Barbara and Frank Milligan Graduate Fellowships advance biomedical engineering research at U of T

Alumnus Frank Milligan (MechE 4T8) knows there is vast potential in biomedical engineering when it comes to advancing health care, and he is playing a major part in assisting its progress at U of T Engineering.

Since 2007, Milligan and his wife, Barbara, have generously supported biomedical engineering research at the Faculty by way of the Barbara and Frank Milligan Graduate Fellowships. The scholarships are a yearly endowment that funds 20 students from the Department of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering (MIE) and the Institute of Biomaterials & Biomedical Engineering (IBBME) pursuing graduate work in biomedical engineering.

“The Barbara and Frank Milligan Graduate Fellowships have been instrumental in launching the careers of so many of our graduate students,” said Professor Christopher Yip, director of IBBME. “The Milligans’ keen interest in helping the next generation of researchers and engineers move forward the frontiers of biomedical research, and their translational potential, is indeed inspirational.”

A luncheon, attended by the Milligans, was held on Nov. 24 at U of T’s Faculty Club to recognize the 2014-15 recipients.

“Every year we look forward to meeting these talented young people and to hear about their work,” said Frank Milligan. “It is very rewarding to see that the future of our country lies with such remarkably talented, keenly interested young engineers. Their innovative projects make U of T one of the leading centres for research in biomaterial engineering.”

See below for a complete list of this year’s recipients along with a summary of their research.

Recipients from the Department of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering

Alex Chisholm (MechE MASc 1T6)

Alex is in the IBBME/MIE collaborative master’s program with a research focus on non-invasive cancer treatment strategies. He plans to fast-track to the PhD program after one year and pursue a career in health care.

Navid Hakimi (MechE PhD 1T8)

Navid is a first-year PhD student currently working on 3D printing of living structures (i.e 3D bio-printing). Through his research, Navid plans to make skin grafts that will be used as skin substitutes for patients with serious burns and injuries.

Mouhita Humayun (MechE MASc 1T6)

Mouhita is a first-year master’s student working under the supervision of Professor Edmond Young in the Integrative Biology and Microengineered Technologies Laboratory. She is currently conducting research on engineering a microfluidic device that mimics the bronchial pathway of the human lung. The remainder of her project will consist of optimizing the various biological and engineering parameters to achieve this mimicry.

Salem Jabr (MechE MASc 1T6)

Salem is a first-year master’s student who is researching health-care engineering. Upon graduating, he hopes to improve both the way the health care system works and the quality of service that patients receive.

Jacob Li (MechE MASc 1T5)

Jacob is a second-year master’s student specializing in health care robotics—specifically, socially assistive robots that will be used in long-term care facilities. One of his primary projects is an orange robot named Tangy, whose tasks include facilitating a group game (such as bingo) and connecting residents with family members through telepresence (similar to Skype, except hosted on a robot).

Ahmed Mezil (MechE MASc 1T6)

Ahmed is a first-year master’s student who is studying rehabilitation engineering. When not on campus, he works as a researcher at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute (TRI), part of the University Health Network. At TRI, he designs and builds mobility aid and injury prevention devices for the disabled and elderly.

Parnian Saberi (MechE MASc 1T6)

Parnian recently graduated from chemical engineering and is currently in the first year of her master’s degree in mechanical engineering. Her research focuses on microfluidics and includes on-chip synthesis of nanoparticles, which can be utilized in biomedical research and imaging.

HaoTian Harvey Shi (EngSci 1T4, MechE MASc 1T6)

HaoTian is a first-year master’s student in MIE with joint affiliation with IBBME. His research is being carried out in the Smart and Adaptive Polymers Lab, supervised by Professor Hani Naguib, and focuses on polymer nanocomposite-based energy storage devices for biomedical applications.

Christopher Sun (EngSci 1T4, MechE MASc 1T6)

Christopher is a first-year master’s student in industrial engineering. His work focuses on the optimization of automated external defibrillators across the city to reduce the risk and improve the treatment of cardiac arrests, with respects to space and time, through mathematical models.

Pantea Tavakolian (MechE PhD 1T8)

Pantea, a PhD student at U of T Engineering, completed her master’s degree in medical biophysics at the University of Western Ontario in the area of photo-acoustic imaging. Her PhD research focuses on developing a novel optical imaging technique for early diagnosis of osteoporosis.

