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Sudha Anilkumar, a junior honors biomedical engineering major, is UD’s 52nd Goldwater Scholar.
Sudha Anilkumar, a junior honors biomedical engineering major, is UD’s 52nd Goldwater Scholar.

Physician-scientist in training

Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson

Honors biomedical engineering major Sudha Anilkumar receives 2024 Goldwater Scholarship

Sudha Anilkumar, an honors biomedical engineering major at the University of Delaware, is a recipient of the 2024 Goldwater Scholarship. The junior from Newark, Delaware, is among 508 Goldwater Scholars selected from a national pool of 1,353 sophomores and juniors majoring in science, engineering or mathematics.

“We are so proud of Sudha. Winning a Goldwater Scholarship is a remarkable accomplishment,” said Lauren Barsky, associate director of UD’s Undergraduate Research Program. “The University of Delaware puts forth only candidates who we feel show the strongest merit in terms of research potential, leadership and engaged scholarship. Sudha portrays all these characteristics, and I have full confidence that Sudha will continue to thrive in her research field going forward.”

A ‘jack of all trades’ field of study

Anilkumar has always had an interest in medicine, biology and math and decided to study biomedical engineering as a way to understand the human body using mathematical reasoning.

“Biomedical engineering is really the jack of all trades — there’s everything from chemical, mechanical and electrical engineering, just depending on what side you’re addressing a problem from. It’s such an expansive major,” she said.

During her first three years here at UD, Anilkumar said she’s tried to get as much experience in this wide-ranging field as she can. This includes an undergraduate research project with senior researcher Kristi Kiick on nanotherapeutics for targeted rheumatoid arthritis treatment, which she worked on from August 2021 until May 2023.

She’s also started “pre-working” on her senior design project. Under the supervision of assistant professor Julie Karand, Anilkumar and a team of biomedical engineering students will be updating an existing prototype of an oxygen delivery apparatus. This summer, the students will travel to Cape Town, South Africa, to get a better understanding of the resources available in the clinics where this device could be used in the future.

While exploring projects across the spectrum of biomedical engineering, Anilkumar found that she had a particular passion and interest in “working on the molecular scale of things.”

To this end, she has been working as a research intern at Nemours in the lab of Elizabeth Wright-Jin since May 2023 when she joined as a Delaware INBRE Summer Student Research Program Scholar. Her project is focused on the mechanisms that drive hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), a form of brain damage caused by low oxygen levels during gestation, by using a mouse model to look at changes in gene expression patterns. This work includes a recently published review of nuclear factor kappa-light-chain-enhancer of activated B cells (NF-κB for short) and its role in regulating inflammation in the central nervous system.

Thanks to her Goldwater Scholarship, Anilkumar will be able to continue studying inflammation in HIE by looking at global gene expression patterns in microglia, a type of immune cell found in the brain and spinal cord, in a mouse model. By studying these big-picture, system-wide changes in gene regulation, she aims to identify specific metabolic pathways that cause this disease, which could become potential targets for new therapeutics in the future.

“Sudha is an extremely hard working student and has significant potential to be a future leader in medical research,” said Wright-Jin about working with Anilkumar. “I am confident that she will continue to do great work and I am so pleased to have her in my lab.”

A commitment to community and scholarship

Anilkumar is also in the Integrated Honors College Undergraduate Teaching Fellows program, where honors college students work with faculty to support instruction and enhance existing honors courses.

Working with assistant professor Jacqueline Fajardo and associate professor Alenka Hlousek-Radojcic, both from UD’s College of Arts and Sciences, Anilkumar mentors first-year integrated honors chemistry and biology students with their science writing, including posters, research papers and scientific graphics. She also meets with the instructors to discuss ideas for the teaching of writing strategies used in the course.

“Sudha is a driven academic and scholar who also values community and is eager to share her discoveries,” said Fajardo, who first met Anilkumar as a student in her honors-level general chemistry course that was integrated with an honors introduction to biology course co-led by Hlousek-Radojcic. “The driving force behind her many notable accomplishments is her motivation, and she is always determined to rise to the challenges at hand.”

“I continue to be impressed with Sudha’s humility and confidence. She is a skilled and driven student while also respectful, patient and considerate,” added Hlousek-Radojcic. “I am excited to see where the support from the Goldwater Scholarship will take her next.”

Anilkumar is also an Engineering Ambassador, the president of UD’s student chapter of the Biomedical Engineering Society, and a member of the Delaware Alpha chapter of the Phi Delta Epsilon International Medical Fraternity.

Pursuing a passion for immuno-engineering

While teasing out the causative factors of complex diseases like HIE is a significant research challenge, Anilkumar is inspired to tackle this and other similar challenges as she pursues an M.D.-Ph.D. with a biomedical engineering and immuno-engineering focus.

She’s particularly interested in earning both an M.D. and a Ph.D. because of the ability to “understand both the clinical side and the scientific side,” she said. “As an M.D., you get to treat patients in the clinic while also seeing potential gaps in treatment options. Then, using your Ph.D., you can find ways to bridge those gaps. I also feel like being in the clinic puts a face to the research — when you’re working with cells, it can feel a little isolated, which is why I also want to have that patient experience as an M.D.”

Right now, Anilkumar’s long-term goal is to become a physician-scientist and principal investigator with a lab focused on immune cell profiling and precision medicine. She credits the process of applying for the Goldwater Scholarship in helping her think about what her future holds and how receiving this scholarship will help her get there. 

“It’s a great recognition for the work that I’ve been doing in my research career thus far,” she said.

About the Goldwater Scholarship

The Goldwater Scholarship Program honoring Senator Barry Goldwater identifies, encourages and financially supports sophomores and juniors who show exceptional promise of becoming this nation’s next generation of research leaders.

The Goldwater Scholarship is the preeminent undergraduate award of its type in these fields, and Goldwater Scholars receive up to $7,500 annually to cover tuition, fees, textbooks and room and board.

The University of Delaware has produced 52 Goldwater Scholars since 1990.

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