Engineering faculty contribute to ND’s Health and Well-being Initiative

Faculty from the University of Notre Dame have completed more than a year of research funded through the Health and Well-being Initiative’s Catalyst Seed Grant Program. The award program asked researchers in all disciplines to explore creative and diverse research opportunities in the science of wellness that have strong and near-term potential to develop into larger, externally funded research programs.

Five research teams were awarded funding that tackled various topics. The progress of those programs are as follows:

Donny Hanjaya-Putra, assistant professor in the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, is leading an interdisciplinary team that is analyzing umbilical cord blood and its progenitor cells with the goal of predicting future health risk of children. Using the stem and progenitor cells isolated from cord blood, the researchers discovered that children born from mothers with gestational diabetes were more likely to develop metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and type-2 diabetes. Working with collaborators at the Indiana School of Medicine, they are also testing a microfluidic chip to detect biomarkers in progenitor cells and plasma samples, and then comparing the results with ongoing clinical trials. This research has led to the development of two papers and new grant proposals.

• Ana Lidia Flores-Mireles, Hawk Assistant Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, and her research team are developing urinary catheters that reduce catheter-associated urinary tract infections. The researchers aimed to develop novel silicone catheters with a special coating that has minimal inflammatory responses and evaluate the ability of the new catheter to reduce the potential infections. Initial results demonstrated potential to reduce catheter-associated infections, but there is a need to further develop the technique used to coat the catheter with the silicone-based material. With the preliminary data gathered from the research, the team plans to apply for additional funding for the project.

• Matthew Champion, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and his research group are working to isolate specific microbiome components that are essential for drug-derived obesity and microbiome improvement. The researchers have gathered preliminary data important for improving the density of data needed for a deep-genome analysis, developed a process for separating bacteriophage samples from wastewater, and are now working on real-time genome sequencing tools.

The research has led to two papers while the data has supported two new applications for funding. The project is in collaboration with the Kirby Lab at the Medical College of Wisconsin, and the research groups of Norm Dovichi, Grace-Rupley Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and Kyle Bibby, associate professor in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering & Earth Sciences, at Notre Dame.

• Professors Cindy Bergeman, Nathan Rose, and Joshua Koen in the Department of Psychology are examining the link between longitudinal stress exposure, stress resilience, and Alzheimer’s disease biomarkers. The researchers have been collecting genetic and cognitive data from research participants enrolled in Bergeman’s lab for the Notre Dame Study of Health and Well-Being.

The team is also collecting candidate biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease from structural MRI brain images and from noninvasive recordings of electrical brain activity combined with novel brain stimulation techniques. Since the project was funded, the research team is pursuing collaborations to incorporate novel blood-based measures of Amyloid-Beta as another biomarker of Alzheimer’s disease. The goal of including these blood-based measures is to provide further validation of the candidate brain-based biomarkers the research team is investigating.

• Corey Angst, professor in the Department of IT, Analytics, and Operations, is leading a research team to identify the blind spots involved in the collection and use of healthcare data. The team is working to understand how both situational and individual factors may impact the ethicality of informed consent, with the goal of providing an understanding of how, why, and when people might disagree so that policy disagreements can be better understood, addressed, and reconciled. The researchers recently found that people’s ratings of the ethicality of data-use statements depend on situational factors, such as the frame of reference from which they view the information, including demographics and ideological orientation.

Additionally, Kyle Bibby, Wanzek Collegiate Chair and associate professor in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering & Earth Sciences, and Kim Rollings, assistant professor in the School of Architecture, received funding from the Catalyst Seed Grant Program to host a workshop titled, “Microbiology of the Built Environment.” The fall 2019 workshop convened more than 20 internal and external faculty and graduate students for presentations and discussion. Bibby and Rollings are applying remaining funds to an educational and seed data generation project with Bibby’s students, swabbing and sequencing microbiomes in Hesburgh Library spaces that vary by design and occupancy.

The Health and Well-being Initiative is supported by the Office of Clinical Partnerships (OCP).

Brandi Wampler, ND Research