Researching new ways to change lives
August 13, 2019 / by Nanci Hellmich
Bioengineering junior De’Andre Darby remembers the moment she decided to pursue a career in research.
A man who lost his lower arm to amputation came into the lab to participate in the study. “He was so excited to be part of it," she says. "He had gone to many places for advanced prosthetics, and he was hopeful about our newly developed control system.
“Meeting a person who needed what we were creating really affected me. I knew then that I wanted to make people’s lives better.”
Darby has a clear career direction and a path, and she says opportunities at Mason paved the way for her in the field of biomedical engineering research. “I don’t believe I’d have the opportunities anywhere else that I’ve had at George Mason.”
After her freshman year, she participated in the Aspiring Scientists Summer Internship Program (ASSIP), in which students work one-on-one with faculty researchers at Mason. Darby worked in Sikdar’s lab, the Center for Adaptive Systems for Brain-Body Interactions (CASBBI). Afterward, she was invited to become a lab research assistant, helping to quantify the cognitive load of the control system for the prosthetic.
Sikdar, director of CASBBI, which is part of the Institute for Biohealth Innovation, says, “As a mentor, it is very fulfilling to see motivated students like De’Andre get excited about research and launch their own career trajectory.”
Michael Buschmann, chair of the Department of Bioengineering, says the faculty and staff are "proactive in helping students identify research opportunities in our department and at nearby research institutions and industry partners. Our students reinforce their knowledge and skills through these research projects and become aware of the wide array of opportunities and careers that are available to them."
This summer, Darby was selected for the STEP-UP (Short-Term Research Experience for Underrepresented Persons) program, an internship through the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
She worked on a National Institutes of Health-funded research study at Emory University that involved “investigating PD1 signaling, which shuts down the functions of the T-cells (T-Lymphocytes), white blood cells that find tumor cells and kill them,” she says. “The internship was pretty intense, but I loved learning everything.”
These lab experiences have taught her about collaboration, developed her research abilities, strengthened her confidence, and laid the foundation for the skills she’ll need to conduct her own research one day,
Her future plans: To continue to do research “as long as what I’m doing is for a greater purpose; as long as I am helping advance science.”