Two Illinois bioengineers receive prestigious Baxter Young Investigator Awards


Kaylan Waldron

Bioengineering Ph.D. candidate Maha Alafeef and postdoctoral research associate and Ph.D. alumnus (BIOE '20) Indrajit Srivastava have received the Baxter Young Investigator Awards. Baxter is a multinational healthcare company that focuses on products to treat chronic and acute diseases. Alafeef has won the first-tier award and Srivastava has won the second-tier award. The purpose of this award is to stimulate and reward research applicable to the development of therapies and medical products that save and sustain patients' lives. The Grainger College of Engineering researchers Alafeef and Srivastava were two of eighteen award recipients this year. 

First-tier award winner Alafeef has dedicated her doctoral research focus on the development of nanomaterial that can be used for biosensor developments. Her studies inspired her research topic for Baxter which was developing a biosensing platform for synchronous detection of pathogens and immune response for rapid sepsis diagnosis. Alafeef states the importance of this development as 31 million people per year develop sepsis which has a high mortality rate in women and children and tests may take up to five days to diagnose this condition. The research that she has done is critical in rapidly diagnosing this life-threatening infection. Alafeef is a big believer in innovation by applying basic science and engineering to address unmet medical needs. 

"I'm honored and humbled to receive the Baxter Young Investigator Award; this recognition will surely help pave my way to continue with my work to develop technologies to save and sustain people's lives. I would like to express my gratitude to my Ph.D. advisor professor Dipanjan Pan for being a truly inspiring mentor and for all the help and support which made this success possible," said Alafeef. "Last but not least, I would like to thank my parents and siblings for their endless support.” 

Alafeef has given a presentation that will be shared with Baxter’s worldwide facilities along with attending an award’s ceremony held on November 11th. 

Srivastava, a second-tier award winner, is currently focusing on the research of utilizing biomimicry principles to engineer nanotechnology-driven tools for in vitro disease detections and diagnostics, and for image-guided surgical and therapeutic interventions. Srivastava’s research for the Baxter reward revolved around using biomimetic red-blood-cell-membrane coated plasmonic nanoparticles and developing a surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) immunoassay that can detect fibrinogen concentration from blood plasma at clinically relevant ranges. In addition, these nanoparticles have enhanced dispersibility features i.e. can be lyophilized into powders and dispersed into solutions when conducting the assay. This feature allows the assay to be conducted at remote locations that do not have sophisticated equipment needed to maintain long-term storage of these nanomaterials. 

Hypofibrinogenemia is a strong predictor of mortality in critically bleeding patients, but clinical assay for detecting fibrinogen levels usually requires expensive instrumentation and long assay times. Srivastava’s research addresses the unmet needs in the medical field by providing a rapid, low-cost, easy-to-implement, portable diagnostic tool for measuring accurate fibrinogen concentrations in the blood. This tool aims to reduce the treatment time needed for fibrinogen replacement therapy. 

“I would like to thank my research mentor, professor Shuming Nie for nominating me for this award and providing a platform to carry out my independent research ideas. I would like to thank my lab mates Ruiyang Xue, Jamie Jones, Hyunjoon Rhee and Kristen Flatt (MRL) for their collaborative help towards building up this project,” he said.

Congratulations to both researchers on winning these prestigious awards.