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 187 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.

Jul
9
2020

Pitt’s Center for Medical Innovation awards three novel biomedical projects with $60,000 in Round 1 2020 Pilot Funding

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (July 1, 2020) … The University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Medical Innovation (CMI) awarded grants totaling $60,000 to three research groups through its 2020 Round-1 Pilot Funding Program for Early Stage Medical Technology Research and Development. The latest funding proposals include a virus-resistant wear-resistant textile, a system for removal of cell-free plasma hemoglobin in extracorporeal therapies, and a biocontainment unit for reducing viral transmission to healthcare workers and patients 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. Proposals are evaluated on the basis of 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 eighth 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: “Wash-Stable and Mechanically Durable Anti-Virofouling Medical Textiles”For the development of a nanoparticle-based reusable textile for use in healthcare settings. Paul W. Leu, PhD;  Associate Professor of Industrial Engineering, Swanson School of EngineeringRobert Shanks , PhD  Associate Professor of Ophthalmology, UPMC                                                 Eric Romanowski, MS,  Research Director, Charles T. Campbell Laboratory of Ophthalmic Microbiolog AWARD 2: “Targeted removal of cell-free plasma hemoglobin in extracorporeal therapies” For an extracorporeal hemoperfusion device that removes plasma hemoglobin from a blood column using treated porous beads. Nahmah Kim-Campbell, MD, MS, Assistant Professor of Critical Care Medicine and PediatricsWilliam Federspiel, PhD; Professor of Bioengineering, Swanson School of EngineeringRyan Orizondo, PhD  Researcher in Bioenengineering, Swanson School of Engineerin AWARD 3: “Individual Biocontainment Unit for Reducing Viral Transmission to healthcare Workers and Patients”For the expedited development, approval and manufacture of a novel device for use with ICU patients to reduce contamination by aerosolized particles. David M. Turer, MD, MS Department of Plastic Surgery, UPMCHeng Ban, PhD; Professor Mechanical Engineering and Material Science, Swanson School of EngineeringJ.Peter Rubin, MD;  Chairman, Dept of Plastic Surgery, UPMC # # # About the University of Pittsburgh Center for Medical Innovation The Center for Medical Innovation is a collaboration among the Swanson School of Engineering, the Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the Innovation Institute, and the Coulter Translational Research Partnership II (CTRP). CMI was established in 2012 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 70 early-stage projects have been supported by CMI with a total investment of over $1.4 million since inception.

Jul
8
2020

Two Swanson School Projects Secure 2020 Pitt Seed Funding

All SSoE News, Bioengineering

Click here to read Pittwire’s original story about all eleven awards. PITTSBURGH (July 8, 2020) … The University of Pittsburgh created the Pitt Seed Grant to support faculty and staff proposals that advance the six goals in the Plan for Pitt. Eleven projects, including two from the Swanson School of Engineering, received funding in the 2020 award cycle. “Our call for proposals received a great response—and I congratulate this year’s grantees. Many of the projects funded this year reflect our continued commitment to social justice and active outreach to communities in need,” said Ann E. Cudd, provost and senior vice chancellor. “We have committed support to projects that reflect our deep interest in further exploring ways to evaluate teaching effectiveness, as well as to probe innovations in both the advising and remote learning spaces. All of this is important work—and I am very excited to support these extremely interesting initiatives.” The Swanson School’s Department of Bioengineering received two awards for projects that enhance research collaborations and extend student experiences beyond the classroom. “I want to congratulate Brandon and Joe on receiving the Pitt Seed Funding. Engineering at its core involves designing solutions to real-world problems,” said Sanjeev Shroff, distinguished professor and Gerald E. McGinnis Chair of Bioengineering. “One of the critical aspects of learning is the ability to apply scientific and technical knowledge to creative design, and both of these projects will provide our students hands-on experiences and the opportunity to apply their knowledge outside of the classroom setting.” The winning bioengineering proposal summaries are: XProjects Applied Research XPlorationBrandon Barber, BioE design, innovation and outreach coordinator The purpose of the XProjects Applied Research XPloration (XARX) is to further develop the Pitt XProject program’s internal research collaborations and explore new applications of ongoing research, while simultaneously providing students with co-curricular design/engineering experiences that go beyond the classroom. The diverse multidisciplinary teams employ a rigorous process and a proven suite of tools to navigate fast-paced project work, all while gaining practice with project management, prototyping and negotiating stakeholder-client relationships. This innovative approach to design education also creates an environment where students can gain the experience they need to more confidently approach and define complex problems. Classroom to Community: Designing and Inventing for Real-World ImpactJoseph Samosky, assistant professor Classroom to Community is for students who want to creatively design and invent solutions for real-world problems and needs. Space, resources and mentorship will be provided for students to learn powerful human-centered design tools and methods, build bridges with community partners and create diverse teams from different backgrounds, majors and schools. Together we will co-create an engaging, multidisciplinary experience for students to explore, envision, share and learn from faculty partners and each other as they translate their ideas into something new in the world that benefits others. The project’s ultimate goals are to foster a culture of innovation, agency and service; empower students to discover their creative potential; and become agents of positive change. # # #

