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.

Apr
9
2021

Controlled Release Society to Present Pitt’s Steven Little with Distinguished Service Award

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (April 9, 2021) … The Controlled Release Society (CRS) has announced that University of Pittsburgh Professor Steven R. Little will receive its Distinguished Service Award at its virtual annual meeting this July 25-29. Little, the William Kepler Whiteford Endowed Professor and Chair of the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, is internationally recognized for his research in drug delivery systems that mimic the body’s own mechanisms of healing and resolving inflammation.This is Little’s third honor from CRS; in 2018 he received the society’s Young Investigator Award, and in 2020 was elected to its College of Fellows for “outstanding and sustained contributions to the field of delivery science and technology over a minimum of ten years.”“Dr. Little's leadership of the focus groups of the Controlled Release Society has been transformational for the society as a whole,” said nominator Justin Hanes, the Lewis J. Ort Professor of Ophthalmology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “I have never seen the young rising superstars of our field so engaged in the CRS, and their engagement is key to the long-term success of this remarkable scientific society. Dr. Little has also been a highly valued member of the CRS board of directors.  He is a visionary and a natural leader. We are so grateful to him.”Rather than traditional drug treatments that are distributed throughout the entire body, Little’s controlled release research focuses on time-released microcapsules that target specific cells on site. In 2020, Little published a groundbreaking discovery of a new immunotherapy system that mimics how cancer cells invade the human immune system and thereby reduces the risk of transplant rejection. He has also made advancements to the fundamentals of delivery science with predictive models enabling rational design of drug delivery systems, leading to the founding of Qrono Inc., a specialty pharma company in Pittsburgh.“The CRS is a tremendous organization, and I am extremely humbled by this recognition. A large number of people sacrificed so much of their time to achieve the positive changes that this award is recognizing. I am very confident that I speak for all of these people when I say how rewarding it is for all of us to see the next generation of scientists and engineers being recognized for what they do and having a way to exercise their own leadership in this world-class organization.”More About Dr. LittleDr. Steven Little is a William Kepler Whiteford Endowed Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, Bioengineering, Pharmaceutical Sciences, Immunology, Ophthalmology, and the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. He received his PhD in Chemical Engineering from MIT in 2005, with his thesis winning the American Association for Advancement of Science's Excellence in Research Award. Researchers in Dr. Little’s Lab focus upon therapies that are biomimetic and replicate the biological function and interactions of living entities using synthetic systems. Areas of study include bioengineering, chemistry, chemical engineering, ophthalmology, and immunology, and the health issues addressed include autoimmune disease, battlefield wounds, cancer, HIV, ocular diseases, and transplantation. Dr. Little currently has 10 provisional, 2 pending, and 5 issued patents.Dr. Little has been recognized by national and international awards including the Curtis W. McGraw Research Award from the ASEE, being elected as a fellow of the BMES and AIMBE, a Carnegie Science Award for Research, the Society for Biomaterials' Young Investigator Award, the University of Pittsburgh's Chancellor's Distinguished Research Award, being named a Camille Dreyfus Teacher Scholar, being named an Arnold and Mabel Beckman Young Investigator, and being elected to the Board of Directors of the Society for Biomaterials. In addition, Dr. Little's exceptional teaching and leadership in education have also been recognized by both the University of Pittsburgh's Chancellor's Distinguished Teaching Award and a 2nd Carnegie Science Award for Post-Secondary Education. Dr. Little was also recently named one of Pittsburgh Magazine's 40 under 40, a “Fast Tracker” by the Pittsburgh Business Times, and also one of only five individuals in Pittsburgh who are “reshaping our world” by Pop City Media. About the Department of Chemical and Petroleum EngineeringThe Swanson School’s Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering serves undergraduate and graduate engineering students, the University and industry, through education, research, and participation in professional organizations and regional/national initiatives. Active areas of research in the Department include Biological and Biomedical Systems; Energy and Sustainability; and Materials Modeling and Design. The faculty holds a record of success in obtaining research funding such that the Department ranks within the top 25 U.S. Chemical Engineering departments for Federal R&D spending in recent years with annual research expenditures exceeding $7 million. ###

