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.

Sep
17
2019

Four Bioengineering Faculty Received Promotions in 2019

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (September 17, 2019) … Four bioengineering faculty members at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering were promoted in 2019. Bryan Brown, Spandan Maiti, and Warren Ruder were promoted from assistant professor to associate professor with tenure. Tamer Ibrahim received a promotion from associate professor to professor. “These four faculty members have made outstanding contributions to the department through their research, teaching, and professional service activities,” said Sanjeev Shroff, Distinguished Professor and the Gerald E. McGinnis Chair of Bioengineering. “I look forward to seeing their continued growth and success.” Bryan N. Brown, PhD, associate professor of bioengineering The overarching mission of the Brown Laboratory is to couple a mechanistic understanding of the host inflammatory response in injury and disease with the development of context-dependent biomaterial-based strategies for tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. The focus of their current research is on clinical application where few effective solutions currently exist, with increasing emphasis on unmet clinical needs in women’s health. The Brown Lab is highly collaborative within the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine as well as a number of outside collaborations spanning basic science, engineering, medical and veterinary disciplines. Spandan Maiti, PhD, associate professor of bioengineeringMaiti’s primary research theme is the application of failure mechanics principles in the field of healthcare and disease with a goal to improve existing clinical protocols. A general objective of his research is to provide quantitative relations between the measurable features of the microstructure of the native tissue and its macroscopic mechanical behavior. His lab is  one of the very few groups investigating mechanisms of mechanical failure of the biological tissue. His research approach is to integrate clinical, biomechanical, and imaging data with fundamental principles of failure and fracture mechanics in a computational framework. Currently, his lab is investigating tissue failure mechanisms involved in human acute aortic dissection and cerebral aneurysm rupture with a goal to develop evidence-based clinical metrics for patient-specific disease risk prediction. Warren C. Ruder, PhD, associate professor of bioengineering Warren directs the Synthetic Biology and Biomimetics laboratory where his team focuses on applying synthetic biology constructs, methods, and paradigms to solve a range of biomedical problems. His group aims to both understand the fundamental biology of natural systems as well as re-engineer these systems with synthetic gene networks. They have expertise in multiple fields including gene network engineering, cell physiology and biomechanics, microfluidics, mechanical engineering and biomaterials. They are currently developing new approaches to embed synthetic gene networks within biomimetic systems that mimic cell, tissue, and organism physiology. Ruder recently received a prestigious $2.2 million NIH Director’s New Innovator Award to develop magnetically activated gene networks in human cells. Tamer S. Ibrahim, PhD, professor of bioengineering Ibrahim runs the Radiofrequency (RF) Research Facility and the 7T Bioengineering Research Program where he conducts experimental and human studies with a whole-body 7 Tesla MRI system - a powerful imaging tool that provides improved signal-to-noise ratio, resolution, and image contrast when compared to standard clinical MRI scanners. Imaging at higher frequencies and shorter wavelengths can lead to various issues so Ibrahim’s lab developed the Tic-Tac-Toe (TTT) RF coil system, a novel design that addresses many of the technical difficulties associated with ultrahigh field human MRI.  This RF coil is system is currently being used in more than 15 NIH funded studies involving various neurological diseases. Ibrahim’s group currently holds federal funding at the PI/PD level that is equal to ~$8.4 million (two R01s and one T32) and at the Co-I level where his lab's level of support is equal to ~$2 million.  Dr. Ibrahim's lab is currently involved in NIH projects with total funding that is equal to ~$26 million. As a PI/PD, he recently received a T32 award from the National Institutes of Health for a unique Bioengineering in Psychiatry Training Program for designed to Pitt's BioE pre-docs. ###

Sep
13
2019

Bioengineering Appoints Harvard Medical School Cancer Researcher Ioannis Zervantonakis as Assistant Professor