Jun
29
2020

Reversing Drug Resistance in Breast Cancer

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (June 29, 2020) … Roughly one in eight women in the United States will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of  her lifetime, and HER2-positive (HER2+) breast cancers represent about 25 percent of all breast cancer cases. Though multiple therapies exist, most patients will develop metastatic disease and resistance to current treatments. A collaborative research group from the University of Pittsburgh and Harvard Medical School studied the mechanisms behind tumor cell resistance to therapies targeting metastatic HER2+ breast cancer and recently published their work in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2000648117). The group examined the tumor microenvironment -- a collection of cells, molecules, and blood vessels that surround and influence tumor cells -- to get the full picture of what drives this resistance. They found that fibroblasts, a cell type important to tissue regeneration, play a large role. “Our study shows that fibroblasts promote drug resistance through a parallel signaling pathway in a subset of HER2+ breast cancer cells,” said Ioannis Zervantonakis, assistant professor of bioengineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. Cancer cells grow uncontrollably, which is partially driven by continuous activation of proteins called kinases. HER2+ breast tumors have high levels of the HER2 receptor kinase that is important for their growth and is a major drug target. Anti-cancer drugs -- like lapatinib -- work to interfere with kinases, but because of this parallel signaling, fibroblasts are able to protect tumor cells and counteract the drug’s inhibitory effects. Compare this cell-to-cell signaling process to communication through a radio. The radio antenna is analogous to a receptor in the cell that is activated when an electrical signal is received. Radios can have multiple antennas to respond to different electrical signals. “By analogy, cancer cells have multiple receptors (antennas) that can be activated by signals in their environment,” explained Zervantonakis. “In the radio example, transmission of an electrical signal produces a sound. While in cancer cells, fibroblast-derived signals stimulate cancer growth.” You can produce a series of sounds, and even amplify the volume, by receiving more than one signal at a time through activation of parallel pathways. “In this scenario, the HER2+ kinase is one signal that is continuously activating sound, and then there is another pathway through which signals emitted by fibroblasts activate sound,” he continued. “Lapatinib only blocks the HER2+ kinase signal, but through another pathway, the fibroblasts are able to transmit signals to keep the cancer cells alive or allow them to grow.” The findings in this paper are important for restoring sensitivity to breast cancer therapies and developing treatments that are more effective. “Sensitivity to these drugs can be re-established through a combination of therapies that inhibit critical proteins in the pathway activated by fibroblasts,” said Zervantonakis. “Particularly, combination therapies with the FDA-approved drug everolimus and investigational agents targeting anti-apoptotic proteins were effective in restoring drug sensitivity in fibroblast-protected cancer cells.” The next step for Zervantonakis and his lab is to create predictive mathematical models to identify the fibroblast density range in tumors that will elicit drug resistance. From there, they can develop personalized therapies to improve outcomes in HER2+ breast cancer. This research was supported by a K99/R00 grant (R00CA222554) from the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health # # #

Jun
25
2020

Making a Sustainable Impact Throughout Pitt and Our Communities

All SSoE News, Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Civil & Environmental, Electrical & Computer, Industrial, MEMS, Student Profiles, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs

"MCSI remains committed to addressing global sustainability issues, connecting our domestic and international pursuits to create synergies locally, nationally, and internationally. We hope you enjoy this summary of the past year’s impacts, and we'd be happy to answer any questions you might have about the report's contents and MCSI's programs."

Jun
16
2020

A Micro Look at Metastatic Environments in Ovarian Cancer

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (June 16, 2020) … According to the American Cancer Society, a woman's risk of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer during her lifetime is about one in 78. The majority of ovarian cancer patients are diagnosed with metastatic disease that spreads to other parts of the body and have a low five-year survival rate. Ioannis Zervantonakis, assistant professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, received an award from the Elsa U. Pardee Foundation to develop microfluidic models of metastatic microenvironments in ovarian cancer and study mechanisms of cancer cell survival in these microenvironments. The tumor microenvironment is the collection of cells, molecules, and blood vessels that surround tumor cells. Tumor growth, metastasis, and response to therapy is governed by a complex interaction network between tumor cells and those components. “We hypothesize that during the early steps of metastasis formation, ovarian cancer cells recruit macrophages that in turn disrupt mesothelial barrier function to support adhesion and invasion,” said Zervantonakis, who runs the Tumor Microenvironment Engineering Laboratory in the Swanson School of Engineering. In this project, they will use microfluidic technology, which allows researchers to create precise and controlled environments that can mimic human systems. Zervantonakis will develop a novel microfluidic device that will recreate a dynamic tumor-macrophage-mesothelial 3D metastatic microenvironment. The research team will profile these metastatic microenvironments in vivo and evaluate the predictive capacity of the microfluidic device. They will also analyze ovarian cancer signaling in hopes of identifying targets that can be combined with current therapies to more effectively eliminate disease. “Understanding cell behavior in native tumor microenvironments and developing new strategies to deliver therapeutics directly to tumor cells are critical in improving and extending patients’ lives,” said Zervantonakis. # # #

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