BioE PhD Student Earns Prestigious IBSA Doctoral Fellowship

Helna Mary Baby, a BioE PhD student, is one of only six students worldwide to earn the prestigious IBSA Doctoral Fellowship for her drug delivery system research to treat osteoarthritis.

Helna Mary Baby, a second-year bioengineering PhD student advised by Ambika Bajpayee, associate professor of bioengineering, received the prestigious IBSA Foundation Doctoral Fellowship to continue her work on developing novel gene delivery system to treat osteoarthritis.

Helna is one of only six individuals in the world to receive this fellowship from the IBSA Foundation, which was established in 2012 in Lugano, Switzerland, by the pharmaceutical company IBSA Institut Biochimique SA and to support young researchers. Her project “Cartilage Targeted Delivery of IL-1Ra in-situ Circular RNA using Cationic-Peptide-Engineered Exosomes for Disease-Modification and Pain Relief in Osteoarthritis” was selected from a group of 248 project entries from 47 countries.

The awards were presented in a virtual ceremony on June 25, 2024, and will provide Helna with funding to support her research for the upcoming academic year.  “I feel an overwhelming sense of happiness and gratitude,” Helna says.

She is investigating how to create novel biomaterials that can more effectively penetrate joints and cartilage, which are very dense, and directly target areas in need of treatment. In addition to  joint physiology, other variables can impact drug delivery. For example, cartilage is negatively charged so the goal is to design electrically charged biomaterial to effectively target cells in the cartilage and deliver gene or protein-based therapeutics.

“My focus is to understand these tissue-specific barriers and overcome and create novel technologies using a modular design of biomaterials,” Helna says.

In 2017, Helna received a bachelor of technology degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Calicut in Kerala, India, and in 2019, a master’s degree in nanomedical science from the Amrita School of Nanoscience and Molecular Medicine, also located in Kerala.

She travelled to Boston in 2019 for a job as a research trainee at a drug delivery lab at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and during that time decided to pursue a PhD in bioengineering at Northeastern.

“When I think about the potential impact of my project and how motivated I am from this IBSA award, I just have no words to express how it feels,” Helna says. “It is a significant milestone in my academic journey.”

Related Faculty: Ambika Bajpayee

Related Departments:Bioengineering