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.


An Engineer’s Guide to the Embryo


PITTSBURGH (October 11, 2017) … In roughly 48 hours, the single cell of the fertilized frog egg will undergo dramatic change to develop vital body parts like muscles, a skeleton, eyes, a heart, and a tadpole tail. Scientists have been studying this process to better understand human development, birth defects, and cancer and to advance technologies like organoid generation and cell replacement therapy. Scientists can disrupt embryo development, pause it, and accelerate it; however, they can’t exactly explain how development works. Supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), bioengineers at the University of Pittsburgh are taking a crack at understanding what is going on inside the egg.The NIH Department of Health and Human Services awarded Lance Davidson, professor of bioengineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, $1,327,207 for his study “Biomechanics of Morphogenesis.” Dr. Davidson, who directs the MechMorpho Lab at the University of Pittsburgh, aims to take a structural engineer’s approach to the biomechanics of developing embryos. The Pitt researchers are reverse-engineering the mechanical processes that shape the basic body plan and organ development in embryos using tests, techniques, and tools more likely to be found in a mechanical engineering lab than a molecular genetics lab.“If you saw a bridge for the first time, how would you figure out it worked?” Dr. Davidson asks. “A geneticist might blast it into pieces and analyze how each piece works, but an engineer would look at the ensemble, taking measurements of force and movement. They would put more weight on it and see when it breaks. We are applying these structural analysis principals to understanding embryos.”In the surrounding labs, researchers work with mice, fruit flies, zebrafish, and rats. In Dr. Davidson’s lab, there is Xenopus—a frog native to sub-Saharan Africa. Frogs are ideally suited for Dr. Davidson’s research because their embryos and tissues are incredibly tolerant of lab conditions and resilient to an engineer’s 'touch.' Even after removing them from their protective shells, inducing genetic defects, or injecting fluorescent protein tracers, these frogs won’t croak.“We use frogs because you can extract tissues very easily, and they will continue to grow correctly,” Dr. Davidson says. “A frog’s eye or brain can be isolated and will continue to grow in a petri dish. That won’t happen with a mouse or fish. When the outer layer of a non-amphibian embryo is cut, the embryo won’t maintain its structure. Frog embryos are more like Play-doh, you can cut and paste tissues and reshape them, although Play-doh is still much stiffer than these embryos.”The frog eggs start out about the size of a pencil tip. In a field of study that’s used to accommodating steel beams or reinforced concrete measurements, Dr. Davidson’s group has to get creative with the tools they use. “To perform microsurgery on the frog embryos, we use a scalpel made of human eyebrow hair and a hair loop made from baby hair,” says Dr. Davidson. “The embryos are tiny, wet, and soft; however, they still obey the same shape principles of steel or wood.”“A civil or mechanical engineer might regularly perform tests applying ten million pascals of stress,” he continues. Ten million pascals is about the amount of water pressure coming out of a pressure washer, and one pascal is about how much pressure a single piece of paper exerts on a tabletop. “We have to design special tools that can both apply and measure stress between five to 20 pascals. You can’t just order something like from Amazon, so we improvise in our lab to design and fabricate custom equipment for our needs.” Cells from the prospective brain of the frog are large and active and easily viewed with advanced microscopy. Credit: MechMorpho Lab/Lance Davidson By studying the mechanics of morphogenesis—the process of an embryo changing shape—Dr. Davidson hopes to develop a tool that will provide bioengineers with a much greater understanding of and control over tissue self-assembly.  “Many engineering fields have some kind of software or simulation tool that can take the guess work out their designs before they actually start building. We are developing something similar for tissue engineers so they don’t have to rely on trial and error all the time,” explains Dr. Davidson. Creep tests, strain maps, and micro-aspiration are all engineering techniques employed by Dr. Davidson’s team to understand the underlying mechanics of morphogenesis. These frogs might not be turning into princes any time soon, but from a tiny ball of cells, the embryo can shape itself into a structurally complex tadpole with working organs.“In the course of one study, quite by accident, we observed two sets of eggs, one set starting about twice the size of the other. We watched the embryos develop side-by-side. Because of the initial size difference, we expected to see lots of structural deformities or at least for the tadpoles to come out twice as big. To our surprise many of the 'big egg' embryos survived and their tadpoles grew to the same size as the 'little egg' tadpoles, somehow managing to self-correct while they developed,” Dr. Davidson says.At a time when tissue engineering is becoming increasingly useful in regenerative medicine therapies, Dr. Davidson estimates there are only about five or six other groups in the world making material property measurements in the living tissue of vertebrates like frogs. Building on his research and combining it with results from a 2016 NIH-funded study “Mechanical Control of Mesenchymal-to-Epithelial Transition,” he will continue to flesh out the mechanics of growing tissue. ### Image above: Xenopus tadpoles are excellent test subjects because their transparent bodies allow for unobstructed views into their internal anatomy. Credit: MechMorpho Lab/Lance Davidson
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer

