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Christina Marasco

Associate Professor of the Practice of Biomedical Engineering
Director, SyBBURE Searle Undergraduate Research Experience

Biomedical Engineering

Research Focus

Low-cost, portable sensors and diagnostic technologies coupled with informatics and systems biology approaches for preventative health and wellness; chemical and biological sensing; microfluidics; education and health applications of virtual reality; research, education, innovation, and entrepreneurship training

Current Projects

Lateral Flow Diagnostic for Sickle Cell Disease

Sickle cell disease (SCD) is the world's most prevalent genetic disorder affecting people in both resource-limited regions, such as sub-Saharan Africa, and developed countries, such as the United States. Early diagnosis and management of the condition are necessary for reducing the effects of SCD and improving quality of life. Current laboratory diagnostic technologies remain unsuitable for addressing this need as they rely on expensive capital equipment and skilled operators. These issues create a barrier to diagnosis in low-resource regions most severely afflicted by SCD, but also contribute to the high financial costs of managing the disorder (over $1.1 billion in the US alone). Novel testing methods implementing point-of-care diagnostic devices are needed to rapidly screen and manage patients with SCD in low-resource, clinical, and home care settings. Initial work has shown a reliable, paper-based screening tool for less than $0.50, but further testing must be performed to validate the use of this device and assay for clinical and home care settings.

HERIAS – Champion of Your Best Health

Changing health behaviors is challenging, even for the most motivated individuals. Breaking habits and forming new ones with little impetus or environmental changes is an uphill battle. To compound this struggle, we often fail to seek out the preventative healthcare measures necessary for early diagnosis of diseases. Further, underrepresented minorities are often vulnerable to health risks not appropriately prioritized by a healthcare system that treats such a diverse population. To personally and accurately evaluate these health risks in time to enact preventative behaviors, machine learning methods are employed to identify trends associated with an individual's personal information from a database of de-identified medical records. An algorithm was trained and evaluated in its ability to accurately anticipate medical complications using historical data. The algorithm is designed to utilize dynamic question ordering to maximize the reduction in uncertainty for sequential data points, thus enabling the user to determine their personal risks in as few queries as possible. The individualized predictions generated in this approach are provided, along with the anticipated life extension and quality increase, in attempt to motivate users to mediate health risks through lifestyle awareness.

Modelling and Measurement of Individual Human Metabolism

Maintaining a healthy weight is an obscure and nearly undefinable target for many individuals. We count calories and steps, and track our activity, but the majority of available technologies to do so use calorie estimates from the 19th century, standard step counts that offer little insightful personalization capabilities, and provide caloric expenditures based on population-level data at best. Instead of continuously propagating errors and relying on generalizations in our attempts around fitness, we propose a hardware platform that incorporates transdermal metabolic rate sensing along with ensemble machine learning algorithms to personalize caloric intake and expenditure, ultimately providing meaningful information around weight management.

Enhancing Spatial Cognition using 3D Virtual Games

The third dimension appears early in STEM education. Students are expected to mentally conceptualize a z-axis that comes “out of the page.” As education progresses, there are even more challenging 3D scenarios that students encounter such as molecular orientations with electrons that move in space, multiple point beam loadings, ever-changing cell structures, and heat distribution in a body. The ability to transform a 2D object in a book, screen, or chalkboard to a dynamic 3D object is a significant challenge for learners. While awareness of the necessity for spatial skills in STEM fields is hardly new, the more recent advances in virtual reality provide a ripe opportunity for both the assessment and advancement of these skills. Video games in 2D environments have shown useful in increasing spatial skills and early work in virtual environments has demonstrated use in spatial cognition development. Using a virtual 3D environment, we propose a game-based intervention along with a pre- and post-assessment of spatial skills. Populations of Vanderbilt undergraduate STEM students will receive either the virtual 3D game, a 2D game, or no game, and results from matching pre- and post-assessments will be compared.


Christina C. Marasco, Jeffrey R. Enders, Kevin T. Seale, John A. McLean and John P. Wikswo, Real-time Cellular Exometabolome Analysis with a Microfluidic-Mass Spectrometry Platform, PLOS One, 10(2) (2015).

Christina C. Marasco, Cody R. Goodwin, Danny Winder, Nicole Schramm-Sapyta, John A. McLean and John P. Wikswo, Systems-Level View of Cocaine Addiction: The Interconnection of the Immune and Nervous Systems, Experimental Biology and Medicine, 239(11):1433-1442 (2014).

Cody R. Goodwin , Stacy D. Sherrod, Christina C. Marasco, Nicole Schramm-Sapyta, John P. Wikswo and John A. McLean, Phenotypic Mapping of Metabolic Profiles Using Self-Organizing Maps of High-Dimensional Mass Spectrometry Data, Analytical Chemistry, 86(13):6563-6571 (2014).

John P. Wikswo, Frank E. Block, III, David E. Cliffel, Cody R. Goodwin, Christina C. Marasco, Dmitry A. Markov, David L. McLean, John A. McLean, Jennifer R. McKenzie, Ronald S. Reiserer, Philip C. Samson, David K. Schaffer, Kevin T. Seale, and Stacy D. Sherrod, Engineering Challenges for Instrumenting and Controlling Integrated Organ-on-Chip Systems, Transactions on Biomedical Engineering, 60(3): 682-690 (2013).

Jeffrey R. Enders, Christina C. Marasco, John P. Wikswo, and John A. McLean, A Dual-Column Solid Phase Extraction Apparatus for the Online Collection and Preparation of Continuously Flowing Effluent Streams for Mass Spectrometry, Analytical Chemistry 84(20): 8467-8474 (2012).

Jeffrey R. Enders, Cody R. Goodwin, Christina C. Marasco, Kevin T. Seale, John P. Wikswo and John A. McLean, Advanced structural mass spectrometry for systems biology: Pulling the needles from haystacks, Current Trends in Mass Spectrometry, Supplement: 18-23 (2011).

Jeffrey R. Enders, Christina C. Marasco, Ayeeshik Kole, Bao Nguyen, Sevugarajan Sundarapandian, Kevin T. Seale, John P. Wikswo, and John A. McLean, Towards monitoring real-time cellular response using an integrated microfluidics-MALDI/nESI-ion mobility-mass spectrometry platform, IET Systems Biology 4(6):416-427 (2010).



Christina (Chrissy) Marasco obtained her bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and Biochemistry from Valparaiso University and her Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from Vanderbilt University for developing advanced instrumentation platforms for complex studies in systems biology. She has spent six years developing programs for undergraduate and medical student research training and education, while focusing on creating technologies for advancing traditional biological and chemical analyses and for promoting health, wellness, and fitness.

She previously served as the Assistant Director of the Office of Medical Student Research at Vanderbilt University, leading efforts to build and implement a curricular research experience for medical students. In her current role of Assistant Professor of the Practice of Biomedical Engineering at Vanderbilt University, she serves as the Director of the Searle Systems Biology and Bioengineering Undergraduate Research Experience (SyBBURE Searle, and the Deputy Director of Education, Professional Development and Innovation for the Vanderbilt Institute for Integrative Biosystems Research and Education (VIIBRE, Within these roles, Dr. Marasco is able to establish a unique culture in which students can learn to think differently, explore their passions, and emerge uniquely able to transform the surrounding world.