Arash Kheradvar, UC Irvine professor of biomedical engineering, is co-principal investigator – along with Dr. Sandra Rugonyi at the Oregon Health and Science University – on a project to study congenital heart defects. Part of the National Science Foundation-funded initiative involved bringing a select group of high school students into Kheradvar’s biomedical engineering laboratory on the UCI campus and Rugonyi’s OHSU lab in Portland. The students got firsthand exposure to cardiovascular research activities, experts in the field and the latest medical research technologies. The outcome was a group of students well prepared to pursue further education in biomedical engineering. This episode of the UCI Podcast highlights the project organizers and Orange County high school students who were selected to participate.
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From the University of California Irvine. This is the UCI podcast. I’m Brian Bell. For this episode, we visited the laboratory of Arash Kheradvar, UCI Professor of biomedical engineering. Dr. Kheradvar is co-principal investigator on a National Science Foundation funded project to study heart disease with hopes of finding a path toward preventative measures and possible cures. His research counterpart is Dr. Sandra Rugonyi at Oregon Health and Science University.
The theme of the grant is to look into the congenital heart disease and how these diseases are developing at the embryonic stages. So we’re looking into the chicken embryo’s heart and trying to look into and characterize the forces that are developed in these hearts at different stages of development and try to correlate those and associate those with the genetics and epigenetics. So that’s kind of the big project.
Another part of the initiative is an outreach program to open laboratory doors on the two institutions’, campuses to expose some early pre-career scientists to the world of cardiovascular research.
A component of that project is the outreach to involve the high school students to kind of learn about these activities that we are doing, to learn skills. So they, they would see different aspect of STEM they are here in our lab and they see exactly what we are working on. Like they get familiar to the state-of-the-art research, and also they learn some skills like for example, cardiac segmentation. They learn how to work with 3D printer. They learn how to work with laser systems. So, you know, we, we give them some glimpse of our research. So hopefully make them excited to go to this route.
Ida Persadeh, a UCI graduate who majored in biomedical engineering and pre-med helped organize the outreach program.
Yeah, we kind of just like helped get the program off its feet. Like Dr. Rugonyi, Dr. Kheradvar had this, you know, great grant, great idea behind it and they were just like, you know, let’s get this thing going. And I was born and raised in Irvine, also went to University High School. So I was like obsessed with this. I was like, I would’ve killed for a program like this, you know, and we created the website, you know, put it out. I emailed I think counselors from over like 20, 25 different high schools in like a 50-mile radius. We got like 140, 50 applicants that came in. Oh. So it was definitely really difficult. We read through like tons of essays, like I think it took us like a couple weeks just to get through everybody’s.
Reading through the students submissions. Pirsadeh was quite impressed with the caliber of the applicants.
Oh, they were incredible. Yeah. Especially like, cuz we were trying to like split ’em up first by GPAs and then also by essays and everyone’s like over a 4.5 and I’m like, oh my gosh. Like this is insane.
Mohammed Toukan, a student at University High School in Irvine explained his motivation for submitting an application to the outreach program.
Well, to be honest, mainly I wanted to see how college students work, how people in the biomedical field work. I wanted to get the experience which I wouldn’t be able to get at school. I wanted to learn the skills which they’d been learning. I wanted to see the programs such as Dragonfly, which they’re using and in addition to the 3D printers, the laser cutters, all the programs like SolidWorks, which we’ve been using, being exposed to really, I mean I get to see everything hands on. So it’s really incredible to experience it myself. I mean mainly everything I’ve been experiencing is online through videos, you know, nothing face to face. You really get the experience, you get the memories, you’re able to see how it is, how people work, how they work together. It’s really incredible to be honest.
Like students around the world, the four Heart Project participants had to endure the Covid pandemic during their prime high school years. Devon Chang, a junior at Arnold O. Beckman High School in Irvine was appreciative of the in-person format of the program.
Basically Covid happened and then
I was really inspired to try this because unfortunately I started my freshman year just as Covid hit. So there’s zero lab experience at all for me
That’s program participant Kayla Hui, a junior at University High School.
So having this university lab experience was amazing opportunity and that’s really what I’m after, being able to work with all these different types of machines programs, it’s just everything I wanted. In the past when I was working in a lab it was more a simulation online so it was pretty awkward. And with digital people…
All of the students benefited from training and mentorship provided by student researchers in the Kheradvar lab such as Fernando Trinidad and Daryl Chau.
I’ve learned so much about how to 3D print and etch things, just by working with especially Daryl and Fernando, they’ve helped me like really learn about these different techniques. I’ve also learned a lot about Dragonfly, which is a 3D modeling software and Fernando really helped me with that.
For some students, the real excitement came from hands-on work with the latest medical research technologies.
So all of us have been able to work with Dragonfly, which has been segmentation and very interesting. But overall I think the 3D printing and laser cutting aspect were some of the more exciting ones. The 3D printing, we were able to like go with the filaments, see how it all grows. And of course we were able to use like two 3D printers. So not only the normal one, we got to see the extra fancy luxury one, which is dipped in resin and then you can and the laser uh, shines on it so it cures and then you get to see it. So it makes a much more amazing product cuz it’s very clear and it’s very precise.
The program helped some students like Ayushi Kadakia a senior at Northwood High School in Irvine, focus on particular areas of interest.
Well last summer I interned at Children’s Hospital of Orange County also doing biomedical engineering, like trying to create innovative technological solutions for like different pediatric problems. So this naturally fell right into that avenue and I think, um, like Mohammed said, I have more of an interest in like the engineering and um, computer science aspect rather than the bio aspect of it. So what we’ve been doing here in the lab with the post-processing of data and then Fernando also mentioned that we’d be, um, training in AI to process more of the data from the images that we get from O H S U. That part has really aligned with my interests and I’m glad that I signed up for this program so I can experience more of that.
The cardiovascular research project caused the participants to think more clearly about their own future educational pursuits.
Yeah, so since I am a senior, I’m applying this fall in a couple of months. I’ve been on a lot of college’s websites, just reading. But the way a lot of colleges just put their programs, they just write it in text and it’s hard to really imagine what it would be like to go to that school to actually experience working. So coming here to this outreach program gave me like a real experience of what it’s like to be training as a biomedical engineer and also just to be here at UCI in general. So it’s mor insightful for me to be a part of this program and apply to biomedical engineering, computer science, artificial intelligence subject areas and also as well to UCI
This program really solidified my goal to become a bioengineer. I think I’m gonna apply for a lot of different UCs, probably some private schools, you know, Stanford, MIT, Caltech. But overall I’m just hopeful and I’ll just go anywhere that takes me.
I’m kind of right now switching, like thinking of going into either medicine or computer science. So honestly this program really helped like solidify my future goals.
And hopefully they would get interested and when they are applying for college, you know, they have a better understanding of, for example, biomedical engineering and in particular cardiovascular.
I think being able to expose them to various different types of research topics like cuz especially like cardiovascular, I feel like that’s a really difficult lab to get into, especially as a high school student or for them to get exposure to that. So I think it’s great that we’re able to offer this to them, that they’re so excited to be a part of it too.
You can find more about Dr. Kheradvar’s research at the Henry Samuieli School of Engineering website at engineering.uci.edu. The UCI Podcast is a production of Strategic Communications and Public Affairs at the University of California, Irvine. I’m Brian Bell. Thank you for listening.