Pitt | Swanson Engineering
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Jul

Jul
18
2018

Pitt bioengineer receives $390K NIH grant to develop imaging technology that may improve brain implant design

All SSoE News, Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (July 18, 2018) … Chronic brain implants are long-term devices used to record brain activity or stimulate neurons with electrical pulses and are a crucial component of neuroprosthetics. The performance of these devices depends on the host tissue response, which is often inflammatory and results in device performance degradation. Takashi Kozai, assistant professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, was awarded an NIH R21 grant to improve device design by investigating the role of oligodendrocytes and oligodendrocyte progenitor cells in this process. Kozai will work with Franca Cambi, professor of neurology at Pitt, to develop in vivo imaging technology that will explore how these cells cause negative tissue response to chronic brain implants. Supported by the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Kozai and Cambi received a two-year, $386,645 award for their research. Kozai and his collaborators recently published work that reveals the importance of the brain’s glial cells. Oligodendrocytes and oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPCs) are a type of glia or connective tissue in the central nervous system that play an important role in brain injury and neuronal activity, including the body’s response to brain implants. Oligodendrocytes are crucial for normal signaling in the brain. They produce proteins that help neurons grow, form synapses, and may even help neurons survive traumatic injuries. They play a key role in myelination, a process where oligodendrocytes wrap a fatty substance around the neuron’s axon to help insulate electrical signals and allow neural signals to move more rapidly. “Oligodendrocytes, like neurons, consume enormous amounts of energy,” explained Kozai. “Neurons require the energy to maintain membrane potential, while oligodendrocytes require energy to maintain high production levels of protein and lipids. As a result oligodendrocytes and neurons are one of the first cell types to die following brain injury.” “Because the oligodendrocytes provide growth factors and support for neurons, the idea is maybe if we can help to oligodendrocytes to survive after injury, they can, in turn, help the neurons to survive,” said Kozai. They plan to apply a similar logic to OPCs, which are a subtype of glia that are of particular interest because they have the capacity to differentiate into oligodendrocytes, astrocytes, or neurons during tissue repair. Kozai said, “If we can maintain a healthy environment for OPCs, maybe they can help replenish the oligodendrocyte and neuronal population, instead of turning into scar tissue forming astrocytes.” Kozai and Cambi hope to gain insight by getting a more detailed look at the life span of these cells using multiphoton imaging and neural engineering technology. Kozai said, “Much of the work on oligodendrocytes and OPCs has been carried out with post-mortem immunohistochemistry and molecular assays in disease models. As such, we only get a snapshot of the dead cells in their last moments, instead of seeing how and when they got there so that we can identify when and where to apply treatments and employ intervention strategies.” By using in vivo imaging techniques like multiphoton imaging and pinpointing brain injury using neural engineering technology, Kozai and Cambi can map out the spatiotemporal relationships between oligodendrocyte loss, neuronal cell death, and OPC tissue repair and identify targets for intervention strategies, not just for brain implants, but also many neurodegenerative diseases. ###

Jul
2
2018

Psychology and Engineering Team Up for Longitudinal Look at Brain Aging Disparities

Bioengineering

Reposted from PittWire. Read the original article here. Pitt professors of psychology Anna Marsland and Peter Gianaros have received a five-year Research Project Grant from the National Institutes of Health to revisit decade-old data from Pittsburgh residents. They’re trying to understand what aspects of health and the social environment matter for brain aging among middle-aged people. The work is part of a larger project that was initiated by Stephen Manuck, Distinguished University Professor of Health Psychology and Behavioral Medicine, called the Adult Health and Behavior Project. Now, Marsland and Gianaros are teaming up with associate professor of bioengineering and radiology Tamer Ibrahim, director of the Radiofrequency (RF) Research Facility, to bring as many of the initial participants back into the lab for testing as possible, 10 and 15 years after they were originally seen. The unique imaging technology developed in the RF Research Facility will let Marsland and Gianaros use an unconventional form of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look at the brain in a level of detail that ordinary MRI techniques can’t achieve. With this new level of detail, the psychology-engineering team can link current features of brain health to prior information about inflammation, heart health and many other factors that influence memory, thinking, attention, and other phenomena sensitive to aging. Being able to predict brain aging starting in midlife could be critically important for prevention and intervention — helping reduce health disparities that follow a social and economic gradient, said Marsland. “We’re trying to encourage participants to stay involved.” Said Gianaros: “It’s important for us to show them how much we care about them and how important they are. If we see them one time, that’s great; they’ve made a contribution to science. But our interest is really more dynamic in how people change in their life. A snapshot is not the same thing as a movie.” Left to right: Pitt professors of psychology Anna Marsland and Peter Gianaros and associate professor of bioengineering and radiology Tamer Ibrahim are working together on a project studying brain aging.

Jun

Jun
27
2018

Pitt’s Center for Medical Innovation awards five novel biomedical projects with $105,000 in Round-1 2018 Pilot Funding

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (June 27, 2018) … The University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Medical Innovation (CMI) awarded grants totaling $105,000 to five research groups through its 2018 Round-1 Pilot Funding Program for Early Stage Medical Technology Research and Development. The latest funding proposals include a new vascular access device for use with stent grafts, an artificial tricuspid valve for treatment of right-heart disease, a shoe insert for treatment of foot pain, a biological treatment for inflammatory bowel disease, and a biofeedback system for mobility rehabilitation training. 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 seventh 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: “E-mag system for Rapid Cannulation of Fenestrated Stent Grafts to Reduce Radiation Exposure” For the development of a vascular stent graft system that will magnetically guide cannulation of endograft branches. Bryan W. Tillman, MD, PhDDivision of Vascular Surgery Department of Surgery, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Youngjae Chun, PhDAssociate Professor, Industrial Engineering, Swanson School of Engineering AWARD 2: “Valved stent conduit for the treatment of severe advanced tricuspid regurgitation” For the development of an artificial tricuspid valve that will treat decreased right ventricular performance due to cardiac disease. Catalin Toma, MDAssistant Professor, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Heart and Vascular Institute Youngjae Chun, PhD Associate Professor, Industrial Engineering, Swanson School of Engineering AWARD 3: “PopSoleTM Foot Off-Loading Device” For the development of a shoe insert that will reduce foot pain due to fat pad atrophy in the feet. Jeffrey Gusenoff, MD Department of Plastic Surgery, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Beth Gusenoff, DPM Department of Plastic Surgery, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Kurt Beschorner, PhD Associate Professor, Bioengineering, Swanson School of Engineering Seyed Reza Moghaddam, PhDBioengineering, Swanson School of Engineering Steven Donahoe, MSBioengineering, Swanson School of EngineeringAWARD 4: “Local Induction of Tolerogenic T cells to Ameliorate Inflammation in Inflammatory Bowel Disease”For the development of a potent IBD therapy with fewer side effects than current medical therapy. R. Warren Sands MD, PhDT32 Clinical and Research Fellow, Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School Steven R. Little PhD William Kepler Whiteford Endowed Professor and Chair, Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, Swanson School of Engineering David G. Binion MD, AGAF, FACGProfessor of Medicine, Clinical and Translational Science Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition, University of Pittsburgh Medical SchoolAWARD 5: “MOVISU-FIT: Mobile Wearable System for Real Time Visual Feedback and Gait Training”For the development of a system to provide real-time visual feedback to patients working on gait corrections during mobility rehabilitation training. Goeran Fiedler PhDAssistant Professor, Rehabilitation Science and Technology, UPMC William Clark, PhD Professor, Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, Swanson School of Engineering David Brienza, PhD Professor, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences Krista Kutina, DPT Researcher, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences Alicia Koontz, PhD Associate Professor, Veterans Administration Hospital April Chambers, PhD Research Assistant Professor, Bioengineering, Swanson School of Engineering ### About the University of Pittsburgh Center for Medical InnovationThe 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 2011 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 60 early-stage projects have been supported by CMI with a total investment of over $1 million since inception.
Akhil Aniff, CMI Fellow
Jun
22
2018

BioE Alumna Sharlene Flesher Talks With Gizmodo UK About Neural Engineering Research

Bioengineering

Sharlene Flesher (BioE PhD '17) contributes to Gizmodo UK's article about research from Johns Hopkins University's Department of Bioengineering. Current prosthetic limbs aren’t yet capable of transmitting complex sensations like texture or pain to the user, but a recent breakthrough by scientists at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, in which a synthetic layer of skin on an artificial hand transmitted feelings of pain directly to the user, takes us one step closer to that goal. Pain sucks, but we’d be lost without this extremely valuable sensation. “Pain helps protect our bodies from damage by giving us the sensation that something may be harmful, such as the sharp edge of a knife,” Luke Osborn, a co-author of the new study and a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, told Gizmodo. “For a prosthesis, there is no concept of pain, which opens it up to the possibility of damage. We found a way to provide sensations of pain in a meaningful way to the prosthesis as well as the amputee user.” Working with JHU neuroengineer Nitish Thakor, Osborn and his colleagues developed a system called e-dermis—a skin-like layer that gives prosthetic limbs the capacity to perceive touch and pain. Pressure applied to the e-dermis is transmitted to the user’s brain via an electric nerve stimulator implanted in the arm above the prosthesis, allowing the system to emulate actual sensations. In tests of the e-dermis system, a volunteer amputee said he could tell the difference between objects that were rounded or sharp, saying the sensation of pain registered a three out of 10 in terms of severity. This study was published today in Science Robotics. Read the full story and Flesher's comments at GizmodoUK.

Jun
19
2018

ChemE Graduate Student Alexandra May Receives Willem Kolff Award at ASAIO Annual Meeting

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (June 19, 2018) …The American Society for Artificial Internal Organs (ASAIO) selected Alexandra May, a chemical engineering graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, as a finalist for the Willem Kolff Award at its 64th annual meeting. The award, named after the late Dutch physician who invented the original artificial kidney, recognizes the top abstracts at each annual meeting. May is a graduate student in the Swanson School of Engineering’s Cardiovascular Bioengineering Training Program and works in the Medical Devices Laboratory under the direction of William Federspiel, a William Kepler Whiteford Professor of Bioengineering at Pitt. The lab develops clinically significant devices for the treatment of pulmonary and cardiovascular ailments by utilizing engineering principles of fluid flow and mass transfer. May’s research focuses on the development of the Pittsburgh Pediatric Ambulatory Lung (P-PAL), an artificial lung device developed to bridge pediatric acute or chronic lung failure patients to transplant. The P-PAL integrates the blood pump and gas exchanging hollow fiber membrane bundle into a single compact unit and provides 70 percent to 90 percent of the patient’s oxygenation needs. The compact design of the P-PAL provides children with increased mobility pre-transplant, a factor which has been shown to improve post-transplant outcomes. The ASAIO Annual Meeting was held June 13-16, 2018 in Washington, D.C. May’s abstract titled Acute in vivo Performance of a Pediatric Ambulatory Artificial Lung was awarded second place out of approximately 300 accepted abstracts, and she presented her work during the conference’s opening general session. “Alex deserves this recognition,” said Federspiel. “She is an extremely hard worker and devoutly dedicated to our mission of improving the lives of kids with respiratory failure.” ###

Jun
14
2018

Postdoctoral Positions in Neural Engineering

Bioengineering, Open Positions

Positions are available at the University of Pittsburgh in the Department of Bioengineering. Our group focuses on seamlessly integrating the brain to implantable technologies by studying the molecular, cellular, and tissue-scale processes that regulate regeneration, inflammation, and electrical or optical recording and stimulation of the brain. Projects involve using brain-computer interfaces to study and treat the progression of neurological diseases and brain injuries. Postdoctoral Associate candidates will possess a Ph.D. degree in a related field including but not limited to, Biomedical Engineering, Neurobiology, Neuroscience, Molecular/Cellular Biology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Physics, Optics, Material Science, and Mathematics. Animal surgery experience is preferred. The candidate should have a strong research background in neural engineering, in vivo electrophysiology, or in vivo two-photon microscopy. Experience with biomaterial fabrication, electrochemistry, material characterization, neural tissue histology, functional/evoked electrophysiology/imaging, functional electrical stimulation, neurochemical sensing, and advanced biological imaging (two-photon and confocal microscopy) are desired. Successful candidate will work on the chronic neural interface with special focus on implant-tissue interaction. Candidate will be working with an interdisciplinary team of neural engineers, neuroscientists, neurosurgeon, biologists, and material scientists. The research environment at the University of Pittsburgh includes a dynamic community of bioengineers. Contemporary Pittsburgh is a diverse vibrant city undergoing a renaissance led by world class Universities and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. The University of Pittsburgh is an Equal Opportunity Employer. Women and minorities are especially encouraged to apply. Interested applicants should forward their CV, statement of research interests, and references to: TK Kozai (tdk18@pitt.edu)Assistant Professor of Bioengineering University of PittsburghPittsburgh PA 15219 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.

