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Biomedical Engineering and Physiology Track

The human body is complex and fragile, at risk of developing any number of conditions like joint disease or nerve or muscle injury. As we age, body tissues break down and lose vital functions. Through studying the human body to understand how it works, biomedical scientist teams of engineers, clinicians and other scientists are at the front lines developing novel approaches to treat and prevent human illness.

The Biomedical Engineering and Physiology Track within the Ph.D. Program at Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Science is built on a foundation of world-renowned research programs and courses with real-world relevance. Collaboration with faculty and clinicians from a wide variety of disciplines provide you with the support and guidance you need to succeed.

As a student, you’ll have several areas of emphasis to choose from:

  • Biomechanics. Biomechanics involves the study of structure and function of biological systems and artificial tissue interactions using the principles of mechanics, material science and physiology. Some of the methods used include tissue scaffolding, materials testing, mechanical modeling, imaging of motion and joint mechanics.

    Examples of recent projects include study of fracture mechanics in aging vertebrae, measurement of passive muscle stiffness in children with cerebral palsy, modeling of cartilage regrowth and postural analysis of wheelchair users.
  • Biomedical imaging. Biomedical imaging advances the design and application of imaging techniques to improve disease diagnosis and staging, as well as treatment planning, delivery and assessment. The faculty and students at Mayo work in many modalities, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), X-ray computed tomography (CT), ultrasound, positron emission tomography (PET), radiation therapy and molecular breast imaging, as well as image processing and visualization and imaging informatics.

    Relationships with industry allow access to the latest medical imaging technology before it is commercially available, and techniques developed here are often licensed by industry for use in future products.
  • Molecular biophysics and biosensing. Molecular biophysics and biosensing applies principles of physics, chemistry and mathematics to study biomolecules that underlie function of cells, organs and organisms. Research interests include the structure and function of proteins and protein assemblies in live cells and model organisms with applications to ion channels, transporters, molecular motors, and biosensing technologies.

    Strengths in basic and translational research include monitoring single biomolecule function in real time, linking protein dynamic motions to disease phenotypes, and biophysical and computational characterization of small molecule effectors targeting protein function in models of human diseases.
  • Physiology. Physiology addresses complex biological systems from molecular and cellular to tissue and organismal principles that govern their function. An assortment of novel and state-of-the-art techniques and tools are used to investigate the mechanisms of diseases and novel pathways with therapeutic potential, as well as the engineering tools necessary to develop and optimize tissue and organ regeneration.

    Physiology at Mayo integrates basic, clinical and translational research that builds on a strong tradition of "bench-to-bedside" and "bedside-to-bench" investigation. Studies are conducted on cell, tissue and animal models, including humans in the lab setting and even in the course of living their daily lives using innovative remote physiological monitoring tools.


The Biomedical Engineering and Physiology curriculum is designed to provide you with the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful in your research and future career. The curriculum focuses on an integrative approach to learning by applying engineering concepts in the context of physiological systems.

Years 1-2

During the first year of study, all students complete the BMEP core curriculum designed to provide you with a firm foundation in biomedical engineering and physiology concepts. Core courses include:

  • Physiology: From Cell to Organism
  • Mathematics in Biomedical Engineering and Physiology
  • Introduction to Medical Imaging
  • Biomechanics
  • Bio-instrumentation and Signal Processing
  • Molecular Biophysics

You then move on to more advanced courses that are directly related to your chosen research project.

During the first year, you’ll complete small research projects in three different laboratories. These lab rotations are set up to help you select a thesis adviser based on your scientific interests and goals.

Qualifying exams consisting of both a written and oral component are completed at the end of the first year and during the second year, respectively.

Years 3-5+

After completing the curriculum and passing the qualifying exam, you’ll focus on your thesis research.

You’re encouraged to apply for external funding and to attend and present at national and international scientific meetings. Effective communication is an essential skill, and our curriculum is designed to develop and enhance both oral and written communication proficiency. You’ll have the opportunity to present in the classroom, weekly seminars, lab meetings and small group tutorials, as well as at scientific meetings.

You’ll assemble a thesis committee made up of experts from Mayo Clinic and other institutions that facilitate and guide your education and research. Reflecting the collaborative and highly interdisciplinary environment at Mayo, most thesis committees are made up of researchers and clinicians from a variety of departments.

Recent thesis topics


  • “Xenogeneic small diameter vein extracellular matrix scaffolds for use in vascular diseases,” Manuela Lopera Higuita, Ph.D. (Mentor: Leigh Griffiths, Ph.D.)
  • “A Hardware and Software Approach to Facilitate Genome Engineering,” Gabriel Martinez Galvez, Ph.D. (Mentor: Stephen Ekker, Ph.D.)
  • “Pulmonary Congestion and Exercise Intolerance in Heart Failure with Preserved Ejection Fraction,” Caitlin Fermoyle, Ph.D. (Mentor: Bruce Johnson, Ph.D.)
  • “Epigenetic mechanisms regulating lung fibroblast activation,” Dakota Jones, Ph.D. (Mentor: Daniel Tschumperlin, Ph.D.)
  • “Evaluation of Motor Output Selectivity During Epidural and Transcutaneous Spinal Stimulation,” Jonathan Calvert, Ph.D. (Mentor: Kendall Lee, M.D., Ph.D.)
  • “An investigation towards understanding how the brain affects anterior cruciate ligament injury risk,” April McPherson, Ph.D. (Mentor: Clifton R. Haider, Ph.D.)


