Friday, February 20, 2015

Precious Gem: Andrew Zhao

This week’s Precious Gem is Andrew Zhao, a sophomore bioengineering major. We started discussing his experience in Gemstone on Team INJECT. Team INJECT is looking for a treatment for Age-Related Macular Degeneration, which occurs mainly in adults fifty years and older and is “a pretty common form of eye loss”. Their treatment uses curcumin, which, according to Andrew, is “not that great as an actual drug” but has a lot of potential as a “therapeutic” due to its antioxidant properties. They are engineering nanoliposomes to transfer the curcumin through the membranes of the body, and then release the drug when it gets to the macula. When I asked Andrew about his role on the team, he called himself “just a regular team member”, meaning he doesn’t manage money, talk to the librarians, or do another specific role. However, as I kept talking to Andrew, it became clear that he was much more that the average team member.

For one, Andrew is a bioengineering major, so he is already well equipped to work in the lab, go through the literature, and design experiments. He is extremely interested in research, and enjoys picking out techniques and interesting ideas from journal articles. Moreover, he has a great deal of lab experience already. Last summer he was part of the inaugural International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) team at University of Maryland. Their project revolved around a pathogen, dermo (Perkinsus marinus), which attacks oysters by binding to their hemocytes and acting as a parasite. This is a problem that affects many oyster populations, including those in the Chesapeake Bay. Their solution was genetically engineering E. Coli to act as a sensor for dermo. By modifying the bacteria to produce a protein, it can bind to the dermo and then reveal how much dermo is in a water sample. He worked with Integrated Life Science undergraduate students, graduate advisors, and professors, and it’s clear he absorbed a lot of advice about being a researcher and an engineer.

Before the interview, Andrew was coming from his “Transport Process Design” class, which incidentally is taught by his Gemstone mentor. He says that this class, which focuses more on the mathematical modeling side of bioengineering, is close to what he wants to research after UMD. Andrew is planning on going on to get a PhD in bioengineering, although he’s still considering his options. This summer he’s looking at internships at private companies to get a feel for that side of research. No matter where Andrew ends up, it is clear he’s going to bring experience and a deep understanding of bioengineering with him. Even from our one conversation, I was inspired by Andrew’s love of research and his ability to take advantage of all that Gemstone and UMD offer. Best of luck to this week’s Precious Gem, Andrew Zhao!

20 February 2015 - Elliot Frank

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