Jun
4
2018

David Vorp named Fellow of the American Heart Association

All SSoE News, Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (June 4, 2018) ... David A. Vorp, Associate Dean for Research and John A. Swanson Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, was named a Fellow of the American Heart Association (FAHA) in recognition of his innovative and sustained contributions in scholarship, education, and volunteer service to the organization. Vorp’s election was conferred by the Council on Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology (ATVB) recognizing his work in those fields. Founded in 1924, the American Heart Association is the nation’s oldest and largest voluntary organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and stroke. They provide funding for innovative research, fight for stronger public health policies, and provide critical tools and information to save and improve lives. The ATVB is recognizing Vorp for his achievements in cardiovascular research over the past 26 years. He has published more than 120 peer-reviewed research articles and currently serves on three editorial boards. His research has been supported by over $14 million from the National Institutes of Health, the American Heart Association, and other sources. He has several patents in the field of vascular bioengineering and is a co-founder of Neograft Technologies, Inc., a startup that uses technology developed in his lab to help produce arterial vein grafts. Vorp’s lab applies its strengths in computational and experimental biomechanics, image analysis, cellular and molecular biology, and tissue engineering to understand and seek solutions to pathologies of tubular tissue and organs. His current research aims to develop regenerative treatments for vascular diseases such as aortic aneurysm and coronary heart disease. John Curci, associate professor of surgery at Vanderbilt University, said, "Dr. Vorp's scientific discoveries in vascular biomechanics and biology have independently created incredible advances in the discipline. More importantly, his collaborative leadership in the field has been generous and insightful, allowing many others to increase their scientific productivity exponentially." Vorp has worked closely with clinical colleagues to develop a multi-disciplinary, NIH-funded research program focusing on abdominal aortic aneurysm disease, vascular “mechanopathobiology,” and tissue engineering and regenerative medicine applications for vascular and urethral systems. “Dr. Vorp has very effectively and creatively applied his unique expertise as a bioengineer to advance our understanding of the pathogenesis and treatment of several potentially lethal clinical problems, such as aortic aneurysms,” said Marshall Webster, Senior Vice President of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “He has mentored and promoted the careers of a new generation of bioengineers and has established our University as a world class research and training environment, widely recognized.” Vorp has had 14 PhD students graduate from his lab and is currently advising two. He has supervised or mentored 10 medical students, 16 postdoctoral research associates and visiting scholars, and over 80 undergraduate students. Additionally, he has served on over 40 graduate student thesis committees. Vorp has also made scholarly contributions to the American Heart Association. He has participated as an invited speaker and panelist at three different AHA Scientific Sessions and has served as a reviewer for multiple AHA journals, including Circulation and Circulation Research. Other organizations have recognized Vorp’s contributions to the field. He is an elected Fellow of the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES), the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE), and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). In 2012, he became the first non-MD President of the International Society for Applied Cardiovascular Biology and was re-elected for a second term in 2014. His other executive roles include his appointment as ASME Bioengineering Division Chair from 2013-2014, two terms on the BMES Board of Directors, and two terms as BMES Secretary. Sanjeev G. Shroff, Distinguished Professor and Gerald McGinnis Chair of Bioengineering at Pitt, said, “Dr. Vorp has been an integral part of our bioengineering department since it was founded in 1996. His election as a Fellow of the American Heart Association underscores his dedication and commitment to and high accomplishments in cardiovascular research.” ###

May

May
24
2018

Helping stroke survivors walk as normally as possible

Bioengineering

Reposted from NSF Science Nation. Click here to view the original article. A major issue in rehabilitation robotics is that devices such as exoskeletons and treadmills correct patients' movements only while they are using the device. Gelsy Torres-Oviedo, who has a doctorate in biomedical engineering and is the director of the Sensorimotor Learning Lab at the University of Pittsburgh, hopes to change that. With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Torres-Oviedo leads a research team that uses rehabilitation robotics and motion capture cameras to study "locomotor learning." That's the ability of a patient with an impaired gait to adapt their walking patterns and learn new movements. This research has broad impact for public health because it aims to guide the use of technology for effective gait rehabilitation after stroke, which is the leading cause of long-term disability in the United States. "We're very interested in understanding the factors that determine that specificity in learning and how we can manipulate them. We want to help patients retain what they've learned and carry it over to their daily living," says Torres-Oviedo. The ultimate goal is to use quantitative tools to characterize in a very systematic way the impairments that every stroke survivor has and tailor the intervention. .embed-container { position: relative; padding-bottom: 56.25%; padding-top: 30px; height: 0; overflow: hidden; max-width: 100%; height: auto; } .embed-container iframe, .embed-container object, .embed-container embed { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 100%; height: 100%; } The research in this episode was supported by NSF award #1535036, the role of naturalistic movements on the generalization of locomotor learning. Miles O'Brien, Science Nation Correspondent Kate Tobin, Science Nation Producer

May
24
2018

Bon Voyage! BioE Undergraduate Receives Gilman Scholarship to Study Abroad in France

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (May 25, 2018) … Madeline Hobbs is an active student at the University of Pittsburgh- she is an engineering student, a member of the Blue and Gold Society, an ambassador for the Swanson School of Engineering, and a defensive player on Pitt’s varsity D1 women’s soccer team. This summer, she plans to take on another role: a world traveler. Hobbs, a rising junior bioengineering student, used her savoir-faire to become one of four Pitt students to receive the prestigious Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. Supported by the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the Gilman Scholarship provides up to $5,000 for students to study or intern abroad. Its goal is to broaden the student population that is able to have an international experience during their undergraduate studies. The program encourages students to study and intern in a diverse array of countries and world regions. Inspired by her father’s time abroad in Bologna, Italy, Hobbs applied to the Gilman Scholarship so that she too could have an enriching experience in Lyon, France. “I think there is a huge value in studying abroad because of the challenges it presents. You have to get out of your comfort zone, try new things, and make mistakes along the way,” said Hobbs. “I believe it is important to understand other cultures and keep your mind open to trying things that are not part of your everyday life.” Hobbs has always had a penchant for the French language and culture. She said, “When I was little, my parents took a trip to Paris and brought back an Eiffel Tower t-shirt that I adored! That’s when I became a francophile, and since then, I’ve grown to love the French language, culture, and gastronomy.” According to Hobbs, France is home to many prestigious engineering schools and is an up-and-coming leader in industry. As a Gilman Scholar, she will receive financial support for her studies at the Institut National des Sciences Appliquées in Lyon, France. During her studies, she will take a course called Connected Devices and the Internet of Things where students will examine devices and sensors, determine how they are used in French society, and design and build a device to help solve a need that she and her fellow students identify is prevalent. During her month-long experience, Hobbs hopes to explore the language and culture of France. She will be taking a conversation course to help improve her speaking proficiency and learn more about French society. She said, “French is an extremely useful and beautiful language spoken by many people around the world. I am excited to study alongside French students and improve my speaking skills while learning about their way of life.” Over 2,900 scholarships were awarded to American undergraduate students this year. Hobbs said, “I have always enjoyed traveling and exploring new places. As a kid, I loved being outside and going on little adventures. I’m grateful that the Gilman Scholarship has allowed me to go on this big adventure to a country whose language, food, and culture have captivated me.” ###

May
18
2018

Shoe Tread Research Gains Traction

Bioengineering

Reposted with permission from Pittwire. Shoppers looking for new shoes are liable to consider safety and slipperiness, whether they’re looking for high heels or high tops. A safe, sturdy shoe is made possible by proper treads. But treads come in a variety of forms, and not all are designed to help prevent slips an­­d falls, one of the biggest causes of workplace injury in the U.S. and a highlight of many children’s stories and TV shows. “I have kids and when I read children’s books to them, it seems like one in every three books has someone falling,” said Kurt Beschorner, associate professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering. “Falling accidents are really ubiquitous.” Beschorner and graduate student researcher Seyed Moghaddam recently developed a new computational model that simulates shoe and floor friction interactions at multiple scales, from visible to micrometer. “Our modeling approach can predict the impact of new tread designs on their traction performance,” said Beschorner. “This can lead to shoe designs with better traction and to a more efficient design process.” The shoe simulations were created by measuring different parts of the shoe on a microscopic level, including tread patterns and materials, which the researchers used to create computerized models that measure friction and traction. By modeling shoe tread in various circumstances, the team found three things shoes need for good traction on oily, indoor surfaces: softer rubber or polyurethane materials, wider heels and a curved heel. Along with that, shoes that distribute a person’s weight over a larger tread area can improve traction. Some shoes’ treads stop before the edge of the shoe. Beschorner said shoes with treads that extend to the outermost edge are about 20 percent less slippery. The model was created in Pitt’s Human Movement and Balance Laboratory, which focuses on developing ergonomic solutions for preventing falls. Beschorner said it is one of the first labs to use computational modeling to study friction between shoe and floor surfaces. “The model also has the capability of including human-specific walking styles to see how that affects the amount of friction a person would receive from their shoes,” Moghaddam said, which could help with designing custom shoes for people with different walking styles. Beschorner has studied different mechanics and functions of shoes for the past 10 years, but modeling predicted friction only came about for this most recent project. “We had spent a lot of time testing different shoes before this project, but that was inefficient and would not give us a lot of information about the mechanism behind the friction,” he said. “Computer modeling has allowed us to sort of peek inside the box and understand what was causing different shoes to either have good or poor friction.” The team aims to work with footwear companies to integrate these methods in their design process to efficiently develop safer shoes. While the model has only been tested for oily indoor surfaces, Beschorner said the team is also interested in extending the research to outdoor surfaces like soil. “We think that this a natural extension of the model, although additional research would be needed to develop this functionality,” he said. The study was funded by a $1.5 million grant from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Amerigo Allegretto, University Communications
May
15
2018

Swanson School of Engineering Names Art of Making Professor Joseph Samosky as its 2018 Outstanding Educator

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (May 14, 2018) … In recognition of his excellence in teaching and development of its Art of Making program, the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering presented Joseph Samosky, Ph.D., assistant professor of bioengineering, with its 2018 Outstanding Educator Award. Dr. Samosky joined the Swanson School full time in 2014 after seven years at the Pitt medical school. He came from an interdisciplinary educational background with undergraduate degrees in electrical engineering and behavioral neuroscience from Pitt, a master’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a doctorate in medical engineering from the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Science and Technology. These diverse academic experiences helped shape his unique pedagogical approach. “I’m an enthusiastic advocate of experiential and exploratory learning, and the idea that building is a way of thinking,” said Dr. Samosky. “I hope to engage students in a process of hands-on experience and active discovery of the why to motivate learning the how of engineering.” In 2013, Pitt joined the NSF’s Epicenter (Engineering Pathways to Innovation) program, which created an opportunity for Dr. Samosky to utilize his passion for this style of learning to develop a design-centered course called The Art of Making. In this course, students apply innovative methods to solve real-world problems while gaining hands-on experience with cutting-edge technologies including robotics, smart systems, and user interfaces. It is offered in the Swanson School to first-year and upper-level undergraduate students. Dr. Samosky said, “I recruited a group of the most innovative and enthusiastic engineering students I could find, and we started weekly brainstorming meetings we called ‘jam sessions’, using jazz as a metaphor for combining creative improvisation and rigorous technique.” The team also designed a new learning environment for the course: they explored and tested different technology learning tools, brought in carloads of furniture and prototyping supplies, and built out Benedum Hall’s G34 Innovation Space. The result was a 24/7 resource that provides students with a “home base for innovation” and the freedom to explore their creativity. “G34 is a collaborative space that promotes peer-to-peer learning. Our first rule of use for the room is: help each other and share your ideas,” explained Dr. Samosky. “There are a lot of materials and tools in G34, but the most important part of G34 is the people. We made design choices considering carefully how and what we wanted the space itself to communicate, as a communal place to gather and explore.” As one student describes, “G34 is so much more than a workspace. It is a home for a diverse community of students, course alumni, and staff who support and bring out the best in one another.” (See a video of G34 in action. ) Outside G34 are interactive display cases of student projects and a “Video Wall” display that streams student projects and activities for passersby. Currently, over 350 students have access to the Innovation Space; students from all Swanson School departments in 14 courses, 3 student clubs, and multiple Innovation Institute competitions have used the space to develop projects. Art of Making students and TAs explore creating a novel human-computer interface in the G34 Innovation Space. Enthusiasm for The Art of Making is evident in the course evaluations, which played a role in Dr. Samosky’s selection for this highly competitive award. In the most recent two offerings of the course, he received overall teaching effectiveness scores of 4.92 and 4.93/5. The human-centered design approach of the course has achieved important results for students, including student teams from The Art of Making winning the Overall Best Project award at the Swanson School Design Expo twice in two years. A student describes the course as, “How to design the world I want to live in. The skills and perspectives I cultivated in this class make me view our world in a completely new way, and because of this class I believe I'll be able to effectively begin developing answers to ambiguous ‘big-idea’ problems.” Another states, “We learned more in a semester than I thought I could learn from 4 years of classes.” A course alumna and teaching assistant said, “The Art of Making gave me not only concrete skills but, more importantly, the confidence to believe that I have something valuable to contribute, even this early in my engineering education. It truly changed my life.” In addition to the establishment of this course, Dr. Samosky has served as a mentor for 27 bioengineering senior design teams, advising a total of 130 students. The undergraduate projects mentored by Dr. Samosky have led to 33 students being co-authors on 14 papers and conference presentations, and co-inventors on 8 invention disclosures and provisional patents and 2 issued patents. “Joe is an outstanding educator who has developed and continues to develop novel approaches to experiential learning and incorporating design thinking in engineering education,” said Sanjeev Shroff, professor and Gerald E. McGinnis Chair of Bioengineering. “I strongly believe that he has positively impacted the innovation and entrepreneurship culture within the Swanson School.” Dr. Samosky plans to continue encouraging students to push the boundaries of engineering. He said, “As an engineering educator I want to empower students to innovate effective solutions to real-world problems, inspire them to have creative confidence, help them enjoy the creative paradigm of engineering that transforms thoughts into new and useful artifacts in the world, and enhance their ability to successfully invent the future, including their own life and career pathways.” ###

Apr

Apr
30
2018

Bioengineering alumna Alexandra Delazio part of team developing Disney's "Force Jacket"

Bioengineering, MEMS, Student Profiles, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs

Virtual reality is a gateway to powerful experiences. Strap on a pair of VR goggles, look around, and the scene you see will adjust, in real time, to match your gaze. But the technology is a visual one. Virtual reality doesn’t include touch, although there are controllers that provide “hand presence,” allowing you to manipulate objects in the virtual world, or shoot a simulated gun. So while VR today could simulate a Westworld-like setting, you’re not going to be actually feeling the hug of a cowboy-robot on your body while using any of the major platforms—at least not for a while. The Force Jacket, a garment from Disney Research, aims to address that gap. Made out of a converted life jacket, the prototype uses embedded airbags that inflate, deflate, or even vibrate to literally give its wearer a feeling of being touched. When coupled with VR software, the setup can simulate something bizarre—a snake slithering on you—or more pedestrian: getting hit by a snowball. In brief, the sensation of touch you feel on your actual body can match what you see in a virtual one. (The device is the result of a research project, so these lifejacket-garments aren’t exactly on sale on Amazon. It’s also not the first research to focus on incorporating haptics into VR.) “If you’ve experienced virtual reality or augmented reality, it’s largely based in this immersive visual world,” says Alexandra Delazio, the lead researcher on the jacket project and currently a research engineer at the University of Pittsburgh, where she works on technology for people with disabilities. “The real world is not just visual—it’s full of force and pressure-based interaction.” The goal of the jacket is to bring that sense of touch to the virtual world, or maybe even offer a way for someone far away to give you a hug. Read the full story at Popular Science.