Bioengineering's BodyExplorer research to be featured at first annual ACC Smithsonian Creativity and Innovation Festival


University of Pittsburgh Release Virginia Tech and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History present the first annual ACCelerate: ACC Smithsonian Creativity and Innovation Festival on October 13-15, 2017. The festival, programmed by Virginia Tech’s Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology and the Museum’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, is a three-day celebration of creative exploration and research at the nexus of science, engineering, arts, and design (SEAD). Visitors to the festival will interact with innovators and experience new interdisciplinary technologies developed to address global challenges. The event is free and open to the public. The ACCelerate festival will be an opportunity for all ACC schools in partnership with the Lemelson Center to showcase their work to the public, each other, students, alumni, companies, legislators, and invited guests from the nation’s capital. Learn more about the University of Pittsburgh projects that will be on display: BODYEXPLORER: A NEXT-GENERATION SIMULATOR FOR HEALTHCARE TRAINING, PROVIDING HANDS-ON LEARNING AND PRACTICE VIA AUGMENTED REALITY VISUALIZATION BodyExplorer is a next-generation medical simulator designed to enhance the ability of healthcare trainees to learn anatomy and physiology and practice treating patients though naturalistic interaction with an augmented reality-enhanced, full-body simulated patient. Simulation has been recognized as the most prominent innovation in healthcare education in the past two decades, but current systems require substantial resources, including technicians to run the simulator and instructors to lead scenarios, assess student performance, and provide guided feedback. Learning how to operate current simulators requires advanced training, so students typically cannot use them on their own for self-learning. BodyExplorer was designed to enable 24/7 on-demand training and self-learning for students by providing an intuitive interface, autonomous operation, and automated instruction using a highly sensorized physical body, projected augmented reality (AR), and an integrated virtual instructor. AR enables x-ray vision views inside the body, so trainees can see the internal effects of administering simulated medications or performing procedures, such as inserting a breathing tube. BodyExplorer is designed to expand access to the benefits of simulation-based learning for medical and nursing students, first responders, combat medics, and other healthcare practitioners, enabling them to practice skills and receive quantitative feedback on their performance before treating actual patients. Researchers: Joseph Samosky, Douglas Nelson, and John O'Donnell MOBILITY ENHANCEMENT ROBOTIC WHEELCHAIR The Mobility Enhancement Robotic Wheelchair (MEBot) will tackle both curbs and challenging terrains. The large center driving wheels can reposition themselves to simulate front-, mid-, or rear-wheel driving. The four smaller caster wheels are controlled with compressed air and move up and down freely and independently. For climbing curbs, the front caster wheels lift up onto the curb, then the driving wheels lift themselves up and forward onto the curb, which lifts the chair onto the curb. This is done automatically whenever MEBot senses a curb or step. The ultimate goal is for MEBot to climb a set of stairs. The same general function is used to operate on icy or slippery surfaces. A traditional power wheelchair can get stuck on this kind of terrain. MEBot, however, uses its front and rear caster wheels to inch forward on the slick surface by extending its front casters, moving the seat forward, bringing the rear casters forward, and then repeating the process. Meanwhile, the seat stabilization system keeps the driver safely upright. Researchers: Rory A. Cooper, Brandon Daveler, Ben Gebrosky, Garrett Grindle, Andrea Sundaram, Hongwu Wang, and Jorge Candiotti OUR TIME IS UP: AN IMMERSIVE AUDIO DRAMA This multichannel sound installation tells the story of Jake and Helen McCleary, an elderly couple struggling to save their troubled marriage. The story unfolds across a series of weekly therapy sessions in which Jake and Helen sort through the messy details of their relationship. Unlike a conventional audio drama, the characters’ voices are constructed from fragments of oral history recordings of two people who have died—and who never met. Using a manual process of concatenated speech synthesis, the archival voices have been digitally disarticulated and recombined to create a new, fictional story and an uncanny encounter between living and dead, human and machine. This project brings together an interdisciplinary team of writers, designers, historians, and engineers and invites the audience to enter a mock therapist’s office and inhabit the experience of the absent characters, with each character’s voice emitted from a directional speaker. A screencast of the multi-track audio session reveals the secret behind the drama’s construction, and individual headsets provide access to the original oral histories. This immersive experience offers a reflection on the precarious temporality of human lives and relationships and the paradoxical potential for reinvention that sound recording affords. Researchers: Erin Anderson and Brandon Barber ###


