Design of Sustained Release Antimalarial Chitosan Nanoparticles; Investigation of the Relationship Between Mental Health Incidence and Engineering Undergraduate Major

Lehmann, Emma, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Forelle, MC, EN-Engineering and Society PV-Institutional Research and Analytics, University of Virginia
Barker, Shannon, EN-Biomed Engr Dept, University of Virginia

STS and Capstone Project Summary
I chose to pursue my Capstone project topic as it was a continuation of research I had completed during the summer of 2022 while interning for Luna Labs. I felt that the experience I would gain while continuing to work on the project would be invaluable not only for my resume, but for practical usage once I start working within the biopharmaceutical industry. In contrast, I chose to pursue my STS project topic not only because mental health is something I have been passionate about since high school but also because I have deeply struggled with my personal mental health while an undergraduate engineering student at UVA. I wanted to research the engineering curriculum in the context of mental health to understand what exactly it is that causes engineering students to experience increased incidence of mental illness.

Capstone Project Summary
I have completed my Capstone project with another biomedical engineering student, Brenna McGahan, in collaboration with Luna Labs. The goal of this project is to design sustained release antimalarial nanoparticles as a solution to compliance and side effect complications of the current standard of preventative treatment. To do so, we identified three aims targeted towards synthesizing a library of drug-loaded nanoparticles, refining production conditions to maximize drug encapsulation, and achieving sustained release up to 4 weeks at simulated in vitro conditions. We built upon previous research done by Luna Labs to research and develop an optimal synthesis protocol for production of chitosan nanoparticles that contained an antimalarial drug at therapeutically effective concentrations. Therefore, we were able to complete the first two aims we identified to achieve the overall project goal; however, future work will focus on extending the drug release profile from synthesized nanoparticles.

STS Project Summary
My STS project seeks to determine what aspects of the engineering curriculum influence observed trends of increased mental illness incidence amongst this student population. I conducted a thematic content analysis of my literature review analysis to identify common ideas within research studies concerning the relationship between mental health and engineering. In my thesis, I work to establish that elements of the academic and interpersonal culture within engineering schools often negatively affect the mental health of undergraduate engineering students. This work is important in order to generate conclusions regarding key determinants of engineering student mental health as well as provide recommendations for improvement oriented towards students, faculty, and university administrators.

Completion of these projects simultaneously allowed me to learn more regarding certain inequalities within healthcare systems worldwide. For example, there is a stark ethical concern associated with my Capstone project as our design is being developed for service members serving abroad in malaria-infected regions. However, there has been no intention this far to increase the scope of this project to include residents of these regions who are most affected by the disease. This represents inequality of access to life-saving medical treatments based upon economic restrictions. In addition, my STS research underscored for me how access to mental health services across socioeconomic groups greatly varies due to the cost of private mental health and counseling providers. This inequality emphasized for me how important it is to start at the source— the engineering school curriculum and environment— to combat alarming trends in mental health incidence amongst engineering undergraduate students.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Mental Health, Engineering, Mental Illness Incidence , Undergraduate , Malaria, Nanoparticles

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering
Technical Advisor: Shannon Barker
STS Advisor: MC Forelle
Technical Team Members: Brenna McGahan

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