The University of Iowa

Graduate student heartened by biomedical engineering community’s response to coronavirus pandemic

April 27th, 2020
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Learn about some of Srivat's favorite things 
about the University of Iowa

Learn more about Srivats's thoughts on the
face shield production project
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Srivats Sarathy had an inclination towards science from an early age. Encouraged by his parents, he played with physics and chemistry kits and was allowed to disassemble the family’s computer when it was replaced with a newer model. Over time, Srivats developed interests in both medicine and engineering. Rather than force a decision between the two, Srivats discovered a field that blended the two interests—biomedical engineering.

Srivats in Karnataka, India

Srivats in Karnataka, India

Shortly after completing his undergraduate degree in biotechnology from PES University in Bangalore, India, Srivats set his sights on graduate work in the United States. It wasn’t until he met Suresh Raghavan, UI professor of biomedical engineering, at a function in India that he considered the University of Iowa. “Dr. Raghavan seemed so down-to-earth. He talked with me about the process of applying to Iowa,” reflects Srivats. After meeting Raghavan, Srivats was captivated by the idea of completing his PhD at the University of Iowa. He was impressed after researching the work of UI professors and also liked the proximity of UI Hospitals & Clinics to campus.

Nearing completion of his PhD in biomedical engineering, Srivats reflected on the collaboration between UI Hospitals & Clinics and the UI College of Engineering, saying, “Lucky for me, both my masters project and my PhD dissertation have stemmed from collaboration with surgeons and doctors at the hospital. Really, Iowa is an amazing place for biomedical engineers because there is so much data available to researchers as well as access to doctors. They come to our meetings, they collaborate with us…it’s great.”

Srivats presenting his research on campus

Srivats presenting his research on campus

That collaboration between UI Hospitals & Clinics and the College of Engineering became even more evident shortly after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. Raghavan gathered his BioMOST laboratory research assistants to brainstorm ways they could use their biomedical engineering expertise to lend a hand. Included in that meeting were two resident fellows from UI Hospitals & Clinics who could provide expert advice about what was needed immediately, namely, medical supplies such as ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE). “An idea percolated about starting a website to provide a single place to share resources with healthcare professionals and to connect with manufacturers,” says Srivats. The result is the BRACE Project, an acronym for Bringing Resources Against COVID with Engineering. Srivats says his involvement in the BRACE Project has been on the periphery—attending meetings, helping with the review process, and vetting articles for the website. “Dr. Raghavan purposefully kept me out of the core team because he wants me to do my research to prepare for graduating this summer,” says Srivats. “But, I was happy to be involved in a small way and to see the enthusiasm among the team. The project made me realize how efficient you can be in a time of crisis. Dr. Raghavan’s lab got the BRACE Project website out in a week! That was very impressive.”

“I was definitely happy that I could be involved so quickly and in such an efficient and direct way. With both the face shield production and the BRACE Project, it is amazing to see the biomedical engineering community come together. Everyone is trying to get in there and do something, which is great.”

Srivats working in a research laboratory

Srivats working in a research laboratory

In the midst of the creation of the BRACE Project, Srivats learned of another collaboration between UI Hospitals & Clinics and the UI College of Engineering. “I was in a virtual meeting about the BRACE Project and Dr. Raghavan mentioned that volunteers were needed to help assemble face shields in the UI Carver Medical Device Design Lab,” says Srivats. “I jumped at the chance, knowing that healthcare workers are in need of face shields because they come in extreme close proximity to COVID patients.” Srivats’s offer to help was welcomed by James Ankrum, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, and Colleen Bringman, lecturer of biomedical engineering, coordinators of the face shield production project. The next day, Ankrum, Bringman, Srivats, and another student assembled nearly 150 face shields for UI Hospitals & Clinics. “I was definitely happy that I could be involved so quickly and in such an efficient and direct way,” reflects Srivats. “With both the face shield production and the BRACE Project, it is amazing to see the biomedical engineering community come together. Everyone is trying to get in there and do something, which is great.”

Srivats holding a face shield

Srivats holding a face shield

Srivats plans to graduate this summer and hopes his future work helps to advance cardiovascular devices and interventions—a desire fueled in part by his PhD research focused on flow monitoring in a heart-lung machine, as well as a summer internship experience at Medical 21, Inc. with Dr. Manny Villafaña, medical device developer and internationally recognized entrepreneur.

If past accolades are any indication, Srivats’s future looks bright. He was recently named a 2019-2020 Outstanding Teaching Assistant by the UI Council on Teaching, and also won the Baxter Young Investigator Award, an award that recognizes research on medical products and therapies that save and sustain lives.

True to his humble nature, Srivats is quick to point out the support of staff and faculty members in the UI College of Engineering Department of Biomedical Engineering. “From day one, they were very supportive,” reflects Srivats. “They met me half-way with giving me opportunities. The fact that there are people who are there to support you with various aspects of the PhD program helped me to do better.”

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