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Student Innovators Program - Summer 2012 Projects and Mentors

Bioengineering & Immunology

Project: Backpacking T Cells
Rohan Fernandes, PhD & Sasa Radoja, PhD

T cells are a group of lymphocytes (white blood cells) that play a central role in cell-mediated immunity. Cytotoxic T cells (or killer T cells) belong to a subgroup of white blood cells that are capable of destroying host’s virally-infected and tumor cells. The goal of this work is to enhance the function of killer white blood cells (i.e., make them better killers) by attaching special cargo or a backpack to their surface. In this project we will 1) use different types of backpacks; 2) use different methods to put a backpack on the killer white blood cells; and 3) test whether the backpack indeed made the white blood cells stronger and better killers.

Pain Medicine

Project: Measuring patient-reported outcomes post-surgery
Cynthia Ronzio, PhD

Measuring patient-reported outcomes (PROs) for pain (in contrast to a clinician’s assessment) is recognized as a critical piece of assessing the success of surgery, anesthesia or pain medication.   However, effective PROs for post-surgery pain have not been established for children.  The goal of this project is to acquire pain assessments from children, parents, and clinicians following an in-patient surgical procedure.  Convergence and divergence between the assessments will be analyzed. The two long-term goals of this inquiry are to 1) develop a PRO tool for children post-surgery and to 2) develop predictors of patient-reported pain and parental-reported patient pain.   

Project: Preclinical behavioral studies to assess pain sensitivity
Li Wang, MD, PhD & Zenaide Quezado, MD

Assessing pain sensitivity, cognitive function and social ability in Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) and Autistic Spectrum Disorder preclinical models will provide information that will help discover new treatments for SCD and autism in the areas of pain, cognitive functions, and social abilities.  This project is designed specifically for high school students who will learn how to conduct these behavioral tests, analyze behavioral videos and data, and better understand experimental design; in addition, they will research the nature of the diseases themselves.

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Systems Biology

Project: Expression profiling of visceral vs. subcutaneous adipose tissue from the lean and obese.
Monica Hubal, PhD

This study aims to test the hypotheses that alterations in pathways of lipid synthesis and mobilization are based on heritable traits that predispose individuals to obesity and that visceral and subcutaneous adipose stores will demonstrate unique gene expression profiles. Epigenetic profiles will be compared between lean and obese groups and differentially methylated genes will be explored. Primary techniques learned will be DNA and RNA extraction, mRNA and methylation profiling and statistical analysis.

Project: Cardiovascular Health Intervention Program (CHIP)
Monica Hubal, PhD

CHIP is a baseline study targeting 3,000 6th grade students (ages 10-12) to identify genetic factors that predispose individuals to developing metabolic syndrome and/or type 2 diabetes.  The study evaluates genetic variations in an effort to identify genotype-phenotype associations with clinical biomarkers and anthropometric measurements (BMI) related to metabolic syndrome, as well as fitness measures. Primary techniques learned will be DNA extraction, genotyping and statistical analysis.

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External and Internal Communications

Project: Development of editorial calendar and a periodic electronic communications series
Jennifer Stinebiser

The Sheikh Zayed Institute houses a primary electronic communications channel——one of only three blogs presently in operation at Children’s NationalMedicalCenter. aims to translate the complexities of pediatric innovation activities around the world, mainly through the work of our Institute, into relevant content for general audiences, including the public (parents/community with science interest), media, and to some extent, members of our internal and external research communities. The goal of this project is to establish an editorial calendar that will allow for a regular series of electronic communications to aggregate content from the existing channel and push it out to a wider audience in a systematic way. This project will also include some content execution/creation (story drafting, pictures, video) that will serve as the basis for the new outreach effort. Some writing, publication, and editing experience is required, as well as a strong scientific/innovation base that will allow the candidate to understand the complexities of the work well enough to translate into layperson’s terms.

Innovation Management

Project: Database and business plan development
Floortje Blindenbach, PhD & Lawrence C. Mahan, PhD

The Sheikh Zayed Institute’s principal investigators need to develop and write business plans as part of their research planning process. In this project, students will assist with background research; capture all the sources discovered in databases; and annotate them with the purpose of making business plan-related information (i.e. sources for scientific papers, intellectual property, clinical statistics, cases, reimbursement etc.) easily found by future investigators.  An MBA or similar background/experience desired.


Project: Interface Device for Cerebral Palsy Patients
Axel Krieger, PhD

Cerebral palsy (CP) is the most common motor disorder in children and is second only to autism as the most common disability in children. About 500,000 children under the age of 18 currently have cerebral palsy (CP). CP patients often lack the necessary motor skills to operate standard and existing special keyboards. Since communication is often impaired, improved interface devices have a huge impact in patient’s life. Students will work in a team with physicians and engineers. The goal of this project is to develop prototype interface devices based on commercially available touchscreens and tablets to help pediatric patients communicate. Pressure-sensitive touchscreen, webcam recognition of finger/arm position, and other hand/finger tracking methods will be explored.

Project: Image processing for reduced-dose CT reconstruction
Marius George Linguraru, DPhil

Computed tomography (CT) is commonly adopted for imaging soft and hard tissue for diagnosis and pre-operative planning. The three-dimensional analysis of organs from CT is important for diagnosis and treatment response evaluation of cancer. Usage of CT has increased dramatically over the last decades in many countries. Despite the undisputed diagnostic benefits of CT, the effects of exposure to X-ray radiation during the procedure remain highly debatable, particularly in children. The goal of this project is to develop a computer-based reconstruction technique from incomplete pediatric CT data to allow the interpretation of CT data from reduced-dose acquisitions.

