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Innovative collaboration

UW-Eau Claire and Mayo Clinic Health System are working together to better prepare the next generation of scientists, innovators, health care providers and leaders. The Blugold Biomedical Innovator Program was designed for students who have the intention to pursue a degree and career path in the health care or biomedical field. These students have the opportunity to interact with faculty, apply for competitive research experiences and network with medical professionals.

UW-Eau Claire and Mayo Clinic Health System believe that these one-of-a-kind experiences should be available to students of all backgrounds and financial situations and so created the Biomedical Innovators, the only scholarship program of its kind. Blugold experiences like this will continue to solidify UW-Eau Claire as the premier pre-med institution in the Midwest, a place able to offer undergraduate research experiences like no other.

Collaborative research

Research is what drives so many members of our faculty, and UW-Eau Claire is considered one of the top master's-level universities in the country when it comes to undergraduate research. Although many universities are known for research, undergraduate students often have a difficult time finding a seat at the table. That's not the case at UW-Eau Claire. We take pride in the fact that we offer remarkable research opportunities for undergraduate students.

These are experiences they wouldn’t be getting at a Big 10 or Ivy League school. They are first-year students working on research on campus, but they also are working with researchers at Mayo Clinic. It’s been tremendous for them and for us.

Dr. Doug Matthews Psychology Professor

Innovator Scholar

Each academic year, 10 students from the Blugold Biomedical Innovator Program will be selected to become Innovator Scholars. Our Scholars will work alongside Mayo Clinic Health System professionals and receive these benefits:

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$32,000 Scholarship

Receive an $8,000 annual scholarship, renewable for up to three additional years. Plus, earn up to $3,000 per summer while working on research.

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Guaranteed Research

Starting your first year, you will partner with a UW-Eau Claire faculty member and Mayo Clinic Health System professional on a research project.

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Special Event Invites

Attend special Mayo Clinic events with senior leaders in Eau Claire and Rochester.

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One-on-one Mentoring

Experience coaching from Mayo Clinic Health System physicians, current medical school students and staff from our Health Careers Center.

Eligibility criteria for Innovator Scholars

To maintain eligibility, an Innovator Scholar must:

At the heart of undergraduate research

We take pride in offering graduate school-level research opportunities for undergraduate students. Made possible as a collaborative effort with Mayo Clinic Health System, our Biomedical Innovator Program aims to prepare Blugolds for success in careers as scientists, innovators, health care providers and leaders.

Current research projects

Learn more about some of the research projects that are happening on campus! These exciting projects were made available to our Innovator Scholars. 

Prenatal Stress and Neurodevelopment in Autism

Research Project Summary

How do changes in the environment contribute to brain formation and associated neurodevelopmental disorders? Students in the Carter laboratory investigate the effects of disorder-associated environmental compounds on neurodevelopment and then define mechanisms of action for compounds that cause brain abnormalities. We currently are focused on the neurodevelopmental impact of environmental factors that have been shown in public health studies to correlate with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) prevalence. We use zebrafish in our experiments and assess changes in physical development (microscopy), molecular biology (gene expression), and behavior (motor tracking).

Mayo collaborator: Dr. Ashley Holland, Dr. Scott Schmidt

Faculty Member

Dr. Brad Carter
Assistant Professor — Biology

Dr. Brad Carter
Neurobiology of Alcohol Effects in Aged Populations

Research Project Summary

The number of older people in the United States continues to increase, highlighting the importance of understanding health factors associated with this population. Current data reveals that older people are more sensitive to alcohol’s effects compared to younger people. We have recently developed animal models to study the effect of alcohol in aged animals and have replicated the findings that aged rats are more sensitive to the effects of ethanol compared to younger animals. The current project is a multi-level analysis to investigate the neurobiological mechanism(s) that produce greater effects of alcohol in aged animals compared to younger animals.

