McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine Affiliated Faculty Member Leads Newest NSF REU Site at Pitt’s Chemical and Petroleum Engineering Department
Robert S. Parker, PhD, McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty member and associate professor, Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, Swanson School of Engineering, University of Pittsburgh, is leading a new NSF REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) site at the University of Pittsburgh. The REU is addressing Engineering Tools for Decision Support in Systems Medicine and is designed to expose 9 undergraduates per year for 3 years to research in the emerging field of systems medicine. This multidisciplinary field requires a basis of knowledge in both systems engineering and biology as it applies to the human condition, such as inflammation, cancer, diabetes, etc. Undergraduates from Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) backgrounds are ideal candidates to participate in this program, and this REU site will provide a (potentially first) experience working at the interface of STEM and medicine.
Students will embark on a mentored journey of research-based learning, developing along the path of dependent to independent investigator, to the degree possible for a given student. Additional objectives include the ability to deploy their modeling and analysis toolkit beyond their research problem, the ability to work in team-based research environments—a requirement for the systems medicine field—and, an increased desire to continue their studies at the post-graduate level. The mentored research experience, coupled to experiences in ethics, career options, and communication and dissemination skills will provide the necessary basis for continued student contributions to the field of systems medicine and beyond.
Systems medicine problems are characterized by complex interacting systems requiring multidisciplinary knowledge to formulate and solve. The intellectual merit of this REU proposal derives from the emergence of this field and the need for experts with the knowledge and motivation to address constrained real-world problems where mathematical models can provide hypothesis-generating and in validating predictions. Furthermore, systems medicine is underserved by existing REU sites, in comparison to other areas of biomedical research, and this site would expand the existing REU repertoire while educating students who could serve as the next generation of leaders in the field. The necessity of coupling modeling and systems analysis approaches to experimental data—thereby yielding a predictive model upon validation—is a prerequisite to solving clinically-relevant systems medicine problems. Through a series of mentored research and teaching experiences, REU students will take the first step on the path to becoming the next generation of experts in the field of systems medicine.
Through this REU, Dr. Parker and his colleagues seek to actively recruit underrepresented undergraduates to participate in interdisciplinary research and to advance the abilities of all students in the program with respect to communication, teamwork, and professional skills. Through existing relationships, and the development of new ones with minority, female, or primarily undergraduate institutions, this REU looks to provide a pathway to graduate education for populations that are traditionally underrepresented at the engineering (and STEM) post-graduate level by fostering the ability to independently and collaboratively investigate systems medicine research problems. One path of dissemination is to design simulations for use in K-12 education; the RUE is partnering with the University of Pittsburgh Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) Mobile Lab Program to bring computational experiments to K-12 students in an effort to stimulate the desire of these students to pursue STEM subjects at the baccalaureate level.