Pitt | Swanson Engineering
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Aug

Aug
16
2019

NTE Lab’s Asiyeh Golabchi Receives Poster Award at Pitt’s Data and Dine Symposium

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (August 16, 2019) … A poster presented by Asiyeh Golabchi, a bioengineering postdoctoral research associate at the University of Pittsburgh, was selected as one of the best poster presentations at the 2019 Postdoctoral Data & Dine Symposium. Hosted by the University of Pittsburgh Postdoctoral Association, the Data & Dine Symposium is an opportunity for postdoctoral associates and scholars at Pitt to present their research to colleagues, faculty, and administrators. The event recognizes 10 participants with a $750 travel award for the best poster presentations. Golabchi received an award for her work titled “Neuronal cell adhesion molecule L1 improves quality of the chronic neural recording in mouse visual cortex.” Golabchi works in the Neural Tissue Engineering (NTE) Lab directed by Xinyan Tracy Cui, professor of bioengineering in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. Golabchi’s research focuses on developing a molecular-level understanding of neurobiological interactions to neural implants. Golbachi explained that these devices, which are used to record and stimulate the brain, have been an invaluable tool for neuroscience research and clinical applications, but their functional longevity has proven to be a hurdle for researchers. “Neural implants have been used to help people who have lost abilities due to trauma or disease regain those abilities and improve their quality of life,” said Golabchi. “However, many medical, biological, and technical considerations have to be taken into account when using these devices. “Current neural implants are limited by the body’s natural conditions to safely operate and avoid toxicity and degradation,” she continued. “The requirements for a functional and stable long-term neural interface are still relatively unknown.” Golabchi’s research develops biomaterial strategies and novel technologies to control neuroinflammatory responses, both acute and chronic, to implantable devices. “Asiyeh is most deserving of this award from Pitt’s Postdoctoral Association. Her work with neural implant technology demonstrated the potential to improve neural recording stability and longevity through biomimetic coating,” said Cui. “Such coating may be optimized for commercial translation and benefit many implantable devices in both research and clinical settings.” Golabchi received her PhD in neuroscience and brain technologies from Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, in collaboration with the University of Genoa, under the supervision of Dr. Axel Blau. During Golabchi’s doctoral research, she used microfabrication methods to develop a flexible polymer-based microelectrode array for interfacing with neurons at a high spatiotemporal resolution for both in vivo and in vitro applications. ###

Aug
14
2019

Making a Sustainable Mark in Pittsburgh

Bioengineering, Civil & Environmental, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (August 14, 2019) ... From the hazy industrial city it once was to the city it is today, Pittsburgh’s environmental outlook has come a long way, thanks to the dedication and ingenuity of its people. The Incline recognized 13 of the people who are making Pittsburgh a greener city in its inaugural Who’s Next: Environment and Energy class, including three from the Swanson School of Engineering: Kareem Rabbat (CEE ’20), Noah Snyder (PhD BioE ’15) and Aurora Sharrard, director of sustainability at the University of Pittsburgh.“These three individuals are true innovators, and we are exceptionally proud of their connection to the Swanson School.” says U.S. Steel Dean of Engineering James R. Martin. “Our community has proven a clear dedication to pursuing new ideas and technologies that will make the city and the planet more ecologically sound.”Kareem Rabbat, Chief Innovation Officer, Ecotone RenewablesKareem’s company, Ecotone Renewables, earned him a spot in the Who’s Next class. The company converted shipping containers into biodigesters and greenhouses throughout the city. In addition to Ecotone Renewables’ work, his research at Pitt looks at ways to use bacteria and fungi to naturally and sustainably remove contaminants from soil and water.“I was always fascinated by the natural world growing up and I have decided to dedicate my life to preserving its integrity for generations to come,” Rabbat told The Incline. “… we don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors but we borrow it from our children.”Noah Snyder, President & CEO, Interphase MaterialsNoah founded Interphase Materials in 2015 when he realized the impact that biodegradable materials used for the medical brain implants he was researching could have on industrial and commercial heat exchangers. His company’s shown that commercial applications of the materials reduces energy consumption of large water-cooled HVAC units and heat exchangers, which has a positive impact on the local environment as well as the energy grid.Aurora Sharrard, Director of Sustainability, University of PittsburghAurora’s work at Pitt has had a far reaching impact in making the school greener. She enabled Pitt’s first Sustainability Plan and created the Office of Sustainability to make the plan a reality. The plan aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, water usage and landfill waste and focus on using renewable energy on campus. She’s also worked with the Green Building Alliance, co-founding Pittsburgh’s 2030 District, which aspires to reduce energy use, water consumption and transportation emissions 50 percent by 2030. ###
Maggie Pavlick, Senior Communications Writer
Aug
13
2019

International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory and University of Pittsburgh’s McGowan Institute Form Biomedical Research Alliance

Bioengineering

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER (FL), August 12, 2019 – The International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory is embarking upon a multi-year research alliance with the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine (MIRM) at the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) to push the limits of biomedical research and development aboard the orbiting laboratory. This alliance — a core element of the ISS National Laboratory Industrial Biomedicine Program — was unveiled at the 8th annual ISS Research and Development Conference held in Atlanta earlier this month. This new partnership will serve as a benchmark for how the ISS National Laboratory develops similar programs in the future involving research and development activities aboard the space station. The ISS National Laboratory and MIRM will collaborate with partners from industry, other academic research centers, and government agencies to drive the progress of regenerative medicine research onboard the ISS.  As part of this alliance, Pitt will develop Earth-based facilities on campus to advance research and meet with potential partners, while working in coordination with the ISS National Laboratory on flight opportunities to the orbiting laboratory. The program will focus on microgravity life sciences research and development, with a line of sight toward products and services for clinical application on Earth. For instance, exploiting the unique behavior of stem cells in microgravity could improve cell-based therapies for a variety of diseases and impairments, such as traumatic brain injury and type I diabetes. Similarly, microgravity could allow 3D printers to create complex tissue structures that are difficult to achieve in the presence of full gravity. “As the premier partner for the Industrial Biomedicine Alliance with the ISS National Laboratory, we look forward to using the space station as a testbed for regenerative medicine advances and product development in low Earth orbit,” said MIRM Director William R. Wagner, Ph.D. “The McGowan Institute has built on its deep history advancing the development of artificial organs to establish a position of internationally recognized leadership in regenerative medicine,”said Rob A. Rutenbar, Ph.D., senior vice chancellor for research at Pitt. “The ISS National Laboratory will benefit from that deep expertise, as well as our commitment to rapid clinical translation.” The products of the Industrial Biomedicine Program and this research partnership will help build the fundamental business case for the industrialization of crewed platforms in low Earth orbit. In future alliances, the ISS National Laboratory will work with companies and research partners who seek to better understand and find solutions to common problems on Earth through space-based experimentation on the ISS National Laboratory. “The ISS National Laboratory is proud to announce this alliance with Pitt and MIRM in order to develop biomedical products in space that could benefit human health on Earth,” said ISS National Laboratory Chief Strategy Officer Richard Leach, Ph.D. “Part of the role of the ISS National Laboratory is to create and implement innovative strategies to enhance the research capacity of the orbiting laboratory, and we believe alliances like this will pave the way for future collaborations to advance the discoveries of space-based science.” To learn more about innovative research taking place aboard the ISS National Laboratory, visit www.ISSNationalLab.org. Media Contacts:Patrick O’Neill(321) 480-1054PONeill@issnationallab.org Erin Hare (MIRM)412-738-1097HareE@upmc.edu Amerigo Allegretto (Pitt)412-624-6128aallegretto@pitt.edu # # # About the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory: In 2005, Congress designated the U.S. portion of the ISS as the nation’s newest national laboratory to optimize its use for improving quality of life on Earth, promoting collaboration among diverse users, and advancing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. This unique laboratory environment is available for use by non-NASA U.S. government agencies, academic institutions, and the private sector. The ISS National Laboratory manages access to the permanent microgravity research environment, a powerful vantage point in low Earth orbit, and the extreme and varied conditions of space. About the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine:  The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and UPMC established the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine in 2001. The McGowan Institute serves as a single base of operations for the university’s leading engineers, scientists and clinical faculty working in the areas of tissue engineering, cellular therapies, and medical devices. The Institute’s mission includes the development of innovative clinical protocols, as well as the pursuit of rapid commercial transfer of its technologies related to regenerative medicine. There are more than 250 McGowan-affiliated faculty who have collectively filed over 1,600 patents worldwide, licensed or optioned 185 patents with outside partners and produced more than 30 spinout companies. For more information, visit www.mirm.pitt.edu. About the University of Pittsburgh: A nonsectarian, coeducational, state-related, public research university founded in 1787, the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) is a member of the prestigious by-invitation-only Association of American Universities and internationally renowned as a leading center of learning and research in the arts, sciences, humanities, professions, and health sciences. Comprising a Pittsburgh campus, which is home to 16 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools, and four Western Pennsylvania regional campuses, Pitt offers nearly 500 distinct degree programs and confers more than 8,500 degrees annually. Pitt has ranked among the top 10 recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health since 1998 and is ranked among the top 10 American research universities nationally in terms of total federal science and engineering research and development obligations. For more information, visit www.pitt.edu.

Aug
7
2019

Amazon Web Services Teams with Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance to Improve Care

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (August 7, 2019) ... In the latest sign of Pittsburgh’s growing importance as a center of health care technology innovation, the Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance (PHDA) announced today that it is working closely with Amazon Web Services (AWS), an Amazon.com company, through a machine learning research sponsorship, to advance innovation in areas such as cancer diagnostics, precision medicine, voice-enabled technologies and medical imaging. A unique consortium formed four years ago by UPMC, the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, the PHDA uses the “big data” generated in health care — including patient information in the electronic health record, diagnostic imaging, prescriptions, genomic profiles and insurance records — to transform the way that diseases are treated and prevented, and to better engage patients in their own care. New machine learning technologies and advances in computing power, like those offered by Amazon SageMaker and Amazon EC2, are making it possible to rapidly translate insights discovered in the lab into treatments and services that could dramatically improve human health. “We believe that machine learning can significantly accelerate the progress of medical research and help translate those advances into treatments and improved experiences for patients,” said Swami Sivasubramanian, vice president of machine learning for AWS. “We are excited to bring our machine learning services and cloud computing resources to support the high-impact work being done at the PHDA.” Through the AWS Machine Learning Research sponsorship, PHDA scientists from both Pitt and CMU expect to accelerate research and product commercialization efforts across eight projects, including those with the potential to create an individual risk score for every cancer patient, thus enabling doctors to better predict the course of a person’s disease and response to treatment; use a patient’s verbal and visual cues to diagnose and treat mental health symptoms; and reduce medical diagnostic errors by mining all the data in a patient’s medical record. Data are secure, anonymized and stay with PHDA institutions. Pitt researcher David Vorp, Ph.D., and his team are using AWS resources to improve the diagnosis and treatment of abdominal aortic aneurysms, the 13th-leading cause of death in western countries. Currently, clinicians can use only the simple measurements of an aneurysm’s diameter and growth rate to predict the risk of a rupture. “With the latest advances in machine learning, we are developing an algorithm that will provide clinicians with an objective, predictive tool to guide surgical interventions before symptoms appear, improving patient outcomes,” said Vorp, associate dean for research at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering and the John A. Swanson Professor of Bioengineering. Likewise, a CMU team led by Russell Schwartz, Ph.D., and Jian Ma, Ph.D., will use AWS support to develop algorithms and software tools to better understand the origin and evolution of tumor cells. This project will use machine learning to gain insights into how tumors develop and to predict how they are likely to change and grow in the future. “Data-driven, genomic methods guided by an understanding of cancers as evolutionary systems have relevance to numerous aspects of clinical cancer care,” said Schwartz, professor of biological sciences and computational biology at CMU. “These include determining which precancerous lesions are likely to become cancers, which cancers have a good or bad prognosis, and which of those with bad prognoses might respond long-term to specific therapies.” Formed in 2015, the PHDA brings together the leading health sciences research at Pitt, world-class computer science and machine learning at CMU, and the clinical care, extensive patient data and commercialization expertise at UPMC, one of the nation’s leading integrated health systems. “This collaboration with AWS complements the unique strengths of the PHDA’s founders and will provide unparalleled resources to our researchers,” said Tal Heppenstall, president of UPMC Enterprises, which funds the PHDA and focuses on commercializing its breakthroughs. “By leveraging AWS machine learning and artificial intelligence services, we can help Pittsburgh become the premier hub of technology innovation in health care, drawing innovators from companies big and small to join us in this critical effort to revolutionize the delivery of health care.” ###
Wendy Zellner, Vice President, UPMC Public Relations
Aug
5
2019

Associate Dean for Research David Vorp Receives Research Leader Fellowship from APLU

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (August 5, 2019) … The Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities Council on Research (CoR) has named the University of Pittsburgh’s David Vorp as one of eight fellows in its third Research Leader Fellowship Program cohort selected nationwide. Dr. Vorp is Associate Dean for Research for Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, the John A. Swanson Professor of Bioengineering, and Professor of Cardiothoracic Surgery, Surgery, Chemical & Petroleum Engineering, and the Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute.According to APLU, the CoR Research Leadership Program is designed to provide training and skill development necessary in the breadth and depth of the academic research enterprise. The APLU notes that because many universities have segmented research support organizations, rising research leaders often oversee relatively confined areas such as research administration, research development, research compliance, research communication, economic development, or sponsored programs. The APLU CoR Fellowship is designed to allow rising research leaders to gain expertise outside of their respective portfolios and to foster connections with CoR’s extensive network of senior research officers through site visits and participation in CoR meetings. The fellowship is 18 months in duration.“This is a tremendous opportunity for me that I will ensure also greatly benefits Pitt and the Swanson School,” Dr. Vorp said. “In the past few years we have expanded and diversified our research portfolio, increased our public-private research partnerships through the creation of our Making Research Work initiative, and more. But there is so much more that we can do, and I’m excited to see up-close the best practices and novel programs developed by other research universities and learn from the best minds in the business.”During his fellowship, Dr. Vorp intends to focus on working more closely with Pitt’s Office of Community and Governmental Relations; integrating research data and analytics into proactive planning and research portfolio management; and developing more sustainable revenue models for the Swanson School’s several research centers and institutes. He also plans to investigate how the Swanson School can play a greater role in regional economic development as well as develop stronger multidisciplinary and sponsored research programs. ### About Dr. VorpDavid Vorp is the John A. Swanson Professor of Bioengineering, with secondary appointments in the Departments of Cardiothoracic Surgery, Surgery, and the Clinical & Translational Sciences Institute at the University of Pittsburgh. In addition, he is the Associate Dean for Research, Swanson School of Engineering and serves as a Director of the Center for Vascular Remodeling and Regeneration, a Co-Director of the Center for Medical Innovation, as well as the Director of the Vascular Bioengineering Laboratory. He previously served as Interim Director of Pitt’s Petersen Institute for Nano-Science and -Engineering. he research in Dr. Vorp’s lab focuses on the biomechanics, “mechanopathobiology,” regenerative medicine, and tissue engineering of tubular tissues and organs, predominantly the vasculature. He is currently studying the biomechanical progression of aortic aneurysms by modeling the mechanical forces that act on the degenerating vessel wall. He is developing a treatment strategy for abdominal aortic aneurysms by delivering adipose-derived mesenchymal stem cells to the periadventitial side of the aneurysm to inhibit the matrix degradation commonly seen in the disease progression and promote its regeneration. He is also using varied regenerative medicine-based approaches to develop a small diameter tissue engineered vascular graft to treat cardiovascular diseases. His research has been supported by $9 million in funding as principal investigator (PI), and an additional $4 million as collaborating investigator, from foundation and federal agencies, including the American Heart Association (AHA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Whitaker Foundation, Pittsburgh Foundation, and other sources.  He has several patents in the field of vascular bioengineering and was a co-founder of the start-up Neograft Technologies, Inc., a company that developed technology from Dr. Vorp’s laboratory relating to biodegradable support for arterial vein grafts.In 2011 Dr. Vorp was recognized with the Van C. Mow Medal from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), was twice awarded a Pitt Innovator Award, and received the Carnegie Life Sciences Award in 2013.  He served on the Executive Committee of the ASME Bioengineering Division (BED; 2006-2015), serving as ASME BED Chair from 2013-2014. Dr. Vorp was elected to the Board of Directors of the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) for two terms (2006-2009; 2009-2012), and was elected BMES Secretary, an executive post, for two terms (2012-2014; 2014-2016).  He was Co-Program Chair of the 2018 World Congress of Biomechanics. In 2012, Dr. Vorp became the first non-MD President of the International Society for Applied Cardiovascular Biology, and was re-elected for a second term in 2014.  Dr. Vorp is a Fellow of ASME, BMES and the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering.

Jul

Jul
25
2019

Tenure/Tenure-Stream Faculty Position in Cardiovascular Bioengineering

Bioengineering, Open Positions

The Department of Bioengineering, Swanson School of Engineering (engineering.pitt.edu/bioengineering) and the Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine (anesthesiology.pitt.edu) invite applications from accomplished individuals with a PhD or equivalent degree in bioengineering, biomedical engineering, or closely related disciplines for an open-rank, tenured/tenure-stream faculty position. We wish to recruit an individual with strong research accomplishments in Cardiovascular Bioengineering with preference given to research focus on cardiovascular monitoring with mobile and wearable devices and associated data analytics for anesthesia, perioperative medicine and critical care applications. It is expected that this individual will also complement the current strengths of the two departments in medical devices, patient monitoring, and data analytics. In addition, candidates must be committed to contributing to high quality education of a diverse student body at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. 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 Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine is the largest academic program in the US and is a pioneer in clinical and scientific research. The McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine (mirm.pitt.edu), the Vascular Medicine Institute (vmi.pitt.edu), the Brain Institute (braininstitute.pitt.edu), and Starzl Transplantation Institute (http://www.stiresearch.health.pitt.edu/) offer many collaborative research opportunities. The Center for Medical Innovation (https://www.engineering.pitt.edu/CMI/), the Coulter Translational Partnership II Program (engineering.pitt.edu/coulter) and the Center for Commercial Applications of Healthcare Data (healthdataalliance.com/university-of-pittsburgh) provide biomedical innovation and translation opportunities. Interested individuals should send the following as a single, self-contained PDF attachment via email to bioeapp@pitt.edu (include “AY20 PITT BioE-Anesthesiology” in the subject line): (1) cover letter, (2) complete CV (including funding record, if applicable), (3) research statement, (4) teaching statement, (5) three representative publications, and (6) names and complete contact information of at least four references. To ensure full consideration, applications must be received by September 30, 2019. However, applications will be reviewed as they are received.  Early submission is highly encouraged. The Departments of Bioengineering and Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine are fully 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.

