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July 27, 2020

Ti’Air Riggins: Prolonging the function of brain implants

July 27, 2020

Ti’Air Riggins is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. She has been named the recipient of the National Institutes of Health Blueprint Diversity Specialized Award in Neuroscience and plans to advance MSU’s ongoing research on implanted neurotechnology. 

I was honored and a bit awestruck recently when I learned I had received a National Institutes of Health Blueprint Diversity Specialized Award in Neuroscience. 

This award is significant — around $500,000 as I transition from graduate studies to a tenure-track career in academia with neuroscience-based research. It will help me fund the rest of my graduate studies, four years of postdoctoral training, plus travel and conference attendance to further my doctoral experiences. 

As a transfer student with a nonlinear path in grad school, I suffered from imposter syndrome and carving out a welcoming place for myself to grow as a scientist. At my previous institution, I was told that I did not have what it takes to be an independent researcher by two previous advisers, and it affected me immensely.

I came to MSU looking for a mentor who was invested in my growth as a scientist. And I found her.

My research is with Erin Purcell, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering and electrical and computer engineering. I am a graduate assistant in her Regenerative Electrode Interface Lab, which is part of the Institute for Quantitative Health Science and Engineering (IQ), where Dr. Purcell is an investigator in the Neuroengineering Division

As a member of Dr. Purcell’s research team, I have already co-authored a review article and carved out new hypotheses related to our investigations of reactive astrocytes surrounding implanted neurotechnology. 

I’m looking forward to spending the next six years investigating the impact of implantable neurotechnology on normal to reactive astrocytes. They are the star-shaped glial cells that regulate the transmission of electrical impulses in the brain. 

My goal is to develop strategies that prolong the function of implants in patients. Potentially, it could improve probe stability - something MSU is building a strong foundation to do.

I hope to uncover knowledge about brain foreign body response to probes that will allow researchers to develop strategies to create long lasting probes. Also important, I hope to develop pedagogical skills critical to matriculating students and advance mentoring of underrepresented students in the field.

Earning this award not only makes me feel more confident in my writing and research abilities, but it validates the feeling that I belong, and that I have something significant to contribute to the field of neural engineering. Knowing that I have funding throughout my postdoc, lets me know that I am a step closer to my dreams - running my own lab.

By: TiAir Riggins