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Two BME Students Named Fulbright Fellows

Apr 4, 2016

Two Georgia Tech students from the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME), Karisma Gupta and Varun Yarabarla, were recently named Fulbright Fellows for 2016-2017. 

This prestigious scholarship offers opportunities for students and young professionals to undertake international graduate study, advanced research, university teaching, and primary and secondary school teaching worldwide. The Fulbright Program, which is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Government, was created by Congress in 1946.

Gupta, a BME senior and former Petit Undergraduate Scholar, was born and raised in Seattle, Washington. She plans to study the impact of upper room ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) on India’s tuberculosis healthcare initiatives. UVGI has long been a standard method for water disinfection, and proves to be effective in reducing tuberculosis transmission under high burden, resource-limited hospital conditions. 

In collaboration with the Foundation for Medical Research and with the support of her advisor Dr. Edward Nardell at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Gupta’s project will identify the obstacles that have been preventing this critical technology from being implemented effectively in India’s hospitals.

“My experience growing up in a suburban city where equal access to healthcare was a right rather than a privilege made me cognizant of the health disparities that I witnessed in Mumbai and other countries,” said Gupta. “It was these healthcare disparities that inspired me towards a career focused on improving healthcare in underprivileged populations. My first step towards my passion in public health and medicine was my decision to major in biomedical engineering.”

She added, “initially, I assumed the most effective way to heal was through direct human contact. However, my BME internship at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center was a window of inspiration into the real-world impact of biomedical device and research design. This Fulbright study will provide me with an opportunity to explore the international applications of medical devices, and will assist me in fulfilling my ambition of engineering for better global health.”

Yarabarla, a BME senior born in India and raised in Johns Creek, Georgia, will be conducting neurodegenerative brain research in Lausanne, Switzerland, at one the world’s leading neurology research institutes - École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). He’ll work under the guidance of Dr. Patrick Aebischer, the current president of EPFL and head of its Neurodegenerative Disease Laboratory. 

“My research will focus on studying the neurodegenerative cause of Alzheimer’s disease by carrying out experiments seeking preventative measures,” said Yarabarla. “Early diagnosis of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s is vital to prevent the condition from worsening. The most prevalent neurodegenerative disease, Alzheimer’s is responsible for 50 to 75 percent of all dementia cases. Switzerland is one of the leading countries in the world known for neurodegenerative research.”

While only an undergraduate, Yarabarla has conducted more than three years of research while at Georgia Tech. “I hope that my current research work on the blood brain barrier along with the Fulbright project at EPFL will make a difference for those suffering from Alzheimer’s and other dementia related diseases,” he said. “I have discovered my true passion for the field of neurology and will be using research as a stepping-stone toward my career path of becoming a doctor specializing in neurology.”