Health Research Program

Dr. David Martinelli and Rohit Makol '20 (ENG).
HRP student researcher Rohit Makol ’20 (ENG), seated, works with David Martinelli, assistant professor of neuroscience at UConn Health, during summer 2017.

Program Overview
Application Deadline
How to Apply
Financial Support
Summer 2018 Research Opportunities

Program Overview

The Health Research Program offers a pathway into undergraduate research for students with interests in health and the biomedical sciences. By facilitating connections between UConn Health researchers and UConn undergraduates, this program will involve more students in the cutting-edge research at the Farmington campus. The Health Research Program includes a combination of academic year and summer research opportunities, offering undergraduates and their faculty mentors a structure for sustained engagement in research projects, maximizing student learning and preparation for graduate study and/or careers in the health professions.


To be eligible for the Summer 2018 phase of the Health Research Program, a student applicant must:

  • Currently be pursuing a bachelor’s degree at UConn, and plan to graduate with that bachelor’s degree no earlier than May 2019. This includes students pursuing Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Fine Arts, Bachelor of General Studies, Bachelor of Music, Bachelor of Science, and Bachelor of Science in Engineering degrees.
  • Be a full-time student in good standing at a UConn campus during the Spring 2018 semester.
  • Be willing to continue their research involvement for Fall 2018 and Spring 2019.

Beyond these general eligibility criteria, each individual opportunity description specifies the desired qualifications for that position.

Application Deadline

The deadline to apply for Summer 2018 Health Research Program opportunities is 11:59pm on Friday, January 26, 2018.

We expect that faculty will interview their leading candidates between January 29 and February 14, and offers will be made in late February 2018.

How to Apply

Research opportunity descriptions and application links are accessible in the Summer 2018 Research Opportunities section of this page. Each opportunity has its own description and application link. If you wish to apply for more than one opportunity, you must tailor your application materials to each opportunity’s requirements and submit an application to each opportunity that interests you. Please note that if you apply to more than one opportunity, OUR will send you a follow-up form in which you will rank those opportunities in order of preference.

Financial Support

Stipend Support to Students

  • Students participating in the summer 2018 program will receive a $4,000 stipend for a commitment of 360 hours of summer research (9 or 10 full-time weeks).
  • Students may receive a maximum of one summer stipend over the course of their participation in the Health Research Program.
  • Academic year student researchers (continuing research for fall & spring) may be eligible to apply for a $1,000 winter research stipend if they commit to completing 90 hours of winter break research.


Summer 2018 Research Opportunities

A time commitment of 360 hours (typically 9-10 full-time weeks) is expected for student researchers during the summer. Summer researchers will receive a stipend of $4,000 to cover the expenses associated with participating in this program (e.g., summer rent, meals, parking, etc.).

The names of participating faculty and a brief description of the research opportunities they are sponsoring are listed in the table below. Click on the relevant link in the right column to view more detail about the opportunity and access its application.