Jul
23
2019

Pitt Bioengineering Alumna Named NSF Program Director

Bioengineering

Laurel Kuxhaus, an associate professor of mechanical and aeronautical engineering at Clarkson University, has recently been named Program Director of the Biomechanics & Mechanobiology Program within the Division of Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation, Directorate for Engineering at the National Science Foundation (NSF). Kuxhaus comes to the position directly from serving as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Congressional Fellow in Bioengineering. She has been working on Capitol Hill this year in the office of Congressman Lipinski, learning about how Congress works and crafting science and technology policy.  Key accomplishments include the drafting of the Growing Artificial Intelligence Through Research (GrAITR) Act, and the Medical Device Sterilization Challenges Act of 2019. “It’s been an incredible experience to work on Capitol Hill for the year and see how policy is created at the top,” said Kuxhaus, “I look forward to serving at the National Science Foundation." At the National Science Foundation, her background in both bioengineering and policy will enhance the management, operation, and evaluation of programs within the Division. She will also gain experience in the development of large and complex Federal programs. In this position, Kuxhaus will be responsible for long-range planning and budget development for the Biomechanics & Mechanobiology Program. She will oversee the NSF award process for researchers in her program, which includes merit review, award and declination process, and identifying future funding opportunities. In 2018, Kuxhaus was named a Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. She was nominated for her continued dedication to engineering education, scholarly research, and service to the ASME Bioengineering Division.  She concentrates her research in orthopedic biomechanics. Kuxhaus received bachelor’s degrees in engineering mechanics and music from Michigan State University in 2001, a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Cornell University in 2003, and a Ph.D. in bioengineering from the University of Pittsburgh in 2008. As a private, national research university, Clarkson is a leader in technological education and sustainable economic development through teaching, scholarship, research and innovation. We ignite personal connections across academic fields and industries to create the entrepreneurial mindset, knowledge and intellectual curiosity needed to innovate world-relevant solutions and cultivate the leaders of tomorrow. With its main campus located in Potsdam, N.Y., and additional graduate program and research facilities in the New York Capital Region, Beacon, N.Y., and New York City, Clarkson educates 4,300 students across 95 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, the arts, education, sciences and health professions. Our alumni earn salaries that are among the top 2.5% in the nation and realize accelerated career growth. One in five already leads as a CEO, senior executive or owner of a company.

Jul
16
2019

Mangesh Kulkarni receives $18K award from Pitt’s Central Research Development Fund

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (July 16, 2019) … Mangesh Kulkarni, assistant professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, was awarded $17,793 in funding from the Central Research Development Fund (CRDF) to support research for the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Kulkarni’s project aims to develop an integrative treatment approach utilizing the interspecies interactions between innate immunity cells and gut microbiota, which is a collection of microorganisms in the intestine. While these microorganisms can positively affect one’s health, a microbial imbalance - or dysbiosis - in the body has been associated with a variety of illnesses and diseases. Researchers speculate that dysbiosis may have an effect on the body’s immune system - specifically on macrophages, which are multifunctional white blood cells in the body. “This project will seek to understand how dysbiosis during colitis affects the intestinal macrophages at the molecular level and get insights into pathways affected by colitis, focusing on those regulating the macrophage polarization,” said Kulkarni. Macrophage polarization refers to the process in which macrophages adopt different functions in response to signals from their microenvironment. A functional imbalance among the macrophages may have a connection to a number of immunity-related diseases, including IBD. “As a step towards developing a novel therapeutic avenue for colitis, we seek to examine the feasibility of specific and relevant miRNA therapy to modulate the macrophage polarization,” Kulkarni continued. “This strategy holds the promise of curbing the progression of intestinal inflammation and thus provide therapeutic benefit in IBD.” Kulkarni joined the Department of Bioengineering in fall 2018 and works with Bryan Brown, assistant professor of bioengineering, at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. “I’m very excited about the work that Dr. Kulkarni is doing,” said Brown. “This grant from the CRDF will enable him to perform studies that will inform the development of new therapeutic strategies for a disease which currently has few effective treatment options.” The CRDF Small Grants Program aims to provide opportunities for faculty, especially early career faculty, at the University of Pittsburgh to engage in high-quality research, scholarship, and creative endeavors. The program provides seed funding to develop ideas to the point where external funding can be obtained and awards support for scholarship in areas where external funding is extremely limited. ###

Jul
12
2019

STEM Camp Sparks Pittsburgh Kids’ Curiosity

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

Reposted from PittWire. Click here to view the original story. When Ameena Bradford entered the University of Pittsburgh Center for Biotechnology and Bioengineering, she didn’t know what went into the creation of a video game, but she was excited to see what was in store. What the 12-year-old Pittsburgh public school student found was a reignited interest in science and technology, with the help of a classic arcade game. Ameena and 14 other students from Pittsburgh’s Hill District put their coding skills to the test to recreate the 1978 game Space Invaders this June, using a computer program provided by Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering and the School of Computing and Information. The coding exercise was part of a three-day STEM mini-camp hosted by Pitt’s Hill District Community Engagement Center (CEC) as part of the larger Swanson School’s annual Camp BioE. At the camp, students ages 8 to 12 were helped along their interstellar journey by Pitt bioengineering and computing experts, as well as volunteer undergraduate students from bioengineering and biology. Using graphics created prior to the event, the students were able to input simple commands for the spaceship, alien invaders and the lasers — represented by cats — used to defeat the aliens. “Before, I liked science, but it kept getting harder and harder to learn. This made it kind of easier,” Ameena said. “This is more fun, because the teachers are nice and they help us to learn by making it more interesting,” said Alyssa, 9, Ameena’s younger sister. “It’s a lot of fun working with these kids,” said Dmitriy Babichenko, professor of practice at the School of Computing and Information, who led the students in coding the game. “They start out being skeptical and then you can see the light bulbs coming on as they get excited to see that something works. It’s fun to see that excitement develop.” The STEM camp comes at a transitional time for the students; some studies, such as one published in the Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering, have shown that students, particularly girls, begin to lose interest in the sciences upon entering middle school. Camp leaders say they hope STEM learning opportunities like this encourage students — especially those from underrepresented populations — to further pursue science and technology studies during their high school and college years. This could lead to better employment opportunities, too: STEM jobs in computer analyst and development fields are projected to increase as much as 32% beginning in the 2020s, according to the U.S. Department of Education. While Camp BioE has been providing summer STEM activities for mostly middle school-age students for the past 10 years, this year was the first time it teamed up with the CEC and the School of Computing and Information. Camp director Steven Abramowitch said even though this year’s students were the youngest Camp BioE has worked with, they were also some of the most passionate and easily engaged. “They were interested and curious, so when we saw this opportunity to make the connection (with the CEC) for the summer, we knew this was something we wanted to do,” said Abramowitch, who is also an associate professor of bioengineering at the Swanson School. “The game design for Space Invaders is simple, so we thought this was something easy for the students to grasp in terms of game design. We hope that events like these give students confidence to pursue their passions.” June’s mini-camp was the first of many upcoming collaborations between the Pitt Community Engagement Centers, the Swanson School and the School of Computing and Information. One of these includes creating a STEAM Studio as part of the CEC’s permanent space at the New Granada Theater. The camp’s in-community and on-campus curriculum is also an example of how the Hill District Community Engagement Center seeks to build bridges between the University and the community for mutual benefit: Pitt faculty establish new partnerships, Pitt students learn from and with community members in a real-world setting and Hill District youth have the opportunity to explore STEM fields in an enriching and educational setting. “We wanted to help bring youth from the Hill District in one of the most underserved sections, Bedford Dwellings, here on campus to continue exploring possibilities in STEM fields,” said Kirk Holbrook, director of the Hill District CEC. “We hope to start planting the seeds of future realities for these children. With activities like coding a video game, they’re fun, but also educational. They’re intensive, but we saw engagement.” The CECs are part of Pitt's Neighborhood Commitments, which build stronger communities and a stronger University based on long-term place-based partnerships. In collaboration with local communities, the University is making a minimum 15-year commitment of investment, infrastructure, programming and dedicated staff in neighborhoods such as Homewood and the Hill District. The CECs aim to host events and offer services for community members related to youth education enrichment, employment, health and wellness, the cultural arts and small business growth and development, among other topics. The Hill District CEC is Pitt’s second Community Engagement Center — the CEC in Homewood opened in October 2018.
Amerigo Allegretto
Jul
11
2019

New Bioengineering in Psychiatry Training Program Receives ~$1.1M from NIH T32

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (July 11, 2019) … The University of Pittsburgh Departments of Bioengineering and Psychiatry received a $1,107,386 T32 award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for a unique multidisciplinary program that prepares students with a background in engineering and other quantitative sciences for careers in mental health research. Tamer S. Ibrahim, PhD, associate professor of bioengineering, radiology, and psychiatry, and Howard Aizenstein, MD, PhD, Charles F. Reynolds III and Ellen G. Detlefsen Endowed Chair in Geriatric Psychiatry and professor of bioengineering and clinical and translational science, are co-principal investigators of the Bioengineering in Psychiatry Training Program. Predoctoral trainees in this program will benefit from a dual mentorship with advisors from both the Swanson School of Engineering and the School of Medicine. Their research will focus on neuroimaging, neurostimulation, and neural engineering - all of which are widely used in mental health research including mood disorder, anxiety disorder, psychotic disorder, suicide, and cognitive impairment. Aizenstein said, “There's been a huge increase in the application of engineering and quantitative science within psychiatric research. We're so excited to be part of training a new generation of interdisciplinary scientists to help lead these efforts.” “There has been significant growth in neuroimaging research within bioengineering, especially with 7-Tesla human MRI, and many of our studies are in collaboration with psychiatry,” said Ibrahim. “This program will help formalize the connections that we’ve already established between these two dynamic fields.” With the addition of this program, the Department of Bioengineering will administer a total of four T32 training grants. Each of these programs are collaborative efforts that utilize Pitt’s strengths in medical research. “The Department of Bioengineering has a rich history of interdisciplinary research and education, capitalizing on the strengths of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and other academic departments at Pitt and our neighboring Carnegie Mellon University,” said Sanjeev Shroff, PhD, Distinguished Professor and Gerald E. McGinnis Chair of Bioengineering. “This training program reflects the strong partnership between us and the Department of Psychiatry, which Tamer has helped reinforce with his vibrant 7-Tesla human MRI research program.” This is the first T32-funded program that trains engineering students in psychiatry. It helps support the National Institute of Mental Health’s initiative to develop computational approaches that may provide novel ways to understand relationships among datasets and further the understanding of the underlying pathophysiology of diseases. “This T32 training program will address the increasing need for engineering expertise in these key areas of mental health research,” said David Lewis, MD, distinguished professor of psychiatry and neuroscience and chair of psychiatry. Dr. Lewis is also the Thomas Detre Professor of Academic Psychiatry. The Bioengineering in Psychiatry Training Program is slated to begin in July 2019. “This effort is an example of the pioneering and collaborative research between the Swanson School and the School of Medicine,” said James R. Martin II, PhD, US Steel Dean of Engineering. “I look forward to our continued growth and leadership in this area.” ###

Jul
9
2019

MechMorpho Lab Brings Computation and Experimentation Closer Together

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (July 9, 2019) … A bioengineering group from the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering is bringing the worlds of computational modeling and experimentation closer together by developing a methodology to help analyze the wealth of imaging data provided by advancements in imaging tools and automated microscopes. Their study focuses on embryonic tissue spreading, a process that is critical during wound healing and the progression of many diseases. The article, recently published in PLOS ONE (DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0218021), shows how using approximate Bayesian computation (ABC) - a statistical inference method - can help derive useful quantitative information for experimental design. The work was overseen by Lance Davidson, professor of bioengineering, who runs the MechMorpho Lab in the Swanson School of Engineering. The study was led by Tracy Stepien, a Pitt mathematics graduate alumnus, and Holley Lynch, a former postdoctoral associate in the MechMorpho Lab. Davidson’s group cultured tissue from the Xenopus embryo to uncover the mechanical properties behind embryonic morphogenesis - the biological process of an organism developing its shape. During the study, they discovered that small explants spread slower than larger ones so they began creating modeling approaches to find out why. They collected time-lapse image sequences over the course a few weeks, but the challenge when integrating modeling with experiments is determining the best set of parameters. “As models get more complex and the experimental systems produce more data, it is difficult to determine if the chosen parameters are the optimal set,” said Stepien, a postdoctoral associate at the University of Arizona. “This is where Bayesian computation is useful - for each dataset, you can run the model thousands of times to identify sets of parameters that best match the experiment itself.” Once the group applied a Bayesian approach to their model, they found that there was no one unique parameter set. Instead, they identified distributions of ‘almost-best’ parameters and then used statistical methods to compare the different distributions. From the statistical analysis, they predict tissue properties such as force production and adhesion are more likely to vary with initial tissue size than factors such as rates of cell division or shape change. Frames from a 10 hour long time-lapse sequence with model prediction (red line) and explant spreading (dotted line). "Good" models predict not only the extent of the movement but also the amount of mechanical strain as the tissue spreads. The images in the lower row report the error between predicted and actual strain (gradient blue) at the time-points above. Credit: MechMorpho Lab/University of Pittsburgh. “Our work provides predictive methods that can help guide more general studies of morphogenesis to better understand how tissue spreading is regulated during development and potentially control spreading during wound healing and cancer,” said Lynch, who is currently an assistant professor of physics at Stetson University. According to the research group, these parameters may also prove to be useful for improving models of other experiments. “Though this paper focused on one specific type of tissue movement, it is more broadly impactful in that it is trying to identify a new way forward for the scientific community,” said Davidson. “Over several years our model went from something simple to something more rigorous and robust. A paper that originally focused on tissue spreading eventually evolved to demonstrate a framework that very closely integrates modeling and experiment.” In the short-term, Davidson’s lab will follow-up on the predictions made in this paper and further investigate the biophysics of tissue spreading. In the long-term, the group would like to apply an equally robust statistical approach to other computational models being developed in the lab. “We really want to integrate our experimental approaches with computational models, as robust statistically as this approach offers,” said Davidson. “Using the power of computation in conjunction with advanced biomechanical experiments could really impact our knowledge of disease development and treatment.” ###

Jul
9
2019

NSF funds Bridges-2 supercomputer at Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Civil & Environmental, Electrical & Computer, Industrial, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (July 9, 2019) ... A $10 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) is funding a new supercomputer at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC), a joint research center of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh. In partnership with Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), PSC will deploy Bridges-2, a system designed to provide researchers in Pennsylvania and the nation with massive computational capacity and the flexibility to adapt to the rapidly evolving field of data- and computation-intensive research. Bridges-2 will be available at no cost for research and education, and at cost-recovery rates for other purposes. "Unlocking the power of data will accelerate discovery to advance science, improve our quality of life and enhance national competitiveness," said Nick Nystrom, PSC's chief scientist and principal investigator (PI) for Bridges-2. "We designed Bridges-2 to drive discoveries that will come from the rapid evolution of research, which increasingly needs new, scalable ways for combining large, complex data with high-performance simulation and modeling." Bridges-2 will accelerate discovery to benefit science, society, and the nation. Its unique architecture will catalyze breakthroughs in critically important areas such as understanding the brain, developing new materials for sustainable energy production and quantum computing, assembling genomes of crop species to improve agricultural efficiency, exploring the universe via multimessenger astrophysics and enabling technologies for smart cities. Building on PSC's experience with its very successful Bridges system, Bridges-2 will take the next step in pioneering converged, scalable high-performance computing (HPC), artificial intelligence (AI) and data. Designed to power and scale applications identified through close collaboration with the national research community, Bridges-2 will integrate cutting-edge processors, accelerators, large memory, an all-flash storage array and exceptional data-handling capabilities to let researchers meet challenges that otherwise would be out of reach. By enabling AI to be combined with simulation and modeling and through its focus on ease of use and researcher productivity, Bridges-2 will drive a new era of research breakthroughs. "Bridges-2 is a major leap forward for PSC in high-performance computing and data analytics infrastructure and research," said Alan D. George, Interim Director of PSC. "PSC is unique in combining the strengths of two world-class universities (CMU and Pitt) and a world-class medical center (UPMC). Bridges-2 will amplify these strengths to fuel many new discoveries." "Enabling the execution of science, engineering and non-traditional workflows at scale while leveraging and further developing artificial intelligence is vital to keeping the United States at the forefront of scientific discovery now and into the future," said Paola Buitrago, Director of Artificial Intelligence & Big Data at PSC and co-PI of Bridges. "The Bridges-2 system is the way to realize this and more. I look forward to all the knowledge, discoveries and progress this new system will produce." Bridges-2's community data collections and user-friendly interfaces are designed to democratize participation in science and engineering and foster collaboration and convergence research. The Bridges-2 project includes bringing the benefits of scalable data analytics and AI to industry, developing STEM talent to strengthen the nation's workforce and broadening collaborations to accelerate discovery. The NSF is funding Bridges-2 as part of a series of awards for Advanced Computing Systems & Services. "The capabilities and services these awards will provide will enable the research community to explore new computing models and paradigms," said Manish Parashar, Office Director for the Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure at NSF. "These awards complement NSF's long-standing investment in advanced computational infrastructure, providing much-needed support for the full range of innovative computational- and data-intensive research being conducted across all of science and engineering." Bridges-2 will be deployed in the summer of 2020. ###

Jun

Jun
19
2019

NSF Awards $500,000 to Pitt Researchers to Create Neuromorphic Vision System Mimicking Human Sight

Bioengineering, Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (June 19, 2019) —  Self-driving cars rely on their ability to accurately “see” the road ahead and make adjustments based on what they see. They need to, for instance, react to a pedestrian who steps out from between parked cars, or know to not turn down a road that is unexpectedly closed for construction. As such technology becomes more ubiquitous, there’s a growing need for a better, more efficient way for machines to process visual information. New research from the University of Pittsburgh will develop a neuromorphic vision system that takes a new approach to capturing visual information that is based on the human brain, benefitting everything from self-driving vehicles to neural prosthetics. Ryad Benosman, PhD, professor of ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine who holds appointments in electrical engineering and bioengineering, and Feng Xiong, PhD, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the Swanson School of Engineering, received $500,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to conduct this research. Conventional image sensors record information frame-by-frame, which stores a great deal of redundant data along with that which is useful. This excess data storage occurs because most pixels do not change from frame to frame, like stationary buildings in the background. Inspired by the human brain, the team will develop a neuromorphic vision system driven by the timings of changes in the dynamics of the input signal, instead of the conventional image-based system. “With existing neuromorphic camera systems, the communication between the camera and the computing system is limited by how much data it is trying to push through, which negates the benefits of the large bandwidth and low power consumption that this camera provides,” says Dr. Xiong. “We will use a spiking neural network with realistic dynamic synapses that will enhance computational abilities, develop brain-inspired machine learning to understand the input, and connect it to a neuromorphic event-based silicon retina for real-time operating vision.” This system will work more efficiently than existing technology, with orders of magnitude better energy efficiency and bandwidth. “We believe this work will lead to transformative advances in bio-inspired neuromorphic processing architectures, sensing, with major applications in self-driving vehicles, neural prosthetics, robotics and general artificial intelligence,” says Dr. Benosman. The grant will begin July 1, 2019, and is expected to last until June 30, 2022. ### About the Swanson School of EngineeringThe University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering is one of the oldest engineering programs in the U.S. and is consistently ranked among the top 25 public engineering programs by U.S. News & World Report. The Swanson School has excelled in basic and applied research during the past decade with focus areas in sustainability, energy systems, advanced manufacturing, bioengineering, micro- and nano-systems, computational modeling and advanced materials development. About the University of Pittsburgh School of MedicineAs one of the nation’s leading academic centers for biomedical research, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine integrates advanced technology with basic science across a broad range of disciplines in a continuous quest to harness the power of new knowledge and improve the human condition. Driven mainly by the School of Medicine and its affiliates, Pitt has ranked among the top 10 recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health since 1998. In rankings recently released by the National Science Foundation, Pitt ranked fifth among all American universities in total federal science and engineering research and development support. Likewise, the School of Medicine is equally committed to advancing the quality and strength of its medical and graduate education programs, for which it is recognized as an innovative leader, and to training highly skilled, compassionate clinicians and creative scientists well-equipped to engage in world-class research. The School of Medicine is the academic partner of UPMC, which has collaborated with the University to raise the standard of medical excellence in Pittsburgh and to position health care as a driving force behind the region’s economy. For more information about the School of Medicine, see www.medschool.pitt.edu.
Maggie Pavlick
Jun
12
2019

MEMS Professor Anne Robertson Delivers Keynote Lecture at International Conference

Bioengineering, MEMS

Anne Robertson, William Kepler Whiteford Endowed Professorship of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science and Professor of Bioengineering, was among a prestigious group of scholars invited to give a keynote lecture at the 6th International Conference on Computational and Mathematical Biomedical Engineering. The conference was hosted by Tohoku University in Sendai City, Japan earlier this June. The title of Dr. Robertson’s lecture was “Identifying Physical Causes of Failure in Brain Aneurysms.”  A subarachnoid hemorrhage, a type of stroke with high mortality and disability rates, is often caused by the rupture of a cerebral aneurysm. However, if the aneurysm is not ruptured, treatment for this condition can be more dangerous than the risk of rupture itself.  Therefore, there is a need to develop reliable methods for assessing rupture risk. Dr. Robertson’s presentation discussed her group’s recent findings which demonstrate the need to identify the actual physical causes for wall vulnerability as a vital component of accessing rupture risk.  This research is done by using data driven computational simulations obtained from human aneurysm tissue. New tools for mapping heterogeneous experimental data for the wall to the 3D reconstructed vascular model make it possible to evaluate the associations between critical aspects of aneurysm wall structure and both hemodynamic and intramural stress. Other Pitt members of this multi-institutional research team include Dr. Spandan Maiti, who holds a primary appointment in Bioengineering and a secondary appointment in MEMS and Dr. Simon Watkins, Distinguished Professor of the Department of Cell Biology and Director of the Center for Biologic Imaging.   Doctoral students Fangzhou Cheng, Michael Durka, Ronald Fortunato, Piyusha Gade and Chao Sang as well as postdoctoral researchers Yasutaka Tobe and Eliisa Ollikainen also made substantial contributions to this work. One of the main focuses of Dr. Robertson’s research is the relationship between soft tissue structure and mechanical function in health and disease for soft tissues such as cerebral arteries, cerebral aneurysms, tissue engineered blood vessels and the bladder wall.  Her research is heavily supported by the National Institutes of Health where she is a standing member of the Neuroscience and Ophthalmic Imaging Technologies (NOIT) Study Section.

