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NCSA Student Spotlight: Fiddler Fellow Ariana Barreau

Photograph of Ariana Barreau in labcoat

Carle Illinois College of Medicine student Ariana Barreau is an innovator and aspiring physician who uses collaboration and technology to improve and address healthcare disparities. At the Illinois Innovation Award ceremony earlier this year, she won the $10,000 2021 Fiddler Innovation Fellowship, supported by NCSA’s eDream Institute. Here, she shares motivators, inspirations, and more, giving us a glimpse into the life and mind of the co-founder of ProteCKD and AxisMED.

What is ProteCKD?

Infographic about the use and benefits of ProteCKD; a prevention program targeting at-risk and marginalized communities to lower disease and healthcare burden.

It is a chronic kidney disease (CKD) pre-screening program that focuses on reducing racial disparities in renal healthcare by increasing accessibility to CKD education, risk assessment, diagnosis and treatment. The program provides pre-screening kits equipped with urine testing strips, educational materials and information on affordable and local healthcare resources to our community.

What is AxisMED?

Group photo of Carle Illinois College of Medicine students.

It is a healthcare pre-incubator and non-profit organization that aims to support students interested in advancing medicine and grow a collaborative community of healthcare entrepreneurs across the Illinois campus. AxisMED provides micro-grants to budding healthcare innovators to prototype ideas and helps prepare students to pursue competitions and hackathons held by campus entrepreneurial programs.

Who inspired you to pursue this path?

Ariana Barreau and family photos.

The importance of having a problem-solver mindset was ingrained in me by my parents and entrepreneurial grandparents as a child. It has evolved into a restless curiosity—a desire to understand problem spaces well enough to design impactful innovations. As a student of engineering, medicine and entrepreneurship, I aspire to help turn problems I see in-clinic into opportunities for developing human-centered solutions that can improve people’s quality of life.

I entered the Fall Health Make-A-Thon competition to address healthcare challenges uncovered from my clinical and medical school lectures. This competition allowed me to work with members outside of CIMED, including UIUC engineering students, local community members and physicians.

What impact do you hope your work will have on the world?

GIF collage of infographics with the first reading 'Chronic Kidney Disease. 40% of African Americans unaware they have CKD. 3.5X more likely to progress to end-stage renal disease' with accompanying icons for 'Increased financial burden, reduced quality of life, and increased dialysis dependence'. Second graphic reads 'Tangible action plan to begin kit distribution by 2022' with timeline reading 'Spring: finalize educational materials, seek funding', 'Summer: testing and iteration, establish community partnerships', and 'winter: begin distribution, continue iterating'. Graphic features Carle Illinois College of Medicine logo at bottom left and the individual Carle and University of Illinois logo in the bottom right. Last graphic feature headshots of six students

We see ProteCKD as an opportunity to partner with community leaders and advocacy groups to raise awareness of CKD among marginalized communities. During my renal course, I talked to Carle nephrologists and dialysis clinic staff and was shocked by how many patients have delayed diagnosis of CKD. Kidney disease has an insidious onset. By the time patients experience symptoms, they most likely already have irreversible kidney damage and may become dependent on dialysis for the rest of their life.

While we are piloting the ProteCKD™ program in Urbana-Champaign, I believe it can be paired with governmental social programs across the nation. It could save millions of dollars on dialysis care and help reduce racial disparities in renal care. We are still in the early stages of development, but I have had family and friends reach out to me to share how their loved ones could have benefited from our program. Unfortunately, a significant percentage of Guam’s population is on dialysis, so I hope to bring the innovations we develop with ProteCKD to improve renal healthcare in Guam.

Tell us about your achievements and milestones.

Health Maker Lab finalist congratulations photo

My ProteCKD teammates and I are Spring 2021 Health Make-A-Thon winners. We are currently busy planning and brainstorming ways to get our prototype in user studies before the end of the year. We are also building an advisory board, which has attracted a prominent philanthropist in renal care to ensure ProteCKD is a sustainable and effective program.

As for AxisMED, we have built a community of over 80 students across campus in our Discord channel and just had our inaugural AxisMED team complete our program! We are proud that they were selected to participate as a part of the iVenture 2021 cohort and look forward to seeing them pursue their medical innovation idea.

What unique offerings brought you to NCSA?

NCSA Building

Healthcare innovation is a critical part of working towards delivering the best care to patients. Without this culture of innovation that the NCSA is promoting, we would have no progress in the medical therapies we can provide. We would be unprepared to effectively navigate unexpected medical crises like this pandemic!

As an aside, I first learned about NCSA when applying for the Fiddler Fellowship, so I am eager to learn more about taking advantage of the scientific network and interdisciplinary research that NCSA supports.

How will NCSA’s Fiddler Innovation Fellowship help your projects?

Acquiring this funding for ProteCKD™ program will allow my team to:

  • More rigorously test and prototype the urine testing strips we want to include in our kits
  • Increase beta testers and purchase kit materials to conduct a more robust pilot study on the efficacy of our program within the Urbana-Champaign community
  • Build online and phone-based tools for ProteCKD users to access additional educational and healthcare resources
  • Dream bigger! We want to build a solid foundation for our program to be more easily reproducible across states, allowing us to partner with national social and preventive health programs in the future

What is something that you want people to know about you and what you do?

Group photo of health students

Having been trained as a biomechanical engineer, I enjoy solving problems and aspire to become a doctor who can contribute to the development of safer, less-invasive medical treatments to minimize patient exhaustion, trauma and pain. However, caring for family members and patients, whether in a hospital or at home, has taught me that there are limits to what engineering can fix.

My experience working with chronic pain patients during undergrad raised my awareness of the importance of both mind and body in considering overall health, a concept that I now realize is essential for both physicians and patients to understand to maximize the patient’s quality of life. I want to become a doctor who listens to her patients and prepares and strengthens them psychologically for the trauma that illness may cause. By finding ways to empower them to regain some sense of control and self-esteem, I can help them adapt to living in the liminality of an illness.

What are some fun facts about you?

Ariana Barreau next to Alma and as a child

I am half Chinese and half French! I grew up moving around, but I spent my last two years of high school in Guam to live with my grandparents.

I love to play tennis and hike in Turkey Run in my free time! When I am not studying or hiking, I am researching racial disparities in pain management, consulting for Cala Health, holding neurology workshops for middle schoolers and mentoring pre-medical students in Guam’s H.O.M.E program.

What advice do you have for aspiring innovators?

Group photo of Carle Illinois College of Medicine students.

Juggling medical school coursework and personal projects hasn’t been easy. Still, I want to maximize my time here at CICOM-UIUC, where I have the privilege of working with a world-class community of inventors and educators who can mold me into the innovator-physician I dream of becoming.

If I had a piece of advice for aspiring innovators, it would be to be curious! I have benefited from keeping a “problem” journal. I use my journal to record patient-physician interactions in-clinic and observations from classes to formulate problem statements. This journal helped me hone my ability to identify domains with the highest potential for disruption and also has allowed me to connect dots across disciplines to find new inspiration for developing need-based innovation.

ProteCKD actively seeks help from community members and organizations to partner with them. For more information on how to get involved, email Ariana Barreau. Learn more about AxisMED by visiting or join their Discord channel.


The National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign provides supercomputing and advanced digital resources for the nation’s science enterprise. At NCSA, University of Illinois faculty, staff, students and collaborators from around the globe use these resources to address research challenges for the benefit of science and society. NCSA has been advancing many of the world’s industry giants for over 35 years by bringing industry, researchers and students together to solve grand challenges at rapid speed and scale.

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