Faculty Mentor Project Description Opportunity Link
Dr. Corey Acker
Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling
The student will assist with designing, assembling, and testing new microscopy methods. Modifications of an existing 2-photon microscope are planned as well as an epifluorescence microscope for studying cell signaling. SU18-1
Dr. Alix Deymier
Biomedical Engineering
The body is extremely sensitive to changes in pH and small disregulations can lead to pathologies like acidosis that cause tissue damage and osteoporosis. In the lab, you will be examining the structure and mechanics of bones that come from mice with acidosis. You will learn to perform dissections, do chemical and structural analysis and do mechanical testing. The goal is to determine how acidosis affects the skeleton and how we can minimize those effects. SU18-2
Dr. Naveed Hussain
Pediatrics, Division of Neonatology
Necrotizing enterocolitis is a devastating condition that affects premature infants. We are studying the epidemiology and risk factors associated with this condition using databases of NICU patients collected over the past 25 years at UConn Health and Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. Our aim is to develop prediction algorithms to find early warning signs (Neonatal Early Warning Signs-NEWS) that can be used clinically in identifying cases of NEC early enough to prevent their devastating consequences. SU18-3
Dr. Sivapriya Kailasan Vanaja
The objective of the project will be to identify virulence factors of Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) that interact with the innate immune system. Specifically the project will include utilizing mutants of EHEC that lack virulence factors to infect macrophages and determine if the deficiency of these bacterial factors affect innate immune responses such as inflammasome activation. Inflammasome activation will be assessed by measuring cell death and cytokine responses following infection with the EHEC mutants. SU18-4
Dr. Insoo Kim
In this project the student will participate in development of a wearable sensor for personal health monitoring – blood pressure, heart rate variability, and sleep monitoring. The nature of this project will require the student to develop engineering expertise in biomedical instrumentation, flexible sensor development, and digital signal processing. The student will be asked to participate in flexible sensor and system development, electronic circuit board building, and lab experiments with the sensor. SU18-5
Dr. Min Jung Kim
Calhoun Cardiology Center
In this project, the student will participate in developing an iOS app for tracking patient reported outcomes such as health related habits, heart failure symptoms, and quality of life in a patients with a diagnosis of heart failure. The nature of this project requires 1) to understand the importance of daily monitoring of biomarkers, activity levels, symptoms, and medication response for the patient struggling to manage chronic heart failure, 2) to implement the mobile application to support heart failure management strategies, and 3) to evaluate patient reported outcomes with mobile app. The student will be asked to develop the iOS app using X-Code software, and to analyze the collected data using statistical methodology. SU18-6
Dr. Liisa Kuhn
Biomedical Engineering
In this project the student will learn how to test biomaterials that might be used one day as a new bone graft. The biomaterials, also known as scaffolds, are placed in pieces of living bone that have been dissected from old mice and cultured in an incubator to allow the early steps of bone repair to occur in controlled conditions. The student will learn how to embed the biomaterials after they have been cultured and learn how to cut thin sections of them to look at the cell types under the microscope that migrate into the scaffolds with time. The goal of the summer research is to see how various compounds adsorbed on the biomaterial affect early inflammation processes and find the best ones that can help bones heal faster. SU18-7
Dr. Sangamesh Kumbar
Orthopaedic Surgery & Biomedical Engineering
Cell to cell communication plays a key role in the function and development of neural tissue. Neuronal cells communicate largely through electrical potentials. This summer’s research will focus on cell culture of neuronal and non-neuronal cells to study the underlying connection between electrical stimulation and neural phenotype development by mesenchymal stem cells. SU18-8
Dr. Reinhard Laubenbacher
Center for Quantitative Medicine
The Center for Quantitative Medicine at UConn Health is developing a software platform for computational algorithms related to medicine and healthcare. The platform is based on the relatively new technology of Docker software containers, which can be used to share environment-independent computational, mathematical, and statistical tools. The site contains more information. Qualified undergraduate students will participate in the further development of this platform, learn novel software engineering techniques, become proficient in Docker applications, and participate in providing software solutions to problems in the health field. SU18-9
