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 Engineering Undergraduate Student Wins SWE Technical Poster Competition

Bioengineering, Diversity, Student Profiles

PHILADELPHIA (November 29, 2016) … Alexandra Delazio, a senior studying bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, took first place in the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) Undergraduate Collegiate Technical Poster Competition at the SWE WE16 National Conference in Philadelphia. Delazio’s project, “Electronic Alignment Angle Measurement in Lower Limb Prosthetics – Versatile Device Design,” was one of nine projects selected for the final round of judging in the undergraduate poster competition. She focused the presentation on a device she developed under the direction of Dr. Goeran Fiedler, Assistant Professor of Prosthetics & Orthotics at the Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology (RST) at Pitt. The device is capable of digitally measuring bi-planar alignment angles in lower limb prosthetics.“We wanted to give prosthetists some way to measure the angle of the foot,” said Delazio. “There’s currently no quantifiable way to measure adjustments the doctor makes, so there’s a lot of guess work. The wrong angle can cause discomfort or even injury. By accurately measuring the prosthetic leg’s angle, we can make a record of the patient’s history and skip a lot of trial and error.”The prosthetic foot has a standardized mechanism in place of the ankle called the pyramid adaptor, which resembles the shape of an upside down pyramid sitting on a small dome. The tube or limb portion of the prosthesis, known as the pylon, sits on top of the pyramid adaptor. Together, the pyramid adaptor and the pylon determine the angle of the prosthetic foot and have a great impact on overall body alignment. Other researchers have devised modified pyramid adaptors to improve alignment, but Fiedler and Delazio’s design is the first sensor system that works in conjunction with the standard pyramid adaptor of lower limb prostheses. The device is also removable and touchless, so doctors can use it to make measurements efficiently and without interfering with standard clinical practice.Delazio began working with Dr. Fiedler in 2015 as part of the Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL) American Student Placements in Rehabilitation Engineering (ASPIRE) Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. She is scheduled to graduate in April 2017 and wants to work in the medical product engineering industry after graduation.“I like hands-on work, and I want to be directly helping people. This device could really improve quality of life even if it means simply cutting down the time a patient spends in the doctor’s office and increasing the amount of patients doctors can see per day. No one likes spending all their time in a doctor’s office – except maybe me because I like to check out all the equipment,” Delazio joked. ### Image above: Alexandra Delazio holding an initial prototype of the lower limb prosthetic alignment angle measurement device.
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer

How Do You Mend a Broken Heart?


PITTSBURGH—Many lower forms of life on earth exhibit an extraordinary ability to regenerate tissue, limbs, and even organs—a skill that is lost among humans and other mammals. Now, a University of Pittsburgh researcher has used the components of the cellular “scaffolding” of a zebrafish to regenerate heart tissues in mammals, specifically mice, as well as exhibiting promising results in human heart cells in vitro. The findings offer promise to overcoming heart disease, the leading cause of death for men and women. The study, led by Yadong Wang, the William Kepler Whiteford Professor in Bioengineering in the Swanson School of Engineering and the principal investigator of the Biomaterials Foundry at Pitt, found that a single administration of extracellular matrices (ECM) from zebrafish hearts restored the function of the heart and regenerated adult mouse heart tissues after acute myocardial infarction. “The heart beats as if nothing has happened to it,” said Wang. “And our approach is really simple.” The study also found that the zebrafish ECM protected human cardiac myocytes—specialized cells that form heart muscle—from stresses. ECM are the architectural foundations of tissues and organs; not only do they provide a “scaffolding” on which cells can grow and migrate, they assist in the signaling necessary for the organ to develop, grow, or regenerate. In mammals, the heart quickly loses the ability to regenerate after the organism is born, except for a brief period after birth. In lower animals, such as zebrafish, the heart retains that ability throughout their lives: up to 20 percent of a zebrafish’s heart can be damaged or removed, and within days the heart’s capacity has been fully restored. Wang and his team first separated the ECM from the cells so that the recipient heart would not reject the treatment. They did this by freezing the zebrafish cardiac tissue, causing the cell membranes to burst and allowing the researchers to retrieve the ECM, a process called decellularization. Wang noted that he and his colleagues are among the first to decellularize non-mammalian tissues for applications in regenerative medicine. They then injected the ECM into the hearts of mice with damaged heart muscles and watched the hearts repair themselves. “It’s difficult to inject foreign cells into a body because the body will recognize them as foreign and reject them; that’s not the case with ECM,” said Wang. Wang explained that, because ECMs are composed of collagen, elastin, carbohydrates and signaling molecules and have no cell surface markers, DNA or RNA from the donor, the recipient is less likely to reject the treatment. Wang said that restored function starts almost immediately, and healing is noticeable as early as five days after treatment; within a week, his team could see the heart beating more strongly than the hearts of the untreated animals. The researchers tested the effectiveness of ECM from normal zebrafish and from zebrafish with damaged hearts, in which the ECM had already begun the healing process. They found that while both types of ECM were effective in repairing damage to the mice hearts, the ECM obtained from the zebrafish hearts that were healing were even more potent in restoring heart function in the mice. Wang is now working on a process to regenerate nerves in mammals using the same process and hopes to expand the heart treatments to larger animals in a future study. The study “Decellularized zebrafish cardiac extracellular matrix induces mammalian heart regeneration” was published in the Nov. 18 issue of Science Advances. The work was funded in part by the American Heart Association and National Institutes of Health. ###
Author: John Fedele, University of Pittsburgh News Services

