Pitt | Swanson Engineering

The Department of Bioengineering combines hands-on experience with the solid fundamentals that students need to advance themselves in research, medicine, and industry. The Department has a long-standing and unique relationship with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and other academic departments at the University of Pittsburgh as well as neighboring Carnegie Mellon University. Our faculty are shared with these organizations, offering our graduate and undergraduate students access to state-of-the-art facilities and a wide array of research opportunities. We currently have 190 graduate students who are advised by some 100 different faculty advisers, pursuing graduate research across 17 Departments and five Schools. Our undergraduate class-size of approximately 50 students per year ensures close student-faculty interactions in the classroom and the laboratory.

The main engineering building is located next to the Medical Center in Oakland, an elegant university neighborhood with museums, parks, and great restaurants. Beautiful new facilities have also been built, a short shuttle ride from the main campus, along the Monongahela River, replacing the steel mills that once were there. Our department is growing rapidly, both in numbers of students and faculty, and in the funding and diversity of our research. The Pittsburgh bioengineering community is a vibrant and stimulating alliance of diverse components for which our department forms an essential and central connection.


Pitt’s Center for Medical Innovation awards four novel biomedical devices with $77,500 total Round-2 2016 Pilot Funding

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Industrial

PITTSBURGH (January 10, 2017) … The University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Medical Innovation (CMI) awarded grants totaling $77,500 to four research groups through its 2016 Round-2 Pilot Funding Program for Early Stage Medical Technology Research and Development. The latest funding proposals include a new technology for treatment of diabetes, a medical device for emergency intubation, an innovative method for bone regeneration, and a novel approach for implementing vascular bypass grafts. CMI, a University Center housed in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering (SSOE), supports applied technology projects in the early stages of development with “kickstart” funding toward the goal of transitioning the research to clinical adoption. CMI leadership evaluates proposals based on scientific merit, technical and clinical relevance, potential health care impact and significance, experience of the investigators, and potential in obtaining further financial investment to translate the particular solution to healthcare. “This is our fifth year of pilot funding, and our leadership team could not be more excited with the breadth and depth of this round’s awardees,” said Alan D. Hirschman, PhD, CMI Executive Director. “This early-stage interdisciplinary research helps to develop highly specific biomedical technologies through a proven strategy of linking UPMC’s clinicians and surgeons with the Swanson School’s engineering faculty.” AWARD 1: Intrapancreatic Lipid Nanoparticles to Treat DiabetesAward for further development and testing of use of lipid nanoparticle technology for the induction of α-to-β-cell transdifferentiation to treat diabetes. George Gittes, MDDepartment of Surgery University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Kathryn Whitehead, PhDDepartment of Chemical Engineering Carnegie Mellon University (Secondary appointment at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine) AWARD 2: The Esophocclude - Medical Device for temporary occlusion of the esophagus in patients requiring emergent intubationContinuation award for further refinement of the Esophocclude Medical Device using human cadaver testing to simulate emergency intubation.Philip Carullo, MDResident, PGY-1 Department of Anesthesiology University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) Youngjae Chun, PhD Assistant Professor Department of Industrial Engineering Department of Bioengineering (Secondary) University of Pittsburgh AWARD 3: RegenMatrix - Collagen-mimetic Bioactive Hydrogels for Bone RegenerationContinuation award for fully automating the hydrogel fabrication process, for animal studies and for fine-tuning related innovations. Shilpa Sant, PhDAssistant Professor Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences Department of Bioengineering University of Pittsburgh Akhil Patel, MS Graduate Student Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences University of Pittsburgh Yadong Wang, PhD Professor Department of Bioengineering University of Pittsburgh Sachin Velankar, PhDAssociate Professor Department of Chemical Engineering University of Pittsburgh Charles Sfeir, DDS, PhD Associate Professor Department of Oral Biology University of Pittsburgh AWARD 4: TopoGraft 2.0 - Anti-platelet surfaces for bypass grafts and artificial hearts using topo-graphic surface actuationContinuation award for in-vivo validating of results and developing a new approach for topographic actuation of the inner lumen of synthetic bypass grafts. Sachin Velankar, PhD Department of Chemical Engineering University of Pittsburgh Luka Pocivavsak, MD, PhD Department of Surgery University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Edith Tzeng, MD Department of Surgery University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Robert Kormos, MD Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery University of Pittsburgh Medical Center About the Center for Medical Innovation The Center for Medical Innovation at the Swanson School of Engineering is a collaboration among the University of Pittsburgh’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the Innovation Institute, and the Coulter Translational Research Partnership II (CTRP). CMI was established in 2011 to promote the application and development of innovative biomedical technologies to clinical problems; to educate the next generation of innovators in cooperation with the schools of Engineering, Health Sciences, Business, and Law; and to facilitate the translation of innovative biomedical technologies into marketable products and services. Over 50 early-stage projects have been supported by CMI with a total investment of over $900,000 since inception. ###
Author: Yash P. Mokashi, Fellow, Center for Medical Innovation



