A graduate student in the University of Georgia College of Engineering has been recognized as one of the top young medical researchers in the country for his work to improve the safety and effectiveness of blood-contacting medical devices.
Ryan Devine, a biomedical engineering doctoral candidate in the School of Chemical, Materials, and Biomedical Engineering, has been named the recipient of a first-tier Baxter Young Investigator Award. The award supports research aimed at developing therapies and medical products that save and sustain patients’ lives. Devine is one of six top-tier recipients of the award.
Devine’s research is focused on developing biocompatible materials for medical devices that resist blood clotting and infections, while eliminating the need for anticoagulant therapies.
“Despite decades of research, blood clotting remains the most common cause of failure in blood-contacting medical devices such as hemodialysis machines,” said Devine. “By reverse-engineering the blood vessels within our body, our lab has shown significant improvement in the blood compatibility of the polymeric materials commonly used in these types of devices.”
The use of blood-contacting medical devices is only possible today when used in combination with anticoagulant agents. Unfortunately, anticoagulant use is cited as one of the leading causes of clinical drug-related deaths in the United States due to complications such as uncontrolled hemorrhaging and immunological response. The development of biocompatible materials that allow for anticoagulant-free usage of blood-contacting medical devices could significantly improve health outcomes by limiting complications associated with anticoagulants, decreasing device failure rates, and improving the efficacy of these devices.
Devine’s research in the Handa Biomaterials Laboratory at UGA, under the mentorship of Hitesh Handa, combines an in-depth understanding of human physiology, the chemical synthesis of novel polymers, and the physical and biological testing of the lab’s devices.
“I’ve had the privilege of working in a highly interdisciplinary environment of engineers, scientists, pharmacists, and veterinarians. This unique lab environment has provided firsthand exposure to the entire preclinical product development process from concept phase to assessing medical device feasibility in clinically translatable animal models. Along every step of this process, Dr. Handa has provided the necessary mentorship to help me grow as an independent researcher capable of developing transformative technologies,” said Devine.
Last year, Devine was part of a team that published a study in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces in which they described successfully replicating two important mechanisms our blood vessels use to attenuate blood clotting.
During his time at UGA, Devine and his collaborators have published nine studies in leading biomedical journals. Devine served as first author on four of those publications. In addition, Devine has filed three patent applications based on his research – one of which has been awarded a provisional patent by the U.S. Patent Office.
Devine says he became interested in the life sciences in high school when he went undiagnosed with Lyme Disease.
“I was consistently misdiagnosed due to unreliable testing technology, which eventually led to chronic symptoms that still affect me to this day,” said Devine. “Not wanting others to experience what I went through; I was motivated to pursue a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering and develop novel technologies that can improve health outcomes.”
After completing the requirements for his Ph.D. in spring 2022, Devine plans to contribute to medical innovation by pursuing a career as either a research and design engineer or as a life science strategy consultant.
Sponsored by international health care company Baxter International, Baxter’s Young Investigator Awards program consists of two tiers: first-tier awards include a $3,000 cash prize and an onsite visit to Baxter’s headquarters in Chicago Nov. 11 to present the award-winning research; second-tier awards receive a $500 cash prize. Awards are open to both graduate students and postdoctoral researchers.
“I’m honored to be recognized for my work by Baxter, which is a world leader in blood-contacting medical device research,” said Devine. “In addition, I would like to thank the faculty, staff, and fellow students in the College of Engineering and College of Veterinary Medicine for all of the support and training during my undergraduate and graduate studies.”