Congrats to Monica for Selection to University Scholars Program

Monica WallCongratulations to Monica Wall, a Materials Science and Engineering undergraduate student who works in our lab with Chris Lacko. Monica was selected to participate in the University Scholars Program for 2016-2017! The University Scholars Program introduces undergraduate students at the University of Florida to the exciting world of academic research.  In the program, students work one-on-one with UF faculty on selected research projects. Through this initiative, students will take away an understanding of and appreciation for the scholarly method. A competition is held each spring within participating colleges for the University Scholars awards that includes a $1750 stipend. The program consists of students undertaking a full research project, under the guidance of a faculty member. The University Scholars Program serves as an exceptional capstone to the academic careers of UF students. Only 200 students from all disciplines are selected through a competitive process to participate in this program.

Monica’s research with Chris has been focused on peripheral nerve regeneration. Peripheral nerve injury is a frequent occurrence affecting a considerable percentage of trauma patients annually. Current methods are not able to bridge large nerve injury gaps in a way that restores both motor and sensory function comparable to the uninjured nerve. Monica’s research is focused on creating scaffolds to promote nerve repair – these scaffolds will provide a 3D physical support matrix that incorporates biological signals and topographical cues to actively promote axonal elongation along a desired pathway. In particular, Monica and her graduate student mentor Chris are working on creating crosslinked hydrogel scaffolds from hyaluronic acid, a sugar molecule that is found within the body and which is non-immunogenic. Hyaluronic acid (HA) is attractive because it naturally plays a role in wound healing in the body and is already FDA approved for other medical applications. Monica and Chris are looking at novel methods to create structure within amorphous HA hydrogel scaffolds to provide microtopographical fiber-like structure, to guide regenerating axons, and to also provide essential porosity. To do this, magnetic nano- and microparticles are being used to create aligned pores and microstructure within hydrogels that are normally amorphous and lack any physical features (in collaboration with Dr. Carlos Rinaldi in the BME department). This project is especially exciting because it aims to develop new and easy-to-use methods to consistently create desired and biologically relevant structural features in 3D scaffolds.

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