Medicine appealed to Kate Fernandez because she has wanted to help people for as long as she can remember. But when her mother suggested she look into engineering instead, she had an awakening.
“I can utilize engineering to help people, and that called to me more than directly treating patients,” says Fernandez, now a senior electrical engineering major in the U of M College of Science and Engineering. She hopes to create more efficient medical treatments for patients through bioelectronics instead of drug prescriptions.
“One of the great things about bioelectronics is that we can get closer to fixing the problem rather than just putting a Band-Aid on it,” she says. “I like the idea of creating something that could treat something and not just treat the symptoms.”
In a class, Fernandez found a new fascination with microcontrollers, elements that act like tiny computers within computers to control specific tasks. This led her to an internship at the Twin Cities biotech company Miromatrix Medical, a former U of M startup.
Miromatrix creates bioengineered organs by stripping cells from animal organs and replacing them with human cells. Using microcontroller technology, Fernandez worked on revamping this “recellularization” system with the goal of ensuring the cells can be introduced to their new environment effectively.
“People die every day waiting for an organ, so being able to increase the availability for people would just be tremendous,” she says. “Not only does quality of life usually improve with an organ transplant, but so does the longevity of that person.”
In summer 2019, Fernandez worked at the Mayo Clinic in her hometown of Rochester, Minnesota, where she created a deep learning algorithm to identify precursors to kidney stones.
“One of the really cool things about having an internship is translating what I’ve learned in class to the field,” she says.
After graduating in spring 2021, Fernandez plans to pursue a doctorate in biomedical engineering.
Read more about this outstanding student.