Engineering a better heart valve

Aminat Modupe Ibrahim

Spotlight on Ph.D. student Aminat Modupe Ibrahim



Hometown: Kwara State, Nigeria 
BME Degree Program: Ph.D. / Cardiovascular Tissue Engineering
Lab affiliation/Adviser: Butcher Lab; Jonathan Butcher

Why biomedical engineering? 

I’ve always been passionate about health, and in my second year as an undergrad, I learned about the roles of biomedical engineers in developing engineering solutions that help people live longer and better. What I like most about BME is seeing how the solutions we create in the lab directly impact people's lives. 

Why Cornell?

I chose Cornell, specifically the Meinig School, because of the sense of community, diversity, and support for international students. Also, the summer immersion program at Weill Cornell Medicine caught my attention, as I wanted to experience being in the clinic. I was also convinced that going to Cornell would provide the right skills, experience, and environment for me to grow as a researcher and an individual.

Tell us about your research.

Heart valve disease often requires replacing the diseased valve with a new one, which could be a biological or mechanical valve. The durability of mechanical valves makes them a better option; however, patients with these implants require lifelong anticoagulant therapy as these devices are less hemocompatible and can clot over time, thus posing more health risks such as stroke and, in some cases, death.

My research in the Butcher lab focuses on improving the hemocompatibility of prosthetic cardiovascular implants by applying a biohybrid approach and using these findings to develop a next-generation heart valve that is relatively affordable for people in developing countries. This biohybrid approach uses an invented technique developed in our lab to retain endothelial cells on the implant surface, thereby reducing the potential for clot formation. Additionally, I am collaborating with Dr. James Antaki, whose lab uses a high-end computational thrombosis model to optimize this technique further, and to make them applicable to other mechanical implants, such as cannulas and LVADs.

When you reflect on your time at Cornell, what stands out? 

What stands out to me most are the people here. Everyone I've been in contact with has been so welcoming and warm, and it feels like home. Also, the people have been helpful and supportive, which has been extremely beneficial for my personal and research journey.

The Cornell faculty, especially in BME, has been supportive from the beginning. As an international student, one of the fears I had was if the school would be welcoming; however, the community is diverse, welcoming, and super supportive. During my first few months here, I battled a lot of impostor syndrome, but I got encouragement from Belinda Floyd (graduate student coordinator and my school mum), Dr. Jonathan Butcher (my PI), friends, as well as others in the department. 

My experiences at Cornell so far have also taught me tenacity, patience, to believe in my sense of judgment, to be more confident in my skills, and most importantly, that I AM ENOUGH. The Ph.D. life is full of ups and downs, and there are some days when there is no motivation, especially when things seem not to be working. Rather than stressing so much, I take a break and try again. And with the resources and support system available, I am able to try out new ideas and follow through on my ideas, which is helping me grow into a well-rounded researcher.

What advice do you have for students considering research in BME?

Prioritize selecting an advisor whose mentoring style aligns with theirs, and communicate with their advisor on everything, such as expectations. Also, they should choose a research area they are passionate about. Experiments fail, but the passion and people around you keep you going.

What do you do for fun? Any extracurriculars?

Outside of research, I enjoy hiking, volunteering, and mentoring students. I also cook to de-stress. I'm a nature lover, so I enjoy visiting various parks and falls in Ithaca to observe and appreciate nature. I've been to Ithaca Falls, the Falls at Watkins Glen, Taughannock Falls, etc. Also, Ithaca being bike friendly made it easy for me to learn how to bike, and I enjoy biking along waterfront trails. 

For extracurriculars, I was the mentoring coordinator for the biomedical women group (BMEW) and am currently a peer advisor at the Cornell Engineering Career Center (ECC), where I review resumes, cover letters, and practice behavioral interviews for Ph.D./MS students. Also, I volunteer at different workshops to review resumes, LinkedIn, etc., for college students, and I offer one-on-one mentorship sessions to undergraduate students (both within and outside Cornell).

What's your next step after your degree?

Probably going back into industry. I have always been an industry person, but who knows, things could change over the course of my degree.

Favorite quote that helps inspire your work/life?

This refined quote from Arnold Schwarzenegger inspires me always: "Every dream carries certain risks, especially the risk of failure. But I am not stopped by risks. Suppose a great person takes a risk and fails; then the person must try again. You cannot fail forever!"


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