BREAKTHROUGH RESEARCH: SD Mines Student Receives $ 130,000 NSF Scholarship | Local

As a senior at Sturgis Brown High School, Laura Brunmaier didn’t think in modest terms when choosing the subject of her science project. She focused on Albert Einstein’s special theory of relativity.

“At that point, I just loved science and kind of explored everything,” she said.

Now Brunmaier holds a doctorate. candidate and graduate research assistant of the South Dakota Mining Biomedical Engineering Program. She has also been working since the start of the fall semester with the support of a National Science Foundation graduate research grant totaling $ 130,000.

The scholarship, as reported on the NSF GRFP website, helps recipients “become lifelong leaders who contribute significantly to both scientific innovation and teaching.” He notes former fellows, including “many Nobel Laureates, former US Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Google founder Sergey Brin and Freakonomics co-author Steven Levitt.”

The driving force behind the scholarship has been Brunmaier’s work on a device she calls an in vitro testing platform. Brunmaier has spearheaded the development of the device, which can, among other things, facilitate testing of tissues outside the body. The work could lead to a number of medical applications, including new ways to test the effectiveness of cancer drugs.

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Brunmaier did not go straight to Science and Mines in South Dakota after graduating from high school in 2007. She attended South Dakota State University for a year before moving to Mines in South Dakota. South Dakota as a pre-law major. Then she left, before graduating, to work as a store manager at AT&T. She worked for the company until 2016 when she returned to South Dakota Mines, this time with an eye on science, the subject she had grown to love. She specialized in biomedical engineering.

“It was always there,” she said, noting that her love for science was fueled by her observations of people experiencing health issues.

“My mother, in particular, would take care of people in palliative care,” she said. “I helped her at a young age.”

She also helped out in an assisted living facility.

“It always bothered me to see sick people and doctors running out of options,” she said.

So, channeling her concern for people’s health and her passion for science, she returned to South Dakota Mines. She was particularly drawn to research.

“Doctors are only good with the knowledge and the tools they have,” she said. “I didn’t want to be handicapped by it. It was more interesting for me to take the field forward and provide them with knowledge or tools, so that they can help people be healthier.

As an undergraduate, she worked on scientific research projects, leading to awards and several presentations in Pierre.

“I received an email from Dr Travis Walker,” she said. “He wanted someone who would build a blood vessel. I found this very interesting because cardiovascular disease has kind of wreaked havoc on my family, so it’s something special for me. It’s more personal.

Brunmaier completed her undergraduate studies in 2019 and began her studies as a graduate student, working with Walker, an associate professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering.

“We were going to design a blood vessel that could be used by surgeons for cardiovascular bypass grafts,” Brunmaier said. “Along the way, we found another hole – which is the testing of these devices, or the testing of devices in general.”

Walker said Brunmaier provided “the biological background while I provided a mechanical and materials science perspective.”

He later added: “We started working together and it’s been great ever since.”

The structure of the blood vessels they created, Brunmaier said, is a “tissue-engineered vascular graft.”

The now prominent machine created by Brunmaier – in collaboration with Walker and Cyle Miller, professor of vocational technical education at Sturgis Brown High School – allows Brunmaier to discover how tissues interact with this graft.

Brunmaier said the machine, which she calls an in vitro testing platform, allows researchers to work with tissue outside the body.

“From a research standpoint, in vitro devices, outside the body, are important because we control what goes into that system, and we can modify that system to see what’s going on,” he said. she declared. “We have to be able to put the cells in an environment where they think they’re in a body, but it’s much simpler than what’s in your body.”

The complexity of what goes on inside a body, she explained, can obscure “what is actually the trigger for something to happen.”

She said she filed an invention disclosure for the device, a preliminary step to a possible patent application.

Brunmaier noted a number of possible applications for the job, including cancer therapy. A persistent challenge, she said, is “getting drugs only for cancer and not allowing them to affect healthy body tissue.”

Brunmaier works with members of the Walker Research Group led by Walker, associate professor of chemical and biological engineering at Mines. She also received 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.

“. “It’s the kind of innovation that is changing the world.”

A Nelson first research grant totaling $ 5,000 from South Dakota Mines helped launch his initial idea, according to an announcement from the university.

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