Undergraduate Study
Research Opportunities
2018 Summer Research Opportunities

Undergraduate researchers are wanted in these labs. Contact the research ambassador of the research group to apply.

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Murray Group: Applied Research in Musculoskeletal Simulations Laboratory

Please contact Amy Adkins with any questions or to submit an application.

Characterizing muscle volume changes in individual’s with chronic stroke

The force-generating capacity of a muscle is dependent on the muscle’s volume and the length and orientation of its fibers, also known as the muscle’s architecture. Previous studies have shown substantial changes to the paretic lower limb muscle architecture in individuals with chronic stroke. However, little work has been done to characterize changes in the upper limb despite the importance of arm and hand function for performing activities of daily living. An understanding of muscle architectural changes and their impact on function is critical for developing optimal rehabilitation strategies that address upper limb function.
The overall goal of this study is to obtain multiscale, in vivo muscle architecture measurements in individuals with chronic hemiparetic stroke. Specifically, we are looking for someone to be involved with the collection, analysis, and interpretation of muscle volume data. To obtain muscle volumes we will be collecting magnetic resonance images (MRI) of the paretic and non-paretic upper limb of individuals with chronic hemiparetic stroke. We will be using a special fat suppression technique called the Dixon Method. This method uses the fact that water and fat spin at different rates to take a series of fat-only and water-only images. This allows us to subtract the amount of muscle volume due to fatty infiltration from the total muscle volume to get the volume of contractile muscle. This project will involve learning upper limb muscle anatomy, becoming familiar with MRI as an imaging technique, learning how to segment MRI images to get muscle volume from several cross sectional slices, interpreting differences in volume across arms or across levels of impairment, understanding the importance of muscle architecture for muscle function, etc. In addition, the student may be involved in other parts of in vivo muscle measures that are part of this project such as using ultrasound to measure muscle fascicle lengths and using two-photon micro endoscopy to measure sarcomere lengths. 

Perreault Group: Neuromuscular Control & Plasticity Laboratory

Please contact Emma Baillargeon with any questions or to submit an application.

Investigating the use of shear-wave elastography for quantifying muscle tissue elasticity

Project in collaboration with Michel Bernabei, Postdoctoral Fellow, Sabrina Lee, PhD and Tom Sandercock, PhD

Our lab is currently using shear wave elastography, a novel ultrasound technique, for investigating elasticity of muscle tissue in physiological conditions. We are combining animal experiments performed a Northwestern’s Physiology department (Feinberg School of Medicine) with human trials carried on at the Physical Therapy and Human Movement Sciences department, with the aim of improving our current understanding of elastography in muscles and guiding future clinical deployment. You will be able to observe the experimental activities, learn about ultrasound data collection and analysis, and work on a subset of this data for answering specific experimental questions. While you will be able to learn some basics of ultrasound imaging and muscle physiology during your stay in the lab, a good knowledge of Matlab is required to use our current algorithms for this project.

Age-related differences in muscle-tendon properties

Project in collaboration with Kristen Jakubowski, PhD Student and Sabrina Lee, PhD

This project is investigating the relationship between age-dependent changes in muscle-tendon properties and net joint mechanics. Older adults are known to have decreased walking speed, which may be attributed to age-dependent musculotendon changes. Muscle force production depends upon its architecture as well as the material properties of the muscle and tendon. While age-dependent changes including altered muscle architecture, muscle composition, and tendon compliance are well established, it is unclear if these changes are relevant to the net mechanics of the joint. Work on this project will primarily take place in the Physical Therapy and Human Movement Sciences Department in Chicago.

Age-related differences in shoulder muscle coordination

Project in collaboration with Emma Baillargeon, PhD Candidate and Amee Seitz, PT, PhD

Older adults have an increased prevalence of shoulder pain and pathology. While it has been shown that older adults with shoulder pathology demonstrate altered muscle coordination patterns, it remains unknown if these differences are a cause or results of pathology. If muscle coordination differences precede pathology, it may be possible to identify patients at risk and develop preventative physical therapy interventions to minimize the impact of shoulder pain. In this study, we are quantifying muscle and torque coordination patterns in healthy young and older adults to determine if there are age-related differences during isometric and reaching tasks. You will have the opportunity to assist with data collection and processing of isometric EMG and torque data, in addition to designing and piloting a new protocol to evaluate reaching.

