Thursday, December 21, 2017

URSP Student Victor Huynh Researches the Development of a Zebrafish Larva Heartbeat Tracking Program for Ventrally Positioned Larvae

Hello, my name is Victor Huynh. I am a junior majoring in Bioengineering with a concentration in Biomedical Signals and Systems. Zebrafish have emerged over the past two decades as a powerful vertebrae model in many areas of research such as in genetics and epilepsy. However, the cardiac function of larvae exposed to different stress conditions is under-documented. Several robust automatic heartbeat detection methods have been developed, but they require high-cost camera and microscope setups and necessitate direct observation of the larva’s heart. My project is to help develop and test an accessible automatic heartbeat detection program for ventrally-positioned zebrafish larvae, for which the heart is entirely obscured. The biggest challenge is developing the program so that it does not require direct observation of the larva heart.

The semester before starting this project, I had took a tour of the GMU Neural Engineering Lab. This tour left me fascinated by the complexity of the experiments being conducted. After talking with the lab’s principal investigator and my current mentor, Dr. Nathalia Peixoto, I believed that this project would be an excellent way to expose myself to the challenges and processes of Bioengineering research. In the long-term, this project will help me determine whether a future career in research is right for me. After this semester, I plan to expand upon this project to focus more on using the developed program to study possible correlations between seizure events and changes in cardiac function in larvae induced with seizures.

My typical week of research consists of coming to the GMU Biomechanics lab and analyzing videos of epileptic zebrafish larvae for body deformations corresponding to heartbeat. Further along in the project, I would test and apply the program to estimate larva heart rate and determine beat-to-beat intervals. One important lesson that I have learned from this project is to communicate often with and be considerate of those that you work with in order to avoid misunderstandings and to obtain the advice and assistance needed to overcome tough obstacles and setbacks.