Recipients from the Institute of Biomaterials & Biomedical Engineering

Nikhil Bhagwat (IBBME PhD 1T9)

Nikhil is a PhD candidate working in the field of computation neuroscience. His research focuses on the development of novel biomarkers and diagnostic applications for Alzheimer’s disease, leveraging recent advances in pattern recognition and machine learning. The findings from his research will contribute towards developing robust tools that accurately predict those at highest risk for Alzheimer’s using magnetic resonance imaging data.

Richard Cheng (IBBME MASc 1T5)

Richard is a second-year master’s degree student under the supervision of Dr. Penney Gilbert. He has studied skeletal muscle diseases and treatments, tissue engineering, and more broadly, how to utilize the regenerative capacity of stem cells for regenerative medicine. He plans to use his Milligan Graduate Fellowship to investigate how the physical components of the muscle stem cell microenvironment impacts muscle stem cell fate, which will hopefully enable future therapies to address age-related skeletal muscle wasting in the Canadian population.

Stephanie Iwasa (EngSci 1T3, IBBME MASc 1T5)

Stephanie is studying the use of applied electrical fields to promote stem and progenitor cell migration. Endogenous electrical fields are important during gestation, early development and wound healing. She’s investigating applied electrical fields for skin and neural stem and progenitor cell migration. The end goal of her research is to use electrical fields to improve wound healing in the skin and the central nervous system.

Ying Ling Lin (IBBME PhD 1T7)

Ying Ling is currently completing a 17-week internship at the World Health Organization’s Department of Essential Medicines and Health Products (EMP) within the Health Systems and Innovation (HIS) cluster. At the University of Toronto and the Hospital for Sick Children, her thesis research focuses on how clinicians can be aided by data integration software in a complex setting.

Stanley Ng (IBBME PhD 1T8)

Stanley is a PhD student who is currently studying the gene expression of leukemia stem cell (LSC) enriched cell populations isolated from primary acute myeloid leukemia (AML) samples. His research will serve as the basis for a prospective clinical trial and will be used as a clinical diagnostic/prognostic tool for the surveillance of LSC-associated transcriptional activity and to guide therapy in AML.

Joel Ostblom (IBBME PhD 2T0)

Joel is a PhD student who came to Toronto two years ago on a master’s exchange program from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute. His current research is focused on understanding why a population of stem cells consists of a heterogeneous mix of slightly different cell types rather than a uniform population and which factors contribute to this heterogeneity.

Agnes Soos (IBBME PhD 1T7)

Agnes is in the fourth year of her PhD, completing research in the area of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. Her project aims to contribute to the development of replacement arteries for patients with peripheral arterial disease, a condition where plaque buildup blocks the small arteries of the limbs and compromises blood flow to the legs. The goal is to grow a section of healthy artery in the lab—complete with cells derived from the patient—which can then be used to replace the unhealthy vessel segment and restore blood flow.

Mukul Tewary (IBBME PhD 1T8)

Mukul is a PhD student who is utilizing cutting-edge microfabrication and materials engineering technologies in conjunction with systems biology techniques to develop a platform that is able to recapitulate an extremely important developmental event of a human fetus: gastrulation.

Michael Valic (EngSci 1T3, IBBME MASc 1T5)

Michael has engineered an injectable, dual radiological/optical-imaging tool known as a porphysome that will provide surgeons with pre- and intra-operative information useful for tailoring lymphadenectomy procedures in endometrial cancer. His goal is to validate the efficacy and clinical utility of his porphysomes in a “first-in-woman” clinical study to be conducted at Princess Margaret Hospital by his co-supervisors.

Jessica Yu (IBBME MASc 1T5)

Jessica completed her undergraduate degree in biology at the University of British Columbia in 2008, followed by a second degree in biomedical engineering at the British Columbia Institute of Technology in 2011. Following two years working in the biomedical technology field, she came to U of T to pursue graduate studies in biomedical engineering. Jessica’s research aims to elucidate the mechanisms responsible for driving axis elongation, or the elongation of the head-to-tail axis, during early animal development.