Viterbi undergrads to present research

Photos courtesy of Madeleine Combs and Prajwal Bharadwaj

Research is a key component of undergraduate study at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, providing students with hands-on experience and practical application of skills useful for their future careers. Madeleine Combs and Prajwal Bharadwaj are both taking advantage of research opportunities this year, as they are two of the only three undergraduate biomedical engineering students selected to present research at the 2017 Biomedical Engineering Society Annual Meeting.

The conference will showcase a wide array of findings within the medical device field.

Although Combs and Bharadwaj are both in the same field of study, the focus of their research differs greatly.

Combs, a senior majoring in biomedical engineering with an emphasis in mechanical engineering, conducted research on the immune response testing of micro neuroprobes in the brains of rats to find information that could potentially be applied to humans. Combs worked in the USC Biomedical Microsystems Lab under the guidance of Ellis Meng.

“[Research is] one of the reasons why I wanted to go to USC,” Combs said. “I knew undergrads [could] get involved in research here, which is what makes USC unique.”

By working alongside doctorate student Ahuva Weltman, Combs conducted research for a project titled “Immunohistological Image Analysis of Microprobe Array Targeting Hippocampus.”

“The hippocampus is the part of the brain that is responsible for long-term memory,” Combs said. “So, that’s important for patients with Alzheimer’s or any kinds of illnesses that affect memory. If you’re in a car accident and you have some kind of damage to your hippocampus, those could be very important for that kind of information.”

In her work, Combs focuses on gauging the biocompatibility of the neuroprobe to the rat’s system and its overall responsiveness.

Initially, Combs planned on solely attending the conference with her peers from the Associate Students of Biomedical Engineering, but the organization encouraged her to submit her research as well.

“I’m looking forward to experiencing all the other types of research [at BMES], learning from other [undergraduate] students and also the doctorate students,” Combs said.

Similarly, Bharadwaj, a junior studying biomedical engineering with an electrical engineering emphasis, sought out research opportunities early on in his undergraduate career.

As a freshman, Bharadwaj joined Eun Ji Chung’s lab, which focuses on molecular design, nanomedicine and tissue engineering to generate biomaterial strategies and address the limitations of clinical solutions, according to the Chung Laboratory website.

Bharadwaj’s research, titled “In Vitro Vascular Model for Atherosclerosis,” aims to create a more accurate model of the disease to improve current treatment. Atherosclerosis is a common condition caused by plaque buildup in the arteries, which can lead to chest pain, heart attacks or strokes.

“I think submitting research and exchanging research [with] other scientists is a great way to increase my presentational skills, as well as [take] critical feedback to understand how my research could have been more effective and what steps I can take in the future to improve,” Bharadwaj said.

Bharadwaj says the conference, his first, is a vital opportunity to learn beyond the classroom and laboratory.

“I’d encourage everyone … to look at options surrounding biomedical research even if you’re not going into academia,” Bharadwaj said. “It’s a great way to gain skills that will be useful in your life.”