Research team sorts out drug screen false positive results

Two SyBBURE alumni, Jennifer Colby, PhD, assistant professor of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and her husband, Jake Hughey, PhD, assistant professor of Biomedical Informatics and Biological Sciences at VUMC identified 13 previously unknown drug compounds that cause false positives screenings for amphetamines, buprenorphine (an opioid), cannabinoids and methadone in urine testing. The study won the Academy Distinguished Abstract Award from the American Association for Clinical Chemistry. Read more here, an article by Paul Govern.


Vigilante Innovation Paper and Website Launch

We have some very exciting news to share!

VIX Website.PNG

We have officially launched, an online resource for anyone to learn about the design process, and go from problem to prototype no matter their interests!

Our students have customized and used this design process in their team-based design projects (check out some of their results on our design page!), and we are so excited to share these tools and inspire others to take innovation and creative problem-solving into their own hands, in any problem space.

Our manuscript detailing the Vigilante Innovation process and findings has been accepted to the International Journal of STEM Education.

Check out the guide, and go forth and innovate!

SyBBURE Students Present at the 2019 Vanderbilt Undergraduate Research Fair

Last Thursday (September 19, 2019), 40 SyBBURE students presented their research at Vanderbilt’s sixth annual undergraduate research fair. This is just one of the opportunities SyBBURE students take to practice their scientific communication skills, network professionally, and receive feedback on their work.

SyBBURE student Danielle presenting her poster at the 2019 Vanderbilt Undergraduate Research Fair

SyBBURE student Danielle presenting her poster at the 2019 Vanderbilt Undergraduate Research Fair

See the projects our students presented on our students page!

Read more about the 2019 Vanderbilt Undergraduate Research Fair: Sixth annual undergraduate research fair showcases immersion and draws record number of participants

SyBBURE Student Highlights: Puxin Xuanyuan

Our very own Puxin Xuanyuan was recently featured on the Vanderbilt YouTube channel and news website in a story about her research and experience with SyBBURE! Watch the video:

It’s amazing to see our students getting the opportunity to share their experiences with the Vanderbilt community and beyond.

If you’re interested in learning more about our students’ research, check out our students page!

Read the full story about Puxin by Amy Wolf: ‘Research squad' propels student during two summer immersions

Fun: Saying Goodbye to the Class of 2019 the Only Way We Know How

…with food, weird games, tree climbing, and friends. To our seniors in the class of 2019, we wish you the best!

SyBBURE Student Highlights: Jad El Harake


Jad El Harake embodies the spirit of SyBBURE. He is goofy, loves science, and was crazy enough to take a year of organic chemistry “for fun.” He is the big brother of SyBBURE. He is always available to help out, whether it’s reassuring a nervous student new to research and SyBBURE, or making a long day much better with one of his absurd jokes. If he has one weakness, it’s that he can easily be peer pressured to jump off a cliff because all his friends did!

Jad has a natural empathy and a knack for mentorship. As a sophomore, he became a VUceptor and an RA. He chose to do these leadership roles because he wanted to give back to Vanderbilt: “I have had an incredible 4 years at Vanderbilt full of amazing opportunities. I wanted to do my share to help other students adjust to college and learn to love Vanderbilt like I did.” His ability to collaborate with people and make them feel at ease around him will carry him far as a scientist.

In the lab, Jad is an ultrasound pro! His work involves simulating ultrasound on a computer, taking the results from the simulation, and translating it to the physical world. He improved his programming and critical thinking skills. His project aimed to improve how we focus ultrasonic beams through the skull. Rather than use a probe to image, ultrasound can focus like sunlight through a magnifying glass to heat up tissue or stimulate neurons in a confined area of the brain. So, surgery isn’t required to move the skull out of the way! Unfortunately, the skull distorts the beam and make it difficult to affect only a small region of the brain. Jad wrote a simulation that used a CT scan of a skull to predict how it would distort the focused ultrasound and correct those distortions. The results of the simulation were then passed to an actual probe to target the needed region of the brain with greater accuracy.