Apr
26
2018

Expanding Boundaries: Pitt Bioengineering undergraduate Andrea Hartman wins Vira I. Heinz award to study abroad

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (April 26, 2018) … Each year, the Vira I. Heinz Program for Women in Global Leadership (VIH) admits undergraduate women from 15 institutions across Pennsylvania into a one-year leadership development program that includes an opportunity to study abroad. One of this year’s recipients from the University of Pittsburgh is Andrea Hartman, a senior bioengineering student in the Swanson School of Engineering who will visit South Africa this summer. The VIH program provides funding for women who have never traveled internationally and prepares them for tomorrow’s global challenges. In addition to international experience, recipients are required to attend two leadership development retreats in Pittsburgh and "create a Community Engagement Experience” designed to use their new-found skills to impact their local community in a positive way. Hartman will be spending a week in Johannesburg and four weeks in Cape Town. “I chose South Africa to learn first-hand about the social, economic, and political struggles that have affected the country,” said Hartman. “I wanted to step out of my comfort zone, and I think the best way to gain a global perspective is to not only educate yourself through research, but to go there and interact with the people, immersing yourself in their culture.” Hartman looks forward to the leadership development aspect of the program. Since starting in the Swanson School, she has enhanced her leadership skills through her co-op experience with Zimmer Biomet, a medical device company in Warsaw, Indiana. She has also made personal gains from the Swanson School’s Engineering Ambassador program and her involvement with the women’s fraternity, Chi Omega. Hartman said, “I would like to be more involved in the Pittsburgh community which is why I look forward to being a part of a Community Engagement Experience that I and the cohort of awardees in Pittsburgh will do after our experiences abroad.” Hartman plans to focus her experience on education in South Africa and hopes to share that knowledge with her peers in Pittsburgh. “I believe an education system is the foundation of a society,” said Hartman. “I hope to learn about how the education system in South Africa has molded its community, and bring that back to my experience in Pittsburgh to educate others.” The program’s namesake, Vira I. Heinz, was an active member of the Pittsburgh community and engaged in philanthropic and civic work around the region and internationally. She left a lasting mark in Pennsylvania by funding international opportunities to generations of women after her. “Because of this award I will have the opportunity to travel for the first time, and I could not be more thankful for this incredible opportunity,” said Hartman. “I look forward to meeting all of the other women in the program!” ###

Apr
26
2018

McGowan Institute Director William Wagner Named Inventor of the Year

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum

UPMC News Release Dr. William Wagner, director of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine and professor of surgery, bioengineering and chemical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, has been honored with the 2018 Inventor of the Year award by the Pittsburgh Intellectual Property Law Association. He received the award at a recent event in Pittsburgh. “It’s an honor for my team and me to be recognized by the Pittsburgh Intellectual Property Law Association,” Wagner said. “This is a welcome recognition of our work in translating research from the bench to the bedside and developing technologies that address unmet clinical needs.” The award also recognizes the positive, significant economic impact the McGowan Institute has had within the western Pennsylvania region. Under Wagner’s direction, the McGowan Institute is a leader in medical device commercialization and regenerative medicine technologies. The institute has made an international impact on healthcare with its development of circulatory assist devices, pulmonary assist devices and extracellular matrix-based materials for regenerative repair and healing. In addition to leading the McGowan Institute, Wagner also co-founded Neograft Technologies, which is developing new treatment options for coronary artery bypass surgery, and has raised over $34 million in funding. Wagner has 26 issued patents and 27 additional patent filings to his name. Wagner and his colleagues’ most recent invention includes a fluid material that gels upon injection into tissues and then acts to control inflammation and direct tissue healing. He also has invented a series of new biodegradable, elastic polymers that can be used to slow the dilatation of the heart following a heart attack as well as be used in other applications, such as creating heart valves. ###
Madison Brunner, Communications Specialist
Apr
25
2018

ShanghaiRankings Puts Pitt Bioengineering Among the Top Biomedical Engineering Programs in the World

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (April 25, 2018) The University of Pittsburgh Department of Bioengineering was ranked the #14 biomedical engineering program in the world by the 2017 ShanghaiRanking Global Ranking of Academic Subjects. “It is great to see our department recognized on this international scale,” said Sanjeev Shroff Distinguished Professor and Gerald E. McGinnis Chair of Bioengineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “I am proud of the accomplishments made by our outstanding faculty, students and staff. We have a strong department, rich with academic and research opportunities, and I look forward to our continued growth and success.” In FY17, the Department of Bioengineering received over $27 million in new grants, including the renewal of its Cardiovascular Bioengineering Training Program (CBTP) by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) with more than $1.9 million in funding over the next five years. The department has two additional training grants funded by the NIH: Biomechanics in Regenerative Medicine (BiRM) and Cellular Approaches to Tissue Engineering and Regeneration (CATER). Since 2009, ShanghaiRanking Consultancy, an independent organization dedicated to research on higher education intelligence and consultation, has been publishing the Academic Ranking of World Universities. ###

Apr
24
2018

Creating a Collaborative Community: Pitt iGEM Teammates Help Local High School Students Participate in This Year’s Giant Jamboree

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (April 24, 2018) … The International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Foundation hosts an annual synthetic biology research-focused competition that continues to draw a multidisciplinary group of University of Pittsburgh students. Participants spend the summer creating and implementing a research project, and the experience culminates at the Giant Jamboree in Boston where the students showcase their work. For the first time, high school students from the Pittsburgh region will compete in this international competition. Vivian Hu, a sophomore bioengineering student in the Swanson School of Engineering, and Dorsin Chang, a senior molecular biology student at Pitt, competed in iGEM 2017 with a project focused on controlling E. coli movement with light and won a silver medal at the Giant Jamboree. Riding off their positive experience with the competition, Hu and Chang proactively got involved with the Citizen Science Lab (CSL) and began weekly visits to assist the high school iGEM team formed there. “iGEM is a great resource to expose students to research and kindle their interests in the STEM fields,” said Hu. “Through this program, I gained valuable research experience in lab techniques, project design, and experiment planning. It is a great opportunity to collaborate with other students, and I wanted to help the high schoolers have their own rewarding experience.” “We have been helping the students formulate their project by sharing tips and getting them to engage in discussions about research articles or other information they find,” said Hu. “As they move on to more wet lab experiments, we assist them with calculations, making buffers or reagents, and carrying out experiments.” Collaborations are a strong theme in iGEM. Cheryl Telmer, a research biologist at Carnegie Mellon University, has been involved with various iGEM teams at Pitt, CMU, CMU Qatar, and the CSL since 2013. She has been working with Pitt’s 2017 iGEM team to advise the new high school group. “Alan Seadler and Andre Samuel formed the high school iGEM team, and because of my experience with the competition, they approached me to help,” said Telmer. Dr. Seadler is Chair of Biotechnology at Duquesne University, and Dr. Samuel is director of the Citizen Science Lab. “It is great to see this competition continue to expand in our region, and it has been a joy to watch undergraduates like Vivian and Dorsin contribute to this growth.” The high school team is finalizing their project idea and plans to focus on producing energy-on-demand using a coculture of two different bacteria, one engineered to feed the other.  One of the requirements for a silver medal at the Giant Jamboree is collaboration with another team so Telmer facilitated a partnership with the 2017 CMUQ iGEM team to have the CSL group characterize their salt sensor. The high schoolers will continue work on this project with the goal of participating in the 2018 Giant Jamboree from October 25-28. ###

Apr
20
2018

Pitt Researchers Develop Computational Model to Predict Friction of Shoes and Prevent Falls

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (April 20, 2018) … Slips and falls are one of the biggest causes of workplace injury in the U.S., and shoe choice can make all the difference in avoiding it. A proper shoe tread provides friction with the floor, which is necessary in preventing falling accidents. However, treads come in a variety of forms, and not all are designed to help prevent injury. A new computational model created by a team of researchers in the University of Pittsburgh Department of Bioengineering may help in the design of safer shoes. The project is led by Kurt Beschorner, associate professor of bioengineering at Pitt, and graduate student researcher Seyed Moghaddam, who conduct research in the Human Movement and Balance Laboratory in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. Beschorner’s lab focuses on the development of ergonomic solutions for preventing falling accidents through biomechanics and tribology fundamentals. While a lot of research has been published on how surface features affect traction or friction, there remains a need to investigate actual shoe geometries to gather an understanding of the whole shoe-floor coefficient of friction. Beschorner’s latest findings are the result of a $1.5 million NIOSH R01 award he received in 2015 to better predict the wear rate of shoes. Beschorner and his team tackled this knowledge gap and recently published an article in the Journal of Biomechanics (doi.org/10.1016/j.jbiomech.2017.11.009) that discusses how they apply their computational model to measure and predict shoe-floor coefficient of friction. His lab is one of the first to use computational modeling to study friction between shoe and floor surfaces. Over the past three months, their publication has been the top downloaded article on the journal’s website. “Shoe-floor friction is influenced by microscopic and macroscopic features of the shoe and flooring,” said Beschorner. “Using our computational model, we can look at individual features to determine how it contributes to friction mechanisms.” “The model simulates shoe and floor interactions at multiple scales,” explains Beschorner. “This includes simulating the interaction of shoe and floor features at the micrometer scale as well as the visible scale. By combining information from these two scales, we can estimate the overall performance of the shoe.” Beschorner said, “In the end, this will enable us to develop safer shoes more efficiently.” The next step for this team is to work with footwear companies to integrate these methods in their design process. ###

Apr
17
2018

Seven Bioengineering Students Recognized by the 2018 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship

Bioengineering

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master's and doctoral degrees. Recipients are awarded a three-year annual stipend of $34,000 along with a $12,000 cost of education allowance for tuition and fees. This year, six bioengineering students at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering received this competitive award, and one received an honorable mention. “Needless to say, I am delighted by this outstanding outcome,” said Sanjeev Shroff, Distinguished Professor and McGinnis Chair of Bioengineering at Pitt. “This underscores the quality of our students and their potential to serve as science ambassadors.  I am very happy to note that the infrastructure we had put in place six years ago to provide structured help to students applying for NSF-GRFP awards is now bearing fruit. This effort is currently led by Professor Patrick Loughlin, with support from several Swanson School faculty members and students who previously won NSF-GRFP awards.” The NSF Fellows are expected to become knowledge experts who can contribute significantly to research, teaching, and innovations in science and engineering. Current bioengineering students who were awarded the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship include: Henry Phalen, undergraduate student in Dr. Ervin Sejdić’s lab Adam Lewis Smoulder, undergraduate student in Dr. Neeraj Gandhi’s lab Sarah Hemler, graduate student in Kurt Beschorner’s lab Angelica Janina Herrera, graduate student in Jen Collinger’s lab Monica Fei Liu, graduate student in Doug Weber’s lab Megan Routzong, graduate student in Dr. Steven Abramowitch’s lab Maria Kathleen Jantz, a current bioengineering graduate student in Robert Gaunt’s lab, received an honorable mention. In addition to the current Swanson School students, two bioengineering alumni were also recognized: Luke Dmach, a graduate student in Georgia Tech’s biomedical engineering program, received the NSF-GRFP award; and Corey Williams, a graduate student in the University of Virginia’s biomedical engineering program, received an honorable mention. In total, eleven University of Pittsburgh students and four alumni were awarded the 2018 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. Eleven Pitt students and four alumni also received honorable mentions. Read more from the University of Pittsburgh’s press release.

Apr
13
2018

Bioengineering and the Brain

Bioengineering

In January 2014, the University of Pittsburgh announced it would establish a new Brain Institute to “unlock the mysteries of normal and abnormal brain function, and then use this new information to develop novel treatments and cures for brain disorders.” Its founding scientific director, Peter L. Strick, PhD is Distinguished Professor & Thomas Detre Endowed Chair of the Department of Neurobiology and an expert on the neural basis of movement and cognition. He believes that the success of the program requires a multi-disciplinary approach that includes the Swanson School’s Department of Bioengineering. Dr. Peter Strick enjoys telling stories and speaks with a quiet passion that resonates with the history of neuroscience he has helped to build at Pitt. He also understands that it takes more than one discipline, one way of thinking to build upon that success and create a game-changing Brain Institute. “I started at Pitt 18 years ago as the co-director of the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition (CBNC),” a joint venture between the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, with Dr. Strick representing Pitt. “The Center took the comparable strengths of CMU robotics, computer science and statistics, and merged it with the strong neuroscience and clinical programs at Pitt. At the time, Pitt’s bioengineering program was in its infancy and wasn’t involved, but I saw that as a mistake. “Neural engineering and brain interface research was beginning to blossom and I truly thought that it could be a key player in the Center, especially because of its revolutionary work in tissue engineering.” Dr. Strick explains that bioengineering was key because of its inherent nature of being a multi-faceted discipline. “I related the potential of bioengineering to the beginning of my own career, as a neuroanatomist who cross-trained in my post-doc as a neurophysiologist. An eminent neurophysiologist told me that I would have to decide what I was going to be when I grew up.  Otherwise, I would be neither fish nor fowl – I wouldn't swim well or fly well. “Fifteen years later, when he saw me once more and it became apparent that the cross training had benefited my research [in utilizing viruses to understand neural circuitry], he said he was glad I didn’t take his advice. Neuroscience and bioengineering are similar in that both need to ask questions and then use whatever technique is most appropriate to answer them.  Bioengineers have the special challenge of combining training in hard core biology with the quantitative and computational approaches of engineering.” Dr. Strick believes that “it takes a University” to develop a leading program in brain research, one that taps into the multidisciplinary and open nature of collaboration between disciplines. One of his first recruits was Andrew Schwartz, professor of neurobiology with expertise in neural control. “Andy was responsible for the explosive growth of neural engineering research at Pitt, and led a pioneering group in brain-machine interface,” Dr. Strick says. “I saw its potential and the need to nurture and sustain it.” Dr. Strick explains that Dr. Schwartz shared his vision because he too understands the need to remove barriers to collaboration and take advantage of the open academic architecture of a university like Pitt. Over time the university would grow to include approximately 150 neuroscientists across disciplines, not including purely clinical colleagues. Dr. Strick says that the Swanson School’s Department of Bioengineering continues to play a key role in that growth, especially in Pitt’s growing expertise in neural engineering and brain-machine interface research. “The bioengineering faculty truly are a university resource, an intellectual resource that is active across all departments,” he explains. “The brain-machine interface program is bigger than a single department. It includes neurosurgeons who interact with physical medicine and rehabilitation scientists who work with patients to promote recovery, as well as the bioengineering faculty who explore everything from the electrode-tissue interface of brain implants to decoding neural signals to control robotic devices.” The brain-machine interface program captured international headlines when the team enabled patient Jan Scheuermann, a 53-year-old woman who suffers from a neurodegenerative disease and is paralyzed below the neck, to move a robotic arm and feed herself a bar of chocolate. The robotic arm was controlled via microeletrode arrays implanted into the surface of her cerebral cortex, enabling her to move the arm with her thoughts. “The success with Jan is a perfect example of how a multi-disciplinary program, built from the strengths of multiple departments in a major university and its medical school, can literally transform a life,” he says. Cross-disciplinary and cross-departmental interactions, as well as outside-the-box thinking were critical to the success of this project. “In the 1980s Andy proposed placing a monkey in a primate chair and training the animal to control an imaginary ball within a virtual reality environment,” Dr. Strick remembers. “People thought this research would lead nowhere, but in fact it was the foundation to allow a woman to control a robotic arm and feed herself chocolate.” WHAT MAKES A GREAT SCIENTIST AND BIOENGINEER? “There is a notion that individuals have brains with certain specific abilities that lead some of us to be writers, others to be mathematicians and scientists and still others to be artists.  According to this view, few of us have all of these abilities.  Thus, one doesn't normally expect the math genius to be the most communicative person in the room,” Dr. Strick says. “Today's modern scientist has to be multidisciplinary and broadly skilled to be successful.  He or she must write well, speak well and of course do science well.  The modern scientist must write grants that are clear and compelling and be able to communicate their ideas and findings to the lay public as well as to specialists in the field. “The modern bioengineer has an even more daunting challenge.  They must be cross-trained in math, physics, engineering, computer science and still think like a biologist.  Learning each of these disciplines is like learning a new language.  In a sense, bioengineers must be multilingual.  Not everyone is interested or even able to stretch in this way.  Our Bioengineering Department is unique in that it has attracted faculty who speak the many languages of science and recognize the value of multiple levels of analysis from cell and molecular approaches to whole systems and networks.” BUILDING A BETTER BRAIN INSTITUTE A major task of the Brain Institute, according to Dr. Strick, is to identify and provide the necessary research resources to enable world-class neuroscience at Pitt.  These resources include major equipment, outstanding faculty and research funding.  The most difficult part of this task is fundraising. “Our faculty do a wonderful job of obtaining federal grants to support their research. But, by all accounts, federal funding for research is shrinking,” Dr. Strick explains. “As a consequence, we are in danger of shutting off the pipeline for discovery.  Our representatives and the general public want the field to translate results into new treatments and cures for neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders.  However, this translation depends critically on new discoveries that come from basic fundamental research. “In essence, without new discoveries, there is nothing to translate.  A major task of the Brain Institute is to identify financial resources that can enable us to keep the pipeline of discovery open.” As noted earlier, the core mission of the Brain Institute is to unlock the mysteries of normal and abnormal brain function, and then use this new information to develop novel treatments and cures for brain disorders.  “I see bioengineering as a major player in this mission,” Dr. Strick says. “Indeed, the faculty and students at the Swanson School and in the Neural Engineering Track are posed to make major contributions to new areas of neuroscience such as multi-modal neuro-imaging with PET, MR and MEG; neuromodulation with deep brain stimulation, and neuro-technology with brain machine interfaces.  Faculty in Bioengineering like Aaron Batista, Tracy Cui, Raj Gandhi, Takashi Kozai, Gelsy Oviedo-Torres, and Doug Weber are all involved in cutting-edge research.  The success of the Brain Institute will depend in part on the efforts of this vibrant faculty.”
Paul Kovach
Apr
12
2018

