90. Cover Article. doi: 10.1038/nature25021
- D. Maresca, A. Lakshmanan, A. L-Gosselin, J.M. Melis, Y-L. Ni, R.W. Bourdeau, D.M. Kochmann and M.G. Shapiro, Nonlinear ultrasound imaging of nanoscale acoustic biomolecules. Applied Physics Letters, 110 (2017) 073704.
- A. Lakshmanan, A. Farhadi, S. P. Nety, A. Lee-Gosselin, R. W. Bourdeau, D. Maresca and M. G. Shapiro, Molecular Engineering of Acoustic Protein Nanostructures. ACS Nano, 10 (2016) 7314-7322. Cover Article.
- A. Lakshmanan*, S.P. Nety*, D. Maresca and M.G. Shapiro. “Engineering Acoustic Biomolecules as Dynamic Molecular Sensors for Ultrasound,” 10th World Molecular Imaging Congress, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. (2017). *Equal contribution. Oral Presentation
- A. Lakshmanan*, S.P. Nety*, D. Maresca and M.G. Shapiro. “Engineering Acoustic Biomolecules as Dynamic Molecular Sensors for Ultrasound,” IEEE International Ultrasonics Symposium, Washington D.C., U.S.A. (2017). Poster Presentation
- A. Lakshmanan et al. Engineering Acoustic Biomolecules as Dynamic Molecular Sensors for Ultrasound, 1st GSC Graduate Research Spotlight, Caltech, Pasadena, California (2017). Oral Presentation
- A. Lakshmanan et al. Biomolecular Engineering of the Mechanical, Acoustic, Surface and Targeting Properties of Genetically-Encoded Gas Nanostructures for Multimodal Imaging, 7th International Conference on Biomolecular Engineering, San Diego (2017). Poster Presentation
- A. Lakshmanan et al. Cellular Agents for Non-Invasive Diagnosis, Monitoring and Treatment of Brain Disorders, DARPA Rising and Plenary Sessions of DARPA’s Wait, What?: A Future Technology Forum, St. Louis, Missouri (2015). Oral and Poster Presentation
- A. Lakshmanan et al. Molecular Control of Harmonic Signals in Gas Vesicle Contrast Agents for Ultrasound, World Molecular Imaging Congress, Honolulu, Hawaii (2015). Oral Presentation
In Anu's words: "In addition to science, I am extremely passionate about music and poetry. I received training as a vocalist in classical Indian music for 15 years and have given several solo concert recitals in India, Singapore and the United States. I enjoy travelling to beautiful destinations across the globe and writing poems on Nature’s wonderful creations."
Anu chose Caltech because: "Caltech to me is a holy grail for science – a picturesque and peaceful monastery for academicians, where brilliant minds come together and innovate for making the world a better place. I was also of the opinion that my graduate school experience would be enhanced by being a part of this close-knit and small, yet diverse university community, facilitating more meaningful interactions with students, staff and faculty."
Advisor: Changheui Yang
Option: Electrical Engineering
Lab Website: http://www.biophot.caltech.edu/research/index.html
Current Research: The optical microscope is a vital tool in the life sciences for obtaining image information. However, the microscope is limited by physical constraints as higher resolving capabilities are sought. Some of these limitations include a short depth of field and a small field of view at these higher resolutions. Because of these drawbacks, the prospects of high content, high throughput imaging have been obstructed. A potential solution to this problem is a computational microscopy method called Fourier Ptychographic Microscopy (FPM), which is currently being researched by Prof. Yang’s lab at Caltech. This method can computationally increase the resolving power of a microscope objective and correct optical aberrations. Daniel is constructing a compact, multi-well plate imaging device, that can be constructed using low-cost, massed produced components whose native shortcomings can be addressed using the FPM method. Daniel attended the University of Arizona on a National Hispanic Scholarship and received his B.S. in Biomedical Engineering. He is a recipient of the GEM fellowship and had the opportunity to intern at MIT Lincoln Laboratories the summer before entering Caltech as part of the fellowship program.
Daniel's inspiration: "Using the combined knowledge from several fields, bioengineering provides us the opportunity to not only increase human life expectancy, but more importantly, to improve the quality of life during this time. In addition, through the development of new therapies and improvement of existing ones, bioengineering is poised to provide easier and equal access to healthcare for all."
In Daniel's words: "What I am most looking forward to in the BLP at Caltech is the opportunity to explore the context of my research and its impact to the field and our community. As we all delve deeper into research, our “tunnel vision” can cloud our connections to the greater picture. However, to quote Aristotle, “nature abhors a vacuum”, and so too does scientific discovery. Through BLP, I’ll have the opportunity to network with peers and established researchers. I’ll also have the chance to meet members of industry through company visits. It’s my goal to use these connections provided by BLP to close the gap between my graduate school experiences and the outside world."
Advisor: Julia Greer
Option: Materials Science
Lab Website: http://jrgreer.caltech.edu/home.php
Current Research: Two-photon lithography has recently emerged as one of the most powerful tools for creating complex, three-dimensional materials of virtually any geometry. The architectural versatility renders these 3D structures useful for many potential technological applications, including drug delivery and tissue engineering. To realize these devices, it is not only important to precisely engineer the structure and architecture of the materials, it is also necessary to have control over the chemical functionality on the surface and/or in the volume of these 3D structures. Daryl leads a group within the Greer group that is investigating how to incorporate chemical functionality onto these 3D structures so that they can be used for a variety of biomedical applications. As part of a large collaborative project with research institutions around the country, Daryl is exploring how to utilize these functionalized architected materials to improve the efficiency of chemotherapy. Daryl received his undergraduate degree in Materials Science and Engineering at Imperial College London. Daryl has received a number of awards, including The Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining Royal Charter Award in 2014 and a Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst Scholarship to conduct research in Dresden, Germany in 2013.
Selected Publications and Presentations
- Yee, D. W., Schulz, M. D., Grubbs, R. H., & Greer, J. R. (2017). Functionalized 3D Architected Materials via Thiol‐Michael Addition and Two‐Photon Lithography. Advanced Materials, 29(16).
Get to know Daryl: "When I graduated from Imperial, I decided to take land-based transport all the way back home to Singapore. It took over 40 days to do so! Highlights of the trip include taking the Trans-Mongolian railway as well as walking across the bridge connecting Malaysia and Singapore."
You might be surprised to know: Most of Daryl's undergraduate work was focused on metallurgy, and how to develop alloys for tank armor. Most of his day-to-day work was melting alloys and then rolling and forging them into test samples. It was only at Caltech that Daryl got interested in biomedical devices and the chemistry underlying them. Quite a change of field!