Project: Visual illusions: Optimizing image overlay in surgical augmented reality
Kevin Cleary, PhD& Raj Shekhar, PhD

When our mind plays tricks with our eyes, we “see” things that are not actually present in a scene. Many examples of these so-called visual or optical illusions have been documented. We encounter a similar visual illusion problem when we overlay real-time ultrasound images on laparoscopic video. At any given moment, the anatomic section depicted by ultrasound often appears in front of the nearest organ surfaces when, in reality, the reverse is true. The first objective of this project is to learn about visual illusions and how they may be complicating the creation of surgical augmented reality in our specific instance. The second objective is to implement and evaluate a number of image overlay methods to eliminate or mitigate the problem of visual illusion.   

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Genetic Medicine

Project: Assessing how the glucocorticoid receptor contributes to the effect(s) of dissociative steroidal compounds
Jesse Damsker, PhD

Glucocorticoids (GCs) are the standard of care for many inflammatory diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, and inflammatory bowel disease.  While extremely effective, GCs are known to cause detrimental side effects such as weight gain, osteoporosis, type II diabetes, and hypertension.  ReveraGen BioPharma has developed a class of dissociative steroidal compounds that have the potential to retain the beneficial anti-inflammatory effects of GCs yet lack the unwanted side-effects.  The exact mechanism of action of these compounds remains to be elucidated.  Thus, students will be assisting with the task of determining such mechanisms, including assessing how the glucocorticoid receptor contributes to the effect(s) of these compounds.  In addition, students will play a role in carrying out testing of these compounds in preclinical models of inflammatory bowel disease and multiple sclerosis.  

Project: Use of SILAC Preclinical Model to Study Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and Response to Treatment
Yetrib Hathout, PhD

Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is the most common and severe form of muscle disease, affecting one in 3,500 boys. The disease is due to a genetic defect leading to lack of expression of dystrophin, an essential protein in muscle. DMD Patients often become wheelchair-bound by age 10-12 years and die in early adulthood due to muscle wasting, cardiac and/or respiratory failure. Currently there is no cure for the disease. Treatment by corticosteroids delays muscle degeneration but does not stop disease progression. In the last couple of years new generations of drugs aiming to restore dystrophin expression have been introduced. The most promising one is a gene-based approach using antisense oligonucleotides. However, the duration of the treatment, and the toxicity and efficacy of these antisense drugs are not known.  The goal of this project is to use a highly accurate and highly sensitive proteome-profiling method to monitor toxicity/efficacy ratio in a Duchennemurine model treated with different drug doses. First we will evaluate the proteomics method, then perform proteome profiling on tissue samples from treated and untreated murine samples. We will then conclude with the efficacy/toxicity ratio by examining dystrophin restoration in the muscle and signs of toxicity in the kidneys.

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Cardiovascular Surgery

Project: Investigating the molecular mechanism of graft stenosis
Dilip Nath, MD&Narutoshi Hibino, MD

Tissue-engineered vascular grafts (TEVG) offer a viable strategy for constructing autologous grafts.  A biodegradable scaffold seeded with autologous (or “self”) cells produces neotissue formation which is similar in structure/function to native vessels. However, based on our previous results, 10-30% of TEVG develop vein graft narrowing (or “stenosis”). In order to investigate its molecular mechanism in this setting, we have established a novel murine model of TEVG implantation. With this model, we hope to mitigate excessive inflammation caused by macrophages through the transforming growth factor beta (TGFB) signaling pathway which in turn has been linked to graft stenosis. With the technology of drug delivery system in the scaffold, we hope to create the next generation of TEVG in which inhibitors of specific microRNA can be released to prevent graft stenosis.

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Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery

Project: Evaluate postoperative course and length of stay for patients undergoing closure of cleft lip/palate
Tina Sauerhammer, MD

Some insurance companies do not approve postoperative inpatient stays for our cleft palate patients, and advocate that these procedures be done in an outpatient setting. We don't feel this should be the case, however, so our goal is to retrospectively look at the postoperative course of our patients to determine factors that would refute the argument for outpatient cleft palate operations.Students will help us by collecting data from patients' medical records. A knowledge of Excel for data collection would be helpful.

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Simulation Center

Project: Design and test a virtual learning environment using NEXLEARN Simplicity SimWriter
Janice LePlatte, MS, RN-BC

The goal of learning professionals is to provide cost efficient, effective and engaging teaching/learning activities. Virtual learning environments have emerged as a viable teaching/learning methodology that allows learners to apply knowledge and skills in a realistic work environment. Simplicity SimWriter is an all-in-one application with the ability to map, author, design, build, and test all within the same tool. Simplicity allows one person to develop effective training that previously required a team of instructional writers, graphic designers, and program engineers to create. At the simulation center, we will develop, design and test a scenario designed for medical professionals.

Health Information Systems

Project: Mobile applications for documenting patient ICD-10 status
Brian Jacobs, MD

Hospitals in the United States will be required to submit claims for reimbursement utilizing ICD-10 terminology by the fall of 2014.  (ICD-10 is the tenth and most current revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems.) This change in practice has enormous implications for care providers documenting care delivery, billing and compliance staff, reimbursement and quality of care analytics.  Current electronic health record vendors are not yet equipped to handle this transition.  There is an urgent need for handheld devices to allow practitioners and coders to select the clinically relevant ICD-10 codes to ensure accurate documentation and for preparation of clean claims to both Medicaid and third party payors.  This initiative will involve the comparative analysis of various mobile applications in the marketplace to assess the most efficient, and cost-effective tool for adoption.

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