Apr
9
2021

Studying the Mechanism Behind Metastatic Breast Cancer

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (Apr. 9, 2021) … University of Pittsburgh bioengineer Partha Roy received awards from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) of the National Institute of Heath and the Magee Women’s Cancer Research and Education Funding Committee to investigate the role of actin-binding protein profilin1 in metastatic breast cancer -- the second most common cancer among women in the United States. In 2021, an estimated 281,550 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in U.S. women, and around 15 percent of those cases are expected to be fatal.­ “Metastatic cancer is the cause of the majority of breast cancer deaths,” said Roy, who leads the Cell Migration Lab at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “During metastasis, nests of cells escape from the primary tumor and spread to other parts of the body. Treating these metastatic growths only temporizes the lethal outcome, so my group will investigate the mechanism that leads to metastatic dissemination and growth.” Roy’s lab previously found that profilin1 has contrasting effects on early vs. late stage of breast cancer metastasis. While reduced level of profilin1 in cancer cells makes these cells more migratory and competent in dissemination from the primary tumor, cancer cells are dependent on profilin1’s action for metastatic colonization. As part of the NCI-R01 grant, Roy’s lab will study how profilin1 controls lipid signaling and the downstream processes during dissemination of breast cancer cells. This study will be in collaboration with Pitt’s Gerry Hammond, assistant professor of cell biology, and Beth Roman, associate professor of human genetics and member of the Vascular Medicine Institute. The pilot grant from the Magee Women’s Cancer Research will have two foci. They will conduct preclinical proof-of-concept studies to determine whether novel small molecules targeting the profilin1-actin interaction suppress metastatic colonization of breast cancer cells. They will also examine the mechanistic understanding of how profilin1’s interaction with actin activates certain signaling pathways to regulate dormancy-to-emergence behavior of cancer cells. These studies could pave the way for novel therapeutic directions in metastatic breast cancer. # # # Image: Bioluminescence and X-Ray images demonstrating that knockdown (KD) of profilin1 (Pfn1) expression dramatically suppresses metastatic colonization ability of breast cancer cells in mouse model

