2016 Biological Conference Presentation Winners

Of the eighteen students and postdocs who submitted abstracts for the research poster and oral presentation competiton, thirteen were selected to present their work at the 2016 MRL Biological Conference. The first place winners in each category (student and postdoc), each won $100. Second place winners won $50.

Post Doc Presentation Winners

Dr. Bhushan Mahadik (first place) is a post-doctoral research associate in Dr. Harley’s lab at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. He received his Ph.D. in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering under Prof. Harley in 2014 and his B.S. in Chemical and Materials Science Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley in 2008.

His Ph.D. focused on studying the effects of the bone marrow niche environment on hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) biology and developing microfluidics-based 3D biomaterial platforms to engineer the HSC niche. The overarching goal is to develop biomaterial platforms capable of recreating aspects of the native bone marrow niche and to use them as a translational tool for studying hematological dysregulation. He is also working towards developing a computational model that supplements the experimental design and simulates the observed biological complexity to enable expansion of clinically relevant HSC populations.

Dr. Pilgyu Kang (second place) is currently a postdoctoral research associate in the department of Mechanical Science and Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, starting in 2014. His postdoctoral research in Dr. SungWoo Nam’s lab focuses on mechanically-reconfigurable optoelectronics and plasmonics based on the mechanics of atomically-thin materials, including graphene and MoS2, with both experimental and computational studies. His recent publication in Advanced Materials (selected as the Front Cover, 15 June 2016) has shown the impact of 3D topographic engineering of atomically thin materials, also known as two-dimensional (2D) materials. This novel approach allowed for a high-performance flexible photodetector that has high potential in flexible/wearable optical sensing technology for biomedical applications.

Prior to joining UIUC as a postdoctoral researcher, he received a doctoral degree in Mechanical Engineering from Cornell University in 2014 with a research focus on emerging nanophotonics and optofluidics for biomedical science and technology. He earned a master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University in 2009 and obtained a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Seoul National University in 2007.

Student Presentation Winners

Fatemeh Ostadhossein (first place) is currently a third year Ph.D. candidate and research assistant in the department of Bioengineering under the supervision of Professor Dipanjan Pan. She obtained her B.Sc. (2012) and M.Sc. (2014) in Materials Science and Engineering from Sharif University of Technology, Iran and a second M.S. in Bioengineering (2015) from University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.

Her primary research focus is on the development of novel biomaterials with emphasis on nanomedicine and bioimaging applications. She has authored and co-authored multiple review papers, book chapters and original research papers in peer reviewed journals such as Advanced Functional Materials, Small, Scientific Reports, etc. She has served as a co-principal investigator for a Carle Illinois Collaborative Research Seed Grant Award amounting to $43,000.

Aaron Schwartz-Duval (second place) joined the Pan Research Group in fall 2014, focusing on the development of nanoparticle-based theranostics (combined therapeutics and diagnostics) for his graduate research. Aaron earned his B.S. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Michigan State University. His undergraduate thesis, with the Sharkey Lab, focused on the development of a high-throughput isoprene synthase assay. Intermittently, Aaron was also a laboratory technologist with Michigan State University’s Molecular and Cellular Imaging Lab (MCIL) with Erik Shapiro between his undergraduate and graduate studies. With the MCIL group, Aaron developed and optimized nanoparticle-based contrast agents for enhanced detection of pathology via X-Ray CT and MRI.

Currently, Aaron’s research towards nanoparticle-based theranostics with the Pan lab capitalizes on many utilities/structures found in or inspired by nature. This biomimetic (bios—life; mimesis—imitation) strategy utilizes two approaches: Making artificial substances or structures similar to those found in nature. Utilizing materials or structures naturally occurring toward individual applications.

Aaron optimizes nanoparticles for drug/contrast agent loading using the first approach in biomimetics by aiming to develop high-ordered branching nanoparticles termed polyvillic (poly—many; villi—shaggy hair) after the villi/microvilli of the intestines. 

For the second approach to biomimicry, Aaron utilizes and capitalizes on features of the pathology which have homophilic (homo—self; philic—loving) characteristics which are unique to specific portions of the cells which they originate. Within this project, Aaron aims to incorporate these homophilic portions of diseased cells with nano-theranostics for a patient-to-cell level of specificity of delivery.