Mayo collaborator: Dr. Doo-Sup Choi

Faculty Member

Dr. Doug Matthews
Professor — Psychology

Dr. Doug Matthews

 

Educational intervention to reduce post-operative opioid use

Research Project Summary

Increasing use of opioid medications to control pain has resulted in increased reports of opioid misuse, opioid dependence, and overdose (Weisberg, Becker, Fiellin & Stannard, 2014) and over prescription of opioid medications have been viewed as the main cause of the opioid epidemic (Volkow, Jones, Einstein, & Wargo 2019). The overreliance on opioids for clinical use transitions to opioid misuse and may lead to illicit use (heroin) when prescriptions can no longer be obtained. Our initial study determines to what extent an educational intervention performed by Mayo orthopedic staff reduces the use of opioid medication for post-operative pain management. The plan for the current study is to determine the effectiveness of the intervention on other surgical procedures such as cubital tunnel release and distal radius fractures.

In addition to working with the collaborative project with Mayo Clinic, students will be invited to join Dr. Jewett’s neuroscience research laboratory on the UWEC campus. Dr. Jewett’s research program utilizes behavioral and pharmacological techniques that are used in drug development. Additionally, several projects in the laboratory are designed to learn more about opioids including one non-human technique that predicts the effectiveness of opioids on pain relief in humans.

Mayo collaborator: Dr. Jose Ortiz, Jr.

Faculty Member

Dr. David Jewett
Professor — Psychology

David Jewett
Developing medical models through 3D printing

Research Project Summary

To improve surgical outcomes, physicians are moving to less invasive procedures that rely on better knowledge of the individual patient anatomy through advances in medical imaging, such as MRI, ultrasound, or CT scans. Technology now allows these data, that are typically displayed on 2D screens, to be displayed in three dimensions through 3D printing. These 3D printed models allow physicians to better visualize what they will encounter during surgery, test different instruments that may be used during surgery, and improve the surgical plan for the individual patient. This project will provide 3D printed models for use in the presurgical process of the Mini-thoracotomy Aortic Valve Replacement program at Mayo Clinic.

Mayo collaborator: Dr. Joseph Wildenberg

Faculty Member

Dr. Doug Dunham
Professor — Materials Science and Biomedical Engineering

Dr. Doug Dunham

 

 

Materials characterization of injectable therapeutic foams

Research Project Summary

In collaboration with an interventional radiologist at Mayo Clinic Health System-Eau Claire, materials are being developed and tested for separation and protection of healthy organs and tissues during treatment of tumors by freezing or heating. These injectable foams are being tested for stability, mechanical stiffness, and incorporation of therapeutic components such as contrast agents and antibiotics. Testing includes the materials characterization of these foams, testing the foams in physiologic conditions, and animal studies. Undergraduate researchers are critical for creating and testing the foams, collecting and analyzing data, working with our collaborator, and communicating results to a variety of audiences.

Mayo collaborator: Dr. Jeremy McBride

Faculty Member

Dr. Liz Glogowski
Associate Professor — Materials Science and Biomedical Engineering

Dr. Liz Glogowski

 

Surface-Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy of Human Saliva as a Non-invasive Tool for Cancer Diagnostics

Research Project Summary

Cancer now tops heart disease as the number one cause of death in the United States, and it is the second leading cause of death globally. The symptoms of cancer are often not specific and, in most cases, are not apparent in early stages. As early cancer detection is the hallmark of successful treatment, our research is focused on developing a rapid, reliable, inexpensive, and non-invasive method for cancer detection and screening. The student researchers working on this project will be using Raman Spectroscopy to identify cancer-specific biomarkers in saliva samples for the early diagnosis of cancer. In particular, Surface-Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy (SERS), a highly sensitive analytical tool, will be used for this study. Student researchers will be responsible for preparing samples, optimizing the experimental conditions, analyzing data, and sharing the findings of this study with others in the form of poster/oral presentations and manuscripts.