PITTSBURGH (January 9, 2017) … The University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering has announced that Jonathan Vande Geest, Mark Gartner and Warren Ruder have joined its faculty in the Department of Bioengineering. Vande Geest formerly taught at the University of Arizona, and Ruder taught at Virginia Tech. Gartner will be moving from part-time to full-time status within Pitt.“All three of our new faculty members in the Bioengineering Department have proven to be outstanding educators with an excellent mix of experiences inside and outside of the classroom to aid them in teaching our students,” said Sanjeev Shroff, Distinguished Professor and Gerald McGinnis Chair of Bioengineering at Pitt. Jonathan Vande GeestDr. Vande Geest received his BS in biomedical engineering from the University of Iowa in 2000 and his PhD in bioengineering from Pitt in 2005. After graduation, Vande Geest began his career at the University of Arizona in the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering and joined the Department of Biomedical Engineering in 2009. Vande Geest held positions as an assistant and associate professor while at the University of Arizona.In Arizona, Vande Geest led the Soft Tissue Biomechanics Laboratory (STBL), which aims to develop and utilize novel experimental computational bioengineering approaches to study the structure function relationships of soft tissues in human growth, remodeling and disease. The STBL has also devoted significant effort to the development of novel endovascular medical devices. Advances in bioengineering are established in the STBL by seamlessly bringing together state of the art techniques in tissue fabrication, nonlinear optical microscopy, finite element modeling and cell mechanobiology. Current projects in the STBL are focused on neurodegenerative diseases, including primary open angle glaucoma and vocal fold paralysis, as well as the development of a compliance matched tissue engineered vascular graft.Vande Geest is a member of the Biomedical Engineering Society, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), the Association of Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American Physiological Society. Vande Geest’s prior National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER award focused on the development of a novel smart polymer based patient specific endovascular device for treating abdominal aortic aneurysms. His laboratory has been funded by more than $4 million in extramural grants from the National Institutes of Health, NSF, AHA and various industrial partners. In 2013, Vande Geest was awarded the Y. C. Fung Young Investigator Award—a society wide medal awarded by the Bioengineering Division of ASME to recognize those demonstrating significant potential to make substantial contributions to the field of bioengineering. In 2015, he became chair of the ASME Bioengineering Division Solids Technical Committee and was selected as a member of the Western States Affiliates Research Committee for AHA. He also currently serves as an associate editor for the Journal of Biomechanical Engineering.Mark GartnerDr. Gartner received his PhD in bioengineering and his ME degree in mechanical and biomedical engineering from Carnegie Mellon University. He also earned an MBA in finance and entrepreneurship and his BS in mechanical engineering from Pitt. Beginning his career in medical product design and development, Gartner worked as a clinical bioengineer in the mechanical circulatory support program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. His work included clinical care of patients supported by various types of mechanical circulatory support devices, including total artificial heart and ventricular assist devices. He later designed several types of integrated pump-oxygenator devices and became the director of the Pittsburgh chronic artificial lung program. Gartner’s direct clinical experiences with advanced medical technologies encouraged his interest in the unique design requirements of medical products, and he co-founded Ension, Inc., in 2001. He oversees several medical product development initiatives at Ension, including serving as principal investigator on grants and contracts, most notably, the National Institute of Health’s recent Pumps for Kids, Neonate and Infants (PumpKIN) effort.Gartner developed, and has since taught, the Senior Design course in Pitt’s Department of Bioengineering. The two-semester capstone course requires bioengineering students to synthesize and extend principles from prior coursework toward the design or redesign of medical products. He remains particularly interested in cross disciplinary, non-traditional engineering education opportunities. Gartner received the Outstanding Teaching award from the Department of Bioengineering in 2011 and the Outstanding Part-time Instructor award from the Swanson School in 2015. He has more than 20 years of teaching experience.Warren RuderDr. Ruder graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a BS in civil and environmental engineering in 2002. He completed his MS in mechanical engineering and his PhD in biomedical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). Ruder was also part of the inaugural “Biomechanics in Regenerative Medicine” class, which is a joint program between Pitt and CMU that receives funding from the National Institutes of Health and aims to provide training in biomechanical engineering principles and biology to students pursuing doctoral degrees in bioengineering.His work focuses on merging biomechanical systems and the microscale and nanoscale with engineering living cells and smart material systems, the latter of which involves synthetic biology. Over the years his research has included: two years of research on mammalian cell signal transduction in the laboratory of Professor Aldebaran Hofer at Harvard Medical School’s Department of Surgery; one month in the field in Antarctica studying organismal biomechanics and responses to ice encapsulation (a field of ecological mechanics); and two and a half years as a postdoctoral researcher in the laboratory of Professor James Collins, at Boston University, Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Ruder left his position as an assistant professor of biological systems engineering at Virginia Tech to teach at Pitt as a Bioengineering Assistant Professor. For the past four years at Virginia Tech, Ruder directed the “Engineered Living Systems Laboratory,” a group focused on merging synthetic biology with biomimetic systems. He has published 20 archival papers in journals such as Science, PNAS, Lab-on-a-Chip and Scientific Reports, and his group’s work has been highlighted in Popular Science, Popular Mechanics and Wired (UK). The student honor society in his department at Virginia Tech selected Ruder as his department’s “Faculty Member of the Year” in 2014. While at Pitt, Ruder will be applying his work to medical technologies and cures for disease. ###
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer

Pitt Bioengineer, McGowan Institute Director William Wagner Named National Academy of Inventors Fellow

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH—With 17 patents and more than 40 invention disclosures to his name, University of Pittsburgh professor William Wagner has been named a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI). Wagner, who is director of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, has also been involved in six licenses or options of Pitt technology, including three with the startup company Neograft Technologies, which is developing new treatment options for coronary artery bypass surgery and recently initiated clinical trials in Europe. Neograft was cofounded by Wagner; collaborator David Vorp, associate dean for research at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering; and two former Pitt bioengineering students. In his most recent patent, Wagner and his colleagues developed a temperature-sensitive polymer hydrogel that could be useful as a drug-delivery vehicle or as scaffolding for tissue engineering. The material, which is designed to stretch with the body to mimic soft tissue, could be used to repair heart muscle, or with injectable stem cells for regenerative therapies, or as a bulking agent for cosmetic applications. Wagner and colleagues have also invented a series of new biodegradable, elastic polymers that can be used to slow the dilatation of the heart following a heart attack as well as in other applications, such as creating heart valves. Wagner is the third Pitt faculty member to be named an NAI Fellow, joining Mir Imran, adjunct professor of bioengineering in the Swanson School of Engineering, who was elected in 2015, and Rory Cooper, director of Pitt’s Human Engineering Research Laboratories, who was elected in 2014. In addition to serving as director of the McGowan Institute, Wagner is a professor of surgery, bioengineering, and chemical engineering at Pitt. He also serves as chairman of the Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine International Society-Americas, deputy director of the NSF Engineering Research Center for Revolutionizing Metallic Biomaterials, and chief scientific officer of the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine. Wagner is the founding editor and editor-in-chief of one of the leading biomaterials and biomedical engineering journals, Acta Biomaterialia. Election to NAI Fellow status is a high professional distinction accorded to academic inventors who have demonstrated a prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development, and the welfare of society. With the election of the 2016 class there are now 757 NAI Fellows, representing 229 research universities and governmental and nonprofit research institutes. The 2016 Fellows are named inventors on 5,437 issued U.S. patents, bringing the collective patents held by all NAI Fellows to more than 26,000. The 2016 Fellows will be inducted on April 6, 2017, as part of the Sixth Annual Conference of the National Academy of Inventors at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, Mass. The U.S. Commissioner for Patents, Andrew H. Hirshfeld, will provide the keynote address for the induction ceremony. In honor of their outstanding accomplishments, Fellows will be presented with a special trophy, medal, and rosette pin. More information on the NAI Fellows nomination process can be found at www.AcademyofInventors.org/Fellows.asp. ###
Author: John Fedele, University of Pittsburgh News Services