“Tic-Tac-Toe”-Themed MRI Technology Easy Win for Neurological Disease Researchers

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (April 12, 2018) … The University of Pittsburgh houses a whole-body 7 Tesla magnetic resonance imager (7T MRI), one of the strongest human MRI devices in the world and a powerful imaging tool that allows researchers to gain a far better understanding of brain structure and function. Tamer Ibrahim, associate professor of bioengineering in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, runs the Radiofrequency (RF) Research Facility and conducts experimental and human studies with this device - one of only five dozen 7T MRI machines in the world. Over the past two years, in collaboration with Pitt’s Departments of Psychiatry and Epidemiology, Ibrahim’s lab has received close to $5 million from multiple NIH grants that total more than $18 million and extend through 2022. These awards fund the development and use of innovative 7T human imaging technologies. Ibrahim and his team of bioengineering graduate students constructed and optimized the “Tic-Tac-Toe” RF coil system for 7T human MRI devices. This system is a collection of transmit antennas and receive antennas that are tightly arranged to fit the human head.  It was designed through many hours of computer simulations using full wave electromagnetic software developed in his lab. Though advancements have been made, several major obstacles still face neuro 7T imaging such as considerable scanning and preparation time for every subject; significant RF excitation intensity losses; potential RF heating; and concerns regarding the unclear RF safety assurance between different subjects. “The Tic-Tac-Toe RF coil system is a novel design that addresses many of the technical difficulties associated with ultrahigh field human MRI,” said Ibrahim. “Our system provides highly consistent and homogenous excitation across different patients, which in turn provides improved images.” In collaboration with Howard Aizenstein (MPI), Charles F. Reynolds III and Ellen G. Detlefsen Endowed Chair of Geriatric Psychiatry at Pitt, Ibrahim recently became PI/PD on an NIH R01 grant where he will use the technology developed in his lab to investigate small vessel disease in older adults with depression. This disease affects a large amount of the American population, but research has been hindered in part due to the inadequacies of traditional imaging. 7T diffusion fiber tracking. In this $3.1 million project, Ibrahim uses the “Tic-Tac-Toe” RF coil system and develops a new 7T RF coil system to better understand the neurological issues, treatment, and management of depression. “White matter hyperintensities (WMH) in the brain are a hallmark symptom of small vessel disease, which has been associated with depression in older adults,” explained Ibrahim. “Traditional MR imaging does not provide enough detail; thus, researchers cannot determine the specific mechanisms that contribute to depression. Ultrahigh field MR imaging allows for greater specificity of the WMH lesions and other components of small vessel disease, which will give us a better understanding of depression as a whole.” In addition to their work with depression, Ibrahim’s developed technology has contributed to research in a variety of other neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, sickle cell disease, and major depressive disorder. Ibrahim’s lab is composed entirely of graduate and undergraduate students who aim to develop highly technical RF devices, which they typically get to implement into clinical studies. “We have applied our work to several patient and disease studies at Pitt,” said Ibrahim. “Our lab’s research is unique because its roots are in engineering and physics, but it has now matured to extensive patient-level studies.” “It has been interesting to see our work go from engineering and physics concepts to real-world applications,” Ibrahim continued. “This is a great example of how engineering innovation done in the Swanson School of Engineering translates into medicine.” ###

Apr
10
2018

BioE’s Davidson, Debski, and Vande Geest Inducted into Medical and Biological Engineering Elite

All SSoE News, Bioengineering

Reprinted with permission from AIMBE. WASHINGTON, D.C.— The American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE) has announced the induction of three University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering professors to its College of Fellows. Lance A. Davidson, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh, for seminal contributions to developmental biomechanics, establishing theoretical frameworks and experimental techniques to expose design principles. Richard E. Debski, Ph.D., Professor of Bioengineering and Orthopaedic Surgery, Department of Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh, for outstanding contributions in bioengineering research, particularly in the area of biomechanics of shoulder and knee joints. Jonathan Vande Geest, Ph.D., Professor, Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh, for outstanding contributions to the educational and scientific advancement of experimental and computational soft tissue biomechanics. Each professor was nominated, reviewed, and elected by peers and members of the College of Fellows. Election to the AIMBE College of Fellows is among the highest professional distinctions accorded to a medical and biological engineer. The College of Fellows is comprised of the top two percent of medical and biological engineers. College membership honors those who have made outstanding contributions to "engineering and medicine research, practice, or education” and to "the pioneering of new and developing fields of technology, making major advancements in traditional fields of medical and biological engineering, or developing/implementing innovative approaches to bioengineering education." A formal induction ceremony was held during the AIMBE Annual Meeting at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC on April 9, 2018. These professors were inducted along with 156 colleagues who make up the AIMBE College of Fellows Class of 2018. About AIMBE AIMBE is the authoritative voice and advocate for the value of medical and biological engineering to society. AIMBE’s mission is to recognize excellence, advance the public understanding, and accelerate medical and biological innovation. No other organization can bring together academic, industry, government, and scientific societies to form a highly influential community advancing medical and biological engineering. AIMBE’s mission drives advocacy initiatives into action on Capitol Hill and beyond. For more information about the AIMBE, please visit www.aimbe.org.
Charlie Kim, Director of Membership Services, AIMBE
Apr
9
2018

Coming into Focus: Neeraj Gandhi receives $1.5M NIH award to study how the brain perceives moving objects

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (April 9, 2018) … Our local environments are full of moving objects, but when we look at them, our brains can take around 50-60 milliseconds to put together an image. How does our vision compensate for that lag in time when the world around us keeps moving? Neeraj Gandhi, professor of bioengineering in the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, received funding to explore that question by comparing the neural mechanisms of eye movements directed to stationary and moving objects. Gandhi leads the Cognition and Sensorimotor Integration Laboratory which investigates neural mechanisms involved in the multiple facets of sensory-to-motor transformations and cognitive processes. In this project, the group uses eye movement as a model of motor control. “When we look at our local environment, our eyes do not do so with steady fixation. The brain sends a signal to the eye muscles resulting in rapid eye movement -or saccade- that occurs several times per second,” said Gandhi. “Our visual information is taken from the points of fixation between these saccades. While the neural mechanisms of saccades with stationary objects have been well-researched, little is known about the interceptive saccades used for moving objects,” said Gandhi. The National Institutes of Health awarded Gandhi $1.5M to develop experimental and computational approaches to study the “Neural Control of Interceptive Movements.” “Consider catching a football. By the time the receiver’s brain gathers visual information, the ball has already moved further down the field,” explains Gandhi. “The athlete’s brain must then take velocity into the equation and develop an internal representation of the motion in order to successfully catch the ball.” The team will record the activity of neurons in the superior colliculus, which is a layered structure in the midbrain and a central element in producing saccadic eye movements. They will simultaneously compare the spatiotemporal properties of the neural activity at different speeds and directions during saccades to stationary and moving targets.  They will then integrate these results in a computational neural network model that simulates the neural signals and their contributions in producing both types of eye movements. “Vision is a complicated, multidisciplinary subject,” said Gandhi. “The results of this project will hopefully piece together a part of the puzzle by providing in-depth insight into the mechanisms for generation of interceptive saccades and give us a better understanding of how we visualize our active environment.” ###

Apr
6
2018

Eleven Pitt Students Awarded 2018 National Science Foundation Fellowships

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

University of Pittsburgh News Release PITTSBURGH – Eleven University of Pittsburgh students and four alumni were awarded the 2018 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. Eleven Pitt students and four alumni also received honorable mentions. The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program is designed to ensure the vitality and diversity of the scientific and engineering workforce in the United States. The program recognizes and supports outstanding students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master's and doctoral degrees. Fellows receive a three-year annual stipend of $34,000 as well as a $12,000 cost-of-education allowance for tuition and fees. The fellowship program has a long history of selecting recipients who achieve high levels of success in their future academic and professional careers. The support accorded NSF Graduate Research Fellows nurtures their ambition to become lifelong leaders who contribute significantly to both scientific innovation and teaching. Among this year's Pitt cohort, eight undergraduate and graduate students were awarded fellowships, joined by two Swanson School alumni now in graduate school. Four undergraduate and graduate students and one alumnus received honorable mentions. Mary Besterfield-Sacre, the Swanson School’s Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, attributed this year's increase in winners from engineering to a strategically focused mentor-mentee program. “The program diversity among this year’s Swanson School NSF fellows is thanks in great part to Bioengineering Professor Pat Loughlin for working with each department to identify strong candidates and faculty mentors to help them build winning portfolios,” Dr. Besterfield-Sacre said. “The NSF Graduate Research Program is incredibly competitive and we’re especially proud that undergraduates make up half of our fellows.” Current Pitt students who were awarded the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship are seniors from: - Swanson School of Engineering: Abraham Charles Cullom (civil and environmental engineering), Vani Hiremath Sundaram (mechanical engineering and material science), Adam Lewis Smoulder (bioengineering) and Henry Phalen (bioengineering); and graduate students Megan Routzong (bioengineering), Monica Fei Liu (bioengineering), Angelica Janina Herrera (bioengineering) and Sarah Hemler (bioengineering). - Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences: Graduate students Brett Baribault Bankson (psychology), Stefanie Lee Sequeira (psychology) and Alaina Nicole McDonnell (chemistry). Current Pitt students who received honorable mentions are from: - Swanson School of Engineering: seniors Anthony Joseph O’Brian (chemical and petroleum engineering), Anthony Louis Mercader (mechanical engineering and material science), Zachary Smith (electrical and computer engineering); and graduate student Maria Kathleen Jantz (bioengineering). - Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences: graduate students Amy Ryan (chemistry), Kathryn Mae Rothenhoefer (neuroscience), Andrea Marie Fetters (biological sciences), Mariah Denhart, (biological sciences), Timothy Stephen Coleman (statistics), Hope Elizabeth Anne Brooks (biological sciences), Mary Elizabeth Rouse Braza (geology and environmental science). Alumni who were awarded the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship include Thomas Robert Werkmeister (engineering science) and Luke Drnach (bioengineering) from the Swanson School, and Julianne Griffith (psychology and sociology) and Aleza Wallace (psychology) from the Dietrich School. Alumni who received honorable mentions include Corey Williams (bioengineering) from the Swanson School, Sarah Elise Post (biological sciences), Hannah Katherine Dollish (neuroscience and Slavik studies) and Krista Bullard (chemistry), the latter three from the Dietrich School. Visit https://www.fastlane.nsf.gov/grfp/Login.do for a full list of fellows and honorable mentions and to learn more about the Graduate Research Fellowship Program. # # #
Amerigo Allegretto, University Communications
Apr
4
2018

Swanson School’s Department of Bioengineering Presents David VanSickle with 2018 Distinguished Alumni Award

All SSoE News, Bioengineering, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs

PITTSBURGH (April 4, 2018) … This year’s Distinguished Alumni from the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering have worked with lesson plans and strategic plans, cosmetics and the cosmos, brains and barrels and bridges. It’s a diverse group, but each honoree shares two things in common on their long lists of accomplishments: outstanding achievement in their fields, and of course, graduation from the University of Pittsburgh. This year’s recipient for the Department of Bioengineering is David VanSickle, PhD BIOE ’98, MD ’01, Founder of South Denver Neurosurgery and Director of Denver DBS Center. The six individuals representing each of the Swanson School’s departments and one overall honoree representing the entire school gathered at the 54th annual Distinguished Alumni Banquet at the University of Pittsburgh’s Alumni Hall to accept their awards. Gerald D. Holder, US Steel Dean of Engineering, led the banquet for the final time before his return to the faculty this fall. “In the very early days of the bioengineering program here at the Swanson School, David joined Pitt from California State University at Sacramento along with Dr. Rory Cooper. Together they would establish what would become one of Pitt’s most innovative and life-changing programs – the Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL),” said Dean Holder. “Today, HERL has gained international recognition and awards for technologies that help the lives of differently abled people, especially our wounded veterans.” About David VanSickle Dr. David VanSickle earned a PhD in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh in 1998 and an MD in 2001. Originally coming to Pittsburgh with Dr. Rory Cooper in December 1993, Dr. VanSickle co-founded the Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL). To get the lab off the ground, he drove one of two trucks of laboratory equipment from Dr. Cooper’s lab at California State University in Sacramento to Pittsburgh, towing his car behind. After graduating from Pitt medical school, Dr. VanSickle pursued a career in neurosurgery and completed a six-year neurosurgery residency at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. He is board-certified by the American Board of Neurological Surgery and is a fellow of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. He has authored numerous peer-reviewed journal articles. For the past 10 years, Dr. VanSickle has been in private practice as a founding member of South Denver Neurosurgery located on the campus of Littleton Adventist Hospital, a Level II trauma center. While providing trauma and general neurosurgery care, his practice has strong emphasis on deep brain stimulation (DBS). This therapeutic system consists of placing electrodes into target areas of the brain to modify disease states such as Parkinson’s disease, essential tremor, obsessive compulsive disorder, or dystonia. Dr. VanSickle adapted the Mazor surgical robot to an image-based electrode placement technique in 2014 – becoming the first surgeon in the U.S. to place electrodes robotically. Subsequently, Littleton Adventist Hospital established the Denver DBS Center directed by Dr. VanSickle, and it’s recognized as the worldwide leader in robotic deep brain stimulation surgery. Dr. VanSickle also performs surgery for epilepsy and holds a patent for a surgically-implanted device to record epileptic events. Dr. VanSickle is married with two children residing in Denver. ###

