MSP - Honours research programme - Hikaru Ishikura

Organic synthesis/biomedical engineering

Hikaru Ishikura

I chose to apply to the honours research programme (HRP) because I would like to pursue a career in research. Through this programme I have learned how to develop and guide my own research, as well as picked up organisation, analytical, and critical-thinking skills. More importantly, I have made valuable connections with the researchers I work alongside and have discovered more from them than I have from any course or skills training.

The Sensor Engineering department, where I worked on my research project, is a multidisciplinary group which focuses on everything from multi-step organic synthesis to software engineering to develop innovative sensor applications. My personal interests are in synthetic organic chemistry, as I enjoy building molecules from basic building blocks and how miniscule changes can greatly influence molecular properties and interactions. As such, my project combined organic synthesis with biomedical engineering to synthesise a novel biocompatible resin for stereolithographic cell scaffolding. Current cell scaffolding materials either need to be surgically removed or produce toxic by-products upon degradation, thus, there is a necessity for more biocompatible materials. Furthermore, the stereolithographic approach allows for facile customisation of the end-product, making the creation of personalised scaffolds based on the situation possible. Other current HRP projects at the Sensor Engineering department include the synthesis of a novel radiolabel to monitor GAT1 GABA reuptake channels and the development of molecularly imprinted polymers as biomimetic sensors.

The honours research programme has truly been a great learning experience and I gained a lot of confidence working in the lab. 

I was initially a bit hesitant, as I came into the HRP with no prior research experience, however, there was no need to worry as my supervisor and other members of the research group were there to guide me where necessary. They also want you to succeed and are very accommodating of any unexpected circumstances you may run into. For example, even with limited lab space available due to COVID-19, the HRP students were encouraged to continue their research project when possible. The HRP has truly been a great learning experience and I gained a lot of confidence working in the lab, which I was then able to apply to my courses and skill trainings. It also allows you to experience what research is like on a daily basis and get to know the researchers, both as academics and as people, which is a unique experience as an undergraduate student.

If you are interested in applying for the HRP, I would suggest exploring the various research groups at Maastricht University and finding one which interests you. Getting to know your tutors and coordinators for your courses can also be helpful, as they are always enthusiastic about sharing their research. All in all, the HRP is an amazing experience if you are interested in continuing as a researcher in the future or just want to gain confidence in the scientific world.

MSP - Honours research programme - Lynne Scherpe

Radiotherapy treatment

Lynn Scherpe

The Honours Research Programme (HRP) is a great opportunity for students in the MSP community to get involved in present significant scientific research.I started my HRP under the supervision of Professor Gabriel Paiva Fonseca at the MAASTRO Clinic in September 2019.

The MAASTRO clinic works collaboratively with the Radiology department of the Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences at Maastricht University in order to better understand the basic mechanisms of treatment failure in cancer patients. Together with two other MSP students, we began a project with the overall goal of improving cancer radiotherapy treatment. More specifically our research focused on examining the effects numerous distinct experimental and computational parameters have on cancer cell survival. In the experimental part of the project, we learned how to monitor and split cell cultures and perform clonogenic assays. We learned how to construct irradiation plans using the software SmART-Plan. Lastly, we used the program TOPAS nBIO to make computational irradiation simulations, where we examined how varying specific parameters, such as the beam energy, affects cancer cell survival.

The Honours Research Programme is a great opportunity for students in the MSP community to get involved in present significant scientific research. 

The reason I applied for this programme is because I wanted to challenge myself and experience what it is like to work on a long-term research project. I am interested in pursuing a career in medical research and for this reason thought that this programme and specific project would grant me the opportunity to not only gain work experience, but also get a sneak peek into what it would be like to work at a medical institute, with a team of researchers from distinct backgrounds and fields. This project has an enormous impact on the vast majority of humanity, as globally cancer is currently the second leading cause of death. The results of this project have the potential to improve the treatment plan of the millions of individuals suffering from this condition, by optimising the particle type and parameters used during radiation treatment.

At times it was a bit challenging to manage the honours programme work alongside the regular university workload, but at the end the hard work and effort pays off because not only are you working on relevant research that can affect the health and lives of millions, but you are also gaining experience and learning things you do not learn in your regular university classes. For instance, through the HRP I got to experience what it is like to work in a professional work environment, gain a large number of practical skills and better understand the importance of communication and collaboration. Research is usually conducted in a group of people, as this allows researchers from different fields and specialties to come together. In our research group, we have chemists, biologists, and physicists and by working together we not only help each other but learn a lot from one another.

MSP - Honours research programme - Kabir Arora

fMRI analysis

Kabir Arora

I chose to come to MSP because after high school, I didn't have a specific scientific discipline in mind that I wanted to pursue, only a couple of broad fields that I thought might interest me.

I chose to participate in the honours research programme partially to determine whether a research career in one such field was a good fit for me, and to strengthen my suitability for research degrees in the future by gaining first-hand experience in a research environment. I chose to do my research on fMRI analysis at the Maastricht Brain Imaging Center (M-BIC). Now, towards the end of my programme, I can confidently say that I'm glad I made the choice to sign up!

Alongside my supervisor Laurentius Huber, I work as part of a project on layer fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging). fMRI is a widely-used, powerful tool to study the function of the human brain non-invasively. As the spatial resolution of fMRI improves to the sub-millimeter level, new challenges relating to image analysis are popping up, and must be addressed before improved image resolution can consistenly and effectively be used to study brain activity at the sub-cortical level, i.e., across cortical layers. The research group makes use of the high-field MRI machines available at M-BIC to implement new methods aimed at solving such challenges.

All the experience and technical knowledge I've gained has made the significant amount of time I've devoted to the project worthwhile. 

It's been a lovely journey for me across the full year and a half. At the beginning, I was a bit clueless in terms of the theoretical concepts and software involved, but the patience and constant guidance of my supervisor helped steer me in the right direction. Towards the end, I was able to handle certain aspects of my project tasks far more independently than I could at the beginning. I was also able to experience the scientific publication and review process from start to finish. All the experience and technical knowledge I've gained has made the significant amount of time I've devoted to the project worthwhile. It has also allowed me to develop my interests and identify the field I feel most drawn towards, allowing me to go on with my academic career. ​

  • Organic synthesis/biomedical engineering

    Hikaru Ishikura

  • Radiotherapy treatment

    Lynn Scherpe

  • fMRI analysis

    Kabir Arora