Dr. James Li
Genetics and Genome Sciences
We study how the brain develops and how abnormal development contributes to brain disorders. We are currently using a number of approaches, including single-cell RNA sequencing, bioinformatics, molecular biology, and experiments in stem cells or animal models (mouse and chick), to study the generation of various brain cells. SU18-10
Dr. Leslie Loew
R. D. Berlin Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling
The project would revolve around a unique software tool, developed here, called SpringSaLaD. It allows realistic modeling and simulation of complex multimolecular interactions in cells using structure-based molecular shapes and data on the rates of biochemical reactions. Depending on the student’s interests and skill set, the project would either involve using the software to build a model of a cell signaling pathway, or software engineering to enhance the features of SpringSaLaD. SU18-11
Dr. Nilanjana Maulik
To study the role of exosomes in microsignaling mechanism through microRNA and messenger RNAs between various organs and cell types in Cardiovascular diseases and in Critical limb ischemia. Exosomes are small vesicles that are released by almost every cell type and play a crucial role both in the pathogenesis and therapeutic events depending on the status of the cells. They are important mediators of intercellular communication.
The project involves open heart surgery and hind limb ischemia in rodents and high tech isolation procedure of exosomes from plasma. This project also provides the opportunity to learn how to examine the specimen under electron microscopy, confocal microscopy, in vitro and in vivo imaging, imaging of exosomes, isolation of total RNA, miRNA from exosomes, analysis of miRNA and mRNA pool from exosomes, and use of genetic animals to study heart failure and critical limb ischemia–Phase I study.
Dr. Ion Moraru
Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling
This project combines experimental and computational approaches to determine the changes that occur when cells lose DNA mismatch repair function and how it relates to carcinogenesis. Single-cell RNASeq profiling data of stem cell-derived organoids have been used to ab initio the cell subpopulations that develop in the organoids. Dynamic models and simulations of intracellular signaling pathways will be created to characterize the behavior of wild-type and mutant samples. Additionally, new single-cell RNASeq data is expected to be available from adult-derived organoids for identifying subpopulations and comparison to stem cell-derived organoids. SU18-13
Dr. Syam Nukavarapu
Orthopaedic Surgery
The project we have deals with the characterization of amorphous silica fiber scaffolds and their ability to deliver growth factors. Under this project, the student will learn biomineralization, growth factor loading and controlled release concepts and put them to work to determine the scaffolds’ ability to support controlled factor release. The student will carryout the experiments first with a model protein followed by bone morphogenetic protein-2. These studies will help establish scaffold release kinetics and determine the conditions for a sustained and long-term factor release. SU18-14
Dr. Douglas Oliver
We will develop an electrophysiological test to demonstrate the presence or absence of tinnitus in animals and human subjects. Over the summer, this will involve electrophysiological recordings from neurons deep in the brains of mice who are exposed to sound. We will study the changes in sound-evoked activity before, during, and after drug-induced tinnitus. SU18-15
Dr. Rishikesh Pandey
To study red blood cells’ biophysical and biochemical properties using our home-built multi-modal and multi-wavelength system (MMS) featuring Raman micro-spectroscopy, quantitative phase imaging (QPI) and auto-fluorescence imaging. We intend to develop our next generation MMS system equipped with incubator set-up to enable live-cell imaging. The other project centers on label-free and real-time classification of normal lymphocytic B-cells from B-ALL infected cell using our MMS system by studying pathophysiology of live cells by exploiting morphological and molecular information. The ultimate goal is to translate this technology to point of care setting for theranostic applications. SU18-16
Dr. Blanka Rogina
Genetics and Genome Sciences
Indy (I’m not dead yet) encodes the fly homologue of a mammalian SLC13A5 plasma membrane citrate transporter. Reduction in the Indy gene activity in flies and worms extends their longevity. Decreased INDY expression has beneficial effects on energy balance in worms, flies, mice, and rats. The emerging role of the midgut in healthy aging led us to investigate how INDY reduction in fly intestine influences intestinal stem cell (ISC) homeostasis. The goal of our research is to determine the mechanism underlying beneficial effects of reduced INDY levels on ISC homeostasis and gut integrity. SU18-17
Dr. Stephen Schensul
Community Medicine and Health Care
