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Biomedical Engineering PhD Student Receives Prestigious NIH Predoc Fellowship

Congratulations to Matthew Ishahak (PhD candidate, BME ’19, BS/MS BME ’15), who has been awarded a prestigious fellowship from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The NIH Ruth L. Kirschstein Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award will provide Matthew with research training in specified health and health-related areas leading toward his research doctoral degree.

Under the supervision Ashutosh Agarwal, assistant professor in the College of Engineering’s Department of Biomedical Engineering and core faculty member at the Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation Biomedical Nanotechnology Institute at University of Miami (BioNIUM), Matthew will be working closely with Alessia Fornoni, chief of the Department of Medicine’s Division of Nephrology and Hypertension at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and director of the Peggy and Harold Katz Family Drug Discovery Center, to use revolutionary organs-on-a-chip technology to model, and potentially combat, Diabetic kidney disease (DKD).

DKD is a type of kidney disease caused by diabetes – a group of diseases that result in too much sugar in the blood and sometimes high blood pressure. These high levels of blood sugar and blood pressure slowly damage blood vessels in the kidneys, disrupting the kidney’s ability to filter wastes and extra water out of the blood. This damage can result in excess protein in the urine, a condition called proteinuria.

“This is a serious complication that affects up to 40 percent of all diabetics,” says Matthew.  ”Despite the prevalence of DKD, there are no FDA approved treatments.”

Organs-on-chips are quickly emerging as novel in-vitro platforms to model diseases and test potentially therapeutic compounds. “Organs-on-chips can be less expensive and faster than performing experiments on animals,” Matthew explains. “Clinical studies take years to complete, and the process often fails to predict human responses because traditional animal models do not accurately imitate a human’s pathophysiology.” As organs-on-chips are adopted to model human organs, the goal is speed up the development of new therapies for diseases, such as DKD.

To achieve this goal, a thorough engineering methodology will be implemented to design and build an organ-on-chip platform to model the microenvironment of the glomerular filtration barrier – the part of the kidney that filters blood through selectively allowing the passage of molecules based on size and charge. Once the organ-on-chip accurately mimics a healthy glomerular filtration barrier, the team will tweak its behavior to imitate DKD.

Ultimately, the project will provide a platform for researchers to study the disordered physiological processes of DKD and develop new therapeutic compounds to treat DKD. The project is officially titled “Engineering a Physiomimetic Glomerulus-on-Chip to Model Diabetic Kidney Disease.”

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