ECE PhD Student Wins NIH Fellowship

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Amanda Gaudreau-Balderrama (ECE PhD'14) won an NIH fellowship for her research in blood-brain barrier dysfunction in blast neurotrauma.
Amanda Gaudreau-Balderrama (ECE PhD'14) won an NIH fellowship for her research in blood-brain barrier dysfunction in blast neurotrauma.

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) due to blast exposure from improvised explosive devices is the signature injury of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since 2001 the number of blast-related medical injuries to U.S. service members has been rising. The resulting patients, as well as those experiencing a TBI from sports and motor vehicle accidents, need help dealing with the long-term effects of these injuries. But first, more needs to be understood about neurotrauma.

Enter Amanda Gaudreau-Balderrama (ECE PhD ’14), who hopes her project will help researchers better understand the mechanisms leading to TBI. Specifically, the doctoral candidate chose to study blood-brain barrier dysfunction in blast neurotrauma using a novel technique called metallomic imaging spectroscopy (MIS).

The National Institute of Health (NIH) took note of the importance of Gaudreau’s research and recently awarded her with a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA).

The NIH NRSA is a highly competitive and prestigious award given to graduate students to support their education and training. In Gaudreau’s case, the fellowship will benefit both her current research and potential career in academia by establishing her in the field.

“I am extremely honored and excited to have received this fellowship,” she said. “It has allowed me to constructively lay out my dissertation research with specific aims and deliverables.”

Gaudreau is the second student from Associate Professor Lee Goldstein’s Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) laboratory to receive the NIH doctoral fellowship. Working with Goldstein, Gaudreau said she conducts “interdisciplinary translational research using analytical engineering methodology to diagnose and characterize neurodegenerative diseases.”

“Once Dr. Goldstein explained more about his research efforts toward studying blood-brain barrier dysfunction, I was excited by the potential applications and extensions offered by this project,” said Gaudreau.

In Goldstein’s lab, students have the opportunity to look at both the biological and technical aspects of their research. Students are encouraged by Goldstein to become experts in both areas.

Gaudreau’s co-advisor in ECE, Professor Janusz Konrad, will offer his expertise in image processing to further her proposed doctoral research. Konrad’s technical knowledge of digital signal processing and characterization played a role in her understanding of the multidimensional MIS datasets. He also aided Gaudreau in the development of robust analytical methods which have facilitated the interpretation and understanding of the biological and medical significance of the data she collected.

BUSM’s philosophy of conducting translational interdisciplinary research influenced Gaudreau’s decision to pick her dissertation topic because it required a balance of computational and hands-on biological components. She was also eager to bring attention to the topic and have an impact on the medical community.

“I was drawn to this work not only because I would be able to expand my expertise in both image processing and neuropathology but also because I would be doing research that could have major implications on the way the medical community understands and treats traumatic brain injury,” she explained.

Ultimately, Gaudreau is interested in using analytical technology that assists in characterization, detection, and treatment as she works toward the eventual goal of exploring the efficacy of therapeutic nanoparticles to treat people affected by TBI and its long-lasting aftermath.