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NMSU chemical engineering student receives National Institutes of Health grant

A graduate student in New Mexico State University’s Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering recently received a prestigious research grant from the National Institutes of Health, which only three other NMSU students have received since 1996.

Man working with a beaker in a lab.
New Mexico State University chemical engineering Ph.D. candidate Jesse Sambrano received a National Institutes of Health grant supported by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. (NMSU photo by Billy Huntsman)

Jesse Sambrano is a Ph.D. candidate researching flow cytometry.

“It is a single-cell analysis tool,” said Jessica Houston, associate professor and lead investigator of Sambrano’s research team. “It’s a method for counting cells for a range of applications.”

One of the most significant areas to which flow cytometry contributes is in research on the biology of cancer and circulating tumor cell detection.

“Jesse is working on building a brand new flow cytometry instrument,” Houston said.

Sambrano has spent the past year designing the instrument, which will be a bench-top tool, something that in theory can be transported in the bed of a pickup truck, he said.

Sambrano said no other research group in the international science community is currently building a cytometer with the principles his will feature.

“That’s why our project is novel,” he said.

Based on this research, Sambrano last year applied for, and this year received, the F31 Ruth L. Kirschstein Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award.

“It’s humbling and it’s an honor,” he said.

The Kirschstein is an award given through the National Institutes of Health and supported by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering.

Houston, who served as Sambrano’s application adviser, said “I’m very proud and thrilled for him.”

Houston said most graduate students only focus on research. Houston said the fact that Sambrano is already writing successful grant proposals bodes well for his future plans, which entail a career in academia, whether as faculty or research scientist.

Since coming to NMSU as a graduate student three years ago, Sambrano, from El Paso, has participated in the RISE (Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement) to the Post doctorate Program, which serves to increase the interest, skills and competitiveness of graduate students in biomedical and biobehavioral research careers.

RISE is also an NIH initiative currently hosted at NMSU.

“RISE encourages graduate students to seek out external funding through fellowships,” Houston said. “Through that program, Jesse was really encouraged to apply for the Kirschstein grant.”

Sambrano said NMSU, particularly the RISE program, has allowed him to grow.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have their guidance,” Sambrano said. “They’ve made me more competitive than my peers at the same academic level.”