It wasn’t the most elegant way to enter a lab. Ishan Patel had just met his mentor for the summer of 2009, Dr. Owen McCarty at Oregon Health & Science University. The OSU bioengineering student wanted to make a good impression, and when McCarty told him to go across the hall and meet his research team, Patel confidently tried the doors, only to trip the alarm just as a security guard and another person were leaving. “There was lots of confusion about who had set off the alarm,” Patel laughs.
Patel had walked into a facility shared by OHSU researchers studying optics, stem cells, neurology and blood chemistry. For the first-year student aiming for a career in medical research, it was a thrill just to be there. Once McCarty arrived and introduced Patel to the other members of his team, Patel received his marching orders: build a table-top device that would allow liquid to flow under the force of gravity from a reservoir through a capillary tube into a reservoir.
Patel recalls his exact words. “He said, ‘I don’t know how you’re going to do this. Here’s a catalog book to find parts. If you need anything, you can order what you want. Just get it done.’” The device would provide a model for McCarty’s studies of blood clot formation.
After three weeks and several attempts, which involved burning small holes in plastic Petri dishes and applying glue to silicon tubing, Patel was testing a prototype when McCarty came into the lab. “He saw it and said ‘that looks good. Let’s add some blood.’ So we pipetted some blood through a syringe, and it flowed right through into the capillary and into the bath. No leaks, nothing.”
That was the first success for Patel who is also a student in OSU’s University Honors College. Since then he has worked on a mathematical model of blood flow in the device to make sure it is physiologically relevant to human arteries and veins. In 2010, he returned to McCarty’s lab to study the influence of cancer cells on blood coagulation. He is listed as a co-author on four peer-reviewed papers on blood chemistry and coagulation.
Patel credits OSU engineering professor Willie “Skip” Rochefort with encouraging him and helping him to earn a Pete and Rosalie Johnson Scholarship during his internship at OHSU. “When I came to OSU, I really wanted to start doing research,” says Patel. “I came from a small town, Redmond, Oregon, and I never expected to be able to get into a research lab right away and start producing results that quickly.
“The fact that I get to spend my four years with the same people, that I develop relationships with my peers and professors — that provides a really good education environment.”
Patel advises fellow students considering research to be persistent and be open to opportunities. “Try anything and everything you want,” he adds. “Keep your goals in mind. If you want to go on to grad school, avoid getting sidetracked by distractions.”
This spring, Patel learned that he had received a Goldwater Scholarship, one of the nation’s most prestigious awards for undergraduate researchers. In July, he plans to present a paper to the International Society of Thrombosis and Haemostasis in Kyoto, Japan.