Congratulations to SBME Postdoctoral Fellow Samantha Grist for receiving the Optica Foundation Challenge Award. Samantha’s research focuses on developing silicon photonic biosensors, and she is currently working on a project to develop biosensors to monitor and treat the menopausal transition.

Samantha was inspired to apply for the Optica Award after her interdisciplinary research team had conversations with the non-profit organization Herstasis Health Foundation, a Canadian nonprofit focused on improving the menopausal transition.

About half the population experiences perimenopause, but there is little research about the transition during menopause due to the complex nature of gathering data from patients. There is a lot of data that could be gathered from frequently testing hormone markers through a patient’s menstrual cycle that could predict outcomes and improve symptoms for better overall treatment. However, due to limitations in current testing, this type of monitoring is not easily achievable. Currently, patients would need to go to labs multiple times a week or use mail-in testing kits to get hormone testing, which is costly, slow and inconvenient and can also be inaccurate if appointments are missed.

“Our goal with the funding from the Optica Foundation Challenge Award is to apply our sensor technology to a historically neglected need of understanding, diagnosing and treating the menopausal transition.” Samantha comments.

“We want to show how silicon photonics can change the world for the better by developing low-cost sensors that patients can use at home to detect hormones that are relevant to the menopausal transition. We hope that our sensors will provide accurate, quantitative and data rich diagnostic information that physicians can use to treat patients experiencing the menopausal transition.”

Optica prioritizes giving the awards to researchers who are developing technologies to address important needs that are typically challenging to get funding for. Samantha is one of ten people being funded $100,000 for her exciting research.

Samantha emphasizes the important nature of the interdisciplinary aspect of this project and finding mentors that have helped her through her academic journey, such as Dr. Karen Cheung, who is one of the PI’s on this project.

“If it weren’t for fantastic mentors like Karen, who was also my primary PhD supervisor, I would not be where I am today. She really understands the needs of her trainees and gives space for independent thought, ideas and problem solving while also providing guidance and support. Her mentorship has improved my confidence and I feel so grateful for her support.”

She emphasizes, “My goal as an engineer is to solve problems and have as much positive impact on the world as I can. It is exciting to be a part of this interdisciplinary collaboration that is going to meet an unmet need in treating women’s health.”