Jun
10
2019

Pitt and CMU Researchers Discover How the Brain Changes When Mastering a New Skill

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (June 10, 2019) … Mastering a new skill - whether a sport, an instrument, or a craft - takes time and training. While it is understood that a healthy brain is capable of learning these new skills, how the brain changes in order to develop new behaviors is a relative mystery. More precise knowledge of this underlying neural circuitry may eventually improve the quality of life for individuals who have suffered brain injury by enabling them to more easily relearn everyday tasks. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University recently published an article in PNAS (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1820296116) that reveals what happens in the brain as learners progress from novice to expert. They discovered that new neural activity patterns emerge with long-term learning and established a causal link between these patterns and new behavioral abilities. The research was performed as part of the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, a cross-institutional research and education program that leverages the strengths of Pitt in basic and clinical neuroscience and bioengineering with those of CMU in cognitive and computational neuroscience. The project was jointly mentored by Aaron Batista, associate professor of bioengineering at Pitt's Swanson School of Engineering; Byron Yu, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and biomedical engineering at CMU; and Steven Chase, associate professor of biomedical engineering and the Neuroscience Institute at CMU. The work was led by Pitt bioengineering postdoctoral associate Emily Oby. “We used a brain-computer interface (BCI), which creates a direct connection between our subject’s neural activity and the movement of a computer cursor,” said Oby. “We recorded the activity of around 90 neural units in the arm region of the primary motor cortex of Rhesus monkeys as they performed a task that required them to move the cursor to align with targets on the monitor.” To determine whether the monkeys would form new neural patterns as they learned, the research group encouraged the animals to attempt a new BCI skill and then compared those recordings to the pre-existing neural patterns. “We first presented the monkey with what we call an ‘intuitive mapping’ from their neural activity to the cursor that worked with how their neurons naturally fire and which didn’t require any learning,” said Oby. “We then induced learning by introducing a skill in the form of a novel mapping that required the subject to learn what neural patterns they need to produce in order to move the cursor.” Like learning most skills, the group’s BCI task took several sessions of practice and a bit of coaching along the way. “We discovered that after a week, our subject was able to learn how to control the cursor,” said Batista. “This is striking because by construction, we knew from the outset that they did not have the neural activity patterns required to perform this skill. Sure enough, when we looked at the neural activity again after learning we saw that new patterns of neural activity had appeared, and these new patterns are what enabled the monkey to perform the task.” These findings suggest that the process for humans to master a new skill might also involve the generation of new neural activity patterns. “Though we are looking at this one specific task in animal subjects, we believe that this is perhaps how the brain learns many new things,” said Yu. “Consider learning the finger dexterity required to play a complex piece on the piano. Prior to practice, your brain might not yet be capable of generating the appropriate activity patterns to produce the desired finger movements.” “We think that extended practice builds new synaptic connectivity that leads directly to the development of new patterns of activity that enable new abilities,” said Chase. “We think this work applies to anybody who wants to learn - whether it be a paralyzed individual learning to use a brain-computer interface or a stroke survivor who wants to regain normal motor function. If we can look directly at the brain during motor learning, we believe we can design neurofeedback strategies that facilitate the process that leads to the formation of new neural activity patterns.” ### This work was funded by NIH R01 HD071686, National Science Foundation (NSF) BCS1533672, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, NSFCAREER Award IOS1553252, NIH CRCNS R01 NS105318, NIH R01 HD090125, Craig H. Neilsen Foundation 280028, Pennsylvania Department of Health Research Formula Grant SAP 4100077048 under the Commonwealth Universal Research Enhancement program, Simons Foundation 543065, and NIH T32 NS07391. Image 1: Pitt and CMU researchers discovered that new neural activity patterns emerge with long-term learning and established a causal link between these patterns and new behavioral abilities. This illustration shows new roots – depicted as neurons – blossoming into a flower that represents a new behavior or skill. Credit: Frank Harris for the University of Pittsburgh. Image 2: Emily Oby, a bioengineering postdoctoral associate at the University of Pittsburgh, led a study that explored what happens when the brain learns a new task. Here, she holds an electrode that measured brain activity, represented on her computer screen. The success of this study could lead to new hope for people who have suffered debilitating brain injuries that caused them to forget how to do certain tasks, like playing music or sports. (Aimee Obidzinski/University of Pittsburgh)

Jun
6
2019

Climbing the Ladder of Safety Success: Erika Pliner receives 2019 Pre-doctoral Young Scientist award from the American Society of Biomechanics

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (June 6, 2019) … Erika Pliner, a bioengineering PhD candidate at the University of Pittsburgh, received the 2019 Pre-doctoral Young Scientist award from the American Society of Biomechanics (ASB) in recognition of her scientific achievements. Her work with Kurt Beschorner, associate professor of bioengineering in the Swanson School of Engineering, focuses on determining individual, environmental, and biomechanical factors that contribute to ladder fall risk. “Ladder falls are a frequent and severe source of injuries,” explained Pliner. “Environmental changes - such as ladder setup and design - have been suggested to prevent ladder falls, yet there remains a lack of knowledge on individual factors that influence ladder fall risk; in particular, individual factors that contribute to safe and effective ladder use are unknown.” According to Pliner, the majority of ladder fall research aims to mitigate factors that initiate a falling event, but individual and environmental factors and the biomechanical responses in response to a climbing perturbation are not well understood. Pliner takes a novel, multifaceted approach to determine risk factors. She has tested younger and older adults, designed occupational and domestic-based ladder experiments, and investigated factors that precede and follow a ladder falling event. This advances her long-term goal of reducing injuries by targeting a diverse range of ladder falling events. Outcomes from her work have already revealed impactful knowledge to reduce ladder fall injuries. Her work determined that ladders installed too close to a wall or surface dramatically increase slip and fall risk. She explained, “This finding puts many workers at risk, particularly truck and train operators whose ladders are often installed too close to the surface of the vehicle.” Her work also revealed the importance of upper body strength in recovering from a ladder climbing perturbation. She said, “Strength training and health screenings are safety interventions that can aid in preventing ladder falls.” In addition to her safety research, Pliner also dedicates her time to improving diversity in STEM. “There is a poor representation of women and minorities in engineering disciplines, which has a negative impact on applicability of research to different populations,” said Pliner. “For example, ladder design has been primarily based on male climbers, affecting the efficacy and inherent fall risk of ladder use for female climbers..” Pliner believes that relating engineering concepts to student interests may be a useful tool to improve engagement of underrepresented persons in STEM. She aims to promote diversity in these fields by investigating the relationship between student interests and engagement in biomechanical activities. As the recipient of the Pre-doctoral Young Scientist award, Pliner will present her work at the ASB annual meeting, July 31-August 4, 2019. She is also expected to submit a full-length manuscript for publication in the Journal of Biomechanics. “I am delighted that Erika is receiving this recognition for her research accomplishments,” said Beschorner. “Her work with ladder fall risk has the potential to prevent a substantial amount of injuries, and her passion for increasing diversity in STEM will hopefully help make the field of engineering more inclusive.” ###

Jun
5
2019

DPT-PhD graduate student Anna Bailes receives award at the Rehabilitation Institute Research Day

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (June 5, 2019) … University of Pittsburgh graduate student Anna Bailes received the Best Rehabilitation Research award in the pre-doctoral category at the 2019 UPMC Rehabilitation Institute Research Day on May 22, 2019. Bailes presented her work titled “Depression and anxiety are associated with increased healthcare utilization in low back pain.” This research was performed in the lab of her co-advisor Gwendolyn Sowa, professor and chair of physical medicine and rehabilitation. Co-authors on the paper include Rohit Navlani, Stephen Koscumb, Amanda Malecky, Oscar Marroquin, Ajay Wasan, Howard Gutstein, Christina Zigler, Anthony Delitto, Nam Vo, and Gwendolyn Sowa. Bailes is a student in the Doctor of Physical Therapy/PhD in Bioengineering (DPT-PhD) dual-degree program, a unique offering that integrates clinical and research experiences in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and the Swanson School of Engineering. She is currently a member of the Human Movement and Balance Laboratory where she works with Rakié Cham, associate professor of bioengineering, on the quantification of functional and mobility deficits in individuals with vision loss. “My current research aims to quantify functional capabilities in individuals with macular dystrophy, with a long-term goal of creating standardized assessments to track disease progression and therapy progress,” said Bailes. “We use high-tech balance and gait assessments along with mobility and fine-motor tasks to identify areas of impairment and potential rehabilitation goals.” Bailes also has a strong interest in the psychosocial and behavioral contributors to pain and movement impairments. Her future career goals include improving physical therapy treatment for individuals with chronic musculoskeletal pain using basic psychological principles alongside traditional rehabilitation interventions. “Many individuals who fear pain and have catastrophizing thoughts about it will alter movement patterns or all together avoid activities that elicit pain,” she explained. “This behavior can lead to exacerbated pain, disuse, and disability.” One of her recent research proposals will use engineering-based methods, such as dynamic balance testing and gait analysis, to determine the extent of functional and cognitive changes associated with pain anxiety in those with chronic low back pain. Bailes said, “Understanding this relationship between cognition, balance, and gait will allow us to identify treatment targets for novel rehabilitation strategies integrating cognitive, balance, and psychosocial therapies.” ###

Jun
4
2019

Postdoctoral Position in the BIONIC Lab

Bioengineering, Open Positions

The Bio-Integrating Optoelectric Neural Interface Cybernetics Lab within the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh is seeking a post-doctoral associate. The position is funded through an active grant from the NIH to conduct leading-edge research at the frontier of neuroscience and neurobiology by developing and using novel engineered technologies and tools to disentangle long-standing basic neurobiology questions at the interface of neuroscience and engineering. Our goal is to elucidate pathways involved in neurodegeneration and brain injuries as well as the basic biology of neuro-glial-vascular coupling and functional neurostimulation, and then utilizing neurotechnologies to attenuate degeneration and enhance brain function. Applicants should hold a PhD in a related field including but not limited to Biomedical Engineering, Neurobiology, Neuroscience, Molecular/Cellular Biology, Biochemistry, 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.  Expertise with in vivo two photon imaging, viral transduction in rodent brain, image processing (e.g. GCaMP) and head-fixed visual cortex experiments (V1) are desired. Experiences with biomaterial fabrication, electrochemistry, material characterization, neural tissue histology, functional/evoked electrophysiology/imaging, functional electrical stimulation, and advanced biological imaging (two-photon and confocal microscopy) are seen as advantages. Successful candidate will work on the chronic neural interface with special focus on implant-tissue interaction. He/she will be working with an interdisciplinary team of neural engineers, neuroscientists, neurosurgeon, biologists, and material scientists. The appointment is intended to be 2 years and may be renewable depending on availability of funds. To apply, please send a cover letter and curriculum vitae (CV) as a single pdf document to Takashi Kozai (tdk18@pitt.edu). The Department of Bioengineering is strongly committed to a diverse academic environment and places high priority on attracting female and underrepresented minority candidates.  We strongly encourage candidates from these groups to apply for the position. The University affirms and actively promotes the rights of all individuals to equal opportunity in education and employment without regard to race, color, sex, national origin, age, religion, marital status, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or any other protected class.

May

May
24
2019

New Partnership Expands Research into Rechargeable Battery Systems

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (May 24, 2019) — Energy storage influences every part of modern life, from the cell phone in your pocket to the electric car on the highway. However, seeing the chemistry of what is happening inside a battery while it is in use is indeed tricky, but it could have remarkable opportunities for identifying new materials as well as improving the battery itself. Now, the Next-Generation Energy Conversion and Storage Technologies Lab (NECSTL) at the University of Pittsburgh’s Energy Innovation Center has announced a new energy research partnership with Malvern Panalytical that will enable the lab to do exactly that. The NECSTL, headed by Prashant N. Kumta, PhD, focuses on energy conversion and storage, including rechargeable battery systems. Malvern Panalytical’s Empyrean X-ray Platform, a multipurpose diffractometer, will be used in the lab to identify solid-state materials by determining their internal structure, composition and phase while they are in use. “For example, it can be used to determine what happens to an electrode and electrolyte material as the main active component is removed and brought back during a electrochemical reaction, such as in the case of a lithium-ion rechargeable battery,” explains Prashant N. Kumta, PhD, Edward R. Weidlein Chair professor of Bioengineering. Dr. Kumta also holds appointments in chemical and petroleum engineering, mechanical engineering and materials science, the McGowan Institute of Regenerative Medicine, and oral biology. “This understanding will lead to new discoveries of mechanisms and operation, which can result in new materials discovery and new designs for significantly increasing the performance of batteries and fuel cells.” Dr. Kumta also believes that the partnership will enable the design of new instrumentation for further in-situ diagnostics of energy storage and conversion systems. The new partnership and equipment was celebrated on May 23 at the Energy Innovation Center, where attendees got a first look at the Empyrean up close.
Maggie Pavlick
May
23
2019

DPT-PhD students Bailey Petersen and Stephanie Rigot receive NIH F30 awards

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (May 23, 2019) … University of Pittsburgh graduate students Bailey Petersen, DPT, and Stephanie Rigot, DPT, received F30 Individual Predoctoral NRSA Fellowships from the National Institutes of Health. The award provides funding for students who are matriculated in a combined dual-doctoral degree training program and who intend to pursue careers as physician-scientists or other clinician-scientists. Petersen and Rigot are members of the inaugural class of the Doctor of Physical Therapy/PhD in Bioengineering (DPT-PhD) dual-degree program, a unique offering that integrates clinical and research experiences in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and the Swanson School of Engineering. “This program combines the outstanding evidence-based physical therapy education and innovative bioengineering research training that already exists at the university and builds upon synergies between faculty members of the nationally-ranked Departments of Bioengineering and Physical Therapy,” said Patrick Sparto, PT, PhD, associate professor of physical therapy and co-director of the DPT-PhD program. Petersen works in the lab of Lee Fisher, PhD, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation, where her research aims to restore a sense of joint movement that mimics the feeling of the leg and foot for people with lower-limb amputations. “Individuals with lower-limb amputations face a wide range of gait impairments and have a substantially higher risk of falling than the average population,” said Petersen. “This increased fall risk can be partially attributed to a lack of the sense of touch and joint movement that are crucial for maintaining balance.” The research group uses spinal cord stimulation in the low back, which activates the nerve fibers that normally carry sensory information from the leg and foot to the brain. They use sensors to measure movement and contact pressure of the prosthetic during normal walking and stimulate the corresponding nerve fibers in real-time. “When the prosthetic touches the ground, we induce stimulation, and the participant feels their foot moving and touching the ground as they walk,” explained Petersen. “The aim of this project is to improve gait and balance, thereby improving the mobility and safety of people with lower-limb amputations.” Rigot works in the lab of Michael Boninger, PhD, Professor and UPMC Endowed Vice Chair for Research in the Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, where she aims to develop a new measure of impairment after spinal cord injury using leg movements measured by activity monitors. “Current testing, which is primarily measured by brute tests of strength and sensation, may not be sensitive enough to provide an accurate representation of an individual’s impairment and functional abilities,” explained Rigot. “Our new measure could be used to track an individual’s recovery over time, as well as provide a novel method to predict an individual’s long-term mobility potential using data collected soon after their spinal cord injury.” The length of stay in inpatient rehabilitation after a spinal cord injury is decreasing, which forces clinicians to quickly make critical decisions about where to focus time in therapy to maximize an individual’s functional mobility. Rigot plans to develop a new clinical prediction rule that would provide clinicians, individuals with spinal cord injuries, and their families with a more accurate and descriptive estimation of the individual’s future mobility. This strategy will allow patients to tailor their therapy and focus on the ideal interventions. “If we can develop a tool to assist clinicians in determining the optimal interventions during therapy early after an injury, then we can hopefully improve the participation, quality of life, pain, and other outcomes for many of the nearly 18,000 people in the United States that experience a new spinal cord injury each year,” said Rigot. “Bailey and Stephanie exemplify the caliber of students enrolled in this first class of the DPT-PhD program,” said Patrick Loughlin, PhD, professor of bioengineering and co-director of the program. “I’m excited to see what these students will accomplish in their future careers.” ###

