Neurology, bioengineering, and bodily drugs and rehabilitation may not seem to be three disciplines that match collectively, however for Flavia Vitale, PhD, an assistant professor of all three, it makes good sense. Because the director and principal investigator on the Vitale Lab, her analysis focuses on growing new applied sciences that assist to check how the mind and neuromuscular techniques operate.
Years in the past, whereas she was working at Rice College growing new supplies and gadgets that work within the physique in a safer, simpler manner, former president Barack Obama launched the Mind Analysis Via Advancing Revolutionary Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, aimed toward revolutionizing the understanding of the human mind. This emphasis on how little is understood about mind construction and performance impressed Vitale to refocus her analysis on growing expertise and supplies that can assist researchers resolve the mysteries of the mind.
In 2018, she joined the college on the Perelman College of Drugs within the College of Pennsylvania as an assistant professor of Neurology, Bioengineering, and Bodily Drugs and Rehabilitation, and based the multi-disciplinary Vitale Lab, the place her group develops innovative supplies and gadgets that can sometime assist clinicians diagnose and deal with sufferers with difficult mind and neurological situations. She can be one of many engineers wanting ahead to utilizing new mixed medical/analysis amenities in neuroscience at Penn Drugs’s new Pavilion the place new neurotechnoloigies will likely be developed and examined.
When she’s not growing brand-new applied sciences to grasp how the mind works, Vitale additionally tends to deliver her scientific mindset into the kitchen, the place she enjoys baking and experimenting with fermentation together with her two children.
On this Q&A, Vitale shares her present analysis initiatives, and displays on her expertise as a lady in bioengineering.
Describe your background and the way you got here to Penn.
I’ve my grasp’s in biomedical engineering and my PhD in chemical engineering. I’m an engineer at the start, fairly than a physician like lots of my colleagues within the Neurology division.
I obtained my undergraduate and graduate levels in Italy, and got here to Rice College in the USA as a visiting PhD pupil and mainly by no means left. As a post-doc at Rice, I used to be engaged on growing nanomaterials — that are new supplies, apart from plastics, metals, or different extra generally used supplies — and utilizing them to make new gadgets which might be extra secure and efficient to be used within the human physique.
I accomplished my neuroengineering coaching at Penn with Brian Litt, MD, a professor of Neurology and Bioengineering, and have been at Penn Drugs ever since. Litt is a pioneer in growing new expertise for treating mind problems, so working with him is an ideal place as I’ve been capable of mix my experience in biomedical and neuroengineering.
What analysis are you at present endeavor?
My fundamental aim is to create instruments that may assist resolve mysteries of the mind, and tackle the wants of clinicians.
My lab was not too long ago awarded two grants totaling $4.5 million from the Nationwide Institute of Neurological Problems and Stroke. With a view to acquire extra exact insights, noninvasively, into mind exercise to enhance gene remedy therapies for a variety of diagnoses, from Parkinson’s illness to glioblastoma. The primary grant is designated for the event of a novel surgical machine for delivering gene-based therapeutics to the mind. The second is for optimization and pre-clinical validation of a novel EEG electrode expertise, which makes use of a smooth, versatile, conductive nanomaterial fairly than metallic and gels. We hope to verify that these applied sciences work in addition to, if not higher than current ones.
One other thrilling undertaking I’m engaged on is the event of skinny, versatile sensors that may sense muscle motion by way of the pores and skin. These will assist clinicians see how the affected person’s muscle tissue operate, and help in guiding rehabilitation with precision.
What are some challenges you face, and what are some alternatives?
There’s a interval after you’ve developed a brand new machine or expertise and must validate it, however producing funding is commonly an enormous problem. Not solely do it is advisable show that the machine works, however you additionally want to indicate that these new supplies are secure for long run use. The research to fulfill these wants are lengthy, difficult, and costly, and securing the funding to correctly take a look at is a really rigorous course of.
One other important problem within the subject is recruiting girls and various employees. There are large alternatives for increasing the variety of labs. Ladies and different underrepresented populations have much less publicity to neuroengineering, so exposing younger kids, particularly younger ladies, to this sort of analysis to spark their curiosity on this work is essential to me. One factor I’m notably captivated with is chatting with high-school age college students — even some youthful — to foster their curiosity in bioengineering.
I additionally work onerous to mentor different younger girls in my lab, to assist them construct careers on this subject in order that they, too, can go on to mentor different girls and increase the sector.
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