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Student Spotlight

Dharam Persaud-SharmaDharam Persaud-Sharma

Raised in South Florida, Dharam Persaud-Sharma will pursue a medical degree (M.D.) at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine as his third degree from FIU, following a master's degree and an eventual Ph.D., both in Biomedical Engineering. His research focuses on assessing bio-absorbable materials that can be used to manufacture medical devices to treat vascular malformations like aneurysms and stenosed arteries.

He has been quite successful at finding funding for his studies. During his master's program, he won a National Institutes of Health Fellowship through the MBRS RISE program (Minority Biomedical Research Support, Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement) at FIU. He then won one of the eight North American research grants from the National Brain Aneurysm Foundation.

Working with a team of scientists and clinicians, Dharam is pursuing his dream to provide new and affordable treatments for brain aneurysms.

Interview

  • Born in Ottawa, Canada; raised in South Florida
  • Current Pursuit: Ph.D. Candidate in Biomedical Engineering

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your research.
After completing a 1-year fellowship program in Medical Physics at the University of Miami/Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, I came to FIU and completed my master's degree. What kept me here at FIU was being the recipient of an NIH Fellowship through MBRS RISE program. It is truly a great program, and the opportunity to have all of your graduate school education paid for releases a large burden for graduate students who constantly worry about finances.

Receiving the fellowship, which pays for tuition and travel expenses to conferences, gave me the opportunity to work on any research project that I found interesting. So, I thought to myself, why not create my own project? This led me to develop novel materials that have the potential to be manufactured into cost-effective medical devices. My goal for these materials is that they could one day be used to treat cerebral aneurysms. The major limitation to performing this research was funding and lab space. So, I authored a grant proposal which was submitted to the National Brain Aneurysm Foundation, and I was fortunate enough to be one of eight recipients across the US and Canada to receive a research grant. This was truly amazing, because I edged-out clinicians and faculty who also applied for the award. It was more rewarding, because of the validation placed upon my scientific proposal after being critically reviewed by scientists and physician-researchers who are leaders in the field.

What attracted you to this field?
I always had an interest in the neurosciences since I was child. The brain with all of its functions is truly a mesmerizing organ, so it's easy to see why it would capture anyone's attention. It was only until someone very close to me suffered from a brain aneurysm that I began to seriously consider a possible career in the field that would allow me to help treat this devastating condition. As a matter of fact, most people don't even know that they have a brain aneurysm, unless they had some diagnostic procedure such as an MRI. Then there exist some treatment options to prevent the aneurysm from rupturing. However, most people only find out they have an aneurysm once it ruptures. At that point, it's often too late to have some sort of life-saving treatment.

Where do you see your research helping to accomplish the goal of making these procedures cost-effective?
One of the problems is that platinum, a very costly metal, is the material of choice to manufacture the minimally invasive devices used to treat cerebral aneurysms. So, there is always a need to find other materials that can do the job as good, if not better, at a fraction of the cost. Otherwise, the costs eventually find its way back to the patient. So the ultimate goal is to make treatment more affordable, effective, efficient and most importantly accessible.

Is your research going to focus on specific communities?
I hope to be able to use all of the skills I've honed as a Biomedical Engineer to create these types of cost-effective treatments for an array of medical conditions. Having a Ph.D. and an eventual M.D., would allow me to identify and develop unique solutions to medical problems that a physician may not be able to do, because they have not been trained to conduct research or possess the technical skills. This is where my training comes in, from the years of studying the physical sciences and engineering, to creating effective devices and therapies.

What would you tell to other students who have great ideas?
I would tell them to just keep focused. People are going to tell you that you can't do something more often than telling you that you can. Just be self-motivated. Don't think you need to have your hand held by someone who is a leading expert in the field in order for you to achieve your goals. You have to be driven to keep moving forward after set-backs and negativity, and just go out there and make it for yourself.

What do you do on your off time?
I'm avid basketball player. I may not be very good at it, but I enjoy playing. I realized early on that I would never make it to the NBA, so I chose to occupy my time doing other activities like volunteering in the community. One of the projects I've been involved with for the past few years has been the "I Have a Dream Overtown" organization. The aim of this program is to bridge the achievement gap from kids who are from underprivileged backgrounds to those who are from middle and upper financial backgrounds. This is a mission that I feel passionate about. I am someone who was raised by a single mom, so I understand how important finances are for survival, and how limiting life can be when you don't have money. All it takes is one opportunity to for a child to succeed and they'll be on their way. You may never know which child will take that same opportunity that you gave them as far as they can, and end up doing something that can possibly change the world.

 


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