ASU biomedical engineer spotlighted as emerging international leader

Royal Society of Chemistry recognizes growing impact of Stabenfeldt’s research

September 5, 2017

Research that promises to speed advances in regenerative medicine is earning Sarah Stabenfeldt international recognition among her professional peers.

Recent editions of two research journals published by the Royal Society of Chemistry spotlight scientists and engineers in the early stages of their careers whom editors consider to be making important contributions to the fields of materials chemistry and biomaterials science. ASU graduate and undergraduate students are getting valuable research experience in Associate Professor Sarah Stabenfeldt’s lab. Her work on developing new and improved approaches to treating neural injury has been highlighted by a leading international science organization. Photo by Jessica Hochreiter/ASU Download Full Image

More than 50 researchers from around the world are featured in those issues of the Journal of Materials Chemistry B and Biomaterials Science.

Stabenfeldt, an associate professor of biomedical engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, is the only one among them with research papers published in the special editions of both journals.

Her work focuses on developing a variety of novel approaches to treat neural injury, primarily traumatic brain injury.

The recent publications in the Royal Society of Chemistry journals describe research by Stabenfeldt and her team of biomedical engineering graduate and undergraduate students to develop and evaluate biodegradable particles used to release small doses of therapeutic proteins to the brain over time. Recent doctoral graduate Dipankar Dutta and current doctoral student Kassondra Hickey played key roles in the projects.

Such therapeutic methods, along with the techniques and tools used to implement them, hold out hope for better ways to diagnose and treat traumatic brain injury and other neurological injuries and traumas.

Peers in the field “envision her research helping to make major advances in unveiling the biological basis of traumatic brain injury, which could save the lives of thousands of patients,” says Mehdi Nikkhah, a fellow Fulton Schools biomedical engineering faculty member.

“Her research approach is grounded in a comprehensive understanding of the mechanisms of disease progression, and her designs for targeted therapeutics utilize some of the most cutting-edge bioengineering-based strategies,” Nikkhah said. “Overall, she is addressing some of our biggest healthcare challenges.”

portrait of woman in lab
Stabenfeldt’s research aimed at improving the diagnosis and treatment of traumatic brain injury “could saves the lives of thousands of patients,” says fellow biomedical engineer Mehdi Nikkhah. Photo by Cheman Cuan/ASU


Stabenfeldt earned her doctoral degree in bioengineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology and then conducted research as a National Institutes of Health post-doctoral fellow at Georgia Tech and Emory University.

Since coming to ASU in 2011, she has co-authored more than 20 peer-reviewed articles for research publications — including the particularly prominent journals Nature Materials and Biomaterials — along with three book chapters.

Her work has earned support through an Arizona Biomedical Research Consortium Early Stage Investigator Award, the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award and a National Science Foundation CAREER Award.

Each of these prestigious awards are given to young faculty members who are seen as future research and education leaders in their fields.

“Very few junior faculty members have received more than one of these awards. This achievement undoubtedly places her among those at the forefront of biomedical engineering,” Nikkhah said.

“All of this recognition indicates the significant impact of Sarah’s work to develop next-generation diagnostics and therapeutics for neurological-related disorders such as traumatic brain injury,” said colleague David Brafman, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering in the Fulton Schools, adding that her impact extends beyond the work she is doing in her lab.

“As one of the first female tenured faculty members in our program, Sarah also recognizes the importance of mentoring the next generation,” Brafman said. “Her service as the faculty advisor for the undergraduate Biomedical Engineering Society is one of many ways she has become a positive role model for future biomedical scientists and engineers.”

The Royal Society of Chemistry, based in the United Kingdom, has more than 54,000 members worldwide.

The organization publishes more than 40 peer-reviewed research journals and many books, as well as online databases and literature updating services, covering the core chemical sciences and related fields such as biology, biophysics, energy and environment, engineering, materials, medicine and physics.

Stabenfeldt says being selected to publish in two of the society’s journals highlighting emerging research leaders should boost opportunities for additional support for her projects and possibly generate invitations to present her work at medical science and bioengineering conferences.

Read abstracts of her research papers in the Journal of Materials Chemistry B and Biomaterials Science. At the end of each abstract are links to content from the recent special issues of the journals.

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


ASU students encouraged to enter Cyber 9/12 Challenge

September 6, 2017

Becca McCarthy entered the Cyber 9/12 Student Challenge because she wanted to gain more experience with policy outside of her classes. She got that and more.