Apr
8
2021

15 Pitt Students Earn NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, MEMS, Student Profiles

Reposted from Pittwire. Click here to view the original story. Fifteen Pitt graduate students have been selected for the 2021 National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP), which recognizes outstanding graduate students who are pursuing full-time research-based master's and doctoral degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The prestigious award provides three years of support for the graduate education of individuals who have demonstrated their potential for significant research achievements in STEM or STEM education. Its overall goal is to recruit individuals into STEM fields and to broaden participation of underrepresented groups in science and engineering. Since its inception in 1952, the GRFP has supported more than 60,000 graduate students nationwide. The NSF expects to award 1,600 Graduate Research Fellowships overall. Fellows are provided a $34,000 stipend and $12,000 cost-of-education allowance each year. Pitt’s 2021 awardees are: Max Franklin Dudek, life sciences—computationally intensive research Zachary Egolf, engineering—systems engineering Hannah C. Geisler, engineering—biomedical engineering Marcela Gonzalez-Rubio, engineering—bioengineering Sarah Clarkson Griffin, engineering—bioengineering Pete Howard Gueldner, engineering—bioengineering Elijah Hall, geosciences—hydrology Sara Jaramillo, psychology—cognitive psychology Caroline Iturbe Larkin, engineering—computationally intensive research Jennifer Mak, engineering—biomedical engineering Karen Y Peralta Martinez, life sciences—organismal biology Kevin Pietz, engineering—bioengineering April Alexandra Rich, life sciences—genomics Paul Anthony Torrillo, chemistry—computationally intensive research Carissa Siu Yun Yim, engineering—chemical engineering In addition, nine Pitt students were recognized with honorable mentions: Marissa Nicole Behun, engineering—bioengineering Emily Kaye Biermann, physics and astronomy—astronomy and astrophysics Gabriella Gerlach, life sciences—bioinformatics and computational biology Emily Anne Hutchinson, psychology—developmental psychology Kayla M. Komondor, life sciences—developmental biology Rachael Dawn Kramp, life sciences—ecology Patrick John Stofanak, engineering—mechanical engineering Madeline Torres, life sciences—microbial biology Darian Yang, life sciences—biophysics "It is very exciting that, once again this year, University of Pittsburgh students have been recognized by the National Science Foundation for their excellent work in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. That the country’s oldest fellowship program supporting STEM applauds the fine accomplishments of Pitt's students is as impressive as it is inspiring," said Joseph J. McCarthy, vice provost for undergraduate studies and interim dean of the University Honors College. "I sincerely congratulate this year's honorees." The University offers guidance for students who want to prepare strong applications for these and other awards. “Students in the Swanson School of Engineering successfully compete every year for NSF GRFP awards, which is a testament to their academic excellence and hard work,” said bioengineering professor Patrick Loughlin. “It is also a testament to the decade-long workshop and efforts by Swanson School faculty to assist graduate students in preparing competitive fellowship applications.” Loughlin said the Swanson School is joining forces with the University Honors College to expand its efforts with an eye toward further increasing the number of Pitt NSF GRFP recipients. Pitt Honors scholar-mentor Joshua Cannon said the Honors College’s program includes workshops throughout the summer and early fall, numerous past successful applications to read and learn from, advice on how to structure essays, and detailed reading and reviewing of essays. Awardee Marcela Gonzalez-Rubio said she felt overwhelmed as she started her NSF GRFP proposal. “Not because I didn't feel ready, but because as a graduate student it was my first time applying for such a competitive and prestigious grant. “I knew I needed mentorship, advice and new sets of eyes to provide an objective perspective on my proposal as I wanted it to be the best possible,” Gonzalez-Rubio said. “In my advisor, lab mates, fellow grad students and Pitt's Honors College prep program I found everything that I was looking for and I will be forever thankful for their support in helping me achieve what I consider to be my career's most important milestone so far.” Said honorable mention honoree Emily Bierman, "The application process allowed me to really envision what I wanted my graduate school experience to look like. After taking time to think deeply about what brought me to where I am today and what I want to accomplish, I feel much more grounded as a graduate student. Pitt's prep program really helped me through that self-reflection. The GRFP application is quite daunting, but I didn't have to do it alone." Swanson School recipients for the 2021 award include: Zachary Egolf, a mechanical engineering graduate student, works to develop a nonlinear control scheme for distributive control of robotic swarms. This controller will allow for robust tracking of randomly moving targets. (PI: Vipperman) Hannah Geisler, a bioengineering undergrad, performed research to investigate the fluid-handling capabilities of a 3D-printed peristaltic pump for application in cell-free protein synthesis systems. The overarching goal of the project was to design a microfluidic system capable of controlled, rapid SARS-COV-2 protein synthesis for downstream production of protein-based COVID-19 assays and therapeutics. (PI: Ruder) Marcela Gonzalez-Rubio, a bioengineering graduate student, studies how humans learn new ways of walking by using a split-belt treadmill where participants move each of their legs at different speeds. She is interested in quantifying their perception of leg movements once they adjust their walking patterns to this novel environment. (PI: Torres-Oviedo) Sarah Griffin, a bioengineering graduate student, studies the biomechanics and shoe-rung mechanics of ladder climbing to describe the factors affecting slip risk. The overall goal is to develop new knowledge that can be implemented in the workplace to reduce ladder slip and fall risk. (PI: Beschorner) Pete Gueldner, a bioengineering graduate student, uses novel experimental and computational techniques to analyze the biomechanics of abdominal aortic aneurysms. The central goal is to reduce the risk of patients by leveraging artificial intelligence tools on large clinical imaging datasets which will aid in the improvement of  the clinical standards as well as overall patient health. (PI: Vorp) Jennifer Mak, a bioengineering graduate student, develops innovative stroke rehabilitation strategies, involving the use of augmented reality (AR), encephalography (EEG), robotics, and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). The overarching goal is to address post-stroke sensory processing issues like neglect as well as motor impairments. (PI: Wittenberg) Kevin Pietz, a bioengineering undergraduate, performed research that involved engineering stem cell-derived pancreatic islets using alginate encapsulation and islet-on-a-chip systems. The goal is to develop a long-term microphysiological culture system for studying type 2 diabetes. (PI: Banerjee) Carissa Yim, a chemical engineering undergraduate, aims to understand and improve energy efficiency in flow batteries through electrochemistry and molecular-scale structural simulations. This will enable researchers to better harness intermittent renewable energy and address climate change. (PI: McKone) Honorable Mentions Marissa Behun, a bioengineering graduate student, aims to better understand the way in which macrophage phenotypes change with age following a skeletal muscle injury. (PI: Brown) Patrick Stofanak, a mechanical engineering graduate student, works to better understand the impact that winds have on melting ice sheets and sublimation of snow in polar regions. Using fundamental thermal-fluid concepts and numerical simulation, he aims to improve our understanding of how these processes are contributing to sea level rise. (PI: Senocak) # # #
Kimberly K. Barlow, Communications Manager, Office of University Communications
Apr
7
2021

