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School of Engineering Receives Academic Research Enhancement Grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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The School of Engineering was awarded a multi-year academic research enhancement award (AREA) grant for $417,185 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The award through the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development will provide funding for Dr. Anita Singh, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, to conduct research through the summer of 2020 in collaboration with Hahnemann Hospital and Shiners Hospitals for Children. The purpose of this grant is to support meritorious research, expose students to hands-on research, and strengthen the research environment in schools.

This is the second grant Singh, who joined that staff at Widener in 2014, secured from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) this year to not only support her research, but also to enhance the student learning experience. This grant-funded work will show students how they can make an impact on healthcare in America. 

“This grant is a major accomplishment for the School of Engineering,” Singh said. “It lays a strong foundation for the research environment at Widener. We will be on the forefront of research in this particular area and there will be a number of opportunities for student involvement.”

The grant will support Singh’s research on neonatal brachial plexus palsy, a stretch injury to the brachial plexus during the birth process, resulting in varying degrees of paralysis. The aims of this study are to determine the biomechanical and physiological injury thresholds and the resulting structural changes. It’s the first study of this kind to report cutting-edge responses of the neonatal brachial plexus at various levels that will advance treatment and prevention.

“The mechanical nature of the brachial plexus injury warrants a collaborative approach between engineers and physicians that work together to develop preventative strategies and better treatment options,” Singh said. “This includes developing a more human-like computational model, which can be used to advance the science of obstetrical care through training and education.”

The research over the next three years will allow clinicians to better understand the mechanism of neonatal brachial plexus, identify optimal treatment options, and minimize its occurrence by developing new delivery maneuvers that will aide in preventing it.

The funding will support hands-on learning opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students at Widener.

“We currently expose students to rigorous biomedical research through summer research opportunities, independent projects and senior design projects,” Singh said.

Shania Shaji, ’17, a graduate student in the School of Engineering worked on this project during her senior year and presented her work at the National Biomedical Engineering Society annual meeting last fall and was awarded the best undergraduate design and research award.

“This grant will allow us to keep students involved in a clinically relevant, scientific and engineering driven research project while they pursue their degrees,” Singh said. “At Widener we strive to create a hands-on learning environment for students.”

Research reported in this publication was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R15HD093024. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessary represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Widener University is a private, metropolitan university that connects curricula to social issues through civic engagement. Dynamic teaching, active scholarship, personal attention, leadership development and experiential learning are key components of the Widener experience. A comprehensive doctorate-granting university, Widener comprises seven schools and colleges that offer liberal arts and sciences, professional and pre-professional curricula leading to associate, baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral degrees. Visit the university website, http://www.widener.edu/.