Human Movement & Balance Lab Post-Doctoral Associate

All SSoE News, Bioengineering, Open Positions

The Human Movement & Balance Lab within the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh is seeking a post-doctoral associate. The position is funded through an active grant from the NIH to develop technology for reducing slips and falls by assessing slip potential of the shoe/floor interface and conducting relevant locomotion biomechanical validation experiments. The successful applicant will have the opportunity to develop a new robotic device for measuring shoe-floor traction in collaboration with a growing startup company. Other opportunities to participate in human movement laboratory research and write research proposals may also be available. A background in mechanical design or robotics is essential. Applicants with a background in occupational safety, biomechanics, tribology, and open-source design process is desirable although not necessary. Applicants should hold a PhD in mechanical engineering, bioengineering, biomedical engineering or another similar department. The appointment is intended to be 2 years and may be renewable depending on availability of funds. Review of applications will begin immediately and we intend to complete the hire as soon as possible.The mission for the Human Movement and Balance Lab (HMBL) is fall and musculoskeletal injury prevention in healthy and clinical young/elderly adult populations. The HMBL is a multiple PI lab with four full time research faculty members, two staff members and over 20 students (http://www.engineering.pitt.edu/hmbl/). The HMBL includes more than 5,000 square feet of brand new laboratory space with motion capture; ergonomics and human factors; tribology; and machine shop facilities. The lab is located in the heart of the University of Pittsburgh’s main campus. More can be learned about the city of Pittsburgh at http://pittsburghpa.gov/.To apply, please send a cover letter and curriculum vitae (CV) as a single pdf document to Kurt Beschorner (beschorn@pitt.edu).The Department of Bioengineering is strongly committed to a diverse academic environment and places high priority on attracting female and underrepresented minority candidates.  We strongly encourage candidates from these groups to apply for the position.The University affirms and actively promotes the rights of all individuals to equal opportunity in education and employment without regard to race, color, sex, national origin, age, religion, marital status, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or any other protected class.


Postdoctoral Associate in Vascular Tissue Engineering

All SSoE News, Bioengineering, Open Positions

Postdoctoral Associate in Vascular Tissue EngineeringSoft Tissue Biomechanics Laboratory McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine Vascular Medicine Institute University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA Available Positions: The Soft Tissue Biomechanics Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh currently has openings for a Postdoctoral Associate in Vascular Tissue Engineering. Applicant Screening will begin immediately and will continue until the positions are filled. Openings are immediate and could start as early as November 1, 2017. Qualifications: Candidates for both positions should have excellent organizational skills, an outstanding work ethic, and a strong publication record for their career stage. Highly competitive applicants will have experience in one or more of the following: cell/tissue culture, bioreactor utilization, synthetic chemistry, biofabrication methods, nonlinear optical microscopy, or molecular biology techniques (e.g., flow cytometry, RT-PCR). The University of Pittsburgh is an equal opportunity employer committed to excellence through diversity. Research Description: This NIH-funded project will utilize state-of-the-art tools in tissue engineering to develop a novel biopolymer compliance matched small diameter vascular graft and assess its in-vitro and in-vivo functional performance. Applicants selected for these positions will collaborate with internal collaborators in the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery, the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the Vascular Medicine Institute, as well as with external collaborators from several participating institutions. How to Apply: Interested candidates should submit the following as a single PDF file via email to Prof. Jonathan Vande Geest using ‘STBL Postdoctoral Fellowship 2017 Application’ in the subject line: A 1-2 page cover letter that includes: a concise summary of the applicant’s prior research experience a brief description of the applicant’s future research interests and long term goals CV including degree(s) with GPA, and a list of three personal references up to 3 representative publications Contact: Jonathan P. Vande Geest Professor, Department of Bioengineering McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine Vascular Medicine Institute 409 Center for Biotechnology 300 Technology Drive University of Pittsburgh Pittsburgh, PA 15219 Phone: 412-624-6496 Email: jpv20@pitt.edu The Department of Bioengineering is strongly committed to a diverse academic environment and places high priority on attracting female and underrepresented minority candidates.  We strongly encourage candidates from these groups to apply for the position. The University of Pittsburgh is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate on the basis of age, color, disability, gender, gender identity, marital status, national or ethnic origin, race, religion, sexual orientation, or veteran status.