Pitt and CMU Host Annual Northeast Bioengineering Conference

Bioengineering

The University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University co-hosted the 47th Annual Northeast Bioengineering Conference on March 23-25, 2021. With the goal of sharing novel research and educational efforts and stimulating collaboration, the virtual event focused on "New Research Frontiers and Educational Landscapes in Biomedical Engineering" with six key themes: Neural Engineering Regenerative Engineering Biomaterials and Biocompatibility Computational Biology Medical Product (Biomedical Devices) Education in Biomedical Engineering The three-day event featured an undergraduate design competition, faculty speakers, research and poster presentations, and a special panel discussion on education in biomedical engineering. Each day of the conference also included a keynote speech on a relevant topic. March 23: Education – Ruth Ochia, Temple University March 24: Neural Engineering – Brian Litt, University of Pennsylvania March 25: Regenerative Engineering – Cato Laurencin, The University of Connecticut “Pitt and CMU have established strong cross-institutional collaborations in biomedical engineering, so we were delighted to have an opportunity to co-host a conference that encourages and stimulates collaborations in the field,” said Sanjeev Shroff, Distinguished Professor and Gerald E. McGinnis Chair of Bioengineering at Pitt. “Though the virtual workspace is not ideal, it opened the conference to a wider audience, increasing attendance from individuals who otherwise might not have been able to travel to Pittsburgh. It was very satisfying to see this level of participation, especially by students, in this non-traditional format.” The conference welcomed 818 registrants, reaching the maximum capacity of the virtual format days ahead of the event. Twenty-four podium presentations were delivered, and students, postdocs and faculty presented 170 posters in the two competitions. Podium Presentation Winners 1st Place Kalliope Roberts, Carnegie Mellon University “In Vivo Development and Testing of an Ambulatory Destination Therapy Low Coagulation ECMO System” 2nd Place Quezia Lacerda, Thomas Jefferson University “Sterilization and Loading Approach to Deliver Oxygen Microbubbles to Hypoxic Tumors” 3rd Place Lily Cordner et al., Worcester Polytechnic Institute “A preliminary analysis of healthcare disparities curriculum in Bioengineering and Biomedical sciences: Piloting an educational module at WPI” Poster Presentation Winners 1st Place Simran Dayal, Lehigh University “Targeting Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor Pathway to Stimulate Vascular Elastic Matrix Regenerative Repair” 2nd Place Mackenzie Maurer Ditty, Carnegie Mellon University “’Micro’ Devices Solving the World’s “Macro” Health Challenges:  A Look at How Nanomaterials Can Help to Detect the World’s Most Critical Nanoscale Biologicals” 3rd Place Patrick Tatlonghari, University of Pittsburgh “Calcification in Cerebral Arteries and its Relevance to Aneurysms” Undergraduate Student Design Competition Winners 1st Place Zachary Dougherty, Morgan Harr, Anthony DellaGrotta University of Rhode Island “Force Quantification: Using a Wobble Board for Rehabilitation Assistance” 2nd Place Erica Wessner, Sonam Saxena, Vanessa Tep Drexel University “At Home Physical Therapy Smartphone Application for Hemiplegic Patients” 3rd Place Miranda Griffith, John Handy, Michael Sherman Roger Williams University Automated Microarray System

Apr
6
2021

DIY Device Climbs to the Top of the Charts

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

A student’s side project created to optimize his lab work has piqued the interest of the global scientific community, putting it in the top 10 chemistry papers published in Scientific Reports in 2020. Michael Behrens’ synthetic biology research at the University of Pittsburgh requires the use of microfluidic devices, which allow researchers to rapidly perform biology or chemistry experiments on a small scale. Doing this work on a small scale helps save time and precious research dollars by allowing investigators to stretch resources, but Behrens saw more room for improvement. The peripheral equipment often required for microfluidic experiments adds to the cost and complexity, so he decided to innovate a solution to this problem. Behrens’ open-source, 3D-printed tool is not only cheaper, but it also adds a level of flexibility for tech-savvy researchers to fully harness these transformative devices. “Peristaltic pumps for microfluidic devices already exist, but I wanted a simple, reliable version that could carry small volumes of liquid,” said Behrens, a bioengineering PhD student at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “It’s cheaper to build it yourself, but we also added a level of flexibility by incorporating programmable microcontrollers that allow for custom flow profiles.” Microfluidic devices have a wide range of applications, including point-of-care diagnostics – much like the testing we have witnessed for the COVID-19 pandemic. This type of technology, also known as lab-on-a-chip, can quickly deliver much needed results and has transformed testing – particularly in times of emergency, at-home care, or in places that lack clinical infrastructure. “Since our pump is relatively cheap and easy to build and use, it could enable places with resource constraints to still have advanced diagnostics,” he said. “This pump could allow clinicians to run reagents past cells grown in a microfluidic device and do quick on-site testing, or allow high school labs to experiment with modern chemistry and biology research techniques.” For Behrens, the tool has helped advance his biorobotics research in the Synthetic Biology and Biomimetics Lab led by Warren Ruder, associate professor and William Kepler Whiteford Faculty Fellow of Bioengineering at Pitt. He believes this tool could help fellow engineers stretch their budgets and more effectively utilize microfluidic technologies. “I think there an unmet need to develop cheap tools to make microfluidics more accessible, especially for researchers,” he said. "The success of the paper shows me that a lot of people are interested in microfluidics, and providing open-source tools to help enable those technologies seems like a useful thing to do.” # # #

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