  • “A method for quantifying body composition from abdominal CT using deep neural networks,” Alexander Weston, Ph.D. (Mentor: Bradley Erickson, M.D., Ph.D.)
  • “Advances in Multi-Parametric Prostate MRI,” Soudabeh Kargar, Ph.D. (Mentor: Stephen Riederer, Ph.D.)
  • “A comprehensive Description of Independent Function of Adults with Traumatic Brachial Plexus Injuries,” Christina Webber, Ph.D. (Mentor: Kenton Kaufman, Ph.D.)
  • “Characterization and control of neurotransmitter release and its implications for closed-loop neuromodulation therapies,” James Trevathan, Ph.D. (Mentor: J. Luis Lujan, Ph.D., M.S.)


  • “Functional Impact of Phrenic Motor Neuron Loss,” Obaid Khurram, Ph.D. (Mentor: Carlos Mantilla, M.D., Ph.D.)


  • “The Effect of Healthy Aging on Pulmonary Vascular Function," Kirsten E. Coffman, Ph.D. (Mentor: Bruce D. Johnson, Ph.D.)
  • "Characterization of the Anisotropic and Nonlinear Properties of the Kidney Using Shear Wave Elastography," Sara Aristizabal, Ph.D. (Mentor: Matthew Urban, Ph.D.)
  • "Targeting Motoneurons Using Mesoporous Silica Nanoparticles," Maria Gonzalez, Ph.D. (Mentor: Carlos Mantilla, M.D., Ph.D.)
  • "Shear Wave Elastography with a Continuously Vibrating Probe," Daniel Mellema, Ph.D. (Mentor: Shigao Chen, Ph.D.)
  • "The Impact of Pulmonary Congestion on Lung Structure and Function in Heart Failure," Steven C. Chase, Ph.D. (Mentor: Bruce D. Johnson, Ph.D.)
  • "Characterization of Relative Biological Effectiveness (RBE) for Proton Therapy in Human Cancer Cell Lines," Michelle E. Howard, Ph.D. (Mentor: Michael G. Herman, Ph.D.)
  • "Artifact Correction for High-Performance MRI Gradient Systems," Shengzhen Tao, Ph.D. (Mentor: Matt A. Bernstein, Ph.D.)
  • "Engineered Esophageal Regeneration," Johnathon M. Aho, Ph.D. (Mentor: Daniel J. Tschumperlin, Ph.D.)
  • "Advancing Skeletal Muscle Force Assessment Using Animal and Human Models," Loribeth Q. Evertz, Ph.D. (Mentor: Kenton R. Kaufman, Ph.D.)
  • "Electrophysiologic Biomarkers of Epileptogenic Brain," Brent M. Berry, Ph.D. (Mentors: Gregory Worrell, M.D., Ph.D., and Gary Sieck, Ph.D.)


  • "Cellular Mechanisms of Cardiac Contractile Dysfunction in Response to Hypothermia and Rewarming," Niccole Schaible, Ph.D. (Mentor: Gary Sieck, Ph.D.)
  • "Accurate Quantification of Percent Area Luminal Stenosis Using Material Decomposition and a Whole-Body Research Photon Counting Multi-Energy CT System," Zhoubo Li, Ph.D. (Mentor: Cynthia H. McCollough, Ph.D.)
  • "Investigation of Motor Control Through Simultaneous Measurement of Force, Electromyography, and Intramuscular Pressure," Shanette Go, Ph.D. (Mentor: Kenton R. Kaufman, Ph.D.)

Your future

Many former Biomedical Engineering and Physiology students now hold faculty positions at leading universities (Stanford, Vanderbilt, Tulane, Ohio State, Washington University, University of Southern California and Mayo Clinic) and leadership positions in industry (General Electric, Siemens, Philips and Merck) and government (National Institutes of Health and Food and Drug Administration). Two are currently presidents of small companies.

Meet the leadership teamKristin Zhao, Ph.D. and Leigh Griffiths, Ph.D., MRCVS

Welcome to our Biomedical Engineering and Physiology Track. Faculty in this track have a passion for student learners, extensive and innovative research expertise and laboratory staff, and cutting-edge equipment and facilities. This program provides a dynamic learning environment that emphasizes problem-solving, critical thinking, and communication skills.

The needs of the learner are met at Mayo Clinic through our integrated educational environment, built up upon collaboration across world-class education, research, and clinical teams who collaborate to solve complex medical issues across a spectrum from basic science studies to clinical trial.

Kristin Zhao, Ph.D.
Director, Biomedical Engineering and Physiology Program
Director, Assistive and Restorative Technology Laboratory
Director, Spinal Cord Injury Research Program
Senior Associate Consultant II, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Physiology and Biomedical Engineering
See research interests.

Leigh Griffiths, Ph.D., MRCVS
Assistant Program Director, Biomedical Engineering and Physiology
Consultant, Department of Cardiovascular Diseases
Consultant, Department of Physiology and Biomedical Engineering
Professor of Medicine, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine 
See research interests.

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