Vinit Chugh and Dong Jun Lee are Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellowship Winners

ECE doctoral candidates Vinit Chugh and Dong Jun Lee are among the 2022-23 recipients of the Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellowship awarded by the University’s Graduate School. The fellowship provides outstanding PhD students who are pursuing interdisciplinary research the opportunity to study with faculty at a relevant interdisciplinary research center or institute at the University. The award includes a stipend and tuition and other benefits for the recipients.

Handheld MPS biosensing system

Vinit Chugh standing outside Northrop Auditorium with his back to the mall

Chugh’s research interests include point-of-care medical devices, magnetic nanoparticles, magnetic particle spectroscopy (MPS), and magnetic plethysmography devices. Working under the guidance of Distinguished McKnight University Professor Jian-Ping Wang, he is working on creating an MPS based system that can detect diseases at a fraction of the cost of current technologies. Chugh’s focus is on the development of a handheld MPS biosensing device for real-time, point-of-care diagnostic testing enabled with concurrent detection of multiple pathogens. Simultaneous detection in a single test allows for fast and cost-effective diagnostics. For the duration of the fellowship, Chugh will be working on the concurrent detection of two swine respiratory pathogens, Influenza A Virus and mycoplasma hyopneumoniae. The outcome of his work could then be extended to apply to other swine diseases, as well as infections in humans.

For Chugh, a graduate from the Indian Institute of Technology, broadening access to healthcare has been an enduring interest. Initially triggered by his own experiences growing up, it was further strengthened by the opportunity to work, during his undergraduate years, on the development of magnetic plethysmography-based sensors which enable real-time monitoring of heart-rate, respiration-rate, and blood pressure. 

Portable diagnostic platform for early detection of CWD

Lee’s research interests lie in engineering hybrid bio nanomaterials, and microfluidic platforms for diagnostic purposes. Like Chugh, he is interested in expanding healthcare access, and is focused on developing new tools and technologies that will support the goal. In his doctoral research, Lee is working on the design and implementation of a microfluidic diagnostic platform for portable and early detection of chronic wasting disease (CWD) under the guidance of Distinguished McKnight University Professor Sang-Hyun Oh.

DongJun Lee standing against an ivory colored wall

CWD, an infectious disease that affects the wild deer population in the United States, is caused by misfolded prion proteins. The disease damages the central nervous system, and although it can take several years to develop detectable symptoms, infected deer can spread the disease even during the early stages. Early detection is therefore a critical tool to diagnose and control the spread of the disease. Lee’s goal for the development of the microfluidic platform, which comprises an acoustofluidic mixing module and pump, is to reduce the time to assay the biological sample. The acoustofluidic technique involves trapping microscopic air bubbles in a microfluidic channel and applying an ultrasound wave to it, which results in a vibration at the air-liquid interface. This allows for the pump to mix the solution which can otherwise be difficult at the micrometer level. The work is promising, and preliminary results have shown that the platform could reduce diagnostic time from 36 hours down to three hours, and exhibits greater sensitivity. 

Lee’s interest in healthcare was triggered during his undergraduate days at Imperial College London where he learnt about protein engineering and drug development. While pursuing his master’s degree at Seoul National University, he had the opportunity to work on manipulation of bio nanomaterials using magnetic and electrical stimuli to control the activity of biomolecules, and to facilitate bio-sensing. At both institutions Lee had the opportunity to learn new techniques and engage in efforts that strengthened his interest in fabrication, device development, and analytical methods for cheap, and real time disease diagnosis. 

Both Chugh and Lee are working on projects that involve interdisciplinary collaboration, and are timely and highly relevant in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Devices that are portable, reduce diagnostic time, and capable of detecting multiple pathogens will be increasingly critical elements of our healthcare toolkit.