May
20
2019

The New Wave of Brain-Computer Interface Technology

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (May 20, 2019) … Researchers have made groundbreaking strides in brain-computer interface (BCI) research, allowing paralyzed individuals to connect mind to machine and control robotic devices with their brains. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) wants to tap into this breakthrough technology and develop a nonsurgical option that provides a new way for able-bodied individuals to interact with machines. Through the Next-Generation Nonsurgical Neurotechnology (N3) program, the agency selected Battelle and Carnegie Mellon University to lead projects and awarded each institution funding totaling nearly $20 million over four years. Both projects include the University of Pittsburgh’s Doug Weber, Robert Gaunt, and Jennifer Collinger. The most effective neural interfaces require surgery to implant electrodes into the brain, but DARPA’s N3 program aims to develop a high-resolution, portable neural interface system that is either completely noninvasive or only minutely invasive, making the technology accessible to a wider population of potential users. Most current BCI technology helps individuals with disabilities perform everyday tasks, but DARPA wants to progress the technology to able-bodied individuals, starting with military service members. Weber, an associate professor of bioengineering in the Swanson School of Engineering, directs the Rehab Neural Engineering Labs where his group has developed systems that enable individuals to control and feel prosthetic limbs through direct connections to the nervous system. He will lead the preclinical safety and efficacy studies for designs from Battelle and CMU. “The goal of this program is to create and demonstrate new, noninvasive technologies for interfacing with the brain at high resolution,” said Weber. “The Battelle and CMU investigators are working on unique technologies that may suit this purpose, and I will work with those teams to validate and refine the technology in animal and human BCI studies.” The CMU team is led by Pulkit Grover, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering (ECE), along with Maysam Chamanzar, assistant professor of ECE, and Jana Kainerstorfer, assistant professor of biomedical engineering. The group will apply novel concepts in physics, biology, and engineering to fight dispersion of waves as they enter the head. “Our team has taken on the ambitious goal of completely noninvasive sensing and stimulation at unprecedented spatiotemporal resolution,” said Grover. “The noninvasive aspect will make our solutions widely applicable, but it is also what makes our goal extremely challenging. Fundamentally, all waves - light, ultrasound, electrical currents - disperse in the head due to presence of a thick skull. To compensate for this, we are leveraging two completely new technologies being developed at CMU. In Doug Weber, Rob Gaunt, and Jen Collinger at Pitt, we have the ideal collaborators to validate and improve these technologies and bring them that much closer to practice.” Battelle is the prime on a second N3 program. Gaurav Sharma, a senior research scientist in the Medical Devices and Neuromodulation group, and his team have created a concept for the N3 program called BrainSTORMS (Brain System to Transmit Or Receive Magnetoelectric Signals). This technology involves the development of a novel nanotransducer that would be delivered through an intravenous injection and then targeted to a specific area of the brain. When the task is complete, the nanotransducer will be magnetically guided out of the brain for clearance out of the body. “This is one of the most exciting and challenging projects I have worked on,” said Sharma in a prepared statement. “With BrainSTORMS, we will again be pushing the limits engineering and physics. If successful, this technology would not only provide a safe and efficient way to facilitate human-machine interactions but also has the potential to revolutionize how the nervous system is probed and studied.” Fellow RNEL Lab members Robert Gaunt and Jennifer Collinger, assistant professors of physical medicine and rehabilitation, will help to validate these technologies in first-in-human trials. All three researchers have experience with BCI technology and neuroprosthetics; they aim to better understand how humans use sensory information to regulate actions and apply that knowledge to prosthetic devices. They will use their expertise in this field to run the human trials of the developed N3 program technologies. ###

May
6
2019

Designed with Women in Mind: Pitt researchers receive a $2.5M NIH award to create an improved repair device for pelvic organ prolapse

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (May 6, 2019) … Pelvic organ prolapse (POP) is a condition where the organs in the pelvis push against the vagina, creating a “bulge” that can extend outside of the body. It results from a weakening of the muscles and tissues that help support the pelvic organs. This disorder affects many women, but surgical treatments with polypropylene mesh - devices initially designed for hernia repairs, not vaginal use - often result in complications. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh will use a five-year, $2,500,000 award from the National Institutes of Health to create a novel repair device designed for the vagina that may improve outcomes in POP surgery. Steven Abramowitch, associate professor of bioengineering in the Swanson School of Engineering, and Pamela Moalli, professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at Pitt and pelvic reconstructive surgeon at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, will lead this effort. Abramowitch and Moalli co-direct the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Female Pelvic Health (CIRPH) where they focus on the impact of pregnancy, delivery, and other life-changing events on the structural integrity of the pelvic floor. They aim to develop preventative treatment options for POP and more effective patient-specific treatments. “The purpose of this project is to design and develop novel solutions for POP repair since past materials were never specifically developed for the functional and material properties of the vagina,” said Moalli. “Based on our studies, the properties of most meshes are altered following implantation with tensioning and loading, which in some cases can lead to suboptimal outcomes. Ultimately, this funding mechanism will allow us to design a device with properties that more closely mimic the native properties of the vagina and its supportive tissues. We believe this approach will create a more favorable biological response compared to current mesh products.” Since polypropylene - the material used in current POP meshes - is very stiff, it is manufactured with a knitted pattern, which causes mechanical behaviors that can exacerbate inflammation and fibrosis in some women. This may ultimately result in complications including pain and/or mesh exposure, potentially requiring additional surgeries and removal of the implanted mesh. “Our group will evaluate the use of elastomeric polymers whose inherent stiffness is similar to that of the vagina but are also tough enough to meet the physiologic loading demands within the pelvis,” explained Abramowitch. “The designed solutions will contain pore geometries that provide the device with counterintuitive mechanical behaviors, such as the ability to expand rather than contract when you pull on it. We believe that this will allow for better integration between our device and the patient’s tissue.” To optimize the design, the team will test the biological response to devices with different material stiffnesses, fiber widths, and device thicknesses. “The materials we chose can be 3D printed, which allows us to adjust the geometric features of the device and design it so that we reduce issues seen in current meshes, such as wrinkling and permanent deformation,” said Abramowitch. “We will use computational modeling and laboratory testing to develop a rigorous understanding of the mechanics as it relates to the female pelvis. Ultimately, we want to use our knowledge of how the body responds to the mechanics of the device to better inform our design process.” Abramowitch and Moalli hope that their novel device, designed specifically for the vagina, will significantly improve the outcomes of prolapse surgeries while minimizing complications. “Issues that negatively impact the quality of life and are specific to women often do not get the attention that they deserve in research,” said Moalli. “This is an opportunity to develop solutions for women that are designed based on an understanding of the uniqueness of female anatomy and biology.” ### This work is supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute Of Child Health & Human Development of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R01HD097187. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Apr

Apr
29
2019

Postdoctoral Position in Cancer Bioengineering - Zervantonakis lab

Bioengineering, Open Positions

A postdoctoral position is available at the Tumor Microenvironment Engineering lab in the Department of Bioengineering and UPMC Cancer Institute. We employ a quantitative approach that integrates microfluidics, systems biology modeling, and in vivo experiments to investigate the role of the tumor microenvironment on breast and ovarian cancer growth, metastasis and drug resistance. Our group has projects in three main areas: (1)  Drug-resistant microenvironments in breast cancer: modeling cellular dynamics. (2)  Metastatic dissemination in ovarian cancer: macrophages and fluid flow. (3) Localized drug release technologies and single-cell functional assays. Applicants should hold a PhD in bioengineering, biomedical sciences or related fields. A strong background in cancer biology is preferred, including experience with quantitative assay development and optimization, microscopy. Openings are also available for candidates with a computational/mathematical background with expertise in mechanistic modeling and systems analysis. The Tumor Microenvironment Engineering laboratory offers the opportunity to work at the forefront of cancer bioengineering, learn cutting edge techniques and collaborate with an interdisciplinary group of scientists and clinicians. The candidate will benefit from the rich biomedical research environment in the University of Pittsburgh, including the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, the Department of Computational and Systems Biology, the Drug Discovery Institute and the Magee-Women’s Research Institute. The city of Pittsburgh is one of the “most livable” cities in the US and is a leader in medicine, engineering and high-tech industries. Openings are available starting September 2019. Please visit the website (www.zervalab.com) to find out more about research projects, publications, mentoring and collaborations. Interested applicants please submit a CV, statement of research interests and contact information for three references to: Ioannis Zervantonakis, Assistant Professor ioz1@pitt.edu. The Department of Bioengineering is strongly committed to a diverse academic environment and places high priority on attracting female and underrepresented minority candidates. We strongly encourage candidates from these groups to apply for the position. The University of Pittsburgh is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate on the basis of age, color, disability, gender, gender identity, marital status, national or ethnic origin, race, religion, sexual orientation, or veteran status.

Zervantonakis Laboratory
Apr
23
2019

An Uphill Task: Split-belt training on an incline may be more effective for correcting gait in stroke patients

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (April 23, 2019) … Individuals recovering from a stroke often experience atypical movement, making previously simple tasks - such as walking - more difficult. Repeated exposure to split-belt treadmill walking, where one foot walks faster than the other, has proven to be an effective strategy to improve gait for some stroke patients, but many individuals do not benefit from this therapy. Gelsy Torres-Oviedo, assistant professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, recently published a paper detailing her surprising discovery that inclined split-belt training increases locomotor adaptation and may be useful for helping more stroke survivors improve their gait. During split-belt training, researchers use a treadmill with two belts that move at different speeds to teach an individual to walk a new way. Prof. Torres-Oviedo’s group uses this technique to train healthy volunteers to walk with a limp and subsequently reverses the process to see if a clinical population that already has a limp can be trained to walk symmetrically. “Research suggests that the forces experienced on the feet during walking might improve how much individuals adapt or learn a new walking pattern,” said Prof. Torres-Oviedo. “We wanted to explore this idea so we looked at propulsion demands from inclined walking and braking demands from declined walking to see if they influenced locomotor adaptation.” “We track a subject’s adaptation and learning of new walking patterns with a measure of limping called step length asymmetry,” explained Prof. Torres-Oviedo. “Larger values of step length asymmetry reflect more limping than smaller values, and a zero step length asymmetry indicates that subjects are walking symmetrically.” The research, published in Frontiers in Physiology (DOI: 10.3389/fphys.2019.00060), was led by Carly Sombric, PhD, a recent graduate alumnus from the bioengineering program in the Swanson School of Engineering. “We previously thought that all young, healthy individuals sought a step length asymmetry value of zero during split-belt training,” Sombric explained. “But, in this study, we noticed that participants in the sloped conditions chose to limp rather than walk symmetrically.” Asymmetric stepping was selected because of the way slope and walking speed influence our gait. On a flat surface, it doesn’t matter how slow or fast a person is walking - one foot always moves in front of the person the same distance they let it trail behind them. This relationship is disrupted when walking on an inclined or declined condition at different speeds. “During split-belt training, subjects placed their legs relative to their body in a speed-and-slope-specific manner,” said Sombric. “We found that you adapt and learn more depending on the forces you need to generate. Increased adaptation and learning are achieved at the expense of stepping symmetry. In summary, inclined training caused subjects to better learn a new walking pattern.” Studies have shown that split-belt training has been an effective therapy for many patients recovering from a stroke, but there is still a large population that is not benefitting, and it is still unclear why some stroke survivors relearn better than others. Prof. Torres-Oviedo’s group wants to know if they can use this sloped strategy to adjust the degree to which people change their gait. “Before this study, it was unclear how we could control how much we adjust walking patterns in patients,” said Sombric. “Now we understand that you can augment how much subjects are learning a new walking pattern by making them generate larger propulsion forces or breaking forces, depending on how much you want them to adapt.” The team plans to examine whether or not this new knowledge can be used to increase the amount that stroke patients change their gait from this intervention. In future studies, the lab also wants to determine whether or not the patients can generalize these effects to different walking environments. ###

Apr
17
2019

Nine Pitt Students Awarded 2019 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships

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

PITTSBURGH—Nine University of Pittsburgh students were awarded a 2019 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. Seven Pitt students and one alumnus also earned an honorable mention. 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 an annual stipend of $34,000 for three years, as well as a $12,000 cost of education allowance for tuition and fees. The support accorded to NSF Graduate Research Fellows is intended to nurture awardees’ ambition to become lifelong leaders who contribute significantly to both scientific innovation and teaching. “Receipt of an NSF Fellowship award is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our undergrad and graduate students, and to their faculty mentors and advisors. It is also one of the most highly recognized indicators of early success in a scientific research career,” said Nathan Urban, vice provost for graduate studies and strategic initiatives at Pitt. “The University is committed to increasing support for future NSF-GRFP applicants through the application process while we congratulate this year’s winners.” Four Swanson School students received an award: Nathanial Buettner, a civil engineering undergraduate student, works in the Pavement Mechanics and Materials Laboratory where he aims to advance research on concrete pavements. Starting in summer 2019, he plans to pursue a Ph.D. in civil engineering at the University of Pittsburgh under the advisement of Dr. Julie Vandenbossche. Charles Griego, a chemical engineering graduate student, works with Dr. John Keith to evaluate computational models used for high-throughput screening of catalysts that improve chemical processes. He graduated from the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in 2017 with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering. He serves as President of Pitt’s Chemical Engineering Graduate Student Association and plans to become a professor to fulfill his desire for teaching and inspiring students in STEM. Dulce Mariscal, a bioengineering graduate student, works in the lab of Gelsy Torres-Oviedo where she aims to identify biomechanical factors that modulate the generalization of treadmill learning to ultimately improve rehabilitation treatments for patients with gait impairments. She graduated from the Universidad del Turabo, PR in 2014 with a B.S. in mechanical engineering. Kalon Overholt, a bioengineering undergraduate student, has worked under the mentorship of Dr. Rocky Tuan in the Center for Cellular and Molecular Engineering (CCME) for the past three years. His research focused on developing a device to study how biochemical crosstalk between bone and cartilage may contribute to the mechanism of osteoarthritis. He plans to pursue a graduate degree in biological engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology starting in fall 2019. Two Swanson School students received honorable mentions: Ethan Schumann graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2018 with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering. He worked on medical device development with Dr. Jeffrey Vipperman at Pitt and hardware design and testing of a bipedal robot with Dr. C. David Remy at the University of Michigan. He plans to pursue a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering at Harvard University with Dr. Conor Walsh in the Biodesign Lab starting fall 2019. Sommer Anjum, a bioengineering graduate student, is pursuing a Ph.D. in the area of computational modeling and simulation. She works in the MechMorpho lab of Dr. Lance Davidson where she aims to develop computational models capturing the complex biophysical properties of developing organisms. She graduated from the University of Georgia in 2018 with a degree in Biological Engineering, where she discovered her passion for trying to understand the behaviors of biological systems through computational models. Andrea Sajewski, an undergraduate student from Duquesne University who works with Dr. Tamer Ibrahim, was also awarded a fellowship. She will join the bioengineering graduate program in the fall and continue her magnetic resonance imaging research in the Radiofrequency Research Facility. Nathan Brantly, who also recently accepted an offer to join the bioengineering graduate program, received an award and will join Dr. Jennifer Collinger's group in the fall. Current Swanson School students who hold or previously held the NSF-GRFP award include, Sarah Hemler (BioE), Angelica Herrera (BioE), Monica Liu (BioE), Patrick Marino (BioE), Erika Pliner (BioE), Donald Kline (BioE), Megan Routzong (BioE), Michael Taylor (ChemE), Drake Pedersen (BioE), Natalie Austin (ChemE), Gerald Ferrer (BioE), Alexis Nolfi (BioE), Carly Sombric (BioE), and Elyse Stachler (CEE). ###

Apr
16
2019

BioE graduate students capture top prizes at the Pitt Three Minute Thesis competition

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (April 16, 2019) … After their success in the Swanson School of Engineering’s Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition, bioengineering graduate students Piyusha Gade and Gerald Ferrer participated in the university-wide event hosted by the University of Pittsburgh Office of the Provost on April 1, 2019. Gade was awarded first place while Ferrer captured the runner-up prize and the People’s Choice award. The Pitt 3MT competition was held during National Graduate and Professional Student Appreciation Week, a celebration to emphasize the contributions, impact, and value of graduate and professional students on campuses throughout the United States. The Provost’s Office presented four prizes for the 3MT competition: first place was awarded a $1000 travel grant, two runner-ups were each awarded a $500 travel grant, and for the first time at Pitt, a $1000 travel grant was awarded to a People’s Choice winner. “I am proud that both Piyusha and Gerald received awards at the university-wide Three Minute Thesis competition,” said Mary Besterfield-Sacre, Nickolas A. Dececco Professor of Industrial Engineering and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. “We try to prepare our Swanson School students for successful careers in STEM, and effective communication is an important but often overlooked part of that.” Gade, who placed first in both the Pitt and Swanson School 3MT competition, is a bioengineering a graduate student in the lab of Dr. Anne Robertson, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science. She presented her research which involves rationally designing in situ engineered vascular grafts in young and aged hosts. “Piyusha is an outstanding researcher – extremely smart, innovative and versatile,” Robertson said. “She is always ready to take on new challenges, both intellectually and professionally. I am so proud of Piyusha and her accomplishment!” Ferrer, who was a runner-up in the Swanson School competition, presented his work from the Orthopaedic Robotics Lab of Dr. Richard Debski, professor of bioengineering. His current research is focused on quantifying location specific mechanical properties in tendons using different ultrasound techniques and understanding key biomechanical factors that influence rotator cuff tear propagation through computational models. "I enjoyed the challenge of communicating the significance and impact of our research in a way that everyone - regardless of their background - could understand and relate to, all in under 3 minutes,” Ferrer said. “Being able to communicate with a diverse audience is important because it allows us to bridge the gap between scientists and nonscientists thus increasing awareness of the societal impact of your research.” The 3MT Competition, developed by The University of Queensland, is designed to encourage students to communicate the importance of their research to the broader community. Since its launch in 2008, the 3MT competition has expanded to 67 countries, and events are currently held at more than 600 universities worldwide. ###

Apr
11
2019

Swanson School’s Department of Bioengineering Presents Thomas Gilbert with 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (April 11, 2019) ... 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 Thomas Gilbert, PhD BioE ‘06, Chief Science Officer at ACell, Inc. The six individuals representing each of the Swanson School’s departments and one overall honoree representing the entire school gathered at the 55th annual Distinguished Alumni Banquet at the University of Pittsburgh’s Alumni Hall to accept their awards. James R. Martin II, US Steel Dean of Engineering, led the banquet for the first time since starting his tenure at Pitt in the fall. “Dr. Gilbert’s research in scaffold materials for regenerative medicine led him to faculty positions in surgery, cardiothoracic surgery, and bioengineering here at Pitt,” said Dean Martin. “His fascinating work shows how the engineering principals we studied for complex systems can just as easily, and successfully, be applied to healing the human body.” About Thomas W. Gilbert Thomas Gilbert has a Bachelor of Science in Materials Science and Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University and a PhD in Bioengineering from the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Gilbert has served as Chief Science Officer at ACell, a leading regenerative medicine company, since 2015 and provides leadership to the Research and Development, Clinical Research, and Quality organizations.  In this role, Dr. Gilbert has responsibility for the continuum of product development from concept through clinical evaluation, with careful attention given to regulatory requirements.  Previously, he served as ACell’s Vice President of Research and Development from 2012-2015. During his time at ACell, Dr. Gilbert has provided technical and organizational leadership, and has overseen renewal within each of his departments. Before joining ACell, Dr. Gilbert was Assistant Professor of Surgery, Cardiothoracic Surgery, and Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh as well as a faculty member of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. His research includes the study of processing and use of extracellular matrix (ECM) scaffold materials for the development of regenerative medicine strategies in a variety of body systems. Dr. Gilbert has co-authored several book chapters and more than sixty peer-reviewed articles. In addition, he has received five patents related to ECM technology. His research funding sources include the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. He has also worked as a Metallurgist for the Perryman Company in Houston, PA. ###

Apr
9
2019

Maria Jantz Receives the 2019 National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship Award