Technology developed by Bioengineering's Dr. William Federspiel set for pivotal clinical trials

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (September 27, 2017) - ALung Technologies, Inc., today announced U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of its Investigational Device Exemption (IDE) to conduct a pivotal clinical trial of the Hemolung® Respiratory Assist System for the treatment of adults with severe acute exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The FDA’s approval of the IDE makes ALung’s VENT-AVOID Trial the first pivotal trial of extracorporeal carbon dioxide removal (ECCO2R) for treating patients with COPD exacerbations. “The achievement of FDA approval for initiation of the VENT-AVOID Trial is an important milestone towards making the Hemolung RAS and ECCO2R therapy available to US patients and their physicians,” said Peter DeComo, Chairman and CEO of ALung. “We believe that there is great potential for the Hemolung technology to facilitate ventilator avoidance, resulting in improved clinical outcomes and a lower cost of care through a reduction in length of stay in the intensive care unit.” The VENT-AVOID Trial is a prospective, multi-center, randomized, controlled, pivotal trial to validate the safety and efficacy of the Hemolung Respiratory Assist System for COPD patients experiencing an acute exacerbation requiring ventilatory support. Forty hospitals will enroll up to 800 patients in the trial. The study protocol is built around a state of the art adaptive statistical plan which will allow for PMA submission when early success criteria are reached, potentially with as few as 300 patients enrolled. COPD patients suffering severe exacerbations will be eligible for the study if they are either 1) failing non-invasive ventilation and presenting a high risk of being intubated and mechanically ventilated or 2) have required intubation and invasive mechanical ventilation due to acute respiratory failure. Serving as the study principal investigator is Dr. Nicholas Hill, MD, Chief, Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine at Tufts Medical Center. Dr. Hill is an international leader in pulmonary critical care medicine, having led studies which established non-invasive ventilation as the standard of care for COPD exacerbations. In addition to the US-based VENT-AVOID study, The Hemolung RAS is also being studied in a landmark pivotal study for patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) as part of the 1,120-patient REST Trial in the United Kingdom. “Our commitment to clinical science runs very deep,” added Mr. DeComo. “We will soon be the only company participating in not just one, but two major pivotal trials validating the safety and efficacy of extracorporeal carbon dioxide removal therapy provided by the Hemolung RAS.” ALung worked collaboratively with the FDA under its Expedited Access Pathway (EAP) program to obtain IDE approval. The Expedited Access Pathway is a new FDA program aimed to facilitate more rapid patient access to breakthrough technologies intended to treat or diagnose life-threatening or irreversibly debilitating diseases or conditions. ALung will continue to collaborate with the FDA during study enrollment and through the PMA process. COPD affects 30 million Americans1 and is the third leading cause of death in the United States behind cancer and heart disease.2 Acute exacerbations, defined as a sudden worsening of COPD symptoms, are a major cause of morbidity and mortality in COPD patients. For patients with severe exacerbations, high levels of carbon dioxide can result in respiratory failure and the need for intubation and mechanical ventilation as life saving measures. Unfortunately, mechanical ventilation is associated with many side effects, and in-hospital mortality remains as high as 30%. ECCO2R therapy with the Hemolung RAS allows carbon dioxide to be removed from the blood independently of the lungs with the aim of facilitating the avoidance or reduction of intubation and invasive mechanical ventilation. ALung was founded in 1997 by Dr. William Federspiel, Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, and the late Dr. Brack Hattler, a renowned cardiothoracic surgeon. Dr. Federspiel and his team at the University’s Medical Devices Laboratory, part of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, developed the original Hemolung technology which was subsequently licensed by ALung for commercial development. The Hemolung RAS has been approved outside of the United States since 2013 and is commercially available in major European markets. ### About ALung Technologies ALung Technologies, Inc. is a privately-held Pittsburgh-based developer and manufacturer of innovative lung assist devices. Founded in 1997 as a spin-out of the University of Pittsburgh, ALung has developed the Hemolung RAS as a dialysis-like alternative or supplement to mechanical ventilation. ALung is backed by Philips, UPMC Enterprises, Abiomed, The Accelerator Fund, Allos Ventures, Birchmere Ventures, Blue Tree Ventures, Eagle Ventures, Riverfront Ventures, West Capital Advisors, and other individual investors. For more information about ALung and the Hemolung RAS, visit www.alung.com. For more information about the VENT-AVOID Trial, visit https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT03255057. The Hemolung RAS is an Investigational Device and limited by United States law to investigational use. This press release may contain forward-looking statements, which, if not based on historical facts, involve current assumptions and forecasts as well as risks and uncertainties. Our actual results may differ materially from the results or events stated in the forward-looking statements, including, but not limited to, certain events not within the Company’s control. Events that could cause results to differ include failure to meet ongoing developmental and manufacturing timelines, changing GMP requirements, the need for additional capital requirements, risks associated with regulatory approval processes, adverse changes to reimbursement for the Company’s products/services, and delays with respect to market acceptance of new products/services and technologies. Other risks may be detailed from time to time, but the Company does not attempt to revise or update its forward-looking statements even if future experience or changes make it evident that any projected events or results expressed or implied therein will not be realized.
Scott Morley, Sr. Vice President of Market Development, ALung Technologies, Inc.

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