KURF experiences: Emily Kostina on analysing MRI data

Emily Kostina studied BSc in Biomedical Sciences and graduated with a first-class degree in the summer of 2022. She’s currently undertaking a Master of Research (MRes) in Child Health at UCL. She worked as part of the King’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship (KURF) scheme with Dr Andrew Melbourne (Senior Lecturer in King’s Biomedical Engineering Department) with a focus on analysing MRI data acquired from pregnancies with Twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS).  

Why did you apply for KURF? 

I was part of the COVID cohort, so I felt that I wasn’t getting enough practical experience and I knew I was interested in research and would be pursuing a Master of Research (MRes), I wanted to have some experience before pursuing my masters. I found that KURF would be a perfect opportunity for me to gain that experience. I chose this project since I was always interested in the application of engineering in healthcare, but I have only covered the biological aspect of it during my degree 

What prior experience did you have in relevance to this project? What new experiences did you take away from it? 

I was confident with the biology aspects of it, but it was challenging to learn coding and segmentation software required. But that’s the best part of KURF- you can learn on the go and obtain new transferrable skills. As part of my degree, I’ve learnt how to use ITK-SNAP, which is a basic segmentation software, but it had limitations in the project I was working on. During the project, I learned new image processing software and techniques including Slicer 3D and MATLAB, and on top of that I learnt how to tweak the code of the software itself so that I could tailor it to my needs. I learned more anatomy as we looked at twin pregnancies, placental structures, etc.  

What was your day-to-day like on KURF? 

Dr Andrew Melbourne was very supporting, and at the very start he set specific goals for what he expected of me and introduced me to the rest of the team. We had constant communication throughout the process, whether it be a quick catch up or a longer meeting discussing our goals, and he was available in his office most of the time. We looked at MRI images of twin pregnancies and we tried to segment blood vessels from that. My goal was to segment the blood vessel network which was later used to perform flow simulations allowing to identify useful anastomoses between the twins that should not be ablated during fetal surgery. 

What was the highlight of your experience? 

The first time I got concrete results was the highlight of my experience. With coding, it seems like you just get bugs, or nothing is running, but the first time I got a 3D image of the placenta and all the vessels I was quite excited. I also really liked being in the office, which was based in this building right opposite of St Thomas’ Hospital. It was an amazing building with great facilities and views of London, and I loved going into the building every day. 

What’s the progress status of the project you were working on now? 

The specific section of the project I’ was working on is now completed, but as it’s part of a larger project, Dr Andrew Melbourne is still working on it with other collaborators.  

Has KURF given you the notion to continue towards research and academia as a career? Or are you looking towards other career paths currently? 

Yes! That’s the goal for now! I’m currently pursuing a Master of Research (MRes) in Child Health and would like to get a PhD. I genuinely do enjoy the environment, and I like having a topic and figuring out all the nooks and crannies about it. I would like to stay in research and academia.  

Any last words? 

I 100% recommend applying for KURF. I would suggest that students apply for something outside of their degree and try something that isn’t offered in your degree!