“It was an incredibly eye-opening experience,” said McCarthy, a public policy graduate student in Arizona State University's School of Public Affairs. “I hope to see the ASU competition continue to grow.” ASU Cyber 9/12 Challenge team From left: Max Gosher, Becca McCarthy, Zak Ghali and Salvador Ortega during a semi-final round of the Cyber 9/12 Student Challenge on March 17. Download Full Image

The one-of-a-kind competition imparts a deeper understanding of the policy challenges associated with cyber crisis and conflict. ASU hosts a local competition in partnership with the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C. The national competition in D.C. will be held in the spring, 2018. These events is billed as “part interactive learning experience and part competitive scenario exercise.”

In March, a total of 40 teams from 25 universities took part in the national competition in Washington, D.C. For the competition, four-member teams are given a realistic scenario involving a cyber attack somewhere in the world. Students are asked to analyze the threat to national, international, and private sector interests, prepare policy recommendations and defend their decision-making process. Teams must consider the roles and implications for relevant civilian, military, law enforcement, and private sector entities. And during the actual competition, they must update those recommendations as the scenario evolves.

For McCarthy, who has an undergraduate degree in sustainability, cyber policy was a completely new field.

“We were able to network, gain exposure to new information, and discuss topics directly with prominent policy developers, leaders in technological innovations, agency leaders, and many more influencers in cyber policy,” McCarthy said. “Even if cyber policy is not your direct field of study, competing in the challenge and gaining new knowledge about this field of policy may spark a new passion!”

ASU hopes so. Students are currently being recruited to compete in the ASU local competition in November. Students can enter as a team of four or as individuals who will be matched with other students to create a team. There is a nominal cost of $15 per student that covers the cost of lunch and snacks.for competitors. Applications will be accepted until Oct. 21. An information session is scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 7 on the downtown Phoenix campus.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for students from any major at ASU,” said associate professor Brian Gerber, director of ASU’s graduate program in emergency management and homeland security and coordinator of the ASU Cyber 9/12 Student Challenge. “They’ll gain in-depth knowledge about cybersecurity — and the associated societal threats that will only grow in magnitude over time. And the winners of the ASU competition will represent ASU at the national event in D.C.”

ASU Cyber 9/12 team
From left: Becca McCarthy, Salvador Ortega, ASU professor Scott Somers, Brian Gerber, Zak Ghali and Max Gosher at the Cyber 9/12 Student Challenge in Washington, D.C.


As far as what students will face, a prior cyber challenge involved a hypothetical cyberattack that could have brought nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan to the brink of war. The scenario started with the hacking of a US defense contractor’s computer systems. The unknown hackers stole highly sensitive data and could potentially take over Global Positioning System satellites. U.S. military radio frequencies and mobile phones were at risk, creating the potential havoc for fighter jets and commercial airlines alike.

To make matters worse, the hypothetical scenario involved non-state actors claiming responsibility for the cyber attack. As tensions escalate, Pakistan shoots down an Indian airliner that had mistakenly entered its airspace over the contested Kashmir region.

"The most difficult part was the learning curve as I knew nothing of cybersecurity going in, so I had to learn everything — history, acronyms, technological feasibility — quickly," said Zak Ghali, a teammate of McCarthy's. "This was also very rewarding, as I got to challenge myself to think of things I had never thought of before."

During the competition, teams present their proposed strategic and tactical responses to a panel of experts in the field who simulate leaders at the National Security Council. They are judged on the quality of their decision document, their decision-making processes, and their oral presentation.

A public policy graduate student in the ASU School of Public Affairs, Ghali says the Cyber 9/12 challenge gave him insight about the strengths and weaknesses of those practicing in our government today. He also gained an appreciation for cybersecurity.

"The best part was when my team had ah-ha moments and came up with a creative policy solution," Ghali said. "We all had different areas of expertise, so to see it all come together was really exciting."

Ghali, McCarthy and teammates Max Gosher and Salvador Ortega made up one of two ASU teams that competed in Washington, D.C. Both ASU teams made to the semifinals where they were given a new intelligence report and very little time to adapt their recommended policies and responses. With newly adapted recommendations in hand, teams present their case to a panel of judges who, in turn, question the students about their proposal. Teams with the highest scores on their oral presentations advance to the finals.

"I'm extremely proud of our teams that competed in the national competition, they represented ASU quite well," Gerber said. "We were the only university that had two teams that made it into the semi-final round."

Gerber will hold a series of information sessions for any ASU students interested in competing in next year's challenge. More information is available at

Paul Atkinson

assistant director, College of Public Service and Community Solutions