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (April 9, 2019) … Maria Jantz, a bioengineering graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, was selected to receive the 2019 National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate (NDSEG) Fellowship Award. The competitive fellowship, which received more than 2,900 applications, recognizes academic excellence in STEM fields and awards up to three years of full tuition, a monthly stipend, health insurance, and a travel budget for research-related training and/or conferences. Jantz received her undergraduate degree in physics at Goshen College, where she developed an interest in prostheses. Following college, she worked with Professors Lee Miller and Matthew Tresch at Northwestern University to use functional electrical stimulation to restore locomotion following spinal cord injuries. She has continued to explore these interests at Pitt and joined the lab of Robert Gaunt, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation, where she studies epidural stimulation of the spinal cord to improve bladder control. “After spinal cord injuries, bladder control is one of the most important functions people want to have restored,” said Jantz. “By applying electrical stimulation to the surface of the spinal cord, we can activate nerves in that region to produce bladder reflexes that improve continence and voiding. “Spinal cord stimulation is a really exciting area of research with a lot of possibilities that we are only now figuring out, and I'm very happy to be a part of that,” Jantz continued. “With an application in bladder control, specifically, I get to improve an issue that many people deal with daily that regularly goes unaddressed, and I think it's really important to meet that need.” In 2018 Jantz was awarded an honorable mention from the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program and was the recipient of the best oral presentation award from the Society for Pelvic Research. “I feel very fortunate to have Maria working in my lab on a problem that is such a significant issue for so many people,” said Gaunt. “This award recognizes Maria’s outstanding talents and abilities, and I’m really looking forward to see what she is able to accomplish with this generous support!” ###

Apr
8
2019

University of Pittsburgh Appoints Medtech Executive and Alumnus Scott Morley as Director of its Coulter@Pitt Medtech Accelerator

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (April 8, 2019) ... Building upon its successes in translational biomedical research and commercialization at the University of Pittsburgh, the Swanson School of Engineering has named Scott Morley as Director of its Coulter@Pitt medtech accelerator program.  Morley succeeds Allison Formal who left the University in February to pursue new opportunities outside of the region. Morley is a seasoned life sciences executive with broad experience in technology development, clinical trials, regulatory strategy, marketing, and sales.  He began his career at ALung Technologies, a Pittsburgh-based medical device company spun out from the University of Pittsburgh.  As ALung’s fourth employee, he quickly rose to become the lead engineer responsible for design and development of ALung’s artificial lung technology, the Hemolung RAS, which was originally developed in the lab of Bioengineering Professor William Federspiel. Morley went on to lead clinical studies in India and Germany resulting in global product approvals. Simultaneously, he built a new therapeutic market for the technology, establishing ALung’s leadership position through a strategy of clinical collaboration with global key opinion leaders and medical societies. After running a global product launch, Morley oversaw the start of ALung’s VENT-AVOID Trial, a 40-center pivotal IDE trial aimed at securing US FDA approval. Most recently, he founded 3Rivers MedTech LLC, providing innovation and commercialization services to the medtech industry. Morley is a two-time graduate of the University of Pittsburgh having earned a BS from the Swanson School of Engineering (Bioengineering) and an MBA from Katz Graduate School of Business (Marketing).  “We are excited to welcome Scott back to Pitt,” said Sanjeev Shroff, Distinguished Professor and Gerald E. McGinnis Chair of of Bioengineering. “Scott brings extensive experience in developing and commercializing medical devices from bench to the bedside, and our translational research teams across campus will be well served by his expertise.” In tandem with his duties as the Coulter@Pitt Program Director, Morley is also an Entrepreneur in Residence with the University of Pittsburgh Innovation Institute where he is supporting the commercialization of life science innovations with a focus on medical devices and diagnostics. “There is a great collaboration between the Coulter Program and the Innovation Institute,” said Evan Facher, Vice Chancellor for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and Director of the Innovation Institute. “Scott’s dual-role on campus will only further strengthen our partnership as we collaborate to build a robust engine for commercialization of Pitt’s biomedical technologies.” “Pitt has taken great strides to develop a new culture of innovation and entrepreneurship,” said Morley. “University research is a primary catalyst for growth of the Pittsburgh life sciences industry. I am very appreciative of the opportunity to work with our partners across Pitt and the region as we seek to drive important advances in healthcare to successful commercialization for the benefit of patients and our regional economy.” ### About the Coulter@Pitt Program The Coulter Translational Research Partners II Program (Coulter@Pitt) is a University based accelerator which helps faculty researchers translate their innovations to commercialization. By way of a competitive grant program, training processes, and collaborative services, University technologies are de-risked and viable commercial pathways identified. Coulter@Pitt extensively engages with business partners, mentors and clinical experts to bring industry perspectives to translational research. In 7+ years, the Coulter Program has attracted over 260 applications and funded 36 projects leading to eight Pitt start-up companies and 5 licenses. 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. About the University of Pittsburgh Innovation Institute Established in 2013, The University of Pittsburgh Innovation Institute is the University’s hub for innovation and entrepreneurship.  The Innovation Institute provides a comprehensive suite of services for Pitt Innovators, from protecting intellectual property to the commercialization of new discoveries through licensing and/or new enterprise development. The Institute also provides a wealth of educational programming, mentoring and networking for Pitt faculty, students and partners. The Innovation Institute strengthens the culture of innovation and entrepreneurship at Pitt and is eager to facilitate and support entrepreneurial initiatives across the university and beyond. It is also invites alumni, entrepreneurs and industry partners to collaborate with our faculty and students to help achieve societal impact through commercialization.
Lindsay Rodzwicz, Coulter@Pitt Manager
Apr
5
2019

Bioengineering’s Role in Regenerative Medicine

Bioengineering

Starfish can repair injured arms and reptiles can regrow severed tails; from bacteria to humans, every species is capable of regeneration, albeit to variable extents. These functions help make species more resilient, but how can we apply the knowledge of these regenerative mechanisms to improve human health? The University of Pittsburgh Department of Bioengineering has been collaboratively working to address this question through research efforts in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. In 1981, upon the arrival of Dr. Thomas E. Starzl at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pittsburgh quickly became world-renowned in transplantation. This helped put Pittsburgh on the map in the medical community, eventually leading to increased interest in artificial organs and the establishment of the McGowan Center for Artificial Organ Development in 1992. This Center, which later became the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, continues to flourish and develop therapies that reestablish tissue and organ function impaired by disease, trauma, or congenital abnormalities. The McGowan Institute of Regenerative Medicine (MIRM) received its current title in 2001 when the Center's mission was expanded to include tissue engineering, adult-derived stem cell and wound healing research, and several other areas of investigation. “We could have carried on with medical device and artificial organ research, but we recognized that we wanted to address the problem – organ and tissue failure – and begin to develop a wider range of technologies,” said William R. Wagner, PhD, director of MIRM and professor of surgery at Pitt. Dr. Wagner, who joined the University in 1991, saw his own research begin to evolve beyond artificial organs. He studied blood coagulation from an engineering perspective, which turned out to be useful in understanding why artificial hearts were forming blood clots, but he later wanted to move beyond artificial hearts and look at ways to make tissue for cardiac repair. His research group currently focuses on developing cardiovascular technologies, with projects that address medical device biocompatibility and design, hypothesis-driven biomaterials development, tissue engineering, and targeted imaging. Dr. Wagner believes that advancements in regenerative medicine require a collaborative effort in which bioengineering plays a large role. “An interdisciplinary approach is what makes the McGowan Institute thrive,” he said. “The problem we are trying to solve is what happens when a part of the body is no longer working. A clinical viewpoint is necessary, but medical training doesn’t give you an engineer’s perspective of design and manufacturing. You need a solid foot in both camps to make progress.” This approach is well-suited for the University of Pittsburgh, which ranked fourth among U.S. universities in funding by the National Institutes of Health in FY 2018. These research opportunities are complemented by the world-renowned University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, which has helped to create a collaborative environment conducive to productive medical research. “Institutes are created to bring people from different disciplines together to solve a common problem, and that is exactly what we are doing at the McGowan Institute,” said Dr. Wagner. “If you look in our laboratories, you could find a nursing professor, a pathology professor, a cardiac surgeon, or a bioengineer – it is a very diverse population. We have a wide range of research, and this center allows these collaborations to be built and supported.” Among this wide range of researchers are 16 primary bioengineering faculty. From the design and development of novel artificial lung devices to the creation of an injectable gel technology that helps injured peripheral nerves repair and regenerate, bioengineering faculty have made an impact on biomedical translational research and innovation at Pitt. “I think we are at a very exciting point where the commercialization of a lot of our inventions is not only possible but practical,” said Wagner. “Our ideas and the technology we have developed are more mature, and the investment community has a better idea of what we are trying to do.” The translational research efforts at MIRM have led to 30 spinout companies derived from MIRM-affiliated faculty. Bioengineering has contributed to the success of these efforts by offering the Center for Medical Innovation, which provides early-stage seed grants to projects, and the Coulter Translational Research Partners II Program, which provides funding and helps lead the projects to commercialization. Beyond research, education is another priority of the McGowan Institute. Part of their mission is to educate and train scientists and engineers to pursue technologies related to regenerative medicine and train a generation of clinicians in the implementation of regenerative therapies. Bioengineering makes up a large part of MIRM graduate student population, which also includes surgical fellows and residents. MIRM-associated faculty currently participate in three NIH training grants to support the educational efforts: the Biomechanics in Regenerative Medicine (BiRM) program, the Cardiovascular Bioengineering Training Program (CBTP), and the Cellular Approaches to Tissue Engineering and Regeneration (CATER) program. In addition, MIRM serves local, national, and international undergraduate students through the Regenerative Medicine Summer School, a hands-on experiential learning program launched by Bioengineering Assistant Professor Bryan Brown, which aims to recruit students from underrepresented backgrounds, including those at universities without significant bioengineering and/or regenerative medicine programs. This educational program nicely complements the CampBioE effort by the Department of Bioengineering, which is a tissue engineering summer camp for middle and high school students. “I consider MIRM to be a scaffold that brings together individuals interested in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine and facilitates their interactions,” said Sanjeev Shroff, Distinguished Professor and Gerald E. McGinnis Chair of Bioengineering. “The symbiotic relationship between MIRM and the Department of Bioengineering greatly benefits our students and faculty, offering outstanding opportunities for training and research collaborations.” All of these efforts have led the McGowan Institute of Regenerative Medicine to be one of the most prominent institutes of its kind. As this dynamic field evolves and grows, the Department of Bioengineering will continue to contribute to the diverse group of researchers at MIRM who pursue the development of innovative technology and new therapies for patients in need. ###

Apr
4
2019

Good Vibrations: Pitt Undergraduates Create a Device to Help Deaf Kids Experience Music Through Tactile and Visual Feedback

Bioengineering, Electrical & Computer, MEMS, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (April 4, 2019) … Through the Swanson School of Engineering’s The Art of Making class, an interdisciplinary group of eleven University of Pittsburgh undergraduate students connected with the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf (WPSD) and Attack Theatre to create a device that can help hearing-impaired children experience music and express themselves through dance. Attack Theatre holds a recurring dance workshop for three-to-six-year-olds at WPSD. The group previously tried using a Bluetooth speaker in a trash can to produce a vibratory effect that the children could touch and interact with, but this design was not kid-friendly and lacked mobility for lessons that necessitate free movement. The Pitt team saw an opportunity to take a fresh look at the problem and design a new system that addresses the needs of both the instructors and the children. However, with no hearing-impaired members, the undergraduates had to find a way to step into the shoes of their end users to better understand their needs. “This was a profoundly human-centered design problem with multiple stakeholders,” said Dr. Joseph Samosky, assistant professor of bioengineering and director of The Art of Making course. “A new technology, even if it works perfectly, is useless if it isn’t accepted by and accessible to the end user. This team of student innovators really understood and acted on that insight.” Issam Abushaban, a sophomore bioengineering and computer engineering student, said that the group learned more about their target audience from WPSD teachers. “We discovered that the rhythm of music and the visualization of colors can reflect a certain mood and affect the way that you feel,” he said. “That was something we really wanted to incorporate into our design.” To better understand the dance element of their task, the group participated in one of Attack Theatre’s workshops catered to deaf and hard-of-hearing children. “A lot of their dance moves were geared toward expressing an emotion, such as stomping to express anger or frustration or skipping to express joy,” said Farah Khan, a senior bioengineering student. “I think this demonstration gave us a different perspective and helped us view music in a new, productive way.” After completing their background research, the team decided to explore the use of both visual and tactile feedback for their design. They created several early prototypes, including a wrist strap with haptic motors and a disc “floor mat” with multi-hued illumination around the periphery. When the vibrating wrist strap was sampled by the children, the team learned the value of making early prototypes and getting feedback from their users to empirically test design concepts. “During our first round of testing, we wanted to pay attention to the reactions that the kids made, rather than focusing on the messages that the interpreter relayed,” said Abushaban. “Some of the kids seemed to be wary or afraid of the wrist strap so the lesson we learned from that meeting was that our product perhaps wasn’t kid-friendly. We then brainstormed new ideas of how to provide vibrational feedback in a more toy-like system.” The custom-designed plush toy houses sound transducers and a wireless communication system. The soft straps of the backpack/frontpack are adjustable, comfortable for the kids, and allow greater mobility for the dance workshop. Natalie Neal, a junior mechanical engineering and materials science student, was inspired to create patterns and hand sew a series of plush toy monkeys that incorporate a Bluetooth receiver, audio amplifier, vibrational transducers and battery power supply. This new iteration, dubbed Vibrance, can be worn either as a backpack or a “frontpack” - what the team calls “hug mode.” Additional testing and user feedback led to supplementing the tactile feedback with a projected visualizer that produces colorful circles based on the audio input. The Vibrance team presented their work at the Swanson School of Engineering’s fall 2018 Design Expo and swept the top three awards: first place in The Art of Making category, the People’s Choice Award, and the Best Overall Design. “Receiving those three awards really validated all of the hard work we did throughout the semester,” said Khan. The students’ innovative design has also received an enthusiastic response from kids, teachers, and parents. One parent of a child at WPSD wrote to the team, “I hope I’ll get the chance to see my son experience the vest vibration device. What an awesome idea!” Dr. Samosky was recently awarded a Provost’s Personalized Education Grant to support high-potential – and potentially high-impact – student design projects like Vibrance, enabling them to continue beyond the class in which they originate and be nurtured toward real-world impact. The Vibrance team will continue to develop and improve Vibrance under this new Classroom to Community initiative in Dr. Samosky’s lab. The goal is to create a device that meets the needs of both WPSD and Attack Theatre, but most importantly, the team wants to continue to positively affect the lives of the children using their device. As stated by Jocelyn Dunlap, a senior communication science student, “We are heading back to WPSD to continue building a project that claims a spot in all of our hearts.” ### This video of the Vibrance project, also created as part of the students’ coursework in The Art of Making, shows the system in action as it is used by instructors and kids at WPSD and with Attack Theatre. The Vibrance team includes, Issam Abushaban, a sophomore bioengineering and computer engineering student; Dani Broderick, a senior mechanical engineering student; Tom Driscoll, a junior computer engineering student; Jocelyn Dunlap, a senior communication science student; Austin Farwell, a junior mathematics student; Farah Khan, a senior bioengineering student; Stephanie Lachell, a senior mechanical engineering student; Evan Lawrence, a junior mechanical engineering student; Natalie Neal, a junior materials science and engineering student; Jesse Rosenfeld, a junior mechanical engineering student; and Caroline Westrick, a junior bioengineering student.

Apr
3
2019

Allderdice Senior Caroline Yu to Present Research at IEEE International Conference on Biomedical and Health Informatics

Bioengineering, Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (April 3, 2019) — High school students in the Pittsburgh area get the chance to work with groundbreaking researchers—and, sometimes, even become published authors before high school graduation. Caroline Yu, a senior at Taylor Allderdice High School in Squirrel Hill, worked in Ervin Sejdic’s iMed Lab through the University of Pittsburgh Computer Science, Biology and Biomedical Informatics (CoSBBI) program. Working closely PhD candidate Yassin Khalifa, Miss Yu co-authored a paper titled “Silent Aspiration Detection in High Resolution Cervical Auscultations,” which has been accepted at the IEEE International Conference on Biomedical and Health Informatics. The authors will present their findings at the Dorin Forum at the University of Illinois at Chicago, held May 19-22, 2019. The CoSBBI program is part of the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center Academy. This UPMC partnership invites high school students to work on an authentic cancer research project while receiving mentorship and training. “Caroline did an amazing job, and I’m proud and excited to see her success in her first publication,” says Dr. Sejdic, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “We know she is headed for great things.” After graduation, Miss Yu says that while she is still waiting to hear back from a few schools before making her final decision, she plans to major in computer science.
Maggie Pavlick

Mar

Mar
29
2019

BioE graduate student Piyusha Gade to advance to university-wide Three Minute Thesis competition

All SSoE News, Bioengineering, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (March 29, 2019) … The Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) Competition, developed by The University of Queensland, helps higher degree students hone their research communication skills by challenging them to effectively explain their research in three minutes to a non-specialist audience. The University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering held a school-wide event where the Department of Bioengineering swept all three awards. Piyusha Gade, a graduate student researcher in the lab of Dr. Anne Robertson, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, captured first place. Her work involves rationally designing in situ engineered vascular grafts in young and aged hosts. “I think effective science communication is extremely vital,” said Gade. “Especially today, it is not enough to just do good scientific work; you also need to communicate its relevance and impact to really make a change. Being a part of this competition helped me to take a step back and look at the big picture to understand where my work fits into it. I loved trying to figure out how to boil down five years worth of research into three minutes!” Gerald Ferrer, a graduate student in the Orthopaedic Robotics Lab helmed by Bioengineering Professor Richard Debski, tied for second place with Aneesh Ramaswamy, a graduate student in the Vascular Bioengineering Lab of David Vorp, Associate Dean for Research and John A. Swanson Professor of Bioengineering. 3MT is designed to encourage students to communicate the importance of their research to the broader community. Since its launch in 2008, the 3MT competition has expanded to 67 countries, and events are currently held at more than 600 universities worldwide. This was the first time that the Swanson School hosted its own prequalifying event. Gade will move on to the university-wide competition on April 1, and the winner of the university competition will go on to compete in the 2019 Trans-Tasman 3MT Competition. “The Three Minute Thesis competition provided an excellent opportunity for our graduate students to reflect on their work and strengthen their ability to clearly and effectively communicate their research,” said Mary Besterfield-Sacre, Nickolas A. Dececco Professor of Industrial Engineering and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. “These professional development activities help inspire our students to pursue academic excellence, and I look forward to holding this event again next year.” ###

Mar
27
2019

MEMS Undergraduate Trevor Kickliter Selected to Represent Pitt at the ACC Meeting of the Minds