Pitt Engineering Student Teams Crowd Top Spots at 10th Annual Ergonomics Design Competition

Bioengineering, Electrical & Computer, Industrial, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (December 12, 2016) … Four University of Pittsburgh teams made a lasting impression at the 10th Annual Ergonomics Design Competition hosted by Auburn Engineers, Inc. by all finishing in the Top 10 and taking three spots in the top five—becoming the first school to achieve that feat in the 10 years of the competition. The top Pitt team finished in second place overall, for the second time in two years. “This is just our second year of competing, and I am so pleased with our teams’ successes in this national competition,” said Joel Haight, associate professor in Pitt’s Department of Industrial Engineering, director of the School’s Safety Engineering program and faculty advisor to the Ergonomics Design Competition teams.  The Ergonomics Design Competition began with a Preliminary Design project that challenged students to identify workplace stressors and design solutions to alleviate them. The project took place over the course of the fall semester and required students to apply ergonomic principles in a given scenario to tool design, complex workstation design, design of manufacturing cells, product handling devices, evaluation of work system and other considerations.  This year the students evaluated and compared the ergonomics of car washing at a commercial car wash, at home by the owner of the vehicle and with an “Uber” type service in which car washers travel to the customers upon request.  Students also had to complete a Final Design project, which was less complex but had strict 48-hour deadline. The teams analyzed a pizza making operation and the stressors of each position involved in the process of making pizza. Results from the Preliminary Design project and the Final Design project, along with a series of “Lightning Round” questions related to ergonomics, allowed the judges to select the Top Five teams. The finalists gave live presentations via WebEx to a panel of professional ergonomists across the country to determine the winner. (Second Place overall team. Left to right: Dr. Haight, Lauren Judge, Mikayla Ferchaw,Emily Zullo, Jonathan Kenneson and Andrew Becker) After thorough evaluation by the judges, one of the two teams from the University of Michigan slipped into first place, edging out the Pitt team, which consisted of the Department of Industrial Engineering’s (IE) Lauren Judge and Emily Zullo; Bioengineering’s (BioE) Mikayla Ferchaw and Andrew Becker; and Electrical and Computer Engineering’s (ECE) Jonathan Kenneson. As the second place finisher, the team will also serve as the alternate for presenting the results of their work at the Human Factors and Ergonomics Conference in Austin, TX in October 2017. Two of the Pitt teams finished in the Top Five. (Top Five finisher. Left to right: Dr. Haight, Piyusha Sane (BioE), Riddhi Gandhi (BioE), McKenzie Kallquist (IE), Geena Petrone (IE) and Kor'an Sharif (IE)) (Top Five finisher. Left to right: Dr. Haight, Jacqueline Schauble (BioE), Cagla Duzbasan (IE), Max Jablunovsky (IE) and Anthony Sciulli(IE)) The final Pitt team received an honorable mention for an overall Top 10 finish. (Top 10 finisher. Left to right: Kristyna Finikiotis (IE), Rob McCauley (IE), Dr. Haight,Sarah Masterson (IE), Emily Lain (IE) and Chris Jambor (IE)) The competition began with a total of 35 teams and ended with 28 completing all of the required tasks. In addition to the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Michigan, participating universities included Texas A&M University, University of Utah, Auburn University, University of Buffalo and University of Puerto Rico, among others. Auburn Engineers, Inc., sponsor of the competition, is an international ergonomics consulting company based in Auburn, Alabama. ###
Author: Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer

Turning Lead to Gold: Pitt Students Win Gold Medal for Designing a Synthetic Biology System to Detect Lead in Contaminated Water

