Cutting-edge biomaterials research is part of undergraduate experience at KSC News Keene State College
Slesha Tuladhar did not seek to change the world. His interest was much more benign.
The Keene State junior was, she says, just curious when she chose to be part of a small federally funded student research team at the college focused on testing biomaterials for bioprinting, in the goal of growing human tissues and organs using a 3D printer.
A double major – architecture, honors program; and sustainable product design and innovation – his plate was already full, his academic pursuits clearly focused.
“When I started, I had no idea what it was or what it entailed,” confesses Slesha, originally from Kathmandu, Nepal. “I started out having to read two articles, and they made no sense to me. But it quickly became much more than studying research papers.
“Our work has been a practical implementation of the theories I first learned in high school,” adds the full-scholarship student. “I learned so much. Plus, it made me confident enough to present my findings in front of a scientific audience.
New Hampshire is at the forefront of tissue growth research, and in a few bright, well-designed labs at Keene State, a liberal arts institution tucked away in the southwestern corner of the state, the quest for innovative research on biomaterials continues. The potential applications for regenerative medicine, other healthcare needs and manufacturing are not insignificant, and are just a hint of what might be possible, Tuladhar says.
Professor MD Ahasan Habib from Bangladesh obtained his Ph.D. from the Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering at North Dakota State University, is guiding the NH BioMade-funded effort.
NH BioMade is short for New Hampshire Center for Multiscale Modeling and Manufacturing of Biomaterials. It is a National Science Foundation-funded EPSCoR project that aims to accelerate the state’s biomaterials industry through research, academic-industry partnerships, and workforce development.
Dr. Habib and his students are members of the research axis of the tissue engineering project, for which the professor received an NH BioMade seed grant. Funding for Dr. Habib’s Student Researchers is made possible by NH BioMade and NH INBRE, which is guaranteed by the National Institutes of Health.
NH INBRE stands for IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence. EPSCoR is short for Program Established to Stimulate Competitive Research, which is a program of several federal agencies.
Faculty and graduate students from UNH and Dartmouth collaborate with Dr. Habib and his team of students.
Undergraduate research opportunities of this ilk are the exception to the rule, pointed out Jim Kraly, associate dean of science, sustainability and health at Keene State.
“The opportunities are also transformative,” Kraly added. “They are collaborative, they are interdisciplinary and they generally lead to the development of key professional skills.”
Carter Nelson would agree. Nelson got involved through an internship with NH BioMade three years ago and then moved into undergraduate research, which is a paid opportunity, he said.
Putting research into words
Carter, a senior from Exeter, NH, and Slesha were Dr. Habib’s first student research assistants. Recently, a peer-reviewed journal article of which they were senior authors was published. Primary authorship rarely goes to undergraduate students, says Brad Kinsey, professor of mechanical engineering at UNH and principal investigator for NH BioMade.
Carter presented her research at the NH BioMade spring conference last year and impressed faculty and graduate students, Kraly said. Tuladhar made an oral presentation at Keene State’s Academic Excellence Conference, also in the spring.
“They took the lead from the start,” Dr. Habib said of Carter and Slesha. “I’ve come to be able to really rely on them, and that’s important.”
Slesha and Carter are quick to flip the script, highlighting their teacher’s natural ability to lead and advise without getting in the way. Dr. Habib’s technical and scientific guidance, patience and disarming way of getting students thinking and solving challenges on their own made for a positive and rewarding educational experience, the students agreed.
Connor Quigley, a sophomore from Durham, NH, joined the research team after taking a course with Dr. Habib, which advertised paid summer internships for researchers in training. Another research student, Mark Torselli, graduated last year.
“It sounded interesting,” Connor says, “with opportunities to learn advanced subjects. I thought I’d apply, and got it alongside another student, from UNH Manchester, Anh Nguyen.
Connor’s role has played out throughout this academic year and he will continue his research this summer, he said.
He called Dr. Habib’s knowledge and flexibility “differentiated and motivating”.
“He understands that, working in the lab while taking classes, can be hectic for planning and he always understands the conflicts. I also feel supported in the research space through our collaboration and communication. Whether it’s gear we might need, sharing numbers, or even a simple question, our communication is open and frequent.
Slesha added: “We have the resources, equipment and theoretical knowledge necessary for research, which makes it easier to carry out experiments. … The (research) team is motivated, curious and there for each other.
Dr Habib said he most admires the “enthusiasm and passion” that his research students brought to the process. More technically, he added, research of this type requires demonstrated skills in math, CAD, hands-on experience and writing skills,” not necessarily the most likely combination. “Each student researcher brings these valuable sets of expertise to my lab, and continued research in my lab also enhances their expertise.”
Small steps… big possibilities
A project like this is only as good as the different parts that make up its sum, and a strong sense of teamwork, Kinsey says.
“The NH BioMade project has benefited enormously from our collaborations with Profs. Habib and (Lisa) Hix at Keene State, especially the tremendous research conducted by their students.
Keene State offers the only program in New England that combines industrial design, project management, and manufacturing engineering technologies.
“Wherever the world goes, we try to go with them,” Dr. Habib said of building a skilled manufacturing workforce for a recent article in Keene State Today, the alumni magazine. from college. “This forward-looking focus means the (Sustainable Product Design and Innovation) curriculum adds courses like bio-manufacturing to prepare students for their evolving careers.”
Kraly, who along with Hix, a professor of sustainable product design and architecture, is a member of the NH BioMade team. He, like Kinsey, is excited about the progress that has been made and the spirit of collaboration and openness that drives the research.
“Professor Habib has moved some equipment and instruments to the central facilities in the biology department to work with live cells,” Kraly said. “We are all amazed at the progress he and the team’s research has been able to show since his arrival.
“I’m not honking my horn, but it taps into the vast learning opportunity a student can get here. That you can be part of this type of project and get this level of mentorship, even in your first year, is exciting to think about. »
Breaking it down in its simplest terms, Connor described the research this way: “What we’re working on is a small part of a multidisciplinary initiative. This small part has to do with testing the properties of certain materials before and after they are printed.
Carter acknowledged that his focus remains on testing materials to discover a mixture that is easily printable, has positive effects on living cells, and can sustain itself structurally in larger scaffolds — or organs. Cell culture testing is Slesha’s area of research.
“As far as anything medically feasible, we’re still a long way off,” Carter said. “I always print without living cells. I know there are other people much closer than us. But we contribute to this process. This is a big deal because if it can be accomplished, patients can quickly obtain replacement organs and tissues made from their own cells for surgery, wound repair, and many other medical uses.
Students are aware that their role in this research has a lifespan, but they are learning new skills and enjoying the hope and possibility that drives this type of work.
In time, Slesha said, she will move away from research to focus full-time on her professional ambition to be an architect. However, she can’t help but feel that her research experience will add to her overall confidence and broaden her appeal as a potential candidate. The fundamentals, she notes, cut across disciplines.
“I think it’s so cool that as an architect I can bring something to life that doesn’t exist using my skills and imagination,” Slesha said. “My dream is to travel with my job. I want to leave a little piece of myself all over the world with the things I design.
Support for the NH BioMade project is provided by the National Science Foundation’s EPSCoR Research Infrastructure Enhancement Award #1757371. New Hampshire-INBRE supported research through an Institutional Development Award (IDeA), P20GM103506, from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health.