CAMBRIDGE, MA. 05.28.2014

The Research Laboratory of Electronics (RLE) is pleased to announce that the 2014 Helen Carr Peake Research Prizes are being awarded to Ms. Sha Huang, a doctoral student in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and Dr. Jonathon Whitton, a doctoral student in Health Sciences & Technology. These students have won Helen Carr Peake recognition as a result of outstanding research projects in the area of bioengineering.

Ms. Huang’s research is supervised by RLE PI Jongyoon Han, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Professor of Biological Engineering, in the Micro/Nanofluidic BioMEMS group. Ms. Huang is recognized this year for her significant accomplishments in applying microfluidic measurement of red blood cell deformability to the study of malaria and to blood storage lesion. Her work focuses on using microfluidic assays to analyze cell deformability of red blood cells, a critical functional parameter in malaria research. Her deformability measurement can be used as an in vitro model of individual red blood cell’s filterability, similar to how a particular red blood cell will survive splenic filtration in vivo. Using this approach and confirmed in mouse models, she has identified that Artemisinin and Chloroquine, widely used malaria drugs, increase the stiffness of both infected and uninfected red blood cells. Red blood cells infected with malaria release a protein called RESA that enhances the stiffness of the red blood cell membranes. Malaria patients tend to suffer from severe anemia, and it has been previously unknown why. Her research has identified novel evidence that stiffening and massive clearance of uninfected red blood cells might be due to these drugs and related to this important pathophysiology. If drugs like Artemisinin and Chloroquine stiffen uninfected red blood cells in patients, they may trigger a massive splenic loss of red blood cells and anemia, which in fact could be a worse problem than the original malaria infection. In the future she hopes the microfluidic system is able to bring real clinical benefits, aiding the decision-making of various clinical scenarios such as disease diagnostics, drug screening and blood transfusion.

Dr. Whitton, a PhD candidate supervised by Daniel B. Polley, Assistant Professor of Otology & Laryngology at Harvard Medical School, is recognized for his significant accomplishments and promise in studying distractor suppression and enhanced auditory signal processing through immersive ‘audiogames’ and investigating how training with these techniques generalizes to ‘real world’ auditory challenges. His research in the Eaton-Peabody Laboratory at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary focuses on his interest in understanding how the brain’s intrinsic capability to reorganize itself (neuroplasticity) can be harnessed and directed for therapeutic purposes (applied neuroplasticity). In order to study these questions from the level of neurons to naturalistic behaviors, his experiments employ an across-species design; wherein, mice and humans engage in similar behavioral interventions which are followed-up with invasive brain recordings in mice and perceptual measurements in humans. Using this approach, he recently found that short-term engagement with a custom audiogame provided perceptual benefit for humans in a ubiquitous social scenario: hearing out of a single speaker in a crowd. Furthermore, he found that the cortical neurons of mice that played a similar game were better at coding weak and noisy sensory inputs and filtered out irrelevant noise more completely. The finding of robust generalization of a behavioral treatment to realistic hearing challenges suggests that this approach may be beneficial for several patient populations who suffer from impaired hearing in noisy environments. Dr. Whitton is currently collaborating to make tablet-based diagnostics and training applications for patients who are living with presbycusis, a large group of individuals (26 million in the US alone) who present with impaired signal in noise perception even after treatment with hearing aids. Dr. Whitton plans to continue his study of neurological treatments for perceptual disorders by examining whether drug therapies can be coupled with behavioral techniques to further enhance the perceptual abilities of patients. He is also generally interested in reducing healthcare costs through the remote administration of diagnostic and rehabilitative audiology procedures.

The Helen Carr Peake Fund, which supports these prizes, was established to honor the late wife of Professor William T. Peake. This year’s recipients were selected by a committee consisting of Professor Elfar Adalsteinsson, Professor Heidi Nakajima, Professor William Peake, Professor Collin Stultz, Professor George Verghese (Committee Chair) and RLE Director Yoel Fink.

Related Links:

Peake Fund Site