Apr
3
2018

Using Ultrasound to Help People Walk Again

Bioengineering, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (April 3, 2017) … Spinal cord injuries impact more than 17,000 Americans each year, and although those with incomplete injuries may regain control of their limbs, overall muscle strength and mobility is weakened. Neurorehabilitation using robotic exoskeletons or electrical stimulation devices can help a person regain movement through repeated exercise. The amount of assistance through these devices during neurorehabilitation is based on the measurement of the user’s remaining muscle function. However, current sensing techniques are often unable to correctly measure voluntary muscle function in these individuals. Any discrepancies in the measurement can cause the robot to provide inadequate assistance or over-assistance. Improper robotic assistance slows recovery from the injury, and can potentially lead to falls during robot-assisted walking. To reduce this risk and provide therapists and patients with a more efficient rehabilitation tool, a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering is utilizing ultrasound imaging to develop a more precise interface between exoskeletons and individual muscles.Nitin Sharma, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, received a $509,060 CAREER award from the National Science Foundation for “Ultrasound-based Intent Modeling and Control Framework for Neurorehabilitation and Educating Children with Disabilities and High School Students.” The NSF CAREER award is the organization’s most competitive research prize for junior faculty.Current noninvasive rehabilitation devices measure electrical signals from muscle activity, also known as electromyography to predict remaining muscle function and subsequent assistance. However, Dr. Sharma explained that correctly measuring how much assistance the device should provide is a challenge with electromyography, and also its use is limited to large muscle groups. Dr. Sharma says, “In very complex muscle groups that provide a range of motions, we need to measure individual muscle activity, rather than measuring the entire muscle group at once via electromyography, because it is susceptible to interference from adjacent muscles. Ultrasound can reduce the interference from surrounding muscle groups so that we can collect, monitor and control muscle activity of individual muscle fibers.” Dr. Sharma’s lab group will specifically focus on the human ankle for both its range of complex movements and its role in providing stability and balance when walking or standing. Ultrasound will provide precise imaging of the ankle muscles responsible for specific movements, which in turn will allow for optimization of electrode placement and correct modulation of robotic assistance to initiate movement. Ultimately, Dr. Sharma intends to build an ankle exoskeleton that patients and therapists can use in clinical rehabilitation. “Rather than randomly stimulating the entire ankle area to create movement in one direction, a wearable ultrasound-based exoskeleton can better monitor and control movement so that persons with incomplete spinal cord injury can more safely and quickly walk on the road to recovery,” Dr. Sharma said. “The technology also has the potential to help patients with other walking disorders better control their gait and balance.” ### Learn more at Dr. Sharma's lab site.

Apr
3
2018

Savio L-Y. Woo Recognized as an Inaugural Orthopaedic Research Society Fellow

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (April 3, 2018) … At the 2018 Orthopaedic Research Society (ORS) Annual Meeting in New Orleans, the organization recognized its inaugural class of ORS Fellows, among them Savio L-Y. Woo, distinguished university professor emeritus of bioengineering and director of the Musculoskeletal Research Center (MSRC) at the University of Pittsburgh. ORS Fellows are recognized for their significant contributions to the field of musculoskeletal research and the ORS. As a leader in bioengineering and orthopaedics research at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, Woo has educated over 500 students and mentored 37 junior faculty. Woo established the Musculoskeletal Research Center (MSRC) in 1990 for education and research in orthopaedics. It has matured into a multidisciplinary effort that teaches and mentors highly qualified students, fellows, and residents. The MSRC laboratories cultivate a collaborative community to perform research at the molecular, cellular, tissue, and joint levels. “Dr. Woo has been an integral part of our faculty for 27 years and has significantly contributed to the success of our bioengineering department,” said Sanjeev G. Shroff, Distinguished Professor and McGinnis Chair of Bioengineering. “Through the Musculoskeletal Research Center, he has been an invaluable leader in research and mentorship, and we are delighted that he is continuing to contribute as emeritus faculty.” As an ORS Fellow, Woo will continue to advance musculoskeletal research and support the ORS mission. Fellows are leaders in their discipline and foster knowledge in their field and the ORS community through education, programming, and collaboration. Woo said, “Although I received the honor of Inaugural Fellow, I think it really represents all the hard work done by all of the people at the Musculoskeletal Research Center.” ###

Apr
2
2018

Swanson School students capture top prize and more at tenth annual Randall Family Big Idea Competition

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Electrical & Computer, Industrial, MEMS, Student Profiles

Innovation Institute News Release With a blast of confetti falling from above the stage at the Charity Randall Theater, the participants in the 2018 Randall Family Big Idea Competition celebrated the culmination of two months of extra-curricular work on ideas for new products ranging from a software platform to connect hunters to landowners to a new insulin pump for diabetics, to a wearable earbud for helping disabled people control devices with eye movement. And 13 of the 40 finalist teams celebrated sharing the $100,000 in prize money. This year’s competition was the largest yet, with more than 300 students of all levels, from freshman to doctoral, participating in the initial round comprising more than 100 teams. Teams led by Swanson School of Engineering students captured at least one win in every place. The winner of the $25,000 top prize was Four Growers, an interdisciplinary group of students led by Dan Chi of the Swanson School of Engineering. They are developing a robotic system for harvesting tomatoes in commercial greenhouses. Next up for Four Growers will be representing Pitt as its entrant in the ACC InVenture Prize competition April 4-6, 2018, at Georgia Tech University, where each university in the Atlantic Coast Conference competes against each other in an innovation pitch competition. Four Growers is one of two Pitt teams that have been accepted into the prestigious Rice Business Plan Competition the same weekend, meaning they will have to split the team to compete both in Atlanta and Houston. The other Pitt entrant is FRED, which has developed a flexible platform for dynamic social science modeling. “This is the first time Pitt has had a team accepted in the Rice competition in its 17-year history, so having not one but the maximum allowed of two teams from the university accepted is a big deal,” said Babs Carryer, Director of Education and Outreach for the Innovation Institute, who oversees the Big Idea Competition. This years’ competition marked the 10th anniversary and it included the announcement that Pitt trustee Bob Randall and his family are donating $2 million to establish the Big Idea Center at the Innovation Institute to support student entrepreneurship. See that full story here. Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher credited Bob Randall’s vision for embedding entrepreneurship into the fabric of the university with bringing about a culture change that has witnessed a dramatic increase in the experiential learning opportunities in entrepreneurship that have been built around the Big Idea Competition in the past four years. “Bob’s vision has transformed this campus in so many powerful ways. We thank you and your family for not only being a great friend and a generous benefactor but for being a catalyst for change,” he said. Chancellor Gallagher said the crucible of the Big Idea competition will serve the participants well in whatever career route they take, whether it’s launching a startup or leading new initiatives in a larger organization. “If you think about the experience of being an entrepreneur, there’s almost nothing like it. Conversion of a thought into something that’s tangible and real and of value is the magic of entrepreneurship, and to do it is a seminal learning experience,” he said. The Big Idea prize winners will proceed into the Blast Furnace student accelerator beginning in May to further develop their ideas with the goal for some of creating startup companies around their ideas. The winning Swanson School of Engineering teams include: 1st place: $25,000Four GrowersTeam: Brandon Contino (ECE), Daniel Chi (MEMS), Daniel Garcia (Neuroscience), Jiangzi Li (Katz), Rahul Ramakrishnan (CMU)Idea: Automation of tomato harvesting in commercial greenhouses 2nd place: $15,000 (1 out of 3 winners)Re-VisionTeam: Yolandi van der Merwe (BioE), Mark Murdock (Pathology/Badylak Lab)Idea: Therapeutic platform to promote ocular tissue healing after injury 3rd place: $5,000 (2 out of 4 winners) Aqua Bio-Chem DiamondTeam: Mohan Wang (ECE), Jingyu Wu (ECE)Idea: Environmentally friendly removal of pollutants from contaminated waste water PCA BuddyTeam: Akhil Aniff (BioE), Patrick Haggerty (BioE), Sarah Cummings (Nursing), Tyler Martin (BioE)Idea:  Pump that gives children the ability to self-administer medication 4th place: $2,000 (2 out of 4 winners) Steeltown RetractorTeam: Chris Dumm (MEMS), Jack Bartley (MEMS)Idea: Allows surgeons to operate more efficiently and naturally by simplifying surgical tool placement and adjustment GlucaglinTeam: Shane Taylor (ChemE), Evan Sparks (ChemE), Jake Muldowney (ChemE)Idea: Multifunctional pump for diabetics Best Video Award EXG H+TechnologiesTeam: Ker Jiun Wang (BioE), Nicolina Nanni (IE), Yu Liu, Yiqiu Ren (ECE), Kaiwen You (ECE), Xiangyu Liao (ECE), Quanbo Liu (ECE)Idea: System to use eye movement for control of a powered wheelchair, cell phone, or other Internet of Things (IoT) devices
Michael C. Yeomans, Marketing and Special Events Manager, Innovation Institute

Mar

Mar
27
2018

Postdoctoral Fellow in Brown Lab

Bioengineering, Open Positions

A postdoctoral fellow with a background in biomaterials, immunology, and/or drug delivery is being sought for a position within the Brown Laboratory at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. The Brown Laboratory seeks to couple a mechanistic understanding of the host inflammatory response in injury and disease withthe development of context dependent biomaterials and regenerative medicine strategies. The focus of the Brown Laboratory is upon clinical applications where few effective solutions currently exist, with increasing emphasis upon unmet clinical needs in the areas of aging and women’s health. Dr. Brown is a member of both the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine and the Magee Women’s Research Institute, both representing highly diverse scientific and clinical environments. The concepts of the work ongoingwithin the Brown Laboratory are in close alignment with ongoing basic science and clinical work within each of these centers. The postdoctoral fellow will perform studies to understand macrophage-fibroblast interactions in the context of the host response to implantable materials using techniques which include histopathology, immunolabeling, cell culture, flow cytometry and transcriptional profiling. A strong background in immunology, particularly macrophage biology, or drug delivery is desirable. Demonstrable skills in writing and public presentation are essential as is a strong record of peer reviewed publications. The ability to conduct independent research while also working as part of a multidisciplinary team is a must. Interested candidates should send a cover letter, CV, and a list of references to: Bryan Brown, PhD.Assistant ProfessorDepartment of BioengineeringDepartment of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive SciencesClinical and Translational Science InstituteMcGowan Institute for Regenerative MedicineUniversity of PittsburghP: (412) 624-5273E: brownb@upmc.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.

Website
Mar
21
2018

Research Assistant Professor in BioE

Bioengineering, Open Positions

The Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, Swanson School of Engineering invites applications by accomplished individuals with a Ph.D. or equivalent in Bioengineering, Biomedical Engineering, or closely related discipline. Applicants should have experience with conducting research in the field of neurovascular and neurometabolic coupling. This position will involve development and application of in vivo brain imaging platforms for diagnostics and therapy monitoring of vascular and metabolic diseases in the brain. This position is also responsible for writing grant applications and contributing to scientific advances in the field of cellular, vascular and metabolic imaging. Candidate will be responsible for publishing the scientific work conducted in peer reviewed journals and presenting findings at scientific meetings. Additionally, the candidate may assist in teaching, mentoring undergraduate or graduate students, and overseeing laboratory staff performing both in-vitro and in-vivo experiments. Located in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh, the University of Pittsburgh is a top-five institution in terms of NIH funding, and provides a rich environment for interdisciplinary research, strengthened through its affiliation with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC). The Department of Bioengineering, consistently ranked among the top programs in the country, has outstanding research and educational programs, offering undergraduate (~270 students, sophomore-to-senior years) and graduate (~150 PhD or MD/PhD and ~50 MS students) degrees. The McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine (mirm.pitt.edu), the Vascular Medicine Institute (vmi.pitt.edu), the Brain Institute (braininstitute.pitt.edu), Center for Neuroscience (neurobio.pitt.edu), and the Drug Discovery Institute (upddi.pitt.edu) offer many collaborative research opportunities. The Coulter Translational Partnership II Program (engineering.pitt.edu/coulter) and the Center for Commercial Applications of Healthcare Data (healthdataalliance.com/pitt) provide biomedical innovation and translation opportunities. Interested candidates should send the following materials as a single PDF attachment via email with the subject line titled “Neurovascular and Neurometabolic coupling”. Please send your application to bioeapp@pitt.edu: 1. Letter of Intent 2. Most recent CV 3. Teaching statement 4. Three representative publications 5. Name and complete contact information of at least 5 references. 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. The position is to be filled as soon as possible. Candidates are encouraged to apply early because applications will be reviewed as they are received.