Mayo collaborator: Dr. Sandeep Basu

Faculty Member

Dr. Sanchita Hati
Professor — Chemistry

Dr. Sanchita Hati

 

Mapping and quantifying tissue fibrosis

Research Project Summary

Fibrosis is the development of fibrous connective tissue in response to injury or organ damage. Mapping and quantification of fibrosis is a key factor in disease staging and also provides one of the best prognostic indicators of continued organ success. We investigate whether infrared imaging can allow for the rapid mapping and quantification of fibrosis in multiple organs without requiring dyes or stains and furthermore, whether we can extract additional biochemical information predicting rapid fibrosis progression in patients. A high throughput, real-time, Quantum Cascade Laser imaging system will be created for rapid imaging and diagnosis of fibrosis in heart, lung, kidney, and liver tissues. This system will include the ability to map and quantify the extent of fibrosis and include intelligent analysis software capable of automatic flagging of suspect areas. This will be performed as part of a collaborative study on paraffin-embedded unstained tissue that exist in the Mayo Clinic tissue archives.

Mayo collaborator: Dr. Rajeev Chaudhry and others TBD

Faculty Member

Dr. Michael Walsh
Assistant Professor — Materials Science and Biomedical Engineering

Michael Walsh
Using machine learning to identify relationships between complex diseases

Research Project Summary

The human body is a complex system where disease in one part can cause new disease states in other parts of the body. For example, diabetes can cause hypertension, and hypertension may increase the risk of heart disease. Researchers have identified relationships among many such disease states. These relationships may also exist among complex diseases like schizophrenia, Alzheimer's disease, and cancer. Determining these relationships are of paramount importance and can be used for presumed diagnosis, early intervention, and the development of new medicine. The goal of this project is to develop a novel and robust machine learning approach to identify possible relationships among complex disease states by analyzing a multi-view biomedical dataset (e.g., DNA and organ images). Our goal is to accomplish the following three objectives: (1) identify relationships between complex disease states, (2) incorporate and propose machine learning techniques for complex disease prediction, and (3) develop software systems and disseminate those to the scientific community for various uses.

Mayo collaborator: Dr. Rajeev Chaudhry

Other collaborator: Dr. Ashad Alam, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana

Faculty Member

Dr. Rakib Islam
Assistant Professor—Computer Science 

Rakib Islam
Using artificial intelligence to diagnose disease

Research Project Summary

Our research involves using artificial intelligence (AI) methods like machine learning and deep learning to diagnose diseases and develop technologies to monitor health. Students in Dr. Gomes’ lab work with big data like CT scan images or human gene sequence text data and use high performance computing to run analyses. Presently, Dr. Gomes and five undergraduate students collaborate with Dr. Wildenberg on developing new AI technology to identify filters in a large vein, the inferior vena cava, in a patient’s CT scan. These filters are inserted to trap blood clots and prevent them from reaching the heart and lungs. Our vision is to automate filter detection with routine CT scans so that radiologists can follow-up on the health of these filters. Research with Dr. Garg is focused on developing an AI-oriented approach to identify pancreatic cancer from patient CT scans. Our vision is to automatically detect the stage of cancer, the disease progression, and the steps to be taken (such as chemotherapy or surgery) to address recovery. Dr. Gomes is also collaborating with researchers at North Dakota State University to analyze human gene sequence information and identify regions in the human genome that play a significant role in cancer progression.

Mayo collaborators: Dr. Joe Wildenberg and Dr. Sushil Garg

Other collaborators: North Dakota State University

Faculty Member

Dr. Rahul Gomes
Assistant Professor— Computer Science 

Rahul Gomes
Mayo Clinic Family Medicine Resident Wellness Study

Research Project Summary

Considering a high prevalence of burnout syndrome in physicians (especially those in early career), we must first care for the providers before providing care to patients. Improved well-being of physicians will lead to healthy workforce in healthcare which naturally leads to an improvement in overall patient care. Among risk factors for burnout, sleep loss is an overlooked factor that impact mental fatigue and burnout. The proposed study utilizes a non-invasive inclinometer device (worn on mid-thigh) to better understand sleep patterns of residents during the week of overnight shifts and their impacts on acute mental fatigue and perceived burnout. Additionally, second part of the study will implement a tailored workplace exercise program as a countermeasure to manage stress, improve sleep patterns, and reduce chronic mental fatigue and burnout among family medicine residents who have extended work hours and overnight call responsibilities.