Over the last two decades there has been an expanding global epidemic of chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology (CKDu) that has emerged in rural, arid, agricultural lowland regions in multiple countries, including Asia, the Middle East and Central America. Our National Institutes of Health-funded project focuses on identifying factors associated with delaying progression of the disease in Sri Lanka, one of the countries hardest hit by the CKDu epidemic. The project is a collaboration between the University of Connecticut in the US and the University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka and involves biogeochemists, social scientists and nephrologists from both institutions working collaboratively to identify the environmental, behavioral and health care factors that are associated with the rate of progression from moderate to more advanced CKDu. SU18-18
Dr. Tannin Schmidt
Biomedical Engineering
Lubricin is a lubricating molecule recently discovered on the eye and in tears that is important for ocular surface health. Recombinant human lubricin has been shown to be clinically effective in improving signs and symptoms of dry eye disease, and is also able to adsorb to commercial contact lenses and reduce friction. This project will examine the biochemical and biomechanical regulation of lubricin biosynthesis by ocular surface cells, and subsequent interaction with contact lenses and contact lens biomaterials. Recently discovered anti-inflammatory properties of lubricin will also be examined within the context of ocular surface cells and tissues. SU18-19
Dr. Henry Smilowitz
Cell Biology
Our lab is studying heavy atom nanoparticles to enhance radiation therapy of tumors with an emphasis on brain tumor therapy. We also study the synergy of the combination of heavy atom nanoparticle radiation enhancement with other therapies such as chemotherapy and immunotherapy. We also study radiation therapy induced tumor dormancy. The student will take part in a project related to these lab interests. Topics of interest will include the relationship between the distribution of the nanoparticles and the efficacy of radiation enhancement, radiation enhancement and the efficacy of chemo- and immunotherapies, the effect of radiation dose and tumor dormancy. SU18-20
Dr. Ephraim Trakhtenberg
We study how the brain develops and utilize gained knowledge to reverse-engineer regeneration of the brain tissue damaged by an injury or stroke. We employ a multidisciplinary approach spanning cutting edge genetics, epigenetics, bioinformatics, molecular biology, and gene therapy, which will provide a student with an opportunity to explore different approaches and select a project that aligns best with the individual’s career goals and interests. SU18-21
Dr. Paola Vera-Licona
Center for Quantitative Medicine
The student involved in this project will apply computational systems biology and bioinformatics approaches to analyze gene expression RNA-seq data from breast cancer to propose and prioritize combinations of therapeutic targets, that will then be provided to our collaborators for experimental validation.
Bioinformatics tools will include the use of the software package geneXplain ( and some R packages to visualize and analyze RNA-seq data. In addition, the student will learn to use some Cytoscape apps ( and customize them to our needs.
Dr. Kurutihalli Vishwanatha
My lab is interested in molecular mechanisms involved in secretory and endocytic pathways of endocrine cells. One of the project investigates novel roles of PAM, an amidating enzyme of the secretory pathway in exosome secretion. This project is aimed at characterizing the secretion of exosomes by atrial cardiomyocytes derived from WT and conditional PAM knock out mice. SU18-23
Dr. Zhao-Wen Wang
An automated worm tracking system (Track-A-Worm) developed in the Wang lab allows quantitative analyses of locomotion behavior of C. elegans, which is very useful to interrogating gene functions. The software component of Track-A-Worm was developed to run with the Matlab in Windows environment. However, it cannot quantify worm locomotion parameters accurately in new versions of Matlab. We need to make the software fully compatible with new Matlab and hope to eventually make Track-A-Worm a standalone system. SU18-24
Dr. Liping Xiao
Medicine and Psychiatry
This summer project is designed to conduct additional experiments for publication of a manuscript entitled “Microbiota and sickle cell bone disease in mice.” Under the supervision of the PI, the student will design primers for quantitative real-time PCR (qPCR), perform qPCR analysis for gene expression, genotyping, histology sectioning and staining, and draft a manuscript. The student could be listed as first author or co-author of the manuscript contingent on satisfactory progress. SU18-25
Dr. Ping Yan
Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling
The student will have broad hands-on experience on the synthesis of organic compounds, and test the newly developed voltage sensitive dyes using spectroscopic and microscopic methods, on model cell membrane, and even on real cells (in collaboration with Dr. Loew). SU18-26