Jad’s advice for students who are interested in research is to get used to failure:

“Research is a lot more failure than success. Everything takes longer than you think because you always run into more problems than you think you will. Murphy’s Law is real! You have to be able to learn and grow from your failures. Grad students and PIs know that better than anyone, so don’t be afraid to disappoint them. Be aware that goals need to change as things come up. Change your goals and don’t chase a goal you can’t achieve yet.”

Jad can conquer the world. He is now a biomedical engineering graduate student at Columbia University, and we are so proud of him and all of his hard work! 

About mentor Charles Caksey: Dr. Charles Caskey is a professor of Radiology and Biomedical Engineering at Vanderbilt who studies the diagnostic and therapeutic uses of ultrasound. He is especially interested in image-guided therapy applications where therapeutic ultrasound is guided by ultrasonic imaging or combined with another imaging modality, such as MRI. Jad had a great experience in the Caskey Lab thanks to the mentorship and support of not only Dr. Caskey, but the other members of the lab (graduate and undergraduate students) as well.


Written by: Danielle Liu, Class of 2020

SyBBURE Student Highlights: Kevin Cyr


Could star-gazing display one’s future? We may never know that for sure, but it definitely set Kevin Cyr on the path to solving intriguing world problems with science and technology.Growing up in Houston, Kevin was surrounded with an environment that fostered a love for science. His father was an economist at NASA and his mother was an accountant. Together they always found fun, “science-y” things to do during their free time.

From an initial desire to become a theoretical physicist, Kevin’s fascination for making sense of the world with rigorous testing and analysis blossomed into a strong pursuit of scientific research with a laser-sharp focus on the health sector. If Kevin’s scientific drive was a flask with live cells,then SyBBURE was the incubator that provided the necessary environment to promote growth. With the freedom to explore and investigate Kevin was able to lose himself in solving real-world problems. For the past three years, Kevin has been working with Christina Marasco, Ph.D. to develop a straightforward, low-cost sickle cell diagnostic test. While pursuing a general interest in blood-based diagnostics, he discovered that Sickle Cell Disease is the world’s most prevalent genetic disorder and is expected to claim the lives of nearly 7 million newborns by 2050. He set out to create a simple way to diagnose the disease in the low-resource regions most afflicted by Sickle Cell Disease. After developing prototypes of the diagnostic device, he continued with validation studies and clinical testing in the lab of Jennifer Colby Ph.D. at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center.Kevin has produced fascinating results after testing 80 subjects, generating a manuscript under review, and an international PCT patent in the process.

Scientific research is not the only thing that has kept Kevin busy in his undergraduate years. He has served as both Vice-President and President of the Vanderbilt Biomedical Engineering Society. His entrepreneurial interests are clearly evident as he was very active in the Vanderbilt Entrepreneurial Ecosystem and the Vanderbilt Innovation and Entrepreneurship Society. He also won the 48 Hour Launch and was a runner-up at the TechVenture Challenge.

A life-changing experience for Kevin was working with Pendant Biosciences, a start-up life sciences company for the past two and a half years. Shawn Glinter, the CEO, and team have been instrumental in providing Kevin with necessary insights into business strategy and entrepreneurship, and Kevin cannot wait to apply those teachings in his upcoming ventures.

In addition to his professional ventures, Kevin has interesting hobbies that include cooking. Whether it’s making chocolate soufflés or plant-based Middle Eastern cuisine, you can be sure that Kevin is a top-notch chef,and fellow SyBBURE students can gladly confirm.

Admission to one of the top medical schools in the US is no small achievement, and we are certain that Kevin will wow the healthcare industry upon his graduation from the Stanford University School of Medicine.

About mentors Christina Marasco, Ph.D and Jennifer Colby, Ph.D: “I have spent the majority of my project working with Christina Marasco, Ph.D. and Jennifer Colby, Ph.D. who have helped guide my scientific endeavors. Their expertise has helped me grow as an independent researcher by focusing my skepticism. They have encouraged me to test all of my assumptions at every step of the way and not take anything at face value. Without their support and knowledge, my work would still be stuck in the prototyping phase, but with their help I've been able to develop a diagnostic device with the potential for commercial translation. That’s a rare opportunity for any person, let alone an undergraduate student.“

Good luck Kevin! We will miss you and your well-articulated questions and arguments at SyBBURE!


Written by: Somto Dimobi, Class of 2019