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (September 13, 2019) … Ioannis Zervantonakis joined the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering on September 1, 2019 as assistant professor of bioengineering and a member of the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. Zervantonakis comes from a postdoctoral position at Harvard Medical School where he developed systems biology approaches to study drug resistance and tumor-fibroblast interactions in the lab of Joan Brugge, Director of the Ludwig Center and Louise Foote Pfeiffer Professor of Cell Biology. For his doctoral studies, Zervantonakis worked in the lab of Roger Kamm, Cecil and Ida Green Distinguished Professor of Biological and Mechanical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where his research focused on the design of microfluidic devices to study cancer metastasis. He currently runs the Tumor Microenvironment Engineering Laboratory where they employ a quantitative approach that integrates microfluidics, systems biology modeling, and in vivo experiments to investigate the role of the tumor microenvironment on breast and ovarian cancer growth, metastasis, and drug resistance. He explained, “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.” 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. “Our group aims to develop novel bioengineered tumor microenvironment platforms that will allow us to model, measure, and control the interactions between cancer cells and their environment at the single cell level,” said Zervantonakis. The goal of their research is to discover biomarkers that guide new drug development and improve prognosis, develop new strategies to optimize existing treatment protocols, and engineer microfabricated tools that enable screening and personalization of cancer therapies. “We are thrilled to welcome Yannis as a bioengineering faculty member,” said Sanjeev Shroff, Distinguished Professor and the Gerald E. McGinnis Chair of Bioengineering. “His focus on linking tumor microenvironment to cancer growth, metastasis, and drug resistance and his expertise in microfluidics and systems biology nicely complement the research efforts within the Department of Bioengineering and the efforts of the thriving cancer-related research community at the university as a whole.” ### About Ioannis Zervantonakis Ioannis (Yannis) received his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from the National Technical University of Athens, and his masters degree in mechanical engineering from the Technical University of Munich in 2006. From 2006-2007 he was a graduate research assistant at the  Ultrasound Elasticity laboratory (Prof. Elisa Konofagou) in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, Columbia University, New York. Yannis completed his doctoral studies at MIT in the mechanobiology laboratory (Prof. Roger Kamm) in the Department of Mechanical Engineering in December 2012. Since January 2013 he has been a postdoctoral fellow in cancer biology at Harvard Medical School in the lab of Prof. Joan Brugge and has been awarded the DoD Breast Cancer Postdoctoral Fellowship (June 2014) and the NIH Pathway to Independence K99/R00 Award (September 2017).

Sep
9
2019

Makerspaces and Mindsets

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Civil & Environmental, Electrical & Computer, MEMS, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (Sept. 9, 2019) — As with many creative projects, this one started with a doodle. Students at this year’s Makerspace Bootcamp at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering learned that to create a finished product, (in this case, a laser-cut lampshade), you must first translate the idea in your head onto paper. The 31 rising sophomore engineering students were asked to quickly sketch out a lampshade design, and then another, and another. By the end of the day, they would turn one of the sketches into a working lamp. “The project goes from physical, to digital, and back to physical. We walk through the design process, using software to create a digital model from the sketch, cutting it with the laser cutter, and assembling the lamp,” says David Sanchez, PhD, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the Swanson School. “The workshop helps students overcome two hurdles—one, that they don’t know that the makerspace is available to everyone, and two that they feel they need to be Tony Stark in order to create something.” The students used the Pitt Makerspace led by Brandon Barber, BioE Design, Innovation and Outreach Coordinator, to complete their lamp. The Makerspace, located in Benedum Hall, is open to students of all majors and has a wide range of equipment to design and fabricate. Current Makerspace students serve as mentors and helped the boot camp participants in the same way they guide all newcomers. “The Pitt Makerspaces provide hands-on experiences for students, with resources and support to make an idea a reality,” says Barber. “We want students to feel welcome to come in, explore, and collaborate, and the boot camp helps introduce them to a new way of thinking.” The annual boot camp began in 2013 as an entrepreneurship-focused event sponsored by the Engineering Education Research Center, but under the direction of Sanchez with the support of William (Buddy) Clark, PhD, professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, and Director of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship program. Since then it has shifted its focus to the Makerspace and Sanchez and Barber now plan for it to be even more hands-on and open to more students. While the first day of the workshop focused on using the Pitt Makerspace, the final day centered on building the mindset of a creator. Sanchez presented the students with different design challenges, such as imagining how to grow a company that sells one particular product successfully, like an oven cleaner. While most pitched the idea of making “a better oven cleaner,” he helped them to see that diving deeper into the customer’s experience would yield opportunities to reinvent it with concepts like better self-cleaning ovens. “Critical thinking and empathy are important parts of the design process. Shifting your focus beyond what products do to what customers experience is essential to good design,” says Sanchez. “Our goal for the boot camp is to cultivate this approach to design and making that inspires all our students to incorporate it into their experience here at the Swanson School.”
Maggie Pavlick
Aug
29
2019