Mar
12
2018

New Carnegie Mellon and Univ. of Pittsburgh research finds the brain is less flexible than previously thought when learning

Bioengineering

Carnegie Mellon University News Release. Posted with permission.View the original release here. PITTSBURGH – Nobody really knows how the activity in your brain reorganizes as you learn new tasks, but new research from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh reveals that the brain has various mechanisms and constraints by which it reorganizes its neural activity when learning over the course of a few hours. The new research finds that, when learning a new task, the brain is less flexible than previously thought. The research, published today in Nature Neuroscience (DOI: 10.1038/s41593-018-0095-3), examined the changes that take place in the brain when learning a new task. To truly see how neural activity changes during learning, we need to look bigger—at populations of neurons, rather than one neuron at a time, which has been the standard approach to date. The research team used a brain-computer interface (BCI), where subjects move a cursor on a computer screen by thought alone.  As with learning to play a new sport, they found that subjects learned to control the cursor more accurately with practice. They then investigated how the activity in the brain changed during learning that enabled the improved performance. They found that, on a time scale of a few hours, the brain does not reconfigure its neural activity to maximize the speed and accuracy by which it moves the cursor. “In this experimental paradigm, we’re able to track all of the neurons that can lead to behavioral improvements and look at how they all change simultaneously,” says Steve Chase, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Carnegie Mellon and the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition. “When we do that, what we see is a really constrained set of changes that happen, and it leads to this suboptimal improvement of performance. And so, that implies that there are limits that constrain how flexible your brain is, at least on these short time scales.” When we’re learning a new task, we can’t instantaneously learn it to proficiency, in part due to the way in which the neurons are wired up in the brain. Learning takes time, and there are mechanisms by which neurons can change the way they communicate with each other to enable learning—some of which can be fast, and some of which can take longer. The team found that the brain operates under a more stringent set of constraints than originally thought, resulting in good learning on the short term, but nevertheless suboptimal performance in controlling the BCI cursor. Imagine a tennis player whose friends have asked her to play squash. When she picks up the squash racket, it’s lighter than the tennis racket she is used to, and it has a slightly different balance point. But since she’s a good tennis player, this difference in rackets doesn’t cause her to miss the ball completely. She adjusts quickly, but she hasn’t immediately picked up the swing form of a squash player. To really become an expert, it will require a long period of training with the new equipment. However, her experienced squash-playing friends will quickly see that she is a tennis player, because until she’s learned the proper technique, she’ll be swinging the squash racket the same as she would a tennis racket. “Just as it takes time to train a person to swing a squash racket like an expert, it takes time to train one’s neurons to produce the ideal activity patterns,” says Byron Yu, associate professor of biomedical engineering and electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon. “When faced with a new task, we’re finding that the brain is constrained to take the neural activity patterns that it’s capable of generating right now and use them as effectively as possible in this new task.” “When we learn, at first the brain tends to not produce new activity patterns, but to repurpose the activity patterns it already knows how to generate,” says Aaron Batista, an associate professor in the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh. “Learning over the course of a few hours is suboptimal. When first learning something new, our brain doesn’t seem to be able to change its activity in the best possible way to allow us to be proficient at new skills.” Acquiring a skill is very difficult, and it takes a lot of time and a lot of practice. But when you’re first starting to learn a new skill, your brain has to adjust quickly to the new task. The researchers found that the brain is constrained to take neural activity patterns it already knows and use them for the new task. By repurposing neuron patterns the brain is already capable of generating, the brain applies a “quick and dirty fix” to the new problem it’s facing. “None of us predicted this outcome,” says Matthew Golub, a postdoctoral researcher in electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon. “Learning is far more limited on the scale of a few hours than any of us were expecting when we started this. We were all surprised that the brain wasn’t able to choose the best strategy possible.” The research was done in collaboration with the Center for Neural Basis of Cognition, a cross-university research and educational program between Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh that leverages each institution’s strengths to investigate the cognitive and neural mechanisms that give rise to biological intelligence and behavior. ### Carnegie Mellon University The College of Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University is a top-ranked engineering college that is known for our intentional focus on cross-disciplinary collaboration in research. The College is well-known for working on problems of both scientific and practical importance. Our "maker" culture is ingrained in all that we do, leading to novel approaches and transformative results. Our acclaimed faculty have a focus on innovation management and engineering to yield transformative results that will drive the intellectual and economic vitality of our community, nation and world. About the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering: The University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering is one of the oldest engineering programs in the United States and is consistently ranked among the top 25 public engineering programs nationally. The Swanson School excels in basic and applied research in areas including sustainability, energy systems, bioengineering, micro- and nanosystems, computational modeling, advanced manufacturing, and advanced materials development. Curricular programs in innovation, product design, and entrepreneurship provide students with a strong foundation for even greater creativity and life opportunities.
Emily Durham, Carnegie Mellon University, College of Engineering
Mar
6
2018

San Diego Based Business Development Executive Allison Formal appointed Director of Pitt’s Coulter Translational Research Partners II Program

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (March 6, 2018) … After an extensive national search, the Coulter Translational Research Partners II Program at the University of Pittsburgh (Coulter@Pitt), has named Allison Formal, MBA as the Director of the Coulter Program in the Swanson School of Engineering.  Ms. Formal succeeds Max A. Fedor, MBA who moved within the University as the Executive Director of the Pittsburgh CREATES program at the Eye & Ear Foundation of Pittsburgh. Allison has a proven talent for identifying innovation. From concept through execution, she has produced thoughtful plans to assess business opportunities and assist researchers in addressing challenges in translational technology and development. “Allison’s business development experience will be very helpful to lead Coulter@Pitt through its next phase of growth and sustainability for the program at Pitt,” stated Sanjeev G. Shroff, PhD, the principal investigator of the Coulter@Pitt Program and Distinguished Professor and Gerald McGinnis Chair of Bioengineering at Pitt. Allison earned her MBA in finance and marketing from Marymount University. She started her professional career at Pfizer and has over 30 years of industry experience creating business alliances to advance biomedical innovations toward commercialization. She was most recently an Entrepreneur in Residence at UCLA with the Technology Development Group (the equivalent of Pitt’s Innovation Institute) and a consultant for Tollbridge Therapeutics founded by Nobel Laureate Bruce Beutler and the Myeloproliferative Neoplasm Research Foundation (MPNRF) where she now serves on the Board of Directors. Allison has been and remains focused on strategic planning and implementation for successful proof of concept studies. As the VP of Research Business Development at The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), Allison played a key role building the successful venture philanthropy arm, the Therapy Acceleration Program (TAP). She created more than 60 research and development partnerships, investing in biopharmaceutical companies and academic researchers to develop therapies and diagnostics aimed at changing the standard of care for blood cancers. Allison has also held several leadership roles in biopharmaceutical companies including: VP, Business Development, MediQuest; VP, Business Development, Neuralstem; Director, International Division of Watson Pharmaceutical (now Allergan); and Director, Business Development, Humanitarian Aid Division of Schein-Bayer Pharmaceutical. Another unique set of qualifications brought by Allison include the roles she has played as an oversite committee member for the Translational Medicine and Commercialization Program at the University of Michigan Medical School (MTRAC, a program in the state of Michigan modeled on the Coulter process), a member of the grant review committee funding Bio-Therapeutic innovations at Oregon Health & Sciences University, and working with the commercialization committee at Washington State University. Alison said, “The University of Pittsburgh has a rich history of outstanding innovation, and I am very excited to be a part of its future, playing a role that will enable the biomedical engineering excellence to further develop and thrive. Pitt has played a leading role in making the Pittsburgh area a growing tech and innovation hub, and the Coulter model has significantly enhanced the entrepreneurial spirit. I am so pleased to be part of this vibrant community.” About the Coulter Program The Coulter Translational Research Partners II Program is a University based accelerator, designed to help faculty researchers translate their innovations to commercialization. By way of a competitive grant program, training processes, and collaborative services, our goal is to de-risk University technology and identify viable commercial pathways through the complex healthcare industry landscape. Further, we engage extensively with business partners, mentors and clinical experts to bring industry perspectives to translational research. In 6 years, the Coulter Program has attracted almost 200 applications, funded 31 projects leading to eight license agreements, four optioned technologies and eight start-up companies. About the Department of Bioengineering at the Swanson School of Engineering Bioengineering is the application of engineering principles to analyze native biological systems and to design and manufacture tools, structures, and processes for solving problems in the life sciences. Successful patient-focused and commercialization-oriented collaborations between engineers and physicians who traditionally employ differing methodologies are critical to the burgeoning field and to regional economic development. Pitt's Department of Bioengineering, established in 1998 as part of the Swanson School of Engineering and ranked as one of the nation's top bioengineering programs, is credited for developing many major biomedical technologies: cardiac-assist device for infants, a blood-treatment tool that can free patients from ventilator dependence, materials that help regenerate various tissues and organs, to name a few. ###

Mar
6
2018

Neuroimaging Lab Postdoc Position

Bioengineering, Open Positions

The Neuroimaging Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh has a postdoctoral research fellow position open immediately. The candidate should possess a Ph.D. degree in biomedical engineering, neuroscience, or a related field, and have published scholarly articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals. He/she should have a strong research background in system’s neuroscience, computation, neurophysiology (blood flow regulation, metabolism), neural engineering and/or data analysis (signal/image processing). Experience with rodent experimentation, advanced biological imaging (two-photon and optical microscopy), neural tissue histology and data analysis in MATLAB/Python are essential. The candidate will work on longitudinal imaging of rodent brain dynamics in health and disease. The candidate may also be involved in projects related to neural engineering and early detection of Alzheimer’s disease. He/she will be working with an interdisciplinary team of neural engineers, neurologists, radiologists, material scientists and biophysicists. Interested candidates should submit curriculum vitae, the names of three references, a statement of research experience, and date of availability to Alberto L. Vazquez (alv15@pitt.edu ). Information on the Neuroimaging Laboratory can be found on this website (http://neuroimaginglab.pitt.edu). The Departments of Radiology and Bioengineering are 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.

Neuroimaging Laboratory Website

Feb

Feb
23
2018

Swanson School’s Ervin Sejdic among 2018 Chancellor’s Award winners

Bioengineering, Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (February 23, 2018) … The Swanson School of Engineering’s Ervin Sejdić is among eleven University faculty members to be recognized with the University of Pittsburgh’s Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching, Research and Public Service Awards at the annual Honors Convocation on Feb. 23. Dr. Sejdić, associate professor in the Swanson School’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, will receive the Chancellor’s Distinguished Research Award in the Junior Scholars category and receive a $2,000 prize and $3,000 grant to support research. Dr. Sejdić, who also has a faculty appointment in the Swanson School’s Department of Bioengineering, was selected for his work establishing the field of signal processing for swallowing accelerometry, and for significant contributions to multisystem quantification of the human gait. Chancellor Patrick Gallagher noted that this “groundbreaking work has earned you international standing in your field,” including more than $7.4 million for his research. “I am incredibly honored to be recognized by the Chancellor and the Pitt community for my research,” Dr. Sejdić said. “The strong collaboration between the Swanson School, the School of Medicine, and UPMC is a rarity among universities and has helped me to further my research. This award is a recognition of how those partnerships have established Pitt as one of the top research universities in the U.S.” In February 2017, Dr. Sejdić was among five Swanson School junior faculty to receive a CAREER award from the National Science Foundation, the organization’s most prestigious award for junior faculty who exemplify outstanding research, teaching, and their integration.  The five-year, $549,139 award would further his research using high-resolution vibration and sound recordings that would help doctors diagnose dysphagia and assist patients in improving how to properly swallow while eating or drinking. “This is a well-deserved award for Ervin and is a testament to his passion for life-changing research,” noted Alan George, Department Chair and R&H Mickle Endowed Chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “He is an inspiration for our faculty and students alike, and I look forward to his future success at the Swanson School.” ### About Dr. Sejdić Dr. Sejdić’s research interests include biomedical signal processing, gait analysis, swallowing difficulties, advanced information systems in medicine, rehabilitation engineering, assistive technologies, and anticipatory medical devices. During his undergraduate studies at the University of Western Ontario, Dr. Sejdić specialized in wireless communications, while his PhD project focused on signal processing. These two areas would influence his postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Toronto’s Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering, where he focused on rehabilitation engineering and biomedical instrumentation. He was also a research fellow in medicine at Harvard Medical School cross-appointed at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, where he focused on cardiovascular and cerebrovascular monitoring of older diabetic adults. Dr. Sejdić has co-authored more than 90 publications in the last five years and is the co-holder of seven patents. In 2016, he was one of four Pitt faculty and 105 researchers nationwide to receive the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. Government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.

Feb
21
2018

Undergraduate mechanical engineering student places second at the AHA Research Fellows Day poster session

Bioengineering, MEMS, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (February 21, 2018) … Residents, fellows, postdocs, and medical students filed into the University Club to compete in the American Heart Association’s 26th annual Fellows Research Day poster session. Among this group of accomplished young researchers was Trevor Kickliter, a mechanical engineering sophomore in the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering. Kickliter works in the lab of David Vorp, Associate Dean for Research and the John A. Swanson Professor of Bioengineering, where he uses commercial and custom-built software to study vascular diseases. On a whim he decided to pick up some research that had been put on the back-burner, and what started as a side project in the lab turned out to yield interesting results that intrigued some of Vorp’s cardiologist collaborators. Kickliter joined a group of researchers and began to look at how to detect reductions in the coronary arteries of pediatric patients. Other members of the research team include Aneesh Ramaswamy, a bioengineering graduate student researcher in the Vorp Lab; Brian Feingold, a pediatric cardiologist at UPMC; and Justin Weinbaum, research assistant professor of bioengineering at Pitt. “Late failure remains a major cause of death after pediatric heart transplantations,” explained Kickliter. “When coronary arteries begin to narrow, it is a hint that heart failure may be imminent, and with pediatric patients, treatment is difficult when this reduction becomes severe.” Kickliter said, “Cardiologists struggle to detect this gradual reduction on angiograms so our group decided to develop a tool to quantify the progression of coronary arteriopathy, thereby mitigating human error.” Vorp added, “Machine learning tools have well-established uses in biomedical image analysis, and Trevor recognized that such a tool could be used to overcome the limitations of current human analysis in this application.” Kickliter and his team trained a convolutional neural network to automatically identify the arteries and any reductions that may be happening. “We collected 2D angiography data from pediatric patients following heart transplantation then selected and segmented individual frames to generate binary masks over the coronary arteries,” explained Kickliter. “These images and masks were used for the neural network, and the accuracy, precision, and area under the Receiver Operating Characteristic (ROC) curve -a plot of the true positive rate against the false positive rate- were used to assess its performance.” Excited by the promising results, Feingold encouraged Kickliter to submit an abstract to the AHA’s Fellows Research Day. The event’s poster session was judged by some of the region’s leading physicians and scientists. Though he faced competition from more experienced researchers, Kickliter, one of the youngest participants, won 2nd place and $250 in the clinical science category. “When Dr. Feingold suggested that we submit an abstract to the AHA Fellows Day, I was skeptical because my experience with these is that they are populated by very high-quality, polished MD residents and fellows, with an occasional post-doc,” said Vorp. “In most circumstances, I would not want one of my undergraduate researchers to be thrown to the wolves like this, but if anyone could handle the pressure, it would be Trevor. I am very proud of him and look forward to watching him continue to grow.” Kickliter and the other award winners were acknowledged at the Pittsburgh Heart Ball on Saturday, February 17, 2018 at the Pittsburgh Wyndham Grand Hotel. The group plans to continue research on this project. “This was really preliminary work, and there is still a long way to go,” said Kickliter. “We plan to improve the algorithm and train our network on a larger dataset to improve its performance. In the end, we hope that our work will help prevent heart failure in future pediatric heart transplant recipients.”