Pitt-led international team of engineers and neurosurgeons receives $2.95 million NIH grant to predict at-risk cerebral aneurysms

Bioengineering, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (October 25, 2016) … Although cerebral aneurysms affect a substantial portion of the adult population, the risk of treatment including open brain surgery often outweighs the risks associated with rupture. With increasing numbers of unruptured aneurysms detected using noninvasive imaging techniques, there is an urgent need for a reliable method to distinguish aneurysms vulnerable to impending rupture from those that are presently robust and can be safely monitored. An international research team led by the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering recently received a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to improve risk assessment and treatment of this devastating disease. Principal investigator of the five-year, $2,950,622 grant, “Improving cerebral aneurysm risk assessment through understanding wall vulnerability and failure modes,” is Anne M. Robertson, PhD, the William Kepler Whiteford Professor of Engineering at the Swanson School. The R01 grant is funded through the NIH National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. “The cells in our blood vessels have a remarkable capacity for rebuilding and maintaining the collagen fibers that give the artery walls their strength. Unfortunately, this natural process can be derailed by the abnormal fluid flow in brain aneurysms, leading to vulnerable walls and rupture,” explained Dr. Robertson. “Understanding the factors that discriminate between robust aneurysm walls with well-organized collagen fibers, and fragile aneurysm walls with diverse changes to the collagen architecture, is essential for improving risk assessment and developing new treatments to prevent rupture.” To support their work, Dr. Robertson and a multi-disciplinary team of world leaders in aneurysm research from Pitt, Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, George Mason University in Virginia, University of Illinois at Chicago, and Helsinki University Central Hospital and Kuopio University Hospital in Finland, will analyze brain tissue donated from patients with cerebral aneurysms. Using state of the art facilities for biomechanical analysis and bioimaging, the investigators will specifically look at how and why some patients are naturally able to maintain a healthy aneurysm wall while the walls in other patients weaken, leaving the vulnerable to rupture. They will use computational mechanics to explore the possible multiple mechanisms by which hemodynamics alters the wall and study the mechanisms of structural failure. “The diverse expertise in our team and our access to an unprecedented number of aneurysm tissue samples enables us to study this disease in an entirely new way,” Dr. Robertson said. “We are also able to leverage computational and experimental tools developed during our prior NIH supported program.” Co-investigators on the international team include: University of Pittsburgh: Spandan Maiti, PhD, Assistant Professor of Bioengineering; and Simon C. Watkins, PhD, Distinguished Professor of Cell Biology and Director of Pitt’s Center for Biological Imaging Allegheny General Hospital: Khaled Aziz, MD, PhD, Department of Neurosurgery George Mason University: Juan Cebral, PhD, Professor of Bioengineering, Volgenau School of Engineering University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago: Fady Charbel, MD, Professor of Neurosurgery and Chief of Neurovascular Section; and Sepi Amin-Hanjani, MD, Professor of Neurosurgery Kuopio University Hospital (Finland): Juhana Frösen, MD, PhD, Department of Neurosurgery Helsinki University Central Hospital (Finland): Riikka Tulamo, MD, PhD, Department of Vascular Surgery “Because of the critical importance and delicate nature of the brain, surgical treatment of cerebral aneurysms is avoided unless absolutely necessary. That’s why doctors and surgeons need a more effective way to determine whether a patient with a cerebral aneurysm is at risk for rupture,” Dr. Robertson said. “We expect that by understanding the differences in the vulnerable and robust aneurysm wall, we will be able to improve risk assessment, identify biomarkers of wall fragility, and provide essential knowledge for developing pharmacological treatments to harness and augment the natural repair process of the aneurysm wall.” ### Image, top: 3D rendering of human aneurysm and surrounding brain vessels shown on left with red and blue markings by neurosurgeon that are used to map the human aneurysm tissue back to the 3D model (right). Image, middle: Cast of human brain vessels showing cerebral aneurysm in center,  taken by Charles Kerber, MD.


