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Fellowship Strengthens Students' Skills

D’Amico is also the recipient of a fellowship through the Imaging Science and Informatics Portfolio Program, a training program at The University of Texas at Austin open to biomedical engineering graduate students. The program prepares imaging scientists with the skills necessary to identify clinically relevant problems and to use imaging science technologies and informatics techniques to improve the prevention, detection, diagnosis, and treatment of human diseases.

D’Amico’s research focuses on improving the detection of infection in blood. He uses novel electrokinetic techniques that would enable medical technicians to detect bacteria and fungal pathogens in a patient’s bloodstream more quickly than current methods. Quicker detection of infections is important, especially for those with compromised immune systems, such as the elderly, neonatal patients, and people battling cancer or taking cancer therapies. Current methods for diagnosing infection can take anywhere from 12 to 24 hours. Each hour that an infection goes undiagnosed is critical to the survival of a patient.

“The fellowship has strengthened my skills as a scientist and the classes I’ve taken through it have given me a comprehensive understanding that I can apply to my research,” D’Amico says.

The Imaging and Informatics Program has also provided D’Amico with external opportunities to enhance his research. In the summer of 2010 he worked on two different projects with Elcan Optical Technology in Dallas, Texas. Through one project, he was able to apply his engineering skills working on a technology to noninvasively detect neurological disorders by imaging the retina. On the other project he focused on the business context of an issue, where the company was looking to leverage optical technologies that had previously been used solely for defense applications into the medical field.

“I like being able to research where health care is happening, which I’ve been able to do as a graduate student at UT,” says D’Amico. “Through opportunities at Elcan Optical Technology and at MD Anderson, I can do research where I am not solely in a lab, but also in hospital and clinical settings.”