Bioengineering, MEMS, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (March 27, 2019) … Trevor Kickliter, a junior mechanical engineering student in the Swanson School of Engineering, was selected as one of six undergraduate researchers to represent the University of Pittsburgh at the 2019 ACC Meeting of the Minds Conference hosted by the University of Louisville, March 29-31, 2019. Kickliter will present his research on the use of adipose-derived mesenchymal stem cells (ADMSCs) as a promising alternative to traditional surgical therapy for an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA). With a mortality rate of 90 percent and no sufficient strategy for early intervention, rupture of an abdominal aortic aneurysm is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. The aorta is the largest blood vessel in the body, which runs from the heart, through the chest, and down to the abdomen. Due to its size, an AAA can lead to massive internal bleeding, which is typically fatal. According to Kickliter, due to inadequate diagnostic markers, surgical intervention for this disease often fails to treat those in need of care while subjecting others to unnecessary risks. His work in the lab of David Vorp, PhD, Associate Dean for Research and the John A. Swanson Professor of Bioengineering, addresses these shortcomings through the use of stem cell therapy. “Our lab has previously investigated the use of adipose-derived mesenchymal stem cells in therapies for abdominal aortic aneurysm, but a method to effectively target ADMSCs to the aorta has yet to be developed or tested in large animals,” said Kickliter. “Since the use of ADMSCs as a therapeutic treatment seems promising, the primary goal of this study was to design and create a method for localizing ADMSCs in large animal aortas.” The group implanted a diametric magnet into a harvested aorta loaded with ADMSCs that were treated with iron nanoparticles. The internal magnet was then able to draw the ADMSCs to the aortic adventitia - the outermost layer of connective tissue in the aorta. “We looked at a cross-section of the treated aorta under fluorescent microscopy, and we found a significantly greater concentration of ADMSCs both on and around the aortic adventitia in the group where an internal magnet was used,” said Kickliter. “These results suggest that our method can be used to localize stem cell-based vascular therapies in other large animals, including humans.” Each participating institution in the ACC Meeting of the Minds conference is allowed to select a total of six students to give three oral presentations and three poster presentations. Kickliter will present his research during the poster session. “This is another outstanding recognition for Trevor, who continues to impress me with the quality of his research,” said Dr. Vorp. “This work introduces a novel way to localize delivery of stem cell therapy in large animals, and we hope that it will lead to improved treatment for abdominal aortic aneurysms.” ###

Mar
26
2019

Sound sense: Brain 'listens' for distinctive features in sounds

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (March 26, 2019) … For humans to achieve accurate speech recognition and communicate with one another, the auditory system must recognize distinct categories of sounds - such as words - from a continuous incoming stream of sounds. This task becomes complicated when considering the variability in sounds produced by individuals with different accents, pitches, or intonations. In a recent Nature Communications paper, Shi Tong Liu, a bioengineering PhD candidate at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, details a computational model that explores how the auditory system tackles this complex task. The research is led by Srivatsun Sadagopan, assistant professor of neurobiology, whose lab studies the perception of complex sounds in realistic listening conditions. “A ‘word’ may be pronounced in different ways by different voices, but you are still able to lump all of these utterances into a category (a specific word) with a distinct meaning,” said Sadagopan. “In this study, we examined how the brain achieves this by using animal calls as a greatly simplified model system. Vocal animal species such as marmosets, macaques, and guinea pigs produce several types of calls which carry distinct behavioral ‘meanings,’ but they also face the problem that different animals produce these calls with a lot of variability.” The published paper, “Optimal features for auditory categorization” (DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-09115-y), focuses on vocalizations of the common marmoset. Xiaoqin Wang, professor of biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins University, provided a large set of marmoset vocalizations that captured the wide range of variability in these sounds. The team then used information theory and a “greedy” search algorithm to find features of each vocalization type that consistently occurred despite all of the variability. Their strategy was to select a set of features that jointly maximized performance, but avoid features that were too similar to each other. “We fed our algorithm a bank of marmoset calls and asked it to find the most informative and consistently recognizable features,” explained Liu. “The final output was a set of ‘most informative features’ that are characteristic to a particular call type - much like the distinguishing features of a face (e.g. finding eyes or a nose in an image). By detecting the presence or absence of these most informative features in incoming sounds, the model can identify the vocalization type with very high accuracy.” After the features were shown to be effective in the theoretical model, the team returned to the animals to test if the brain was in fact looking for these informative features. They found interesting results when they compared data from their model to neural responses recorded from marmoset auditory cortex by Sadagopan when he was a graduate student in Xiaoqin Wang’s lab. “The neural evidence supports our model, which means it can be used as a solid foundation for future studies,” said Liu. “Our model gives powerful and accurate predictions of what the brain is listening for in vocalizations. This research has applications in advancing speech recognition technology and auditory prostheses, and I plan to use this work to better understand how the brain can isolate relevant sounds in crowded spaces.” The team’s work was supported by research grants from the National Institutes on Deafness and other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), the Pennsylvania Lions Hearing Research Foundation, and the Samuel and Emma Winters Foundation. ###

Mar
22
2019

Bioengineering undergraduates take their diagnostic innovation to the Rice 360° Global Health Competition

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (March 22, 2019) … Two junior bioengineering students from the University of Pittsburgh were accepted to the Rice 360° Global Health Design Competition where more than 20 national and international student teams will present low-cost global health innovations. Sneha Jeevan and Shivani Tuli will be representing Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering at the competition in Houston, Texas on March 29, 2019. They will demonstrate their handheld complete blood count (CBC) point-of-care device, which can be used as a diagnostic tool for doctors working in underdeveloped nations. The competition asks teams to identify a challenge in delivering healthcare in developing countries and propose a potential technological solution. Tuli was inspired to create this device after a visit to India where she had the opportunity to travel to underprivileged areas and witness healthcare problems first-hand. “Disparities in healthcare access and quality can greatly affect the health of residents in third world countries,” said Tuli. “Diseases like malaria and tuberculosis are rampant, and the lack of quality healthcare prevents proper treatment and contributes to further spread of disease. In developed areas, these illnesses are typically diagnosed through primary blood tests, specifically complete blood count testing, so we wanted to create a tool to help make this technology widespread.” Their team, Blodot, used lab-on-a-chip technology and microfluidic concepts to develop a prototype CBC point-of-care device. Their portable technology uses a drop of blood and receives results within a few minutes. “A CBC test checks several measurable components of your blood in order to detect possible diseases and assess overall health,” said Jeevan. “In underdeveloped countries, however, CBC testing cannot be easily implemented because the machinery involved is expensive and unsuitable for the unhygienic conditions. Additionally, the time it takes for families to receive their results - typically two-to-four days - is impractical for residents who need to travel hours for their appointments with a physician.” According to the competition, teams will be judged on “the quality of the problem definition, the effectiveness and potential impact of the design solution, and the likelihood that the solution can be successful in improving healthcare delivery in low-resource settings by faculty, clinicians, and private and public sector partners from around the country.” “It is an absolute delight to see our undergraduates take advantage of such initiatives to become innovators of the future,” said Arash Mahboobin, assistant professor of bioengineering and coordinator of the undergraduate program. “I have known Shivani and Sneha since the start of their engineering endeavors in the Swanson School and am very proud of their achievements thus far. I will certainly continue to watch their careers develop with great interest and high expectations.” Tuli and Jeevan recently participated in the final round of the Innovation Institute’s Randall Family Big Idea Competition, an event that awards $100,000 in cash prizes to Pitt student innovations with the goal of helping teams discover how to take their idea to the next level towards startup creation. Blodot placed second in the competition and won a $15,000 prize. ###

Mar
21
2019

Pitt researchers receive $550,000 NSF CAREER award to develop new brain-computer therapy method for people with autism

Bioengineering, Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (March 21, 2019) … Autism was first described by U.S. researchers more than 70 years ago, and today the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 59 children are identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), affecting more than 3.5 million Americans. Although clinical techniques are used to help patients with ASD respond to stress and other factors, none are known to couple with technology that could monitor brain response in real time and provide the patient with feedback. However, thanks to a $550,000 award from the National Science Foundation, engineers at the University of Pittsburgh and clinicians at the UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital, a new intervention using electroencephalography (EEG)-guided, non-invasive brain-computer interface (BCI) technology could complement clinical treatments and improve emotion regulation in people with ASD. The multidisciplinary team includes Murat Akcakaya, PhD, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, and Carla A. Mazefsky, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and psychology in Pitt’s Department of Psychiatry. The proposal is funded through an NSF CAREER award, which supports early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.“People on the autism spectrum today have access to effective clinical strategies or technologies, but none are coupled effectively to provide real-time feedback in real-life activities. This limits reinforcement techniques that the patient can utilize on his or her own, without the need for a clinical appointment,” Dr. Akcakaya explained. “However, by utilizing EEG to couple clinical techniques with BCI technologies, we can develop a closed-loop system that will help patients better learn how to recognize emotional triggers and respond with appropriate techniques generalizing the effects of clinical treatment strategies to real-life activities.” Akcakaya and Mazefsky will develop social interaction scenarios in virtual environments while recording EEG responses simultaneously in order to detect patterns that represent changes in distress levels. The virtual scenario will then present audio or visual cues to help remind them how to handle stress. The project will also develop new machine learning algorithms and neuroscience methods to identify EEG features associated with emotion regulation to classify between distress and non-distress conditions, and to distinguish among different distress levels.The two will also investigate the promise of these EEG and virtual reality approaches within the context of Mazefsky’s randomized controlled clinical trial funded by the US Department of Defense. The clinical trial is testing the efficacy of an intervention Mazefsky and colleagues developed, called the Emotion Awareness and Skills Enhancement (EASE) program, in 12- to 21-year-old verbal youth with ASD. “EASE emphasizes awareness of one’s own emotional responses as a foundational skill that promotes the ability to manage intense negative emotions, which is taught through mindful awareness,” Mazefsky explained. “By coupling the clinical strategies we teach in EASE with technological interventions, we believe we can enhance patients’ ability to distinguish different distress levels and therefore potentially reap even greater (and more generalized) benefit.”The CAREER award will also enable Akcakaya to develop courses related to the research and outreach activities to promote STEM and ASD research to K-12 populations and the broader public. Outreach will focus especially on individuals with ASD, their families, and caretakers.  “Early diagnosis and intervention can help patients with ASD and their families improve quality of life, and so providing clinicians with a new tool that both enhances and reinforces what patients learn is critical to closing the loop between triggers and responses,” Akcakaya said. “Additionally machine learning based on biological responses could also be integrated in to the existing technologically driven intervention techniques targeting patients across the autism spectrum.  Eventually, the technology could be incorporated in an accessory like a smart watch or glasses, enhancing patient privacy and building confidence.” ###

Mar
21
2019

Bistra Iordanova receives a $25K award to address the differences between men and women in Alzheimer’s disease risk and progression

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (March 21, 2019) Alzheimer's disease (AD) is one of the leading causes of disability in the elderly, affecting 5.4 million people in the United States and 35 million people worldwide.1 Two-thirds these individuals are women, and though they are disproportionately affected, the biological basis of the sex differences in AD onset and progression is not well understood. Bistra Iordanova, assistant professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, received a $25,000 award from the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center to collect data from female rodent models, integrate it with her existing datasets from males, and begin to examine whether AD onset and progression differs between the two. One reason AD research lacks female data is because in a significant portion of human studies, the sex variable is regressed out, and the data are pooled together. And until recently, the bulk of animal studies exclusively used males in an effort to keep costs low. “A long-held view for the cause of the disparity between men and women developing Alzheimer’s disease pointed at the greater female lifespan,” said Dr. Iordanova. “However, a growing number of studies demonstrate that even if we control for the fact that women live longer, they are still at higher risk than men to develop dementia, and we have only recently begun to examine the cause.” According to Dr. Iordanova, research suggests that vascular dysfunction and oxygen deficiencies may be major risk factors in AD for both men and women, however, evidence reveals that the pathways may be different and some susceptibilities may be significantly stronger in one sex. “The aging metabolic transitions in women have a specific bioenergetic profile with early mitochondrial dysfunction, a drop in vascular reactivity, and reduced oxygen availability,” said Dr. Iordanova. “This transitional stage makes women particularly vulnerable to vascular and metabolic assaults. It is important to note that the unique aspects of woman’s aging do not happen in isolation but interact with the genetic and environmental factors that are common for all humans.” Dr. Iordanova plans to use this award to compare metabolic and vascular health between male and female rat models and correlate the data with well-established hallmarks of AD such as amyloid plaques in brain tissues and blood vessels. Her laboratory, located at the Center for Bioengineering, develops multi-level imaging platforms to understand the neurovascular unit - a system that supports proper brain function through communication between neurons, which drives cerebral blood flow and local delivery of oxygen and glucose. “In patients with Alzheimer’s disease, a number of cellular events precede the onset of clinical symptoms, but the causal relationship between these events is still unclear,” said Dr. Iordanova. “For example, cerebral blood flow decreases, causing the delivery of nutrients and waste clearance to decrease; the neural responses asking for more oxygen and glucose from the blood flow also decrease; and amyloid accumulates in the blood vessels, while neurons degenerate and lose communication with each other.” Dr. Iordanova will use high field 9.4 Tesla magnetic resonance imaging at the Advanced Imaging Center to measure the sex-specific decline in cerebrovascular reactivity, cerebral blood flow, and oxidative and glucose metabolism in rodent models of AD. She will then use in vivo two photon microscopy to correlate these measures with the amyloid plaque accumulation in the blood vessels. She hopes that starting this data collection will spur other researchers to do the same and perhaps reveal biological differences between the sexes related to AD development. Dr. Iordanova is also the current recipient of a three-year, $175,000 Alzheimer’s Association Research Grant and an award from the Brain Institute to develop multimodal platforms for systems-level brain imaging in rodent models of dementia. “The use of knowledge about the sex differences in metabolic and vascular contributions to AD will benefit both men and women,” said Iordanova. “It will allow earlier diagnosis on a sex-specific timeline, improve personalized therapy development, and provide more accurate biomarkers for treatment monitoring.” ### 1 https://www.alz.org/media/HomeOffice/Facts%20and%20Figures/facts-and-figures.pdf

Mar
20
2019

Pitt Bioengineering Graduate Students Take Their “Smarter Cardiac Triage” Technology to the Rice Business Plan Competition

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (March 20, 2019) … More than 400 student startups applied to the prestigious Rice Business Plan Competition, and only 42 teams were selected from the world’s top institutions to compete for over $1,500,000 in prizes. Among this elite group of teams will be Heart I/O, a digital diagnostics startup led by University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering graduate students Utkars Jain and Adam Butchy. Their “smarter cardiac triage” technology uses artificial intelligence to detect problems with a patient’s heart more quickly and accurately at a fraction of the cost of current technology. The Heart I/O team includes four co-founders: Mr. Jain, a bioengineering graduate student and the chief executive officer; Mr. Butchy, a bioengineering graduate student and the chief strategy officer; Michael Leasure, a Pitt School of Business alumnus and the chief operating officer; and Nick Flanigan, a business student at Carnegie Mellon University and the chief technology officer. “When an individual reports to the hospital with chest pain, they enter triage, which determines treatment based on the severity of presented symptoms,” explained Butchy. “Using artificial intelligence to read an electrocardiogram (ECG) signal, our technology will more efficiently determine if the patient is experiencing a serious cardiac event in a mere 10 seconds - a vast improvement from the current process, which can take 8-72 hours for a diagnosis.” The Heart I/O technology feeds ECG signals to an artificial intelligence model, which takes the delivered data, learns from it, and determines the most efficient pattern recognition based on what it has learned. In time, the computer trains itself on how to diagnose cardiac events from an ECG. Their inexpensive and cloud-based tool will help emergency providers rapidly and effectively sort patients that need further diagnostic testing from those who can be safely discharged. “Heart I/O is the result of a class project during my undergraduate studies at Pitt,” said Jain. “ECGs are one of the first tests that patients reporting with chest pain receive, and I thought that if I could equip ECGs with the computational power of artificial intelligence, I could improve the accuracy of diagnoses.” Jain’s grandfather, who passed away from the misdiagnosis of a cardiac event, was the inspiration for this project. “When my grandfather reported to the hospital with chest pain, physicians assumed it was a heart attack and prescribed blood thinners,” explained Jain. “This caused an ulcer to burst, and he died almost instantly. If they had more information about whether or not he was actually experiencing a cardiac event, it might have saved his life.” The team tested their technology by feeding it a collection of ECG data to see if the computational results matched the actual diagnosis. Based on their studies, their tool is currently 95-97 percent accurate. “Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US, which also makes it one of the most costly,” said Butchy. “Not only will our tool help save lives, but it will also save money for patients and insurance providers.” Before heading to the Rice Business Plan competition, the Heart I/O team will participate in the Innovation Institute’s Randall Family Big Idea Competition, an event that awards $100,000 in cash prizes to Pitt student innovations with the goal of helping teams discover how to take their idea to the next level towards startup creation. The team plans to continue developing their technology and raising money with the hope of eventually moving their tool toward commercialization. ### Acknowledgement: Heart I/O would like to thank all the great minds and leaders at the Innovation Institute. In particular, Babs Carryer for her endless enthusiasm, support, and guidance; Joanna Sutton for being an early sounding board, really refining a lot of our ideas to what they are today; Philip Marzolf for all his work with us on our Rice application, Don Morrison for his feedback on revenue models and commercialization; Ketaki Desai for her incredible insight into the healthcare market; and Jess Malandro for all the work she does behind the scenes. In addition, Heart I/O has had the support of many University of Pittsburgh students who have contributed their time, effort, and passion to making Heart I/O into a reality. In particular, Katherine Poduska, a senior Bioengineering student; Mazen Megahed, a sophomore Mechanical engineering student; and Adam Duca, a junior in Rehabilitation Science and Assistive Technology. Lastly, Heart I/O would like to thank, Matt Kesinger, John Cordier, and Lou Camerlengo for their endless patience with revisions, guidance, and support; John Marous, a great mentor who is helping us through the commercialization process; and Dr. Veronica Covalesky and Dr. Emerson Liu,  great physicians helping us with clinical studies and overall medical knowledge.