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (December 12, 2016) … The International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Foundation hosts an annual competition for students to gain experience in the field of synthetic biology. Student teams spend 12 weeks during the summer building genetically engineered systems that aim to have an impact on their communities and the world. Their efforts continue into the fall semester until the Giant Jamboree in Boston, a meeting of more than 3,000 attendees and 299 teams from all over the world where students present their projects and celebrate months of hard work.This year, the 2016 University of Pittsburgh iGEM team captured a gold medal for the first time. The Pitt team’s project – “Hot Metal Switch” – focused on developing a cell-free sensor that uses bacterial cell extract and a DNA genetic circuit to detect high levels of lead in water. Forty-seven teams competed in the environmental category, and the Pitt team was one of six to be nominated for the Best Environmental Project because of their project’s potential application to provide an inexpensive way to test lead toxicity of drinking water in people’s homes.“After three years of participating in the iGEM competition, we are very proud that our students were able to bring home the University’s first gold medal,” said Alex Deiters, professor in Pitt’s Department of Chemistry and a faculty advisor for the team. “The students gained valuable research experience, learned project management skills, impacted our community and cultivated an impressive multidisciplinary skill set in addition to netting the prestige that comes with the award.”This year’s team consisted of five students: Claire Chu, a junior studying chemistry and psychology with a minor in Chinese; Maya Lemmon-Kishi, a junior bioengineering student; Aife Ni Chochlain, a junior majoring in molecular biology and history; Praneeth Peddada, a senior bioengineering student; and Maddie Perdoncin, a junior majoring in biology and minoring in chemistry. Their project was based on a system design that was originally developed at the Collins Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that uses DNA circuits and cell extract to detect specific RNA molecules. The Pitt students adapted the system to sense lead instead of RNAs by incorporating catalytically active DNA molecules, also known as DNAzymes, that are designed to self-cleave upon lead binding. For their sensor output they used the enzyme beta-galactoctosidase, which activates a colorimetric substrate so that contaminated water samples turn bright purple, producing clear and easy to understand results. While testing Hot Metal Switch, the Pitt team was able to detect a lead concentration of about 414 parts per billion (ppb) in water samples.“The Environmental Protection Agency sets the maximum lead contamination level at 15 ppb; however, reports have shown actual lead levels in contaminated water to be much higher,” explains Chu. “We will continue testing Hot Metal Switch at lower levels, but our experiments up to this point show that we could have detected the lead in Flint, Michigan, for example, since the levels there were extremely high, measuring more than 13,000 ppb.”The iGEM judgment criteria require the teams to do more than run successful tests. Students must address ethics, sustainability, social justice, safety, security and intellectual property rights issues surrounding the project. The highest performing teams also include social or community outreach efforts. While working on Hot Metal Switch, Pitt iGEM team members collaborated with Pittsburgh Public Schools and created a video to warn students about the dangers of lead poisoning. They developed a mathematical model to help authorities predict the blood-lead levels of children based on their amount of exposure to lead. The team also attended events such as the Carnegie Science Center’s H2Oh! Exhibit and Pitt’s Camp BioE to introduce more students to synthetic biology and its applications to solving environmental problems.“Taking part in iGEM is a really unique research experience for the students,” said Jason Lohmueller, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Immunology at Pitt and iGEM coordinator. “They are creatively engaged in designing their project and can incorporate things like government policy, web design and entrepreneurship. The competition requires a variety of talents and talented people to succeed. I would encourage all interested Pitt students to apply because it really is an excellent undergraduate opportunity even if you don’t yet know anything about synthetic biology.”Other advisors to the iGEM team included Lisa Antoszewski, assistant professor of biology at Grove City College; Natasa Miskov-Zivanov, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, bioengineering and computational and systems biology at Pitt; Cheryl Telmer, senior molecular biologist at Carnegie Mellon University; Adam Butchy, Pitt graduate student studying cellular systems modeling; and Sanjeev Shroff, Distinguished Professor of and Gerald E. McGinnis Chair in Bioengineering and professor of medicine at Pitt. Funding for the 2016 Pitt iGEM effort was provided by the Office of the Provost, the Swanson School of Engineering and the Departments of Bioengineering, Biological Sciences and Chemistry. ### Image above: (From left to right) Jason Lohmueller, Praneeth Peddada, Maddie Perdoncin, Claire Chu and Maya Lemmon-Kishi at the iGEM Giant Jamboree in Boston.Photo credit: The iGEM Foundation and Justin Knight.
Author: Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer

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Bioengineering By The Numbers


Number of Undergraduate Students enrolled for the 2015-2016 Academic Year


Number of PhD Candidates enrolled for the 2014-2015 Academic Year


Number of Masters Candidates enrolled for the 2015-2016 Academic Year



Number of PhD Degrees Awarded in Spring/Summer/Fall 2014 


Number of MS Degrees Awarded in 2013-2014 Academic Year 


Number of BS Degrees Awarded in 2013-2014 Academic Year 



 Number of Faculty Publications in 2013-2014 Academic Year 


 Number of Graduate Publications in 2013-2014 Academic Year 


Number of Undergraduate Publications in 2012-2013 Academic Year