Jessica Shah Selected as Pratt Research Fellow

January 7, 2022 | Brittany Vekstein

Shah, an undergraduate student in the Musah Lab, will explore how to create improved models of kidney disease

This feature was originally published on the Duke MEDx website. View the original article here.

Jessica Shah

Jessica Shah

Jessica Shah, an undergraduate student in biomedical engineering at Duke University, was recently named a Pratt Research Fellow. Shah is a member of the Musah Lab, a stem cell biology and therapeutic organ engineering lab led by Samira Musah, PhD, assistant professor in the department of biomedical engineering, medicine and cell biology, and an investigator for Duke MEDx.

The Pratt Research Fellows program is a competitive research program that give undergraduate students the opportunity to contribute to cutting-edge research topics, while gaining a deep understanding of advanced concepts within their fields. Students receive course credit, presentation experience, and the opportunity to conduct summer research. 

Originally from Las Vegas, Nevada, Shah is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering with a minor in chemistry. As a member of the Pratt Research Fellowship program, Shah will receive support and mentorship as she pursues research relating to kidney disease. Shah will specifically explore how to improve the structure and function of an organ-on-a-chip system being engineered in the lab.

“Jessica Shah is an exceptional student. In addition to her impeccable academic record, she has been extraordinarily productive in the lab, working on a project integrating her medicine and engineering interests. Jessica's desire to develop engineering solutions for complex medical problems is ideal for the MEDx initiative and MD/PhD programs. I am proud of her accomplishments, including her recent selection as a Pratt Research Fellow," said Musah.

Chronic kidney disease research is limited by the lack of models that accurately mimic the structure and function of the human kidney glomerulus, which is the site of blood filtration. To address this, Shah is working with a fellow Musah Lab mentor and PhD student, Xingrui Mou, on a research project to engineer this organ-on-a-chip system with an integrated biodegradable membrane as a functional model of the human kidney glomerulus.

Shah is hoping to optimize their device to better simulate in vivo blood filtration and kidney disease.

“I hope that our organ-on-a-chip system will be used by other researchers as a physiologically relevant alternative to traditional 2D cell culture and animal models,” said Shah.

Shah plans to pursue a MD/PhD dual degree with a PhD in biomedical engineering. Ultimately, she would like to use her training to improve the way therapeutics are developed to treat patients. This concept continues to be of interest to others at Duke who are part of MEDx (Medicine + Engineering), like Shah’s mentor Dr. Samira Musah. Musah is also a research nephrologist, with a joint appointment in medicine and engineering.

Duke MEDx is an initiative started in 2015 between the Duke School of Medicine and the Pratt School of Engineering to foster the exchange of ideas and create research opportunities between physicians, engineers, computer scientists, researchers, and innovators. MEDx promotes the training of the next generation of researchers and clinicians to work symbiotically on new solutions to address complex clinical problems and develop strategic commercialization opportunities to translate research advances into effective devices, therapeutics and care delivery systems. The work of undergraduate researchers like Jessica Shah help contribute to this goal.

Shah has been inspired to pursue a MD/PhD thanks to her experiences and coursework at Duke focused on engineering and science. “I am passionate about developing better in vitro models of different diseases and organ systems because I believe it can greatly accelerate drug discovery and personalized medicine,” Shah shared.

Learn more about the Pratt Research Fellowship Program.