Pitt engineering and health sciences researchers receive NIH grant to develop better methodology to treat rotator cuff tears


PITTSBURGH (September 28, 2016) … Rotator cuff tears are one of the most common injuries seen by orthopedic surgeons, resulting in 30 percent of all visits to orthopaedic surgeons and over 150,000 surgical procedures per year in the United States. The preferred initial treatment is six to twelve weeks of physical therapy (PT), but 25-50 percent of those cases still require surgery. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering recently received a $2.79 million award from the National Institute of Health to develop diagnostic methods to allow surgeons to determine whether PT or surgery is the most effective initial treatment. Principal investigator of the five-year study, “Predicting the Outcome of Exercise Therapy for Treatment of Rotator Cuff Tears,” is Richard E. Debski, associate professor of bioengineering and co-director of the Orthopaedic Robotics Laboratory at Pitt. Co-Principal investigators are James J. Irrgang, professor and chair of the Department of Physical Therapy in Pitt’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and vice chair of clinical outcomes research in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery; and Scott Tashman, professor of orthopaedic surgery at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. “Rotator cuff injuries are one of the most common injuries for people aged 40-70, and can be caused by an injury but often occur simply from wear and tear as we age,” Dr. Debski explained. “Over the age of 50, chances increase that 40-50 percent of people have a tear and many don’t know it. Although physical therapy is the first preferred treatment, most patients still require surgery, which prolongs recovery time and increases costs. Our goal is to utilize new methods to perform a biomechanical analysis to determine whether a patient is more suited for PT or surgery, and thereby improve overall recovery.” Over the first two years, Dr. Debski and his group plan to enroll 100 patients with isolated full thickness tears of the supraspinatus tendon – the most basic tear. The biomechanics analysis will measure shoulder motion and tear size before and after physical therapy. He noted the technology that they will use, a bi-planar x-ray system that Dr. Tashman developed, is unique in such a study. The x-ray images provide quantitative measurements of shoulder motion during activities of daily living and are representative of rotator cuff function. The group will also track the tear size longitudinally out to one year, a first for such a study. Their long-term goal is to perform a clinical trial to determine whether the predictions make a difference in treatment outcomes. “Determining the characteristics of treatment versus surgery will be critical, but for the first time we’ll be gathering comprehensive, quantitative data to make these predictions,” he said. “The genesis of this study began in 2011 with Dr. Volker Musahl, medical director of the UPMC Rooney Center for Sports Medicine and orthopaedic surgeon for Pitt’s football team. Our rotator cuff research has now grown to include bioengineering, radiology, physical therapy and orthopaedic surgery, which is a tremendous interdisciplinary effort to attack this problem.” ### Animation above: X-rays images of the shoulder from the dynamic stereoradiography system (DSX) while a subject elevates their affected arm in the coronal plane. Left image: pre-exercise therapy; Right image: post-exercise therapy. (Credit: Images were obtained in the Biodynamics Laboratory; Department of Orthopaedic Surgery; University of Pittsburgh.)


ChemE's Morgan Fedorchak visits the Carnegie Science Center to explore how new drugs help patients see clearly

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (August 30, 2016) ... Eye drops are critical to preventing and treating ocular ailments, but they can be uncomfortable and sometimes difficult to use. Join University of Pittsburgh Assistant Professor Dr. Morgan Fedorchak at Carnegie Science Center’s next Café Scientifique, Monday, Sept. 12 from 7 – 9 pm as she discusses new technologies that could see patients more comfortable, and compliant, with their medication routines. Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide, expected to affect up to three million Americans by 2020. One of the main risk factors in glaucoma is an unsafe increase in intraocular pressure or IOP. During her talk, “Old Drugs, New Tricks: Putting an End to Traditional Eye Drops,” Fedorchak will explain how IOP reduction in patients with glaucoma can be accomplished through the use of medicated eye drops. However, difficulties in using and administering eye drops mean patient medication compliance rates can be as low as 30 percent. Fedorchak will discuss some of the latest developments in ocular medicine that could overcome the issues surrounding traditional eye drop medication. Fedorchak is an Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology, Chemical Engineering, and Clinical and Translational Science at the University of Pittsburgh and is the director of the Ophthalmic Biomaterials Laboratory. She attended Carnegie Mellon University where she obtained her B.S. in both Chemical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering in 2006. She earned her PhD in bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh. Her research is currently supported by the National Eye Institute, the Cystinosis Research Foundation, the University of Pittsburgh Center for Medical Innovation, and the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation. After the talk, audience members will be invited to ask questions and become part of the discussion. Admission to Café Sci is free. Food and drinks are available for purchase. Doors open at 6 pm. The evening includes time for informal discussion, eating, and drinking. For more information and to RSVP, visit CarnegieScienceCenter.org, call 412-237-3400, or visit here to register. About Carnegie Science Center Carnegie Science Center is dedicated to inspiring learning and curiosity by connecting science and technology with everyday life. By making science both relevant and fun, the Science Center’s goal is to increase science literacy in the region and motivate young people to seek careers in science and technology. One of the four Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, the Science Center is Pittsburgh’s premier science exploration destination, reaching more than 700,000 people annually through its hands-on exhibits, camps, classes, and off-site education programs. About Carnegie Museums of PittsburghEstablished in 1895 by Andrew Carnegie, Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh is a collection of four distinctive museums: Carnegie Museum of Art, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Carnegie Science Center, and The Andy Warhol Museum. In 2015, the museums reached more than 1.4 million people through exhibitions, educational programs, outreach activities, and special events. ###
Author: Susan Zimecki, Carnegie Science Center (ZimeckiS@CarnegieScienceCenter.org). Posted with Permission.

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