Dr. Evangelia Bellas was recently awarded the prestigious NSF CAREER research award, which supports early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as an academic role model in research and education.
She is the fourth College of Engineering faculty member since 2019—and the first bioengineering assistant professor—to win the NSF CAREER award. In this particular proposal, both for the research and educational portion, Dr. Bellas put the focus on fat.
On the research side, Dr. Bellas proposed how blood and lymphatic vessels in fat tissue can support or hinder adipose tissue function. "We are trying to understand how a tissue can grow in such great amounts without the right vascularization to maintain it."
By using an organ-on-chip model, Dr. Bellas also explains how we can use the research for different applications, such as drug and therapeutic testing and further understand the mechanisms behind adipose tissue physiology.
"Our goal is to better understand fat and make it something for people to appreciate and not just get rid of," she said. "We are trying to grow it in the lab to understand it better so we can find new ways to treat diseases associated with metabolic disorders and obesity."
In the education portion, Dr. Bellas proposed partnering with the North Philadelphia community on obesity education and show how fat tissue is engineered in a lab, both to grow students' understanding of engineering and educating them on obesity.
Dr. Bellas also proposed organizing a 'gallery of failed experiments' to help graduate research students better handle their stress. As a principal investigator, Dr. Bellas noticed how stressed students got when their experiments did not work out.
"I want to give students an opportunity to not only learn from their 'failed' experiments but also give them the opportunity to change the narrative and make it a positive experience."
By receiving this award, Dr. Bellas explains how great it feels for her research program to be valued and supported by the greater science community. "When you see everyone else who has won the award, you feel honored to be a part of this lineage."
When Dr. Bellas is not in the lab, she is teaching Tissue Engineering and Biomaterials Capstone courses and mentoring top-notch Senior Design teams. She is also recognized for her national leadership in serving the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) as the Diversity Committee Chair. Dr. Bellas hopes to continue to increase equity through community building and supportive infrastructure in the biomedical engineering field.
Learn more about Dr. Bellas and her lab at bellasfatlab.com.