Mayo collaborator: Dr. Terri Nordin

Faculty Member

Dr. Saori Braun

Associate Professor — Kinesiology

Saori Braun

 

Genetic Variants and Disease

Research Project Summary - 1

Polycystic kidney disease is a genetic disease, which affects approximately 12.4 million people worldwide (PKD Foundation). A major question in the field is “how precisely does a genetic change (a change in DNA) lead to the formation of cysts?” In other words, which pathways and processes in the cells are affected? In addition, patients develop a range of symptoms, and age of onset is variable. Our lab uses C. elegans and zebrafish as models to understand cystic kidney disease and more specifically to understand how primary cilia, which act as cellular antennae, contribute to health and disease.

Mayo collaborator: TBD

Research Project Summary - 2

Genetic testing of patients with suspected genetic disorders yields a wealth of sequence information that then must be interpreted to determine which variants (differences in the DNA sequence between a patient’s genome and a reference genome) affect the symptoms and pathology observed. This process of variant interpretation is challenging and complex. Our lab is initiating a project to analyze variants of uncertain significance identified during genetic testing to see whether these changes in the DNA result in a change in expression of the gene. Data from this project have the potential to improve patient outcomes by improving the ability of physicians and scientists to decipher which variants are clinically relevant.

Mayo collaborator: TBD

Faculty Member

Dr. Jamie Lyman Gingerich
Associate Professor — Biology

Dr. Jamie Lyman Gingerich

 

 

 

Working alongside these professionals every day has been such a valuable experience. I’ve been able to picture myself in this field, doing the work that they’re doing every day.

Megan Schleusner Biology, Pre-Med

Meet our current Blugold Biomedical Innovator Scholars

2022-2023 Blugold Biomedical Innovator Scholars
Emily Baldwin

Nursing
Downers Grove, IL

Easton Blissenbach

Microbiology
Goodhue, MN

Tatiana Bobrowicz

Biomedical Engineering
Monroe, WI

Catalina Decker

Biochemistry/Molecular Biology, Pre-Medicine
Eagan, MN

Sophie Gardiner

Biomedical Engineering
Savage, MN

Emma Jiter

Biomedical Engineering
Kenosha, WI

Sara Multhauf

Nursing
Brookfield, WI

Lydia Staebell

Neuroscience, Pre-medicine
Brooklyn Center, MN

Samuel Stumo

Neuroscience
Sherwood, WI

Aeda Zank

Psychology
Sun Prairie, WI

2021-2022 Blugold Biomedical Innovator Scholars
Cora Dunnum

Neuroscience
Prairie Du Sac, Wisconsin

Grace Cunningham

Chemistry, ACS Biochemistry Emphasis
Maple Plain, Minnesota

Bella Schmitz

Neuroscience
Richfield, Minnesota

Lauren Glenna

Nursing
Cottage Grove, Minnesota

Tori Kangas

Nursing
St. Michael, Minnesota

Olivia Heinecke

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Port Washington, Wisconsin

Paige Drazkowski

Nursing
Fountain City, Wisconsin

Leah Rook

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Jordan, Minnesota

Drew Smith

Biomedical Engineering
Morris, Illinois

2020-2021 Blugold Biomedical Innovator Scholars
Marshall Apps
Marshall Apps

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Green Bay, Wisconsin

Taking part in this program has already turned out to be an amazing experience that has taught me so much about the research and scientific process in general. My career goal is to become a physician, and this program provides rare undergraduate Mayo Clinic access and the chance to make valuable connections to hospital physicians and research staff.

