A third-year Case Western Reserve University biomedical engineering student, working with campus researchers on deep brain stimulation, has earned the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship in this year's competition, sponsored by the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation.
The goal: Stop epileptic seizures.
Gerald Pho, a third-year biomedical engineering major from Twinsburg, Ohio, was selected to receive one of the 278 Goldwater Scholarships awarded this year. He competed with 1,100 applicants for the honor, which supports tuition and books.
Also recognized for their achievements in the field of science were honorable mention awardees Viral Shah, a triple major in biology, chemistry and psychology, and Gareth Kafka, a third-year physics major. Shah also received an honorable mention in last year's competition.
Pho plans to pursue a career in the neurosciences. He is on his way to accomplishing that goal through his work in the lab of E.L. Lindseth Professor of Biomedical Engineering Dominique Durand and research associate Saifur Rashid from the biomedical engineering department in the Case School of Engineering.
His work in understanding epilepsy began with a summer research experience in the 2007 Summer Program for Undergraduate Research (SPUR) program.
"I have been working on a research project to test a new treatment for epilepsy called deep brain stimulation," says Pho.
The project involves testing, in an animal model, a potential therapy that injects a small amount of electrical current into the brain to suppress spontaneous epileptic seizures.
"Our goal is to develop a brain pacemaker that allows individuals with epilepsy to live normal, seizure-free lives," explains Pho.
According to Durand, this pacemaker differs from other currently being used. Other pacemakers detect seizures and then block them (Medtronic and Neuropace), but this one activates fiber tracts in the brain and is designed to lower the excitability of the brain and prevent the generation of a seizure.
"Gerald is a tireless and enthusiastic worker who would be an asset to any investigative team," says Durand.
According to Durand, Pho independently developed a multiple channel EEG recording system for the detection of seizures and a video system to monitor his animal model.
"Gerald Pho is in the top 1 percent of all undergraduate students that I have worked with in the last 25 years," says Durand. "He has shown a degree of maturity and knowledge that I have not seen in some advanced graduate students."
When not busy in the lab, Pho is active with Koinonia/InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, peer tutoring and as a resident assistant.
The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation was established by public law in 1986 to honor the late Senator Goldwater through and to encourage the pursuits of science and engineering. For many award recipients, the Goldwater Scholarship is a step toward other honors, such as the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships and distinguished fellowships, such as the Fulbright.
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