Scott Group

Please contact Nicholas Karabin with any questions or to submit an application.

Development of an anti-inflammatory, immunosuppressive scaffold for islet cell transplantation

Project in collaboration with PhD Student Sophia Li

Pancreatic islet cell transplantation with intraportal infusion into the liver is a potential insulin replacement therapy that has been used to treat select patients with Type 1 diabetes.  However, there is a high rate of graft failure and lifelong immunosuppression is required. Recently, a promising extrahepatic site in the omentum has been explored.  Islet cells are secured in place in the omentum with a fibrin scaffold derived from autologous platelet rich plasma (PRP).  Since PRP is a pro-inflammatory biomaterial, a new scaffold that promotes islet graft survival and immune tolerance is needed.  Thus, the goal of this project is to develop a scaffold that enhances angiogenesis, provides an anti-inflammatory immunosuppressive environment for the islets, and releases nanocarriers containing donor antigens to promote tolerance.  The Scott Lab has developed a platform using poly(ethyleneglycol)-bl-poly(propylenesulfide) co-polymers to form a variety of nanostructures including polymersomes and filomicelles.  The polymersome nanocarriers can be engineered to enhance intracellular delivery to dendritic cells, modulating the immune system. The filomicelles can form an injectable scaffold that crosslinks in situ and is capable of releasing drugs and polymersomes.  In this proposal, the unique properties of these nanostructures will be used to develop a tolerance-promoting engraftment niche for islet transplantation.​

Superparamagnetic nanoparticles for targeting of BRCA1-related breast cancer

Project in collaboration with PhD Student PhD Mallika Modak

​This project aims to prevent breast cancer development in women carrying high-risk mutations in the gene BRCA1 by targeting and eliminating the specific mammary gland cells that are the origin of BRCA1-related breast cancer.   This subset of breast cancer is known to be related to over-activity of the PR-RANK-RANKL signaling pathway, providing multiple cellular targets such as the RANK receptor for targeting of pre-cancerous mammary cells.  To this end, a magnetic construct consisting of polyethylene glycol-b­-polypropylene sulfide (PEG-PPS) nanostructures loaded with superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles (SPIONs) and a RANK-targeting peptide will be developed to target RANK-positive mammary cells.  The superparamagnetic properties of these SPION-loaded nanostructures will be used to achieve magnetic dispersal at the tissue level and thermal ablation at the cellular level.  This approach will allow for local therapeutic administration and targeted destruction of pre-cancerous cells.

Tresch group

Please contact Cristiano Alessandro with any questions or to submit an application.

The Tresch lab investigates the interactions between musculoskeletal properties and neural control strategies.
The projects below examine the hypothesis that the nervous system actively regulates the internal stresses and strains within a joint. They involve neurophysiological, behavioral, and biomechanical studies in rats. Although these are the main projects that we're currently working on, there are other projects going on as well that could evolve into thesis projects, depending on students' interests.
  1. Characterization of muscle actions on patellar kinematics in situ. These are acute experimentsinvolving motion tracking of markers attached to the patella while applying stimulation to individualmuscles.
  2. Adaptation strategies following selective paralysis of individual quadriceps muscles. These arechronic experiments, recording EMGs and kinematics before and after paralyzing one of the quadriceps muscles. Based on our understanding of muscle actions, we can evaluate whether the nervous system chooses muscle activations to minimize internal joint stresses and strains.
  3. What sensory pathways are used by the nervous system to regulate internal joint variables. Theseexperiments examine how neural control strategies are altered by modifying sensory informationcoming from the knee joint.
  4. Computational analysis of the neural adaptation strategies following quadriceps paralysis. Thesecomputer simulations would provide predictions of muscle activations following quadriceps paralysis under different optimization principles. These predictions could then be compared to the activations observed experimentally, in order to help in their interpretation.