Mines News

Release Date Thursday, December 2, 2021

Mines Student Wins Prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowship for Building Machine to Study the Inside of Blood Vessels

Mines Ph.D. graduate student Laura Brunmaier is working to build a way to study living blood vessels outside the human body. Her research could open doors to many new treatments for diseases.

South Dakota Mines Ph.D. student Laura Brunmaier has won a prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship (GRFP) totaling $130,000 to continue her work in biomedical engineering.

The NSF GRFP website reads, “As the oldest graduate fellowship of its kind, the GRFP has a long history of selecting recipients who achieve high levels of success in their future academic and professional careers. The reputation of the GRFP follows recipients and often helps them become life-long leaders that contribute significantly to both scientific innovation and teaching."

“This award is yet another example that South Dakota Mines researchers are on par with the top scientific labs and universities in the country,” says Mines President Jim Rankin. “Kudos to Laura Brunmaier for her excellent work. This is the kind of innovation that is changing the world.”

Brunmaier is working to overcome a major hurdle in the ability to research and explain how blood vessels form and how they react to various contaminants or to new medicines. Studying the inner workings of the human body has posed a challenge for medical science for centuries. The device that Brunmaier helped to invent allows researchers to study living blood vessels in real time outside the body.

To achieve this goal, Brunmaier uses a syringe to implant living cells into a gel medium that will grow the lining of a blood vessel along the tube or cavity that the syringe leaves behind when it is removed from the gel.

“We make a template that tells the cells what to do, and, then they grow into the right shape of a blood vessel,” says Brunmaier. “We have engineered a vessel scaffolding with the right properties needed by the cells to make the actual blood vessels.”

Brunmaier built a sealed glass-topped container that holds the gel in which the blood vessels can grow. She can then pump fluids through the container at the same pressure and flow that they experience inside the body. This effort allows her to view the living vessels through a microscope where they can be tested. “We will get a really simplified view of what is happening in the body,” says Brunmaier. “Because this is so simplified, we can untangle the science.”

The ability to view and test living blood vessels has huge advantages for researchers. “The end goal of this platform is to develop a device that can be used in a wide range of biomedical research,” says Brunmaier. “We can look at cancer. We can look at wound healing. We can look at the processes around blood vessel growth. We can examine the impact of pollution in the bloodstream. We can look at the chemical signals that cells use to communicate with each other. We can look at the pressures that cells undergo inside the vessels and how that can lead to other problems. The end goal is to be able to apply this device to many things.”

Brunmaier is a non-traditional student who left a successful career in the corporate world to study biomedical engineering at Mines. She finished her undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering in 2019 and is continuing her doctoral research at Mines. She works alongside members of the Walker Research Group lead by Travis Walker, Ph.D., associate professor of chemical and biological engineering at Mines.

On top of the NSF GRFP, Brunmaier was also awarded a $20,000 grant from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and her work led to a $40,000 grant from the Alternatives Research and Development Foundation for her studies of blood vessels. An initial Nelson Research Grant totaling $5,000 from South Dakota Mines helped launch her initial idea.

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About South Dakota Mines  

Founded in 1885, South Dakota Mines is one of the nation’s leading engineering, science and technology universities. South Dakota Mines offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees and a best-in-class education at an affordable price. The university enrolls 2,418 students with an average class size of 24. The South Dakota Mines placement rate for graduates is 97 percent, with an average starting salary of more than $68,685. For these reasons  South Dakota Mines is ranked among the best engineering schools in the country for return on investment. Find us online at www.sdsmt.edu and on FacebookTwitter, LinkedInInstagram and Snapchat.

Contact: Mike Ray, 605-394-6082, mike.ray@sdsmt.edu

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