By Matthew Chin

A team of UCLA bioengineering students was honored with two awards for engineering design at a national meeting of bioengineers in September. Team members turned around and donated part of their winnings to initiate a new scholarship to recognize undergraduate research excellence.

The award-winning device design is called P-MED, for personalized monitoring of enzyme dynamics. P-MED could be used as a preliminary analysis tool to screen out which drugs – such as those used to treat cancer – may be ineffective or may even cause harm to a patient.

“P-MED can help physicians develop personalized drug therapies by measuring how effective the treatment is before actually giving it to the patient,” said Derek Go, one of the team’s co-leaders and currently a UCLA master’s student in bioengineering.

PMED 3The team also included co-leader Jaideep Dudani, as well as Ankit Gupta; Gayane Kocharyan; Roxanne Loo; and Nova Wang.

Their device won top honors in the 2013 National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering’s DEBUT Challenge in the diagnostic design category. This is the second year in a row that a UCLA team has won this highly competitive challenge.

The UCLA P-MED team also took second place in the 2013 National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance’s BMEStart Biomedical Design Competition. Go and Dudani represented the team at the Biomedical Engineering Society’s annual meeting, held in September in Seattle.

The awards were the culmination of months of work by the team. The design came out of Bioengineering’s senior capstone design sequence in 2012-13. In the first quarter, held in fall, students explore project ideas, develop preliminary data and conduct a detailed scientific literature search. Then they present a comprehensive funding proposal as they would if seeking a grant from a major funding agency, such as the National Institutes of Health. During the winter quarter they conduct hands-on work to produce prototypes.

PMED 2While the final design for P-MED earned the team lots of praise, it wasn’t an easy path. They had to troubleshoot issues with particular chemical treatments, asking others in the bioengineering community for help.

“The students have to deal with problems that don’t fit neatly into a box,” said Dino Di Carlo, associate professor of bioengineering, head instructor for the course, and mentor for the team. “They have to extend beyond their coursework to solve unanticipated problems, which often requires reaching into many different fields. The students have to make the case for why their approach is ideal and what problem it is solving.  This is often the first time they work on a project in which the result actually matters beyond a grade.”

The NIBIB award netted the group $10,000. Second place at the inventor’s contest brought in another $5,000. The team members voted to donate a significant part of their winnings to start a new scholarship for UCLA bioengineering majors. Inspired by the young students’ generosity, bioengineering faculty joined in contributing to the new scholarship.

“This story tells itself,” said  Ben Wu, Professor and Chair of the Bioengineering Department. “I sent one email to faculty and the response was immediate and overwhelming.”

“I think we benefitted an incredible amount from the department and wanted to show our appreciation,” said Dudani, who is now in his first year of graduate school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “We were very fortunate winning both these awards and felt that we could do our part helping the department. Since all the professors and other staff do so much, this is how we can do our part as alumni.”

“The national recognition was already a great honor and it was just by chance that we received this money,” Go said. “We felt that donating a portion of that money towards a research scholarship would have a greater impact on the Bioengineering Department and its future students.”

Main Image: At the BMES START ceremony in September: Derek Go and Jaideep Dudani (both in the center), with BMES President Gilda Barabino (R) and a representative from the NCIIA (L). Inset Images: Image of the P-MED system. PMED’s full team from L to R: Go, Loo, Wang, Kocharyan, Dudani, and Gupta. Photos by J. Dudani and D. Go.