Feb
16
2018

Undergraduate Students Awarded at the Engineers’ Society of Western PA Annual Banquet

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

PITTSBURGH (February 16, 2018) … Last night as engineers from across the region gathered to attend the 134th Annual Engineering Awards Banquet of the Engineers’ Society of Western Pennsylvania (ESWP), the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering announced its recipients of the George Washington Prize. This year’s recipient is Le Huang, an undergraduate student in bioengineering and an active member of the Swanson School community during her time at Pitt. Huang works as a research assistant in the Cardiovascular Systems Laboratory where she is developing a MATLAB-based mathematical model of the human cardiovascular system. Prior to that, she worked in the Cognition and Sensorimotor Integration Laboratory and has been a teaching assistant for several bioengineering and chemistry courses. Additionally, Huang is involved in Pitt’s Society of Women Engineers (SWE) where she serves on the executive board, co-chairs the Women in STEM Conference, and acts as an outreach activity leader for K-12 students. Pitt’s award-winning SWE chapter organizes events around the city of Pittsburgh to young women to explore STEM opportunities. Finalists for the George Washington Prize are Isaac Mastalski (Chemical Engineering) and Adam Smoulder (Bioengineering). Semi-finalists are Jennifer Cashman (Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science) and Sean Justice (Electrical and Computer Engineering). “The Swanson School is proud to recognize Le and the other finalists for their outstanding accomplishments at Pitt,” said Gerald D. Holder, U.S. Steel Dean of Engineering at Pitt. “Le and her colleagues are very deserving of this competitive award, and we think they will be successful Pitt Engineering alumni.” The George Washington Prize, founded in 2008, honors the first President of the United States and the country’s first engineer. Its mission is to reinforce the importance of engineering and technology in society, and the enhance the visibility of the profession across the Swanson School’s engineering disciplines. The annual award recognizes Pitt seniors who display outstanding leadership, scholarship and performance as determined by a committee of eight professional engineers and Swanson School faculty. Winners receive a $2500 Dean’s Fellowship and award plaque. An additional $7,500 is awarded to the winner if he or she attends graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh. Founded in 1880, ESWP is a nonprofit association of more than 850 members and 30 affiliated technical societies engaged in a full spectrum of engineering and applied science disciplines. Now in its 134th year, the annual Engineering Awards Banquet is the oldest award event in the world - predating the Nobel Prize (1901), the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal (1907), and the Pulitzer Prize (1917).

Feb
16
2018

Postdoctoral Positions in Cardiopulmonary Organ-on-a-Chip

Bioengineering, Open Positions

A postdoctoral position is available through a collaboration between the laboratories of Dr. Stephen Chan, M.D., Ph.D., a physician-scientist and Director of the Center for Pulmonary Vascular Biology and Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh and Dr. Warren Ruder, Ph.D., a synthetic biologist and Assistant Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh. The postdoctoral associate will develop an arteriole-on-a-chip system to recapitulate pulmonary arteriole vasculature in vitro for the purpose of studying pulmonary hypertension (PH). The system will integrate air-perfused airway epithelial cells with a liquid-perfused co-culture of pulmonary artery endothelial cells, smooth muscle cells, and adventitial fibroblasts in a synthetic biology-enhanced microfluidic model to study the effects of microRNAs on PH. PhD, MD or MD/PhD is required. The successful candidate will be highly motivated, with excellent written and verbal English communication skills, experience and expertise in cell culture, molecular biology, and microfluidic systems, and a proven track record of their ability to develop high impact research projects in the field of bioengineering. Particular consideration will be given to candidates with demonstrated experience in synthetic biology, and experience developing organ-on-a-chip systems. The University of Pittsburgh is an Equal Opportunity Employer. Women and minorities are especially encouraged to apply. Interested applicants should forward their CV, statement of research interests, and references to: Warren Ruder, Ph.D. (warrenr@pitt.edu) Assistant Professor Department of BioengineeringUniversity of Pittsburgh Stephen Chan, M.D., Ph.D. (chansy@upmc.edu)Associate Professor and Director, Center for  Pulmonary Vascular Biology and Medicine University of Pittsburgh and UPMC The Department of Bioengineering and the Center for Pulmonary Vascular Biology and Medicine are 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 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.

Feb
8
2018

Pitt Undergraduates Finish in Second Place of Ergonomics Design Competition for Third Consecutive Year

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Industrial, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (February 8, 2018) … Undergraduate students from the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering finished in second place overall for the third year in a row at the International Ergonomics Design Competition hosted by Auburn Engineers, Inc.“We entered six teams this year, and two of them finished in the top five with one team finishing as the runner-up again,” said Joel Haight, associate professor of industrial engineering and director of Pitt’s Safety Engineering Program. Dr. Haight is faculty advisor to the Ergonomic Design Competition teams.Throughout the fall semester, students worked on a Preliminary Design Project to identify workplace stressors and apply ergonomic design principles to alleviate them. This year’s challenge centered on improving an operating room for veterinarians treating large dogs. The Final Design Project, which the students had to complete in 48 hours, involved the evaluation and redesign of a work station at a small engine repair shop.The Pitt teams comprised students from the departments of industrial engineering, bioengineering, chemical engineering, and psychology. According to Dr. Haight, the competition came down to the wire, with the Pitt students just barely edged out of the first place spot.“Our students were up against graduate students at almost all of the schools, and our top team came in just behind a team of graduate students from the University of Buffalo,” noted Dr. Haight.In addition to the two top five teams, the four other Pitt teams received honorable mentions, meaning they finished among the top 14 teams. A total of 28 teams competed, including students from the University of Michigan, Auburn University, Texas A&M, Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo Leon (Mexico), Virginia Tech, Concordia, and others.In response to the success of Pitt’s undergraduate students’ performance over the past three years, David C. Alexander, president of Auburn Engineers and competition director, collaborated with Dr. Haight to write a joint paper about the competition and its contribution to education.“We submitted the paper to the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers’ annual conference in Orlando, and it’s been accepted. We will talk about the competition and industrial engineering education at Pitt to conference attendees this May,” said Dr. Haight. Image (left to right): Top five finishers Dr. Haight, Rip Rucker (IE), Lauren Czerniak (IE), Sean Callaghan (IE), and Connor Bomba (IE) Image (left to right): Dr. Haight, James Oosten (BioE), Katelyn Axman (BioE), and Matt Astbury (BioE) Image (left to right): Dr. Haight, Mackenzie Cavanaugh (IE), Aster Chmielewski (IE), Tom Kramer (IE), and Chris Herrick (IE) Image (left to right): Matt Jones (Psy), Charlie Gates (IE), and Dr. Haight, missing from photo: Jack Clark (ChemE) Image (left to right): Evan Poska (IE), Matt Hoge (IE), Chris C.J. Luther (IE), and Dr. Haight ###
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer
Feb
6
2018

New Gordon Research Conference on Neuroelectronic Interfaces Co-Founded by BioE’s Takashi Kozai

Bioengineering

Electrophysiological signals being detected from neurons (blue) with a sub-cellular sized implantable composite microelectrode designed to stealthily avoid the foreign body response. (Image by TDY Kozai/BionicLab.ORG) PITTSBURGH (February 6, 2018) ... Takashi Kozai, assistant professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, will act as co-vice chair at the inaugural Gordon Research Conference on Neuroelectronic Interfaces. The meeting will take place March 25-30, 2018 in Galveston, Texas. Neuroelectronic interfaces -commonly known as brain-machine (or brain-computer) interfaces- create a direct communication line from the central nervous system to the outside world. This connection allows scientists to research ways to rehabilitate those with paralysis, other forms of motor dysfunction, or limb loss. “One major limitation for practical clinical translation, despite nearly 60 years of chronic neural interface research, is that there remains a poor understanding of the complex biological and material failure modes across all classes of microelectrode arrays,” Kozai explains. “Among several classes of multi-modal problems encountered, the strong foreign body response, scar tissue formation, and implant material breakdown over time are critical obstacles. These issues ultimately lead to an electrical decoupling of implanted devices from the brain and a loss of signal.” “Our inaugural Gordon Research Conference (GRC) on Neuroelectronic Interfaces will challenge the international field to turn back to the drawing board of basic materials research armed with emerging basic neurosciences knowledge,” Kozai says. The event will bring together a multi-disciplinary team of leading experts in cellular neuroscience, brain pathology, neuro-technology and materials science to discuss and eventually solve these challenges in order to achieve a chronically useful and reliable neural interface. Kozai leads the Bio-Integrating Optoelectric Neural Interface & Cybernetics Lab (B.I.O.N.I.C. Lab) in the Swanson School of Engineering. The lab takes a multidisciplinary approach to better understand interactions at micro-scale neural interfaces and develop next-generation neural technologies that reduce or reverse negative tissue interactions. “As both scientific knowledge and technological advances progress, we’re finding that many of the assumptions that were made in the field are limited in scope, or incomplete,” Kozai says. “As a result, we see more and more of these dogmas fall apart as we push the limits of engineering.” As part of the five-day event, Kozai will lead a discussion on “Biomechanics of the Device-Tissue Interface.” The program also includes Xinyan Tracy Cui, William Kepler Whiteford Professor of Bioengineering at Pitt, who will present a talk titled “Biomimetic Strategy for Seamless Neural Electrode-Tissue Integration.” “The Gordon Research Conference is unlike most other conferences in that you get to spend a week sitting shoulder to shoulder with the leaders in the field to discuss new ideas and emerging research and development,” Kozai says. “We’ve been fortunate enough to bring together an all-star list of the world’s expert scientists and engineers.” Applications for this meeting must be submitted by February 25, 2018. Visit: https://www.grc.org/neuroelectronic-interfaces-conference/2018/. See the research being done at Pitt’s Human Neural Prosthetics Program: http://www.neurosurgery.pitt.edu/centers-excellence/human-neural-prosthetics.

Feb
1
2018

Pitt Researchers Look at “Relaxin” to Heal an Aging Heart

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (February 1, 2018) … As we age, the risk of developing cardiovascular disease such as heart failure and atrial fibrillation increases dramatically, and the rates of these age-associated diseases are expected to rise with a rapidly aging population. A team of researchers at the University of Pittsburgh believes that a naturally occurring hormone, relaxin, can reverse some of the effects of aging on the heart to reduce these risks through inhibiting a chronic, age-associated inflammatory response termed “inflammaging”. The study, “Relaxin reverses inflammatory and immune signals in aged hearts” (https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0190935) was led by Guy Salama, professor of medicine at Pitt, and Brian Martin, his graduate student researcher from the Swanson School of Engineering’s Department of Bioengineering. “While inflammation is helpful in instances of tissue injury or infection, the inflammatory response usually subsides upon injury resolution,” Martin explains. “However, in aging, there appears to be low-grade, systemic inflammation which can result in excess inflammatory and immune cells producing substances that are toxic to surrounding tissue.” In the case of the heart, damage to nearby tissue leads to pathological remodeling that lowers the threshold for disease development. “A notable occurrence in many cardiovascular diseases is a natural response to injury where collagen builds up on or between cells,” said Martin. “This accumulation can cause the heart to function improperly.” Relaxin is a naturally occurring hormone in the body that was discovered for its involvement in pregnancy and childbirth; however, studies have shown that it has multiple benefits outside of pregnancy in both sexes. “In a study using a male rat model of aging we showed that relaxin dramatically reduced incidence of arrhythmias, which can lead to stroke and sudden death,” said Salama. “We then found that relaxin reversed maladaptive electrical changes that are known to occur in patients with atrial fibrillation. Its primary effects were a dramatic reduction in collagen accumulation and a beneficial remodeling of cardiac electrical components needed for proper heart contraction.” “While much work is being done to understand how relaxin leads to these changes, the mechanisms by which relaxin mediates its effects are still largely unknown,” said Martin. For their study, the group used the F-344 Brown/Norway rat model from the National Institute of Aging because of its similar characteristics to human aging. What differentiated this study from others was their comparison of the effects of aging and relaxin between the sexes. “We used RNA-sequencing to count the messenger RNA (mRNA) levels in the tissue so that we can gauge what aging is doing at the genetic level and if relaxin can reverse these effects,” said Martin. “We then used a computational approach to analyze the differences in gene expression patterns of the rats and examined the vast literature on what each gene may be involved in. This can begin to predict what functional effects these genes will have in the body.” The results showed a difference in inflammatory and immune signaling between the male and female rats. The female rats had an overexpression of inflammatory and immune related genes which upon relaxin treatment, were suppressed. Though male rats did not show activation of inflammatory or immune responses in aging, relaxin still reduced gene expression of many inflammatory-related genes. These data suggest that relaxin can act as a potent anti-inflammatory. The team plans to continue research to further understand the effects of relaxin on “inflammaging.” “These results open a multitude of exciting possibilities,” said Salama. “Many cardiovascular diseases have an associated inflammatory component, and therefore, relaxin could be a potential therapy for these diseases.” ###

Jan

Jan
29
2018

Swanson School Students Succeed at the Startup Blitz

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Electrical & Computer, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (January 29, 2018) … The University of Pittsburgh Innovation Institute hosted its biannual Startup Blitz where nearly 50 students from across the University presented their ideas and innovations to a panel of peers and entrepreneurial experts. The Swanson School of Engineering students had a strong showing and were represented in each of the top three teams. These teams demonstrated interdepartmental collaborations that proved successful in creating ideas that spoke to fellow entrepreneurs. The top prize went to a project that may look familiar to those who attended the School’s fall semester Design Expo. The Posture Protect team of bioengineering students Tyler Bray, Raj Madhani, Jacob Meadows, and Vaishali Shetty came out on top again. They pitched their prototype for a device that helps improve posture for individuals with Parkinson’s disease to the panel of judges and were presented the first place award of $1,500. The Beacone team pitching their idea. (Photo credit: Pitt Innovation Institute) “I am delighted this team of students and their project from our fall 2017 ENGR 1716 Art of Making class won 1st place at Startup Blitz,” said Joseph Samosky, assistant professor of bioengineering and course director of The Art of Making. “In our course we promote human-centered design, the ability to frame and innovatively solve real-world problems, and how to effectively communicate your ideas to others,” said Samosky. “The Posture Protect team pursued an outstanding design thinking process, and they richly deserve the accolades they’re getting. Their project has real potential to help people with Parkinson’s.” The first runner up team included chemical engineering and Pitt STRIVE student, Henry Ayoola and electrical and computer engineering student, Teddy Valinski. They created Beacone, a safety program for manufacturing plants and construction sites that utilizes a smart device. The team was awarded a prize of $1,000. The Four Growers team presented with their award. (Photo credit: Pitt Innovation Institute) The second runner up team included electrical and computer engineering student, Dan Chi and bioengineering student, Ruben Hartogs. They created Four Growers, an automated device for harvesting tomatoes in commercial greenhouses. They were awarded $500 for their innovation. The Innovation Institute encourages students with entrepreneurial aspirations to apply to the upcoming Randall Family Big Idea Competition. Applications are due February 5. Read the entire news release from the Innovation Institute.