Sene Polamalu is named the Bioengineering 2019 Wesley C. Pickard Fellow

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (August 30, 2019) … Sene Polamalu, a bioengineering graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, was named the 2019 Wesley C. Pickard Fellow by the Department of Bioengineering. Recipients of this award are selected by the department chair and chosen based on academic merit. Polamalu began his studies in applied mathematics at Millersville University of Pennsylvania where he received his bachelor’s degree in two years. He then joined the mechanical engineering graduate program at the Swanson School of Engineering for one semester before receiving a STRIVE Fellowship and switching to the bioengineering program. Polamalu is working on multiple biomechanical research projects in the Orthopedic Robotics Laboratory under the supervision of Richard E. Debski, William Kepler Whiteford Faculty Fellow and Professor of Bioengineering and Orthopaedic Surgery, and Volker Musahl, Blue Cross of Western Pennsylvania Professor in Orthopaedic Surgery and Chief of Sports Medicine. “My primary research is focused on the association of tibiofemoral bony morphology and anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries,” said Polamalu. “This research aims to improve ACL injury prevention and treatment by determining patient-specific bone shape parameters that increase the risk for ACL injury.” The ACL is a major ligament that stabilizes the knee, and injury to this ligament is most commonly experienced during sports that involve sudden stops or changes in one direction. Recovery from an ACL trauma can leave athletes out of practice for several months. “I have always been passionate about sports-related injuries,” said Polamalu. “My research in biomechanics at Pitt has further fueled my interest in orthopaedic injury prevention and treatment. I am grateful for the support I have received from this award.” Polamalu is starting his third year as a graduate student researcher in the Swanson School, and the Wesley C. Pickard Fellowship will provide funding for his research during the upcoming academic year. “I’m incredibly proud of what Sene has accomplished during his time in the Orthopaedic Robotics Laboratory, and this fellowship is a well-deserved recognition of his work,” said Debski. “His project has the potential to  determine which individuals are at more risk for ACL injury based on the bony morphology of their knee. Individualized treatments can then be developed to improve surgical success and reduce secondary injuries.” About Wesley Pickard: Mr. Pickard is an alumnus of the Swanson School of Engineering and earned his bachelor's degree in mining engineering at Pitt in 1961.  He retired from Synergy Inc, a DC based consulting firm as the CFO. Over a period of 33 years, Pickard helped the company grow from five staff members to more than 200 with revenues of approximately $25 million when it was sold in 2005. His support of Pitt includes the establishment of this fellowship, and he was recently inducted into the Cathedral of Learning Society at Pitt—a giving society that honors some of our most generous alumni. In 2010 Mr. Pickard was named the University of Pittsburgh Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering Distinguished Alumnus. He also received the Pitt Volunteer of Excellence Award in 2012 and was named a “Significant Sig” in 2017 by Sigma Chi Fraternity.  In 2018 he was selected as the overall honoree representing the entire Swanson School at the 54th annual Distinguished Alumni Banquet. ###

Aug
27
2019

Pitt Researchers Create Breathalyzer That Can Detect Marijuana

Bioengineering, Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (Aug. 27, 2019) — As recreational marijuana legalization becomes more widespread throughout the U.S., so has concern about what that means for enforcing DUI laws. Unlike a breathalyzer used to detect alcohol, police do not have a device that can be used in the field to determine if a driver is under the influence of marijuana. New research from the University of Pittsburgh is poised to change that. An interdisciplinary team from the Department of Chemistry and the Swanson School of Engineering has developed a breathalyzer device that can measure the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound in marijuana, in the user’s breath. Current drug testing methods rely on blood, urine or hair samples and therefore cannot be done in the field. They also only reveal that the user has recently inhaled the drug, not that they are currently under the influence. The breathalyzer was developed using carbon nanotubes, tiny tubes of carbon 100,000 times smaller than a human hair. The THC molecule, along with other molecules in the breath, bind to the surface of the nanotubes and change their electrical properties. The speed at which the electrical currents recover then signals whether THC is present. Nanotechnology sensors can detect THC at levels comparable to or better than mass spectrometry, which is considered the gold standard for THC detection. “The semiconductor carbon nanotubes that we are using weren’t available even a few years ago,” says Sean Hwang, lead author on the paper and a doctoral candidate in chemistry at Pitt. “We used machine learning to ‘teach’ the breathalyzer to recognize the presence of THC based on the electrical currents recovery time, even when there are other substances, like alcohol, present in the breath.” Hwang works in the Star Lab, led by Alexander Star, PhD, professor of chemistry with a secondary appointment in bioengineering. The group partnered with Ervin Sejdic, PhD, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at the Swanson School of Engineering, to develop the prototype. “Creating a prototype that would work in the field was a crucial step in making this technology applicable,” says Dr. Sejdic. “It took a cross-disciplinary team to turn this idea into a usable device that’s vital for keeping the roads safe.” The prototype looks similar to a breathalyzer for alcohol, with a plastic casing, protruding mouthpiece, and digital display. It was tested in the lab and was shown to be able to detect the THC in a breath sample that also contained components like carbon dioxide, water, ethanol, methanol, and acetone. The researchers will continue to test the prototype but hope it will soon move to manufacturing and be available for use. “In legal states, you’ll see road signs that say “Drive High, Get a DUI,’ but there has not been a reliable and practical way to enforce that,” says Dr. Star. “There are debates in the legal community about what levels of THC would amount to a DUI, but creating such a device is an important first step toward making sure people don’t partake and drive.” The paper detailing this research, “Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) Detection using Semiconductor-enriched Single-Walled Carbon Nanotube Chemiresistors,” (DOI: 10.1021/acssensors.9b00762) was published in the journal ACS Sensors and was coauthored by Sean Hwang, Long Bian, David White, Seth Burkert, Raymond Euler, Brett Sopher, Miranda Vinay and Alexander Star, from the Department of Chemistry, and Nicholas Franconi, Michael Rothfuss, Kara Bocan, and Ervin Sejdic, from the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. ### This research has been featured in a number of media outlets, including WTAE, KDKA, KDKA Radio, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Philly Voice, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Vice, Digital Trends and NPR/WBUR's "Here & Now."
Maggie Pavlick

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