Mar
19
2019

Gelsy Torres-Oviedo Receives Early Career Award from the Society for the Neural Control of Movement

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (March 19, 2019) … Gelsy Torres-Oviedo, assistant professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, was awarded the Society for the Neural Control of Movement’s 2019 Early Career Award. She will be presented the award at the NCM Annual Meeting on April 23-27, 2019 in Toyama, Japan. NCM’s Early Career Award recognizes outstanding contributions by scientists who have significantly advanced the understanding of the neural control of movement within 10 years of receiving their doctoral degree. The recipient is chosen by NCM’s board and will have the opportunity to present a lecture at the annual meeting. Prof. Torres-Oviedo is the second recipient of this competitive award for junior faculty members, which receives close to 100 nominations annually. She leads the Sensorimotor Learning Laboratory in the Swanson School of Engineering where her research group investigates the ability of the human motor system to adapt walking patterns and learn new movements upon sustained changes in the environment. “My long-term research goals are to advance the current understanding of walking deficits post-stroke and develop treatments to improve their gait,” said Prof. Torres-Oviedo. “My approach has been to combine quantitative tools from engineering and experimental work based on post-stroke neurology.” She will present a talk titled, “Sensorimotor adaptation studies to advance neurorehabilitation after stroke,” where she will discuss her work related to the generalization of movements from trained to untrained situations. “My work is just an example of scientific efforts to address clinical problems through a combination of computational and laboratory-based studies,” said Prof. Torres-Oviedo. “I envision that my research will contribute to the progress of gait rehabilitation and ultimately improve the quality of life of patients and caregivers.” Prof. Torres-Oviedo will receive travel support to the meeting, accommodation at the conference hotel, complimentary conference registration, an engraved plaque, and a $500 award. “I am delighted that Prof. Torres-Oviedo’s work in the area of neural control of movement is being recognized by her colleagues,” said Sanjeev G. Shroff, Distinguished Professor and Gerald E. McGinnis Chair of Bioengineering. “Her work nicely complements the strengths we have at Pitt in systems neuroscience in general and neuro-prosthetics and rehabilitation neural engineering in particular.” ###

Mar
19
2019

BioE’s Brown Lab Receives Two Carnegie Science Award Honorable Mentions

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (March 19, 2019) … Bryan Brown, assistant professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, and Alexis Nolfi, a graduate student researcher in Brown’s lab, were recognized by the Carnegie Science Awards, announced on March 13 by the Carnegie Science Center. Brown received an honorable mention for the for the Post-secondary Educator Award, and Nolfi received an honorable mention for the College/University Student Award. The Post-secondary Educator Award recognizes educators for innovation and impact in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, including: inspiring students to understand, appreciate, and apply science, technology, engineering, or math; and strengthening the teaching profession through the spread of innovative practices. Brown, who joined the Department of Bioengineering in 2011, has mentored two visiting scholars/junior faculty, four post-doctoral fellows, nine PhD students, and one MS student. He has taught three distinct courses, with a total of 13 course offerings. He is also a member of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, where he serves as the Director of Educational Outreach. In July 2014, Brown organized and launched the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine Summer School, a hands-on experiential learning program that aims to provide regional, national, and international students an opportunity to explore the multidisciplinary field of regenerative medicine. Through lectures and laboratory experiences, undergraduate students have the opportunity to interact with more than 20 faculty members from across the University. A goal for this program is to recruit students from underrepresented backgrounds, including those from universities that lack significant bioengineering and/or regenerative medicine programs. “We want to reach a diverse audience of students and help them develop a better understanding of the field and career options within regenerative medicine,” said Brown. In addition to the summer camp, Brown also started a course on regenerative medicine through the Carnegie Mellon University Osher Center for Lifelong Learning. “The Osher course, which continues to be well attended every semester, targets continuing learners and is intended to make the possibilities of regenerative medicine understandable to a lay population,” said Brown. “Dr. Brown’s educational outreach efforts have improved awareness and understanding of the University’s world class regenerative medicine efforts,” said Sanjeev Shroff, Distinguished Professor and Gerald E. McGinnis Chair of Bioengineering. “His work with our graduate students and the McGowan Institute Summer School helps to build the nascent careers of future engineers and innovators.” The student award recognizes an individual working towards a degree in a STEM field, for impact and innovation: preparing youth to consider career opportunities in STEM fields and pursuing research that contributes to the societal or economic well-being of the region. Nolfi is involved in numerous projects centered on how the immune system is involved in the pathogenesis of disease and how we can modify immune response to biomaterials and with biomaterials-based approaches. Much of her work has a distinct focus in women’s health applications, including a polypropylene mesh often used in pelvic surgery and a novel ovarian hydrogel that could one day be used to generate a tissue-appropriate model of endometriosis. “Since joining Dr. Brown’s lab, I have realized that the immune system is really at the core of most disease processes,” said Nolfi. “It’s not that we are trying to ‘turn off’ the immune response to biomaterials or in disease; rather, we are trying to harness and modify this response so that we can engage the body to help us generate better outcomes. “This research is incredibly important to me - aside from having a vested interest in women’s health initiatives, the field of basic science research in women’s health topics is underserved by the biomaterials and regenerative medicine community,” continued Nolfi. “This research helps to shine light on topics deserving of more attention, and the experimental findings and developments will be applicable to not only biomaterials-based urogynecologic applications, but also to furthering advancement of other biomaterial and immunology-based fields.” ###

Mar
19
2019

Dr. William Federspiel Receives the Carnegie Science Award for Life Sciences

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (March 19, 2019) … The University of Pittsburgh’s Dr. William Federspiel was selected as the recipient of the 2019 Carnegie Science Award for Life Sciences, one of 16 categories announced March 13 by the Carnegie Science Center. The award recognizes and honors scientific advances in new and innovative biomedical and life sciences endeavors that benefit the economy, health, or societal well-being of the region. Dr. Federspiel, the William Kepler Whiteford Professor of Bioengineering in the Swanson School of Engineering, directs the Medical Devices Lab in the McGowan Institute of Regenerative Medicine where researchers develop clinically significant devices for the treatment of pulmonary and cardiovascular ailments by utilizing engineering principles of fluid flow and mass transfer. In particular, Dr. Federspiel’s lab  have created next-generation artificial lung devices, including portable, wearable devices for adults and children suffering from lung disease. His research in artificial lung technology eventually led Dr. Federspiel to co-found ALung Technologies, a Pittsburgh-based medical device startup company that develops technology for treating respiratory failure. He serves as head of the scientific advisory board for the company, which is currently running clinical trials for their Hemolung® Respiratory Assist System (RAS), a dialysis-like alternative for or supplement to mechanical ventilation which removes carbon dioxide directly from the blood in patients with acute respiratory failure. “What motivates me about the research we do is that it all focuses ultimately on saving lives of patients, many of whom have no alternatives,” said Dr. Federspiel. In addition to his research, Dr. Federspiel also actively teaches and mentors: he has developed five courses in the Swanson School and has been the primary advisor for 15 PhD students and 15 master’s students. “Dr. Federspiel has been a major asset to our bioengineering program, both through his research and academic leadership” said Sanjeev Shroff, Distinguished Professor and Gerald E. McGinnis Chair of Bioengineering. “His innovative and highly translatable work with respiratory assist devices has the potential to affect the lives of thousands of patients suffering from lung disease.” Other awards and honors Dr. Federspiel has received include, Fellow of the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES), Fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biomedical Engineering (AIMBE), member of the American Society for Artificial Internal Organs (ASAIO), and in 2014 he received an honorable mention in the Startup Entrepreneur Award category from the Carnegie Science Awards. Dr. Federspiel and the rest of the awardees, including two winners and three honorable mentions from the Swanson School,  will be recognized at the 23rd Annual Carnegie Science Awards Celebration on May 10, 2019. ###

Mar
14
2019

Renerva Receives $2.4 Million DoD Award to Advance Its Peripheral Nerve Matrix Technology to the Clinic

Bioengineering

Renerva, LLC, a medical device company whose technology is based on research from the University of Pittsburgh (Bryan Brown) and Cornell University (Jonathan Cheetham), received a $2.4 million award from the U.S. Department of Defense.Click here to read the original article. PITTSBURGH, Dec. 14, 2018 /PRNewswire/ --  Renerva, LLC, a medical device company developing innovative technology for peripheral nerve injuries, announced today that they have received $2.4 million in nondilutive financing from the U.S. Department of Defense through a Medical Technology Enterprise Consortium (MTEC) Award (https://mtec-sc.org/press-releases/). Renerva's first product, peripheral nerve matrix (PNM), is an injectable gel derived from porcine tissue that promotes and supports repair and regeneration in injured peripheral nerves. The award will enable Renerva to complete its preclinical program and begin human clinical trials. PNM has the potential to play a significant role in accelerating and improving structural and functional recovery following different modalities of nerve injury. "Remarkably, based on the impact shown in several animal studies, PNM has the potential to return functionality to patients that are left otherwise disabled from different types of nerve injury," noted Chief Technology Officer Dr. Bryan Brown, who holds equity in the company and also serves as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Bioengineering and the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. Renerva's PNM technology is based on 4 years of research in Dr. Brown's laboratory and the laboratory of Dr. Jonathan Cheetham, Associate Professor of Clinical Sciences at Cornell University and Chair of Renerva's Scientific Advisory Board.  PNM is protected by five patents licensed from the University of Pittsburgh and Cornell University. "With 20 million patients suffering from different types of peripheral nerve injuries in the U.S. alone, our technology has the potential to treat a broad range of nerve injuries. A peripheral nerve surgeon enthusiastically called PNM the 'Neosporin® of Nerve Repair', hinting at its broad potential and widespread adoption," said Lorenzo Soletti, PhD, MBA, Chief Executive Officer of Renerva. "Our commercial rollout will first focus on PNM as an adjunct treatment for existing surgical procedures to repair or release traumatically or chronically injured peripheral nerves. That market will then be expanded to treat patients affected by nerve injury through ultrasound or image-guided delivery of PNM to the affected nerves." Renerva's Chief Medical Officer, Paul Gardner, MD, said, "While our initial clinical focus for PNM is in the upper extremities, which are associated with the highest incidence of traumatic nerve injuries, I treat many patients affected by nerve injuries in the head and neck as a result of tumors, traumatic injuries and other conditions. Facial nerve injuries have a very debilitating social impact on patients as the face is so intimately involved in our nonverbal communication and appearance. Indeed, nerve injury affects everything from facial sensation to swallowing and speech.  Giving these patients even a portion of their function back would make a world of difference. Enhancing the ability of a nerve to heal would represent a true paradigm shift in this space." Dr. Gardner holds equity in the company and is an Associate Professor in the University of Pittsburgh Department of Neurological Surgery and the Executive Vice Chair of Surgical Services and Neurosurgical Director of the UPMC Center for Cranial Base Surgery. "Renerva combines solid IP and innovative science with broad applicability to several clinical applications, and has a management team that has the experience, dedication, and passion to bring this technology to patients," said Pete DeComo, Chairman and CEO of ALung Technologies, Inc. and member of Renerva's Board of Managers. "Renerva has a platform core technology with the potential to ameliorate several conditions of the peripheral nerve system in a space ripe for adoption of new therapeutic solutions." About Renerva, LLC.Renerva is a medical device company developing solutions for peripheral nerve injuries and damage. Renerva's initial therapeutic focus is on the 500,000 Americans suffering from acute nerve injuries every year, with other indications including the treatment of chronic compressive nerve injuries and other conditions affecting the peripheral nerves. Privately held, Renerva is headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. To learn more or stay in touch, please visit www.renerva.com. About MTECMTEC is a biomedical technology consortium collaborating with multiple government agencies under a 10-year renewable Other Transaction Agreement with the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command.  To find out more about MTEC, visit mtec-sc.org. Media Contact InformationLorenzo Soletti(412) 841-7966206433@email4pr.com Related Links https://www.renerva.com
Renerva, LLC
Mar
12
2019

The ups and downs of sit-stand desks: Pitt bioengineer Dr. April Chambers compiles studies to examine the comprehensive benefits of the popular accessory

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (March 12, 2018) … Have a seat. No, wait! Stand. With researchers suggesting that “sitting is the new smoking,” sit-stand desks (SSD) have become a common tool to quell sedentary behavior in an office environment. As this furniture becomes ubiquitous, conflicting opinions have arisen on its effectiveness. The University of Pittsburgh’s Dr. April Chambers worked with collaborators to gather data from 53 studies and published a scoping review article detailing current information on the benefits of SSDs. “There has been a great deal of scientific research about sit-stand desks in the past few years, but we have only scratched the surface of this topic,” said Chambers, assistant professor of bioengineering in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “With my background in occupational injury prevention, I wanted to gather what we know so far and figure out the next steps for how can we use these desks to better benefit people in the workplace.” This work was done in collaboration with Dr. Nancy A. Baker, associate professor of occupational therapy at Tufts University, and Dr. Michelle M. Robertson, executive director for the Office Ergonomics Research Committee (OERC). The scoping review, published recently in Applied Ergonomics (DOI: 10.1016/j.apergo.2019.01.015), examines the effects of a sit-stand desk in the following domains: behavior, physiological, work performance, psychological, discomfort, and posture. “The study found only minimal impacts on any of those areas, the strongest being changes in behavior and discomfort,” said Baker. Their work showed that use of a SSD effectively got participants to sit less and stand more and that the device made users more comfortable at work. However, many frustrations with SSDs stem from the physiological outcomes. Early adopters were fed the idea that these desks would be the miracle cure for obesity, but users were not achieving the results they expected. According to the review, physiological effects were the most studied, but within that domain, there were no significant results with regards to obesity. “There are health benefits to using sit-stand desks, such as a small decrease in blood pressure or low back pain relief, but people simply are not yet burning enough calories to lose weight with these devices,” said Chambers. “Though these are mild benefits, certain populations might benefit greatly from even a small change in their health. In order to achieve positive outcomes with sit-stand desks, we need a better understanding of how to properly use them; like any other tool, you have to use it correctly to get the full benefits out of it.” There are many considerations to most effectively use a SSD, such as desk height, monitor height, amount of time standing, or the use of an anti-fatigue mat. Chambers believes that workplace setup and dosage are two factors that should be further studied. “There are basic ergonomic concepts that seem to be overlooked,” said Chambers. “Many workers receive sit-stand desks and start using them without direction. I think proper usage will differ from person to person, and as we gather more research, we will be better able to suggest dosage for a variety of workers.” Chambers noted that the current research is limited because many of studies were done with young and healthy subjects who were asked to use the desk for a week or month at most. Since some of the significant benefits are with cardiovascular health or muscle discomfort, it may be beneficial to perform additional studies with middle-aged or overweight workers. “There is still more to learn about sit-stand desks,” said Chambers. “The science is catching up so let’s use what we’ve studied in this area to advance the research and answer some of these pressing questions so that people can use sit-stand desks correctly and get the most benefit from them.” ###

Mar
12
2019

2019 Carnegie Science Awards include six honorees from the Swanson School of Engineering

Bioengineering, Civil & Environmental

PITTSBURGH (March 12, 2019) ... Each year, Carnegie Science Center celebrates some of the Pittsburgh region’s most inspiring science and technology innovators with the Carnegie Science Awards. Today, the Science Center announced the recipient of the Chairman’s Award and the winners and honorable mentions in 16 categories, who will be celebrated at the 23rd Annual Carnegie Science Awards Celebration on Friday, May 10, 2019. Carnegie Science Award winners are selected by a committee of peers—both past awardees and industry leaders—who rigorously reviewed more than 200 nominations and selected the most deserving scientists, technologists, entrepreneurs, communicators, educators, and students whose contributions have led to significant economic or societal benefit in western Pennsylvania. This year’s exceptional innovators include a tuition-free technical education program that has connected thousands of unemployed and underemployed individuals to a job and living wage; a graduate student who trains residents in under-served neighborhoods to identify environmental concerns in their homes; a team that created an open-source database that will assist research teams in taking energy-saving action to reduce methane leaks; and the fastest-growing food recovery organization in the country whose app brings fresh food to those who need it most. “The Carnegie Science Awards provide an opportunity to celebrate the remarkably talented individuals and organizations in our region’s science community,” said Jason Brown, Henry Buhl, Jr., Interim Director of Carnegie Science Center. “These innovators have had immeasurable impact on Pittsburgh’s healthcare, manufacturing, energy, environmental, and education industries. Their achievements, dedication, and perseverance are truly inspiring.” Winners and honorable mentions along with three student winners who will be selected later this month at the Covestro Pittsburgh Regional Science & Engineering Fair, will be honored during the 23rd Annual Carnegie Science Awards Celebration at Carnegie Science Center on Friday, May 10, 2019. The Swanson School recipients include: Life Sciences: Dr. William J. Federspiel, William Kepler Whiteford Professor in the Department of Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh Dr. Federspiel is an internationally recognized pioneer, innovator, and technical expert in the medical devices arena. His research has led to the design and development of novel artificial lung devices, membrane and particle-based blood purification devices, and oxygen depletion devices for blood storage systems. His success lies in his commitment to ensure that each project begins with and is supported by a strong foundation in life science and engineering. His contributions have strengthened Pittsburgh’s stance as a hub for medical device development and manufacturing, and his work has led to the formation of new companies that provide more than 50 high-tech jobs to the Western Pennsylvania region. Leadership in Career and Technical Education: University of Pittsburgh Manufacturing Assistance Center Since 1994, the University of Pittsburgh Manufacturing Assistance Center (MAC) has connected thousands of people with meaningful careers in manufacturing. The programs at MAC are accelerated and often available at no cost to the students, so unemployed and underemployed individuals can be connected to a job and a living wage in as little as six weeks. In addition, MAC has strengthened career pathways for high school students across Southwestern Pennsylvania by offering certification opportunities to partnering high schools and career and technical centers. With the opening of the MAC Makerspace in 2018, MAC has provided a place for future manufacturers to engage with technological tools and resources that would otherwise be inaccessible to them. College/University Student: Harold Rickenbacker, Swanson School Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation While pursuing his PhD at the University of Pittsburgh, Harold has integrated engineering and environmental justice with community-based organizations to address the pressing issue of indoor and ambient air quality in under-served Pittsburgh neighborhoods. Through an initiative in Pittsburgh’s East End called the Environmental Justice Community Alert Matrix, Harold led trainings to provide over 200 residents with the technical knowledge to identify environmental concerns within their homes, while detailing the importance of addressing environmental sustainability at the nexus of water use, energy consumption, and air pollution. Harold is committed to paying it forward, and his efforts are improving the health and quality of life of the communities he works with for years to come. Honorable Mentions: Postsecondary Educator – Bryan Brown, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Bioengineering College/University Student – Alexis Nolfi BSBioE ‘11 BSPsych ‘11, Department of Bioengineering PhD Candidate Science Communicator – Paul Kovach, Director of Marketing and Communications, Swanson School of Engineering About Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh Established in 1895 by Andrew Carnegie, Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh is a collection of four distinctive museums: Carnegie Museum of Art, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Carnegie Science Center, and The Andy Warhol Museum. In 2017, the museums reached more than 1.4 million people through exhibitions, educational programs, outreach activities, and special events. ###
Kaitlyn Zurcher, Carnegie Science Center Senior Manager of Marketing

Feb

Feb
28
2019

Swanson School Undergrad Kaylene Stocking Wins the University’s Top Student Award for Scholarship

Bioengineering, Electrical & Computer, Student Profiles

Click here to view the PittWire Accolade. PITTSBURGH (February 28, 2019) … The 43rd annual Honors Convocation recognized the academic achievements of nearly 3,700 students and 478 faculty members, including the University’s highest awards for undergraduate students. The Emma W. Locke Award, given to a graduating senior in recognition of high scholarship, character and devotion to the ideals of the University of Pittsburgh, went to the Swanson School of Engineering’s Kaylene Stocking. “We are very proud of Kaylene’s accomplishments,” said Sanjeev Shroff, Distinguished Professor and Gerald E. McGinnis Chair of Bioengineering. “She has effectively leveraged Swanson School resources and her own ingenuity to achieve academic excellence within and outside of the classroom and make impactful contributions to the University community. We know she has a bright, successful future ahead!” Stocking is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in both bioengineering and computer engineering. Her research has led to three journal publications, two presentations and a Goldwater Scholarship honorable mention. She is also an undergraduate teaching assistant, an Honors College ambassador and member of the Pitt orchestra. For the past two years, she has been working in the BIONIC Lab led by Takashi D. Y. Kozai, assistant professor of bioengineering. Her work focuses on how researchers can improve the longevity of neural implant technology. "It has been an amazing experience to work with Kaylene,” said Kozai. “Her off-the-cuff insights into projects and scientific discussion as well as her simultaneous bird's-eye view perspective and understanding of how each individual piece of data fits into the larger story has been a major driving force in our research lab." Stocking plans to continue her education after graduating this spring. Regarding her time at Pitt, she said, “I'm so grateful for the many opportunities I've had thanks to the amazing Engineering and Honors College communities. I'd like to thank my professors, mentors, family, and friends for their encouragement and support over the last four years.” ###

Feb
25
2019

BioE Alumna Sossena Wood Featured on NBC

Bioengineering

Reposted from PittWire. Read the original here. Sossena Wood, a Pitt alumna twice over who most recently earned a Doctor of Philosophy in bioengineering in 2018, developed a realistic phantom head for magnetic resonance research while at the Swanson School of Engineering. Now, Wood and her research are featured in NBC News Learn’s new online video collection “Discovering You: Engineering Your World.” Debuting during National Engineers Week, which runs through Feb. 23, the series highlights the careers of engineers in a variety of sectors and offers insights to the next generation of students. The video segment on Wood’s research delves into her work while she was a doctoral student at Pitt. She is now a Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow at Carnegie Mellon University. Read more about her work and watch the NBC segment.