What time commitment is expected of a summer researcher in this program?

A time commitment of 360 hours (typically 9-10 full-time weeks) is expected for student researchers during the summer. The possible timing of those weeks varies across research opportunities and is a key factor to consider as you are reviewing the different opportunities and considering which might be a good fit for you. All weeks of summer research must be completed between May 7 and August 24, 2018.

What time commitment is expected of an academic year researcher in this program?

A time commitment of 3-9 hours/week is expected for student researchers during the academic year; this varies across research opportunities and is a key factor to consider as you are reviewing the different opportunities and considering which might be a good fit for you. The standard formula for academic credit is 1 credit for each 3 hours of weekly research, and you will register for the appropriate number of credits given the time commitment you are making to research.

How do I earn academic credit for my participation in this program during the academic year?

You will likely earn Undergraduate Research, Independent Study, or a similar kind of course credit in the department associated with your major. The most common arrangement is for a Storrs faculty member to be the instructor of record for the course and to coordinate with the UConn Health faculty member supervising your research in order to approve a learning agreement and enter the appropriate grade at the end of the semester. OUR staff will work with you individually to provide guidance on how to proceed in your specific situation. If earning academic credit is not appropriate for your individual circumstances, the OUR will work with you and your faculty advisor to make alternate arrangements.

What transportation options are available for students?

Shuttle service between Storrs and Farmington is available at no cost to students Monday through Friday. We expect that the summer shuttle schedule would allow you to work in Farmington 9am-4pm (taking the 8am shuttle from Storrs and returning on the 4pm shuttle from Farmington); please note that using this mode of transportation will limit your flexibility. During the academic year, a mid-day shuttle provides some additional research schedule options; transportation via the shuttle during the semester allows Storrs students to conduct research at UConn Health 9am-12pm, 12pm-4pm, or 9am-4pm. Please note that those time windows do not include the time you will spend on the shuttle. With travel time included, the time commitment is 8am-1pm, 11am-5pm, or 8am-5pm, respectively. We encourage you to take your class schedule and the shuttle schedule into consideration when reviewing the possible work schedule associated with each opportunity. You may also elect to use another form of transportation. Please be aware that this program does not offer support for mileage or parking costs as the free shuttle option is available.

Do I need to be pre-med to participate in this program? Do I need to be in Honors?

You do not need to be pre-med or be a member of the Honors Program in order to participate in this program. The program is open to all undergraduate students interested in health research. However, bear in mind that this is a demanding program that requires you to coordinate weekly travel to UConn Health. We encourage you to take a realistic look at your schedule, the demands of your other courses, and your past academic achievement in order to assess whether this program is a good fit for you.

OUR advisors would be happy to discuss your specific situation and the most appropriate research opportunities with you at any time. Review our Meet with an OUR Advisor page for more information on how to make an appointment.

How do these opportunities continue into the academic year or summer?

Sustained engagement in a research project maximizes learning, so we want to make it possible for students to stay engaged in undergraduate research at UConn Health over longer periods of time. Students selected for summer 2018 opportunities will complete a mid-summer assessment process along with their faculty mentors, which will gauge whether adequate research progress is being made and will ask both student and faculty to indicate their interest in continuing the research placement beyond the summer. Continuing placements will be contingent upon satisfactory student research progress and continued interest by both student and faculty (in addition to the student’s full-time enrollment and good standing at the university). If a student continues his/her research in academic year 2018-19, s/he may be eligible to apply for a $1,000 winter research stipend if s/he commits to completing 90 hours of winter break research (and graduates no earlier than May 2019).

While you may continue your research in this program across multiple academic years and/or summers, students are eligible for a maximum of one HRP summer stipend.

This application asks for a Science GPA. What is that? How do I figure out my Science GPA?

Unlike your cumulative GPA, your Science GPA is not automatically calculated and reported on your transcript. You will need to calculate this by entering the number of credits and your earned grade from each of your science classes into a GPA calculator (like this GPA calculator from UConn ACES). We recommend that you move through your transcript methodically, using your best judgment to decide whether a given course is a “science course,” and entering the relevant information into the calculator for each science course. Once all information is entered, click the Calculate button, and report the GPA output in your Health Research Program application.