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FalohunTokunbo “TJ” Falohun, a graduate student in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Texas A&M University, has found research to be at the intersection of his strengths and interests.

“I think there are few things that are more compelling than trying to improve human health. I’ve always looked at that as something that draws me, something I feel that if I can help out, that would be a really impactful experience,” Falohun said. “Biomedical engineering boils down to using technology to improve human health.”

Falohun recently was granted a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, a prestigious award given to graduate students. The fellowship provides three years of financial support within a five-year fellowship period—a $34,000 annual stipend and $12,000 cost-of-education allowance to the graduate institution. The support is for graduate study that leads to a research-based master's or doctoral degree in a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) field.

Along with providing research funding, the program also provides access to a community to help scholars network. He said receiving the fellowship was an honor.

“I think it’s a motivator because it shows my growth as a scholar in the field,” Falohun said. “You get your undergrad degree, and that’s a step above high school; and then grad school is a step above undergrad. But to join this program, it shows that there’s growth overall. Being able to pull together a competitive application is a challenge but it’s something that is also really rewarding.”

The program encourages researchers to develop ways to share scientific knowledge with the public by sharing technology and education that will have an impact on people’s lives. There is also an emphasis on improving knowledge in underserved communities and using science to help those less fortunate, which Falohun said he is passionate about and actively pursues through his research.

Falohun works in the Biosensing Systems and Materials Lab under Department Head Dr. Mike McShane, helping to develop small-molecule biosensors—miniature analytical devices used to measure biochemicals in the body and cell/tissue samples for medical research and clinical application. McShane is the James J. Cain Professor II in biomedical engineering and has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation to develop this type of technology over the past 16 years.

One example of the research performed at the lab is the measurement of blood sugar levels for individuals with diabetes. The biosensor, which is implanted under the skin, can respond to blood sugar levels for extended periods without the need for finger pricks. The implant can then be “read” using an external device to inform a patient on their current condition, giving them more control of their health.

“The field of biosensors I think is one of our most compelling subdisciplines within biomedical engineering because it enables people to better maintain their conditions,” Falohun said. “It saves tons of money as opposed to going to the doctor to get tests. If we can monitor our own health, you can prevent a lot of these chronic diseases that develop over the years.”

So far, the team has developed a biosensing platform to measure oxygen, glucose and lactate. For his master’s thesis, Falohun is working to expand the list to include uric acid, an analyte associated with gout.

The lab also aims to prepare students to be contributors in an interdisciplinary research and development environment through a combination of relevant and challenging biomedical engineering projects, professional development activities and an atmosphere that encourages individual creativity as well as collaborative work. Falohun said McShane assisted with generating ideas for the fellowship proposal and provided a letter recommendation.

Falohun plans to pursue his doctoral degree and then his goal is to contribute to the development of life-saving medical technologies.

“That’s broad, but that is the overall direction I want to go into,” he said.