Undergraduate Research Program

Zoe Chau

Mentor: James Lai, Department of Bioengineering; Kushang Patel, Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine

Contact: zoechau@uw.edu

Current research project: DiagnosDisk for Rapid and Sensitive COVID-19 Detection; Utilizing Novel Trigger-based Ecological Momentary Assessments to Investigate Movement-evoked Pain in Older Adults with Knee Osteoarthritis


Zoe is a senior majoring in Bioengineering at the University of Washington. She is very interested in combining her interest in engineering and medicine to improve current healthcare practices. Since October of 2019, she has been working in the Lai Lab to develop exosome analysis techniques in application to diagnostics, in addition to developing a diagnostic device for COVID-19 detection. Since June of 2021, she has also been working in the Patel Lab to develop novel trigger-based Ecological Momentary Assessments to investigate movement-evoked pain in older adults with knee osteoarthritis. During her free time, Zoe enjoys learning new languages, crafting, and practicing the piano.


Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
Lai Lab: Rapidly diagnosing infections is crucial to limiting COVID-19 spread, particularly in low-resource areas where vaccination rollout or medical infrastructure is inadequate. To rapidly expand testing without straining medical facilities, employing point-of-care (POC) testing such as lateral flow assays (LFA) is a promising solution. Compared to polymerase chain reaction with nasopharyngeal swab specimens, LFA for detecting salivary antigens are rapid, inexpensive, simple-to-use, and instrument-free. Saliva as a sample medium for testing acute infections is beneficial for its relatively straightforward collection methodology, high viral load, and potential for large sample volumes. The DiagnosDisk, a novel flow-through assay employing temperature-responsive polymers developed by the Lai Lab for rapid viral antigen sample enrichment, detects salivary SARS-CoV-2 antigens by capturing enriched target analytes on a membrane as the sample solution flows through the device via capillary forces. Ultimately, the DiagnosDisk enables rapid, sensitive, simple, and inexpensive POC testing that will limit the viral infection spread and address a major shortcoming of salivary diagnostics by introducing an effective means of increased sensitivity. Patel Lab: Frequently termed a “silent epidemic”, chronic pain influences 20.4% of US adults with increased prevalence within older adults. Chronic pain in the form of knee osteoarthritis (OA) is often linked to movement-evoked pain; however, the relationship between falls risk and movement-evoked pain within older adults is unclear. For this project, I aim to test the feasibility and acceptability of a pilot study that strengthens our current understanding of movement-evoked pain in older adults with knee OA through random and physical activity-triggered ecological momentary assessment surveys that will provide a translatable method of surveying movement-evoked pain that is independent of participant recall and/or bias.


When, how, and why did you get involved in undergraduate research?
After hearing the exciting experiences of upperclassmen and learning about the significant relationship between research and medicine, I knew I wanted to dive into research as soon as I could after starting at the UW. During the summer before freshman year I attended a URP information session and, geared with this knowledge, began contacting the labs whose research I was interested in. After several attempts, I successfully joined the Lai Lab in the UW Department of Bioengineering. Later during my sophomore year, I joined the Patel Lab as a part of the Scan Design Foundation Innovations in Pain Research Summer Program.


What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone! While research may be intimidating, each attempt at approaching a lab of your interest will only get easier. UW hosts an incredible amount of diverse research opportunities, and I am certain that you will learn and develop new skills in the process of diving into research.