Jan
23
2018

Vascular Bypass Grafting: A Biomimetic Engineering Approach

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (January 23, 2018) … When a patient with heart disease is in need of a vascular graft but doesn’t have any viable veins or arteries in his or her own body, surgeons can rely on synthetic, tissue-engineering grafts. However, the body often treats these substitutes as a threat and rejects them. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh are developing synthetic grafts that mimic the body’s own blood vessels to mitigate many of the complications of bypass surgery.“The current best available treatment is to use the patient’s saphenous vein or mammary artery, but not everyone has enough of these healthy blood vessels to use when they need a bypass,” says Jonathan Vande Geest, Professor of Bioengineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “A biocompatible, tissue-engineered graft would provide these patients with treatment options that currently do not exist.”The National Institutes of Health awarded Dr. Vande Geest and his multi-institutional research team $672,682 for his one-year study, “Preclinical assessment of a compliance matched biopolymer vascular graft.” His research builds upon his work at Pitt’s Soft Tissue Biomechanics Laboratory designing newly engineered materials that mechanically and microstructurally behave the same way as the body’s native tissues.“’Biomimetic’ means that we study the organization and architecture of normal healthy tissue and use this information to guide our design and development of a tissue-engineered substitute,” explains Dr. Vande Geest. “For example, every functioning artery has a one-cell thick lining called an endothelium responsible for reducing thrombosis and controlling blood flow. Our graft will be endothelialized using blood derived endothelial cells.” Vascular smooth muscle cells embedded in an elastin layered and biomimetic tissue-engineered vascular graft Large-diameter vascular grafts are commonly used in some vascular surgeries and can function perfectly up to 10 years after implantation. However, the body often treats small-diameter grafts as dangerous foreign objects. The result can be artery occlusion or blood clotting—detrimental conditions called hyperplasia and thrombosis, respectively. “Small-diameter vascular grafts, or grafts involving blood vessels with an internal diameter smaller than five millimeters, have much higher failure rates than larger ones,” says Dr. Vande Geest. “A significant proportion of vascular disease cases involve small-diameter blood vessels, so the demand for viable treatment options is very high.”A normal healthy artery is organized with alternating layers of collagen and elastin, which provide structural support and elasticity. Dr. Vande Geest’s proposed graft uses alternating layers of gelatin and tropoelastin as substitutes. Gelatin is derived from collagen, and tropoelastin is a precursor to elastin. He will use these materials along with computational optimiztion to engineer a graft with compliance similar to a real artery, eliminating compliance mismatch - an important rejection mechanism in currently used grafts.“We believe our method of mimicking native artery microstructure and mechanics will result in a successful tissue-engineered graft, and this grant will support trials to perfect both our experimental and computational approach,” says Dr. Vande Geest. ###
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer
Jan
22
2018

Pitt’s Center for Medical Innovation awards five novel biomedical devices with $115,000 total Round-2 2017 Pilot Funding

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (January 22, 2018) … The University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Medical Innovation (CMI) awarded grants totaling $115,000 to five engineering and medicine groups through its 2017 Round-2 Pilot Funding Program for Early Stage Medical Technology Research and Development. The latest funding proposals include proposed solutions to conditions such as peripheral artery disease, pulmonary fibrosis, improving auditory pathology detection, improved wound healing and repair, and a better means to perform root canal surgery. The Center for Medical Innovation, a University Center housed in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, 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. “We have an extremely strong cohort from our 2017 Round 2 funding,” said Alan D. Hirschman, PhD, CMI Executive Director. “The collaboration between engineering and medicine at Pitt provides a fertile setting for novel medical technology, and so we’re proud to give these researchers funding to take their ideas to the next level.” AWARD 1: A structurally and mechanically tunable Biocarpet for peripheral arterial diseaseDevelopment of a prototype “Biocarpet” that is mechanically and topographically tunable and can be used to treat complex peripheral artery disease. This will help treat long lesions in peripheral arteries that have multiple stenoses. Jonathan P. Vande Geest, PhD Professor of Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering Kang Kim, PhD Associate Professor of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; and secondary appointment in Department of Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering William R. Wagner, PhD Professor of Surgery University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; Director, McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, and secondary in Department of Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering John J. Pacella, MD, MS Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; and Vascular Medicine Institute Kenneth J. Furdella Graduate Student, Department of Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering AWARD 2: FibroKineTM: CXCL10 Biomimetic Peptides for Treatment of Pulmonary Fibrosis Development of an inhaled aerosol delivery system will achieve target organ specificity and efficient delivery to the lung. This will specifically aid patients who suffer from Pulmonary Fibrosis. Cecelia C. Yates, PhD Assistant Professor of Health Promotion and Development, University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing Timothy E. Corcoran, PhD Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; and secondary appointments in departments of Bioengineering and Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering Zariel I. Johnson, PhD Postdoctoral Associate, Department of Health Promotion and Development, University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing Christopher Mahoney, M.S. PhD Candidate, Department of Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering AWARD 3: Hearing for Health: Single Unit Hearing Screener and AmplifierDevelopment of a wearable product that will allow health care professionals to quickly screen individuals for hearing loss. The device would also further provide sound amplification for those individuals with difficulty hearing. Catherine V. Palmer, PhD Program Director and Associate Professor, Audiology Program, Department of Communication Science & Disorders, University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences; and Department of Otolaryngology, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Jeffrey S. Vipperman, PhD Professor and Department Vice-Chair of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering AWARD 4: Gel-based reconstructive matrix for treating orbital trauma and periocular woundsDevelopment of a novel ocular trauma management system, for immediate response to injuries that occur to the areas including and surrounding the eye. Morgan Fedorchak, PhD Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology and Clinical & Translational Sciences, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; secondary appointment in Chemical Engineering, University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering; and Louis J. Fox Center for Vision Restoration Jenny Yu, MD, FACS Assistant Professor and Vice Chair for Clinical Operations Department of Ophthalmology, UPMC Eye Center; and Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology,  University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Michael Washington, PhD Postdoctoral Scholar, Department of Ophthalmology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine AWARD 5: Vital-Dent, a Revitalizing Root Canal SolutionDevelopment of a novel device to regenerate vital tooth pulp after root canal therapy. Vital pulp will help protect the tooth from future infection and injury, reducing the need for tooth extraction, implants and dentures. Juan Taboas, PhD Department of Oral Biology, University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine; secondary appointment, Department of Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering; and Center for Craniofacial Regeneration, McGowan Institute of Regenerative Medicine Herbert Lee Ray Jr., DMD Assistant Professor of Endodontics and Director, Graduate Endodontic Residency Program, University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine; and Center for Craniofacial Regeneration, McGowan Institute of Regenerative Medicine Jingming Chen, B.S. Department of Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering; and Center for Craniofacial Regeneration, McGowan Institute of Regenerative Medicine ### About the Center for Medical Innovation The Center for Medical Innovation at the Swanson School of Engineering is a collaboration among the University of Pittsburgh’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the Innovation Institute, and the Coulter Translational Research Partnership II (CTRP). CMI was established in 2011 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 50 early-stage projects have been supported by CMI with a total investment of over $1 million since inception.

Jan
16
2018

Students Address Posture in Parkinson’s

Bioengineering, MEMS, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (January 16, 2018) … Many of us have been told to stand up straight but may take for granted the ability to easily correct our posture. For those with Parkinson’s disease, postural awareness can diminish, and they often struggle with this characteristic slouched symptom. A group of Swanson School of Engineering students took a stance and addressed this medical issue with a device that promotes good posture and were recognized for their innovation at the School’s biannual Design Expo. Posture Protect was created by bioengineering juniors, Tyler Bray and Jake Meadows; bioengineering senior, Raj Madhani; mechanical engineering senior, Benji Pollock; and mechanical engineering junior, Gretchen Sun. The students developed their project in ENGR 1716 The Art of Making: A Hands-on Introduction to System Design and Engineering. "The poor posture experienced by individuals with Parkinson’s disease can limit mobility, impact gait, affect balance, and cause neck or back pain,” Meadows explained. “All of these symptoms combine to ultimately decrease independence, lower confidence, and negatively impact their quality of life by exacerbating existing challenges.” According to the team, Posture Protect is an easy-to-use, supportive posture quality detection and alert system that provides tactile feedback when bad posture persists. “The device increases postural awareness by determining the position of the user’s thoracic spine using three different sensors; when poor posture persists, vibrating motors provide gentle tactile feedback to notify the user of their change in posture,” Meadows said. Components of Posture Protect. The team performed extensive user outreach and testing, culminating in feedback from more than 60 individuals with Parkinson’s disease that indicated a need for such a device. Madhani said, “Our research found that of the people with Parkinson’s interviewed, 95 percent struggled with posture on a daily basis, and 90 percent of those people could correct their posture if they were reminded.” To further refine their device, the students took their testing to a local boxing club, Fit4Boxing, that offers strength training classes for individuals with Parkinson’s disease. “We visited the gym six times and tested five different iterations of our design, making modifications each time based on feedback received and data collected,” said Bray. With results in hand, the team presented Posture Protect at the Swanson School of Engineering Fall 2017 Design Expo, where they took first place in the “Art of Making” category and won “Best Overall Project.” The group intends to continue work on the project. “We plan to engage in longer-term user testing, incorporate Bluetooth into the device for setting customization, and code a smartphone application for posture tracking,” said Meadows. “Ultimately, the project's goal is to help patients stand straight and stand proud in the face of Parkinson’s disease.” ###

Jan
11
2018

Undergraduate Bioengineering Alumna Turns Senior Design Project Into a Business

Bioengineering, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs

PITTSBURGH (January 11, 2018) … For undergraduates in the Swanson School of Engineering looking for a seamless transition into the “real world”, the opportunity to turn an idea into innovation and even a start-up can be a stitch in time. Lia Winter received a BS in bioengineering at Pitt in April 2017 and has since used her entrepreneurial spirit to start a business from a project whipped together in her undergraduate Senior Design class. Winter developed EasyWhip, an orthopedic surgical device that improves the whip stitching process during reconstructive procedures, like ACL surgery. “In these procedures, tendons are harvested from another part of the body and surgeons use a graft preparation station along with a whip stitching needle attached to a length of suture to construct a replacement graft for the injured ligament,” Winter explains. During her summer internship at an orthopedics medical device company, Winter saw an opportunity for improvement in the system. “I was inspired to create EasyWhip when I realized that there was an unmet medical need to make the whip stitching process easier,” Winter said. “EasyWhip is a modification to the conventional system that allows surgeons to recreate the same stitching pattern both faster and more consistently.” She worked closely with the Swanson Center for Product Innovation to create a highly functional prototype, and was awarded 3rd place at the Swanson School of Engineering Fall 2016 Design Expo. Winter took this winning project with her as she matriculated at the Dual MBA/MS Biomedical Engineering program at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) and entered it into VolCourt, a 90-second elevator pitch competition. She was awarded first place and received $1,500, office space in the University of Tennessee Research Foundation Business Incubator, and several services to help her start a business. With the resources received from VolCourt, Winter started a sole proprietorship and filed a provisional patent application. She formulated a full business plan and was encouraged to present her idea at another pitch competition: UTK’s Boyd Venture Challenge. The Boyd Venture Challenge awards up to $20,000 in seed funding to student-owned businesses. Each participant gives a 25-minute presentation on the various elements of their business plan. Winter said, “I explained the problem at hand, detailed my innovation, gave a market estimate, illustrated my business model, presented a pro-forma budget, and projected financial statements for three years.” She was one of two student startups awarded $12,500 and plans to pursue a full patent and potentially license her product to a medical device company. Winter gives credit to Pitt for serving as a solid foundation in her biomedical engineering career. She said, “After completing a summer internship in industry and taking Senior Design, I realized that I am passionate about helping solve unmet medical needs.” Winter was awarded the Ergen Fellowship at UTK, which provided her with a scholarship and graduate research assistantship in the Department of Management. She said, “I plan to combine my biomedical engineering skills with business skills to help efficiently bring new innovative medical products to market.” She also encourages current bioengineering undergraduate students to stick with their Senior Design projects. Winter said, “A lot of these projects are actually great ideas that, with the right motivation and resources, you could use to start a business.” ###

Jan
8
2018

Uncovering the Power of Glial Cells

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (January 8, 2018) … Implanted devices send targeted electrical stimulation to the nervous system to interfere with abnormal brain activity, and it is commonly assumed that neurons are the only important brain cells that need to be stimulated by these devices. However, research published in Nature Biomedical Engineering reveals that it may also be important to target the supportive glial cells surrounding the neurons. The collaboration was led by Erin Purcell, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Michigan State University; Joseph W. Salatino, Purcell’s graduate student researcher; Kip A. Ludwig, associate director of technology at Mayo Clinic; and Takashi Kozai, assistant professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering. “Glial cells are the most abundant in the central nervous system and critical to the function of the neuronal network,” Kozai says. “The most obvious function of glial cells has been related to their role in forming scar tissue to prevent the spread of injury and neuronal degeneration, but so much about their role in the brain is unknown.” The study, “Glial responses to implanted electrodes in the brain” (doi:10.1038/s41551-017-0154-1)  suggests that these glial cells are more functional than previously thought. “From providing growth factor support and ensuring proper oxygen and nutrient delivery to the brain to trimming of obsolete synapses and recycling waste products, recent findings show that glial cells do much more to ensure brain activity is optimized,” Kozai says. The slow, dim signals of glial cells are much more difficult to detect than the vibrant electrical activity of neurons. New advancements in technology allows researchers like Kozai to detect the subtleties of glial cell activity, and these observations are shedding new light on current issues plaguing implant devices and the treatment of neurological disease. Kozai explains, “Dysfunction in glial cells has been implicated as a cause and/or major contributor to an increasing number of neurological and developmental diseases. Therefore, it stands to reason that targeting these glial cells (in lieu of or in combination with neurons) may dramatically improve current treatments.” Kozai leads the Bionic Lab at Pitt, where researchers are investigating the biological tissue response to implantable technologies. Although there have been many advancements in neural implant technology in recent years, their underlying effects and reasons for their failure still puzzle scientists. By using advanced microscopy techniques, researchers can create more detailed neurological maps and imaging. “By combining in vivo multiphoton microscopy and in vivo electrophysiology, our lab is better able to visualize how cells move and change over time in the living brain and explain how changes in these glial cells alter the visually evoked neural network activity,” says Kozai. “Using this approach to better understand these cells can help guide implant design and success.” Kozai’s lab is currently working with Franca Cambi, professor of neurology at Pitt, on a project to understand the role of another type of glial cell on brain injury and neuronal activity. “Oligodendrocyte Progenitor Cells,” or OPCs, are progenitor cells—similar to stem cells—that have the capacity to differentiate during tissue repair. “Although OPCs have been understudied in brain-computer interface, they form direct synapses with neurons and are critical to their repair,” explains Kozai. “As progenitor cells, they have the capacity to differentiate into a variety of cells, including neurons. The technology is advancing to the point in which we can have a much better understanding of how the brain works comprehensively, rather than just focusing on neurons because their electrical signals make them appear brighter when imaging the brain.”Kozai believes that it is a pivotal time to investigate these cells and recognizes Dr. Ben Barres, an acclaimed neuroscientist at Stanford University, who made crucial discoveries in glial cell research. Kozai said, “We lost a great scientist and pioneer in this field of neuroscience. Professor Ben Barres really uncovered the importance of these glial cells on brain injuries and diseases. We have to keep pushing to see how we can improve current treatment by fixing these under-appreciated brain cells.” ### Photo above: During normal physiology, glial cells  (microglia, astrocytes, and NG2+ oligodendrocyte progenitor cells) maintain bidirectional communication with neurons and provide nutrient and regulatory support to the neural network. After the insertion of neural interfaces, glial cells react by extension of processes and migration towards the site injury, which prohibits them from maintaining their important regulatory roles. Targeting these glial cells and reestablishing their regulatory roles may provide therapeutic treatments for other brain disease and injuries. (Illustration by Steven L Wellman/BionicLab.ORG)