REU student Profile: Florencia Velez-Cortes

Florencia Velez-Cortes is a rising senior in physics and chemistry at The Ohio State University. As part of INBT’s REU program, she spent her summer as a research intern the chemical and biomolecular engineering laboratory of professor David Gracias. REU stands for Research Experience for Undergraduates and is a National Science Foundation program hosted by the Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology.

Florencia Velez-Cortes

Florencia Velez-Cortes

Florencia worked constructing bi-layers out of DNA and acrylamide gel. The combination of the two materials could be used the make biocompatible devices, such as microgrippers that could be used in tether-less surgery, she explained.

“The best part about this project is that we are working on something complete new and biocompatible that could even be responsive to chemical signals,” she explained.

Also because the material is composed of DNA, “it could be responsive to certain DNA sequences.”

Florencia said the most challenging thing for her this summer was working with people who are engineers, when she is not. “It’s been a steep learning curve for me but everyone has been really helpful and receptive to working with someone who is outside of their field.”

She also noted that the pace of research in the Gracias lab is a lot faster than what she is used to in her previous laboratory experiences. She said having a mentor she could talk to was integral to her success.

For all press inquiries regarding INBT, its faculty and programs, contact Mary Spiro, mspiro@jhu.edu or 410-516-4802.

Microscopic grippers used successfully in animal biopsies

Tiny, untethered microscale grippers have been successfully used to perform tissue biopsies in live animals, a study in the journal Gastroenterology reports. Researchers affiliated with the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Whiting School of Engineering and Institute for NanoBiotechnology developed the self-assembling microgrippers, called mu-grippers. The star-shaped devices use the animal’s own body heat to trigger them to clamp down around tissue to grab a sample like a tiny hand. Because the grippers are magnetic, they can later be retrieved for a minimally invasive procedure.

Dozens of dust-sized surgical mu- grippers in a vial. (Photo by  Evin Gultepe, Gracias Lab, Johns Hopkins University)

Dozens of dust-sized surgical mu- grippers in a vial. (Photo by Evin Gultepe, Gracias Lab, Johns Hopkins University)

David Gracias, the principal investigator for the study and associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, was quoted in a Johns Hopkins press release about the work: “This is the first time that anyone has used a sub-millimeter-sized device — the size of a dust particle — to conduct a biopsy in a live animal … That’s a significant accomplishment. And because we can send the grippers in through natural orifices, it is an important advance in minimally invasive treatment and a step toward the ultimate goal of making surgical procedures noninvasive.”

Read more here.