Feb
19
2019

Tenure/Tenure-Stream Faculty Position in Synthetic or Systems Biology

Bioengineering, Open Positions

The Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering invites applications from accomplished individuals with a PhD or equivalent degree in bioengineering, biomedical engineering, or closely related disciplines for an open-rank, tenured/tenure-stream faculty position. We wish to recruit an individual with strong research accomplishments in Synthetic or Systems Biology, with preference given to research focus areas related to mammalian cellular engineering, immune engineering, or neural regeneration. It is expected that this individual will complement our current strengths in biomechanics, bioimaging, molecular, cellular, and systems engineering, medical product engineering, neural engineering, and tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. In addition, candidates must be committed to contributing to high quality education of a diverse student body at both the undergraduate  and graduate levels. 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), Computational and Systems Biology (https://www.csb.pitt.edu/), the Vascular Medicine Institute (vmi.pitt.edu), the Brain Institute (braininstitute.pitt.edu), Starzl Transplantation Institute (http://www.stiresearch.health.pitt.edu/), and the Drug Discovery Institute (upddi.pitt.edu) offer many collaborative research opportunities. The Center for Medical Innovation (https://www.engineering.pitt.edu/CMI/), the Coulter Translational Partnership II Program (engineering.pitt.edu/coulter) and the Center for Commercial Applications of Healthcare Data (healthdataalliance.com/university-of-pittsburgh) provide biomedical innovation and translation opportunities. Interested individuals should send the following as a single, self-contained PDF attachment via email to bioeapp@pitt.edu (include “AY20 PITT BioE SynBio-SysBio” in the subject line): (1) cover letter, (2) complete CV (including funding record, if applicable), (3) research statement, (4) teaching statement, (5) three representative publications, and (6) names and complete contact information of at least four references. To ensure full consideration, applications must be received by June 30, 2019. However, applications will be reviewed as they are received. Early submission is highly encouraged. The Department of Bioengineering is fully 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.

Feb
19
2019

Tenure/Tenure-Stream Faculty Position in Translational Bioengineering

Bioengineering, Open Positions

The Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering invites applications from accomplished individuals with a PhD or equivalent degree in bioengineering, biomedical engineering, or closely related disciplines for an open-rank, tenured/tenure-stream faculty position. We wish to recruit an individual with strong research accomplishments in Translational Bioengineering (i.e., leveraging basic science and engineering knowledge to develop innovative, translatable solutions impacting clinical practice and healthcare ), with preference given to research focus on neuro-technologies,imaging, cardiovascular devices, and biomimetic and biorobotic design. It is expected that this individual will complement our current strengths in biomechanics, bioimaging, molecular, cellular, and systems engineering, medical product engineering, neural engineering, and tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. In addition, candidates must be committed to contributing to high quality education of a diverse student body at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. 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), Starzl Transplantation Institute (http://www.stiresearch.health.pitt.edu/), and the Drug Discovery Institute (upddi.pitt.edu) offer many collaborative research opportunities. The Center for Medical Innovation (https://www.engineering.pitt.edu/CMI/), the Coulter Translational Partnership II Program (engineering.pitt.edu/coulter) and the Center for Commercial Applications of Healthcare Data (healthdataalliance.com/university-of-pittsburgh) provide biomedical innovation and translation opportunities. Interested individuals should send the following as a single, self-contained PDF attachment via email to bioeapp@pitt.edu (include “AY20 PITT BioE Translational BioE” in the subject line): (1) cover letter, (2) complete CV (including funding record, if applicable), (3) research statement, (4) teaching statement, (5) three representative publications, and (6) names and complete contact information of at least four references. To ensure full consideration, applications must be received by June 30, 2019. However, applications will be reviewed as they are received. Early submission is highly encouraged. The Department of Bioengineering is fully 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.

Feb
15
2019

Pitt Bioengineers Create Ultrasmall, Light-Activated Electrode for Neural Stimulation

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (February 15, 2019) … Neural stimulation is a developing technology that has beneficial therapeutic effects in neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease. While many advancements have been made, the implanted devices deteriorate over time and cause scarring in neural tissue. In a recently published paper, the University of Pittsburgh’s Takashi D. Y. Kozai detailed a less invasive method of stimulation that would use an untethered ultrasmall electrode activated by light, a technique that may mitigate damage done by current methods. “Typically with neural stimulation, in order to maintain the connection between mind and machine, there is a transcutaneous cable from the implanted electrode inside of the brain to a controller outside of the body,” said Kozai, an assistant professor of bioengineering in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “Movement of the brain or this tether leads to inflammation, scarring, and other negative side effects. We hope to reduce some of the damage by replacing this large cable with long wavelength light and an ultrasmall, untethered electrode.” Kaylene Stocking, a senior bioengineering and computer engineering student, was first author on the paper titled, “Intracortical neural stimulation with untethered, ultrasmall carbon fiber electrodes mediated by the photoelectric effect” (DOI: 10.1109/TBME.2018.2889832). She works with Kozai’s group - the Bionic Lab - to investigate how researchers can improve the longevity of neural implant technology. This work was done in collaboration with Alberto Vasquez, research associate professor of radiology and bioengineering at Pitt. The photoelectric effect is when a particle of light, or a photon, hits an object and causes a local change in the electrical potential. Kozai’s group discovered its advantages while performing other imaging research. Based on Einstein's 1905 publication on this effect, they expected to see electrical photocurrents only at ultraviolet wavelengths (high energy photons), but they experienced something different. “When the photoelectric effect contaminated our electrophysiological recording while imaging with a near-infrared laser (low energy photons), we were a little surprised,” explained Kozai. “It turned out that the original equation had to be modified in order to explain this outcome. We tried numerous strategies to eliminate this photoelectric artifact, but were unsuccessful in each attempt, so we turned the ‘bug’ into a ‘feature.’” “Our group decided to use this feature of the photoelectric effect to our advantage in neural stimulation,” said Stocking. “We used the change in electrical potential with a near-infrared laser to activate an untethered electrode in the brain.” The lab created a carbon fiber implant that is 7-8 microns in diameter, or roughly the size of a neuron (17-27 microns), and Stocking simulated their method on a phantom brain using a two-photon microscope. She measured the properties and analyzed the effects to see if the electrical potential from the photoelectric effect stimulated the cells in a way similar to traditional neural stimulation. “We discovered that photostimulation is effective,” said Stocking. “Temperature increases were not significant, which lowers the chance of heat damage, and activated cells were closer to the electrode than in electrical stimulation under similar conditions, which indicates increased spatial precision.” The lab recently showed how electrical stimulation frequency can activate different populations of neurons. “What we didn’t expect to see was that this photoelectric method of stimulation allows us to stimulate a different and more discrete population of neurons than could be achieved with electrical stimulation.” said Kozai, “This gives researchers another tool in their toolbox to explore neural circuits in the nervous system. “We’ve had numerous critics who did not have faith in the mathematical modifications that were made to Einstein’s original photoelectric equation, but we believed in the approach and even filed a patent application” (patent pending:US20170326381A1), said Kozai. “This is a testament to Kaylene’s hard work and diligence to take a theory and turn it into a well-controlled validation of the technology.” Kozai’s group is currently looking further into other opportunities to advance this technology, including reaching deeper tissue and wireless drug delivery. Stocking anticipates  graduating in April 2019 and plans to pursue a doctoral degree. She said, “The University of Pittsburgh has amazing resources that have allowed me to gain meaningful research experience as an undergraduate, and I’m grateful to Dr. Kozai and the Department of Bioengineering for giving me the opportunity to do impactful work.” ###

Feb
13
2019

Scholar Works to Restore Sensory Perception

Bioengineering

Reposted from the ARCS Foundation. Click here to see the original article. Mind over matter—a phrase meant to draw out mental fortitude in a time of physical exhaustion. For University of Pittsburgh ARCS® Scholar Christopher Hughes, this phrase takes on new meaning as he works with a quadriplegic patient to use his brain to move a robotic arm from a few feet away. Hughes, a third-year Pittsburgh Chapter Scholar, is working on the human brain-computer interface (BCI) project studying intracortical micro stimulation (ICMS) for the restoration of tactile perception.  His project team was recently featured in the New Yorker where their work to restore movement by implanting a microelectrode array in a human brain is described. Currently, he focuses on using biomimetic pulse trains to improve naturalness of sensory perception in his patients. Hughes’ work creates an environment for the electrical stimulation to more closely mimic normal neural activity. These pulses give his participants a chance to get back a sense of physical freedom and purpose. “Some of our participants feel as if their life was taken from them,” Hughes said. “Participating in research studies like this helps give them purpose and goals to help others.” He will travel to Japan in April to present findings from this project to several hundred attendees at the Neural Control of Movement Conference. A first generation college student, Hughes says the ARCS Scholar award helped him set aside financial worries and put more focus and thought into his research. The California native says ARCS has enabled him to find community in a place far from home. “Beyond the financial component, I have really appreciated my donors and I have established relationships with them that would have never existed had it not been for ARCS,” he said. "I left all of my family behind to study here in Pittsburgh. But my ARCS donors have made me feel like I have family here.” Help fund scholars like Chris who are changing lives with their passion for science and make a donation to the ARCS Foundation.

Feb
12
2019

Making a Mark on Cardiovascular Disease Detection

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (February 12, 2019) … According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease (CVD) remains the number one cause of death in the United States.1 Conditions for cardiomyopathy, a heart muscle disease leading to heart failure, are clinically silent until serious complications arise, and current diagnostic tools are unreliable, time consuming, and expensive. Moni K. Datta, assistant professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, received a $300,000 award from the Department of Defense to develop a quicker, simpler, and more reliable diagnostic technology related to cardiomyopathy so that the signs of disease can be spotted and treated earlier. One method currently applied to cardiovascular disease diagnosis is biochemical marker testing, using only bodily fluids or tissues to search for substances that signal disease or other abnormalities. The goal of this project, “Novel Aptamer-Based Biosensor Platforms for Detection of Cardiomyopathy Conditions,” is to create a tool that more efficiently senses and detects various essential cardiac biomarkers in the bloodstream. This work has previously received funding from the Department of Bioengineering’s Coulter Program as well as the Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI) Translational Research Pilot Award. Prashant N. Kumta, Edward R. Weidlein Chair and Distinguished Professor of bioengineering, chemical and petroleum engineering, mechanical engineering and materials science, and professor of oral biology in the School of Dental Medicine, is co-investigator on the project with Robert L. Kormas, Brack G. Hattler Professor of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Datta said, “Dr. Kumta has extensive experience related to materials functionalization and generation of materials platforms for detection and sensing of biological markers while Dr. Robert Kormas is a renowned cardiologist and an expert in understanding the cardiac biomarkers connected to various cardiovascular diseases.” The group will develop a portable biosensor specific to the cardiac biomarkers using only a few drops of blood to detect and provide the levels within minutes. “The design will include a vertical array of metallic wires functionalized with biological sensing agents, namely the aptamer specific to binding the relevant cardiac biomarkers in the blood,” said Datta. “The resulting platform will measure the change in overall resistance due to the binding of the specific cardiac biomarker to the sensing element. The developed biosensors are extremely sensitive to the resistance changes and as a result, will accurately measure the levels of relevant cardiac markers in the blood, thereby serving as an effective measuring device.” Current biochemical marker assays in hospitals and clinics are benchtop machines that lack portability and require expensive instrumentation and training. Datta’s design will be optimized for precision, reliability, and portability, making biochemical marker testing more accessible in hospitals, emergency room settings, ambulances, and perhaps even at home. “This device will allow patients and clinicians to screen for and circumvent cardiovascular diseases at early stages, thus reducing the cardiovascular disease risk and eventual healthcare costs,” said Datta. “Development of this biosensor will create a simple, inexpensive, and efficient point-of-contact device. We hope to eventually make this versatile technology useful for detection and monitoring disease conditions outside of cardiovascular disease states.” ### 1 According to the AHA… https://www.heart.org/-/media/data-import/downloadables/heart-disease-and-stroke-statistics-2018---at-a-glance-ucm_498848.pdf

Jan

Jan
29
2019

Lights, Camera, Action: Pitt iGEM team captures silver medal for their “Molecular Movie Camera”

Bioengineering, Electrical & Computer, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (January 29, 2019) … The ability to measure and record molecular signals in a cell can help researchers better understand its behavior, but current systems are limited and provide only a “snapshot” of the environment rather than a more informative timeline of cellular events. In an effort to give researchers a complete understanding of event order, a team of University of Pittsburgh undergraduate students prototyped a frame-by-frame “video” recording device using bacteria. The group created this project for the 2018 International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition, an annual synthetic biology research competition in which over 300 teams from around the world design and carry out projects to solve an open research or societal problem. The Pitt undergraduate group received a silver medal for their device titled “CUTSCENE.” The iGEM team included two Swanson School of Engineering students: Evan Becker, a junior electrical engineering student, and Vivian Hu, a junior bioengineering student. Other team members included Matthew Greenwald, a senior microbiology student; Tucker Pavelek, a junior molecular biology and physics student; Libby Pinto, a sophomore microbiology and political science student; and Zemeng Wei, a senior chemistry student. CUTSCENE aims to show a “video” of cellular activity by recording events in the cell using modified CRISPR/Cas9 technology. Hu said, “By knowing what time molecular events are happening inside of a cell, we are able to better understand a cell's history and how it responds to external stimuli.” Their system improved upon older methods that could only record the levels of stimuli at a single point in time. They used a movie analogy to illustrate their objective. “Try guessing the plot of a movie by looking at the poster; you can get an idea of what is going on, but to really understand the story, you need to watch the film,” said Becker. “Unless researchers are taking many snapshots of the cellular activity over time, the image doesn’t give any sense of causality. You can see that the molecule is there, but you don't know where it has been or where it is going.” For their project, the iGEM team used modified CRISPR/Cas9 technology called a base editor. The CRISPR/Cas9 system contains two key components: a guideRNA (gRNA) that matches a specific sequence of DNA and a Cas9 protein that makes a cut at the specific sequence, ultimately leading to the insertion or deletion of base pairs - the building blocks of DNA. In addition to these components, a CRISPR/Cas9 base editor contains an enzyme called cytidine deaminase that is able to make a known single nucleotide mutation at a desired location of DNA. “We achieved a method of true chronological event recording by introducing recording plasmids with repeating units of DNA and multiple gRNA to direct our base editor construct,” said Hu. “This technique will provide an understanding of the order in which molecules and proteins appear in systems.” “A recording plasmid can be thought of as a roll of unexposed film, with each frame being an identical sequence of DNA,” explained Wei. “A single-guideRNA (sgRNA) directs the CRISPR/Cas9 base editor to move along the recording plasmid, making mutations at a timed rate and constantly shifting which frame is in front of our base editor. Activated by the presence of a stimulus, another sgRNA can mark the current frame.” The iGEM team’s approach to this technology will allow them to figure out which molecules are abundant at specific times and perhaps reveal hidden, causal relationships. The information gathered from the device has many potential applications and may allow researchers to develop medicines and therapies based on the timing of the cellular malfunction. “The team did a tremendous amount of lab work over the summer, implementing the cellular event recording methodology,” said Alex Deiters, a professor of chemistry at Pitt who helped advise the iGEM team. “Most importantly, the students developed this clever idea on their own by first identifying a current technology gap and then applying modern gene editing machinery to it. The silver medal is well-deserved!” In addition to Dr. Deiters, the 2018 Pitt iGEM team was advised by Dr. Jason Lohmueller, American Cancer Society Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Immunology; Dr. Natasa Miskov-Zivanov, Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Bioengineering, and Computational and Systems Biology; Dr. Sanjeev Shroff, Distinguished Professor and Gerald E. McGinnis Chair of Bioengineering; and Dr. Cheryl Telmer, a Research Biologist at Carnegie Mellon University. Funding for the 2018 Pitt iGEM effort was provided by the University of Pittsburgh (Office of the Senior Vice Chancellor for Research, Honors College, Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, Department of Biological Sciences, Department of Chemistry, Swanson School of Engineering, Department of Bioengineering, and Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering), New England Biolabs (NEB), and Integrated DNA Technologies (IDT). ###

Jan
29
2019

Pitt’s Center for Medical Innovation awards five novel biomedical projects with $60,000 in Round-2 2018 Pilot Funding

All SSoE News, Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (January 29, 2019) … The University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Medical Innovation (CMI) awarded grants totaling $60,000 to three research groups through its 2018 Round-2 Pilot Funding Program for Early Stage Medical Technology Research and Development. The latest funding proposals include a new drug-eluting contact lens for treatment of dry eye disease, a new method of measuring ocular changes in glaucoma, and a new instrument for management of ketogenic diets. CMI, a University Center housed in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering (SSOE), supports applied technology projects in the early stages of development with “kickstart” funding toward the goal of transitioning the research to clinical adoption. Proposals are evaluated on the basis of scientific merit, technical and clinical relevance, potential health care impact and significance, experience of the investigators, and potential in obtaining further financial investment to translate the particular solution to healthcare. This is our eighth year of pilot funding, and our leadership team could not be more excited with the breadth and depth of this round’s awardees,” said Alan D. Hirschman, PhD, CMI Executive Director. “This early-stage interdisciplinary research helps to develop highly specific biomedical technologies through a proven strategy of linking UPMC’s clinicians and surgeons with the Swanson School’s engineering faculty.”AWARD 1:  “Polyelectrolyte Multilayer Coating for Delivery of IL-4 from Contact Lenses for Dry Eye Disease” For the development of a drug-eluting contact lens for treatment of chronic “dry eye” disease.Bryan Brown, PhD, Assistant Professor, Depts. of Bioengineering, Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences; McGowan Institute for Regenerative MedicineVishal Jhanji, MD, FRCSG, FRCOphth, Professor of Ophthalmology, Cornea, External Eye Diseases and Refractive Surgery Services, UPMC Eye Center Mangesh Kulkarni, MD, PhD, Research Assistant Professor, McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine and department of Bioengineering AWARD 2: “On the quantitative analysis of a new tonometer to manage/prevent glaucoma” For the development of a novel pulse wave device for measurement of ocular tissue characteristics in the detection and treatment of glaucoma.Piervincenzo Rizzo, PhD, Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of PittsburghIan A. Sigal, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Ophthalmology, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Eye & Ear InstituteIan Conner, PhD, MD, Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology, Department of Ophthalmology, University of Pittsburgh AWARD 3: “Acetone Breathalyzer for Monitoring the Ketogenic State” For the development of a cost-effective, rapid acetone “breath-alayzer” for clinical and consumer usage in ketogenic diets.Sung Kwon Cho, PhD, Department of Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science, Swanson School of EngineeringDavid Rometo, MD, Div of Endocrinology and Metabolism, U of Pittsburgh Medical CenterDavid Finegold, MD,  Department of Human Genetics, Graