Three Parks Faculty Awarded President’s Research Fund Grants

April 3, 2017
Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, Parks College News, Research

gai136x175Yan Gai, Ph.D.

Three Parks College faculty members have received President’s Research Fund grants totaling $100,000 to explore medical challenges as varied as cancer stem cells, intuitive navigation algorithms and fluid physics involved with the cardiac cycle.

Faculty members Yan Gai, Ph.D., and Silviya Zustiak, Ph.D, both of the Biomedical Engineering department, each received a grant of $25,000. Mark McQuilling, Ph.D. of the Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering department received a $50,000 grant for a cross-disciplinary collaborative project with Dawn S. Hui, M.D., from the School of Medicine.

Gai’s research focuses on the operation of motor-powered wheelchairs by those with spinal cord injuries (SCI). While these chairs are often the major transportation device for people with such injuries, patients who lack the ability to press buttons or push joysticks are often limited in their use of such wheelchairs. Gai’s research proposes to utilize recent achievements in brain-computer interfaces (BCI) to develop an intuitive navigation algorithm that directly decodes the user’s spatial attention. The key innovation would be to map the physical space surrounding the user with headphone-delivered sound, a technique called virtual acoustic space.

zustiak136x175Silviya Zustiak, Ph.D

Zustiak’s research explores the theory of cancer stem cells (CSCs) and their role in metastasis, tumorigenicity and how their resistance to therapy is shifting the emphasis on the search for cancer cure. CSCs are a specialized, rare (one in a million) subset of tumor cells with stem cell-like properties. Unfortunately, CSCs are difficult to culture in vitro, which severely limits the progress of CSC biology research as well as therapy development. Zustiak’s project postulates that hydrogel-based spheroids will significantly improve CSC enrichment, with the aim to determine how hydrogels can be used to expand CSCs in vitro and enable CSC research.

McQuilling’s research with Hui focuses on the application of computational fluid dynamics (CFD) techniques to cardiovascular phenomena and the potential to provide clinicians with improved understanding of fundamental fluid physics involved with the cardiac cycle. The heart circulates blood through the body using a complex electromechanical coordination of four separate chambers, which expand and contract. The motions and timing of these four chambers, along with the valves and flexible structures involved, comprise a very challenging system to model computationally.

mcquilling136x175Mark McQuilling, Ph.D.

McQuilling and Hui’s project seeks to investigate structural and fluid dynamic aspects of the aortic valve and aorta in normal and diseased states by combining expertise from a cardiac surgeon specializing in aortic surgery with an engineering professor who routinely uses computational fluid dynamics.

President’s Research Fund grants are for a one-year period. The program is designed to support promising projects that have strong potential to attract external funding.

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