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Angelin Mathew

Angelin Mathew

Age: 18
Hometown: Davie, FL

Science: “Developing Off the Shelf Pancreases for Diabetic Patients: Bacterial Cellulose and Kombucha Waste Based Scaffolds with an Integrated Oxygen Generating System for Islet Cell Transplantation”

About Angelin

My name is Angelin Tresa Mathew, and I am a teen researcher from South Florida who is interested in creating artificial organs and developing diabetes treatments. I will be attending Yale University in the fall and am planning to study Molecular, Cellular, Developmental Biology but I also have interests in public health and global affairs. I want to pursue a career in academic medicine and continue advocating for the accessibility of groundbreaking diabetes treatments.

In addition to my research, I also love choreographing Indian classical- American pop fusion pieces for our local Keralite cultural events, Model UN, journaling, karaoking, mentoring younger students from underprivileged areas as they begin to do research, and spending time with my loved ones.

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"I am so honored to be selected as a Davidson Fellow because reading the inspiring biographies of previous Fellows convinced me that students could make meaningful contributions to research. I hope that I can use my platform as a Davidson Fellow to encourage students who don’t have easy access to labs, mentors, and connections to persevere and believe in their ideas."

Project Description

My research seeks to alleviate the burden of Type 1 Diabetes, a lifelong condition which affects over 700 million people worldwide. Islet cell transplantation is a possible long-term solution for Type 1 Diabetic patients because it replaces the dysfunctioning or destroyed insulin releasing cells with healthy ones. Unfortunately, this procedure is still not widely available and has limited clinical success because the transplanted cells are usually starved of oxygen and don’t have a pancreas-like home. In my project, I designed a pancreas-like home for the cells by modifying the SCOBY, a Kombucha tea waste product. I also integrated a system that can deliver small amounts of oxygen to the cells in the Kombucha SCOBY home to help the insulin releasing cells to survive better.

Deeper Dive

I started doing research just in response to things I saw in my daily life. In middle school, I asked “Why don’t people smile at each other and why aren’t people kinder to each other?” and “What kinds of plastic bottles, under which daily conditions, release the most toxins?” As I entered high school, I pivoted my focus as I became aware of my family’s history of diabetes and witnessed divides in access to “cutting-edge” treatments.

I developed a “tool kit” to address the two biggest challenges (lack of a pancreas-like environment and lack of oxygen) of islet cell transplantation, a possible cure for Type 1 Diabetes. While this procedure has been available for several years, 3 donor pancreases are needed for 1 transplant and a large portion of transplanted cells die within the first two days. I wanted to increase the efficiency and sustainability of this procedure so more patients could have a life-long solution to diabetes. I created an artificial pancreas environment using Kombucha SCOBY tea waste material and modified it so that the SCOBY has physical structures to support insulin secreting cells. I also modeled and integrated a system to locally deliver small amounts of oxygen to the insulin-secreting cells.

The research I conducted is also disruptive because it also provides an additional perspective to the larger field of tissue engineering: kombucha waste can potentially be used to mimic organ and vascular structures. Using low-cost and accessible “base materials” of scaffolds is key to ensuring that low-resourced settings can reap the benefits of the regenerative medicine revolution. I believe we’re still discounting highly valuable sources of inspiration from natural processes as valid solutions for tissue engineering challenges.

As aforementioned, my research stems from questions I had in my personal life: almost all members of my dad’s side of the family have diabetes. My grandpa passed away from diabetic complications when I was younger and I knew that I wanted to investigate long-term solutions. On a lighter note, I learned about the field of tissue engineering when my research mentor and biology teacher showed me an article from the American Scientist magazine. I was immediately fascinated by the Frankenstein-esque idea of creating organs. Exercising caution and determining the ethical permissibility are top priority, of course, but the boundless ways in which regenerative medicine and tissue engineering can improve human lives excites me.

A lot of the challenges I faced in my research turned out to be sources of inspiration and pushed me to be more creative. Working in my school lab, I didn’t have access to gold-standard equipment all the other polymer engineers were using. I decided to find natural materials that had similar qualities and after falling down a “rabbit hole” of ideas, I discovered that specific bacterial species made a waste with qualities of interest in tissue engineering. Another one of the biggest challenges I faced was not being able to afford necessary equipment to validate my experiments. I solved this problem by reaching out to hundreds of professors and companies, asking if they could lend me equipment or give me a sample of their products. I got responses from a handful of kind-hearted people who donated their time, provided equipment, and enabled me to execute my ideas. I had several other experiments planned to further validate cell viability but the COVID-19 pandemic limited my ability to conduct these experiments without adequate sterility. I continued growing Kombucha SCOBYs, trying techniques in my garage, reading literature, and ideating future experiments.


If you could have dinner with the five most interesting people in the world, living or dead, who would they be?

I can’t contain how excited I am just thinking about this dinner:

  1. Dr. Wolfson: My middle school science teacher who has been my rock and biggest supporter
  2. Tu Youyou: Nobel laureate whose research revolves around using traditional medicine for malaria
  3. Amal Clooney: Leader of one of the most high profile cases at the United Nations for human rights
  4. Willem Kolff: Inventor of the kidney dialysis machine, inspired from modified cellulose/sausage casing
  5. My best friend so we can ask questions and squeal in excitement together

If you could be on any TV show, which one would it be?

Good Morning America or Phineas and Ferb

There’s a round-trip free shuttle to Mars. The catch: it’ll take one year of your life to go, visit, and come back. Are you in?

I would much rather spend that year on Earth visiting small villages or exploring the rainforest to learn about alternative medicines, hear other people’s life experiences, and learn about their beliefs.

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In The News

Davie, Fla. – The Davidson Fellows Scholarship Program has announced the 2021 scholarship winners. Among the honorees is 18-year-old Angelin Mathew of Davie. Mathew won a $25,000 scholarship for her project, Developing Off the Shelf Pancreases for Diabetic Patients: Bacterial Cellulose and Kombucha Waste Based Scaffolds with an Integrated Oxygen Generating System for Islet Cell Transplantation. She is one of only 20 students across the country to be recognized as a 2021 scholarship winner.

Download the full press release here