A doctoral student at the University of Kansas School of Engineering is conducting potentially groundbreaking research on liver regeneration, thanks to a major award from the National Science Foundation.
Emily Mangus, a third-year doctoral student in bioengineering from Manhattan, recently received a three-year, $90,000 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.
Mangus will research ways to utilize a moldable, injectable substance known as a colloidal gel for the treatment of people with liver ailments. Colloidal gels provide flexibility and have the potential to fully capitalize on the liver’s natural regenerative capabilities.
“Native liver tissue can grow into this material,” Mangus said. “Other treatments use a hard, stiff material and can’t allow cells to pass into it from the native tissue. I really want an integration between the native tissue and the cells I introduce.”
That symbiotic relationship could have major impacts for a person on a waiting list for a liver transplant.
“There are a lot of specific criteria that need to be met for a transplant — and even those patients meeting those criteria still are faced with a long wait — and often times patients will die while on that waiting list,” Mangus said. “So it’s my hope that one day this colloidal gel will serve as a bridge to help a patient long enough to receive a transplant.”
Mangus will conduct her research in association with the KU Medical Center, under the guidance of Cory Berkland and Michael Detamore, both associate professors of chemical and petroleum engineering.
“With her impressive level of creativity, coupled with her raw intelligence, I am confident Emily has tremendous potential to make lasting contributions to science and to society,” Detamore said.
Additionally, Mangus will spend the 2011-12 academic year working on a separate NSF-sponsored initiative, known as the GK-12 program. Mangus will mentor a sixth-grade science class in the Lawrence area in the hopes of inspiring the next generation of engineers and scientists while she gains experience in the best ways to communicate complex ideas to people of all ages. The one-year program comes with a $30,000 stipend.
“I’ll work in the class with the teacher as a mentor,” Mangus said. “It’s my hope that I can get these students excited about science and engineering. It’s a really neat opportunity.”
In the meantime, she will continue her research on the liver and colloidal gels. Mangus said she’s been intrigued by the natural regenerative capabilities of the liver since an internship in 2007 at the National Institutes of Health and is eager to truly make a difference in people’s lives.
“During my internship at the NIH, my adviser was a doctor, and he was performing groundbreaking procedures on the liver using radio waves,” Mangus said. “One day, he brought a bunch of the researchers and me into one of the patients’ rooms and the doctor told him that we were the ones in charge of this innovative technology. And the patient looked at us and he said, ‘Thank you so much,’ and that was really cool for me and I was just hooked on it from there.”
Mangus is the daughter of Terry and Claire Beck. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Kansas State University in 2008.