NSF fellowship opening doors for Biomedical Engineering grad

NSF fellowship opening doors for Biomedical Engineering grad

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Brandon DeOre’s mind is on the brain.

DeOre, 21, who just graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering from Rowan University, has been working for two years with Dr. Peter Galie, an assistant professor in the Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering, to create models of blood vessels that mimic what is found in the human brain.

Focused on the blood-brain barrier

Their goal is to study the blood-brain barrier, trying to understand how the forces exerted by blood flow affect its function and how an ischemic stroke disrupts the protection the barrier provides to surrounding brain tissue. The overall goal of the work is to identify new therapeutic targets for neurodegenerative diseases that are characterized by changes in blood flow, which include stroke and also diseases like Alzheimer’s. 

DeOre is matter of fact about the research. “It’s big work,” he said.

Indeed. It’s big enough that the National Science Foundation (NSF) just awarded the Cedarbrook (Winslow Township), New Jersey, native a highly competitive Graduate Research Fellowship (GRF), one of the most prestigious awards for graduate study in the United States.

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program, according to the NSF, “recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees at accredited United States institutions.” 

An elite group

Founded in 1952, the program has funded more than 50,000 fellowships from more than 500,000 applications. Of those fellows, 42 became Nobel laureates. The NSF provides fellows with a three-year annual stipend of $34,000 along with a $12,000 cost-of-education allowance for tuition and fees paid to the colleges/universities of their choice, according to the organization.

DeOre had applied to study at a few institutions but opted to stay close to home: Rowan.

“I elected to stay at Rowan for the unique opportunities offered to me by working in Dr. Galie's lab. He along with the rest of the Biomedical Engineering Department have built a strong program that is rapidly expanding and improving,” he said. “I knew I wanted to go to Rowan.” He will be the first NSF GRF award recipient to pursue a Ph.D. at Rowan.

Dr. Mark Byrne, department head of Biomedical Engineering, said, “DeOre pursuing his doctorate at Rowan is a reflection of the strong research program Dr. Galie is building here.”

As an undergraduate, DeOre was a member of and Student Government Association senator for Rowan’s Biomedical Engineering Society, helping teach younger students about the field and its career possibilities, among other things.

Mentoring others

He also worked with Galie for two summers, in 2017 as a volunteer and in 2018 under funding from the NSF, mentoring two students from Dr. Charles E. Brimm Medical Arts High School in Camden who conducted experiments and learned the techniques used in the laboratory.

“One thing that sets Brandon apart is that he has a superb ability to not only process and comprehend information, but also to think critically about it. Moreover, he is committed to conducting research that has a direct impact on the lives of patients, and I think that purpose drives him to persevere through the countless setbacks that are inherent to the type of research we conduct,” Galie said.

He added, “He is highly motivated to make an impact in the laboratory, and he has dedicated a great deal of time to designing, conducting and analyzing experiments. In fact, he has been paid as a laboratory staff member since last summer due to his tremendous effort in the laboratory.”

The future

The 2015 Winslow Township High School graduate headed to Canada for a week after graduation and then returns to take a summer class and complete a paper he is working on with Galie on their current research. He will enter Rowan’s Ph.D. program in biomedical engineering in the fall.

DeOre, who is the son of Noreen and the late Douglas DeOre and brother of Tyler (who is in the engineering track at Camden County Technical School and wants to attend Rowan to pursue an engineering degree), eventually wants to become a professor and continue conducting research.