I am part of Dr. Elizabeth Glogowski’s research team, investigating injectable therapeutic foam additives. The goal of our research is to determine how effective foams are in separating and protecting healthy tissues during ablation treatment of tumors. One of my specific tasks is to create a model showing how foam reacts in contact with human tissue.

Outside of my STEM studies and research, a favorite class this spring has been Spanish 302: “Advanced Conversation and Composition.” I really appreciate the instructor’s teaching style and am enjoying all the conversation and increasing my ability to communicate in Spanish.

Gillian Davis
Gillian Davis

Pre-Med: Biology major, Spanish minor
Ellsworth, Wisconsin

The best part of the program has been all the benefits that come with this level of research. As a first-year student, I am actually doing the things I learn about in lectures, which is crazy! Not only are my classes helping me with understanding my research project, but my research project is helping me understand my classes.

I work with Dr. Bradley Carter in the biology department. Our lab studies zebrafish to investigate the effects of chemicals associated with human disorders on brain development. My role is examining the impact of specific chemicals associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) on genes that mark different types of neurons. We hope these experiments will further inform our understanding of ASD biology and environmental influences on ASD.

One class that has had a big impact on me this year has been course titled “Combating Disinformation,” which looks at how people process and categorize different types of information. It has given me useful insight into the scale of effects disinformation has in modern society.

Maya Frodl
Maya Frodl

Biology
Racine, Wisconsin

I was attracted to this program for a variety of reasons — gaining medical research experience from day one of my undergraduate career, receiving one-on-one mentorship from Mayo Clinic physicians and having access to medical lecture series would greatly benefit my pre-med path.

My research project under the mentorship of Dr. Douglas Dunham, is creating 3D-printed hearts to be used in the pre-surgical planning process of two types of minimally invasive heart surgeries, aortic valve replacement and mitral repair. In this project, another BioMed Scholar and I turn 2D medical images (such as CT scans and MRIs) of patients' hearts into printable 3D models using a computer. Cardiac surgeons then provide us feedback on our models.

One fun fact about me is that I’m on the Blugold swim team, and have been a competitive swimmer for 10 years, and between the lab and the pool you can most often find me studying in my favorite corner of the library that faces the creek.

Mikayla Hady
Mikayla Hady

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Springfield, Illinois

The nationally ranked research drew me to UW-Eau Claire in the first place, and the opportunity to start my research experience as soon as I stepped foot on campus is just incredible. The connections with Mayo Clinic researchers and financial scholarship provided by this program were too amazing not to jump on.

The project I am researching is in the neuroscience lab of Dr. Douglas Matthews, examining the effects of binge alcohol consumption on aged animals. We primarily use rat models and a water maze to conduct studies on the effects of alcohol on brain functions, especially memory.

One of my favorite classes has been Honors 313: “Understanding Chronic Disease: Bridging the Gap Between Engineering and Medicine.” I hope to become an M.D.-Ph.D., pursuing both a medical degree and a Ph.D. in biochemistry or biomedical engineering, and this class has helped me sharpen my skills in medicine and areas of research.

Kira Haus
Kira Haus

Biomedical Engineering
Elk River, Minnesota

I had no idea opportunities like this were available for individuals my age. I knew undergraduate research was excellent at UW-Eau Claire, but I never imagined that I would be able to start doing projects like these when I arrived as a freshman. When I received the information about the program, I knew I had to apply to be a part of this amazing opportunity.

Working with Dr. Elizabeth Glogowski for my project has been a tremendous experience. The title of our project is "Investigating Injectable Therapeutic Foam Additives." We are producing an injectable foam to protect healthy tissue during cancer removal procedures. The foam's purpose is to shelter healthy tissue from damage, which can result from freezing or heating adjacent cancerous tissue. Currently, I am developing a gel that will be used to assess the insulative properties of the foam.

Beyond research, a highlight of this first year has been a favorite class I took through the University Honors program, “Critical Issues in Global Health.” I learned so much about disparities in health services across countries and cultures. My instructors for the course were highly knowledgeable about the topic, especially Dr. Mohammad Alasagheirin, who has personal experience working as a health professional in refugee camps in the Middle East.

My original plan has been to become a physician assistant, although I am now also considering graduate school in biomedical engineering after graduation. That and checking off a shark-lover’s bucket-list item — cage diving!

Quinn Petersilka is among the first Blugold Biomedical Innovator Scholars.
Quinn Petersilka

Communication Sciences and Disorders
Eau Claire, Wisconsin

I was attracted to this program because of the amazing opportunities it provided. I never thought I would be able to get into a research lab my freshman year of college, much less be an integral part of a research team. From connections with UW-Claire faculty members to mentoring from Mayo Clinic researchers, I knew I would gain a lot from being a part of this program. I already have!

My career goal is to become a speech and language pathologist, and the class I have most enjoyed so far is my American Sign Language course. I’ve learned so much already about deaf culture, and there is much more to learn.

The best part of being in this program is the connections I have made. I have met other students through this research and have been able to form connections with faculty, like my research mentor Dr. Douglas Matthews. In his lab, our student team researches the effect alcohol has on aged rats and the long-term effect alcohol has when consumed regularly. 

Gillian Rossman
Gillian Rossman

Neuroscience
Valparaiso, Indiana

Having the chance as a freshman to conduct collaborative research in Dr. Douglas Matthews’ alcohol studies lab has already got me thinking about a possible change in career plans. I’d always planned to be an M.D., but since beginning this program, I’m now looking into the option of an M.D.-Ph.D., with continued career focus on research.

In our project, we use animal models to study the behavioral and biochemical effects of alcohol consumption within the brain. Currently, we are investigating age and the effects of alcohol consumption, comparing young and aged animals. My experience thus far has been very rewarding, from analyzing past research to conducting labs and assays to animal care.

In departure from STEM classes and research, I enjoy rock climbing which I discovered through UWEC Recreation, and my studio art class in the Honors Program is an enjoyable change of pace and opportunity for creativity.

Saige Tichy
Saige Tichy

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Stratford, Wisconsin

I applied to this program because the idea of creating a network within the science departments at UW-Eau Claire, as well as a network within Mayo Clinic so early on in my undergraduate experience was an opportunity I could not pass up.

I am currently working with Dr. Douglas Dunham and fellow Innovator Scholar Maya Frodl on a project titled "3D Printing to Enhance Patient Outcome for Mini-Thoracotomy Aortic Valve Replacement and Mini-Mitral Repairs." Maya and I can convert a medical scan of a heart into an actual 3D physical model, a process we learned after plenty of trial and error during first semester and winter break. These personalized models aid cardiothoracic surgeons in planning their surgical approach to complicated operations.

I was prepared for pandemic learning at a young age because as a middle school student, I did all my school online so I could train for over 25 hours per week for gymnastics.

How to apply

Apply to become a part of the Blugold Biomedical Innovator Program by following the steps below.

Step 1

If you have not done so already, you will need to activate your account. To activate your account, you will need the following information:

Step 2

After activating your account, apply online for scholarships on our Gold for Blugolds site. Sign in using your UW-Eau Claire username and password. Once you're logged in, select My Applications from the menu bar. Complete the Admissions Scholarship Application.

If you are identified as a candidate for the program from the Admissions Scholarship Application, you will receive an email from Admissions with additional information regarding selection. An additional essay specific to the Blugold Biomedical Innovators Program must be submitted by the deadline stated within the email.

Mayo Clinic Health System Vaccination Policy

Please note that COVID-19 and flu vaccinations are mandatory for any student activity on Mayo Clinic Health System grounds. Biomedical Innovators will be required to provide proof of vaccination to participate in activities in Mayo Clinic Health System facilities. A choice not to vaccinate does not affect eligibility for the scholarship, but it will limit the student’s ability to participate in Mayo Clinic hosted programming.

Questions? 

Contact Admissions by email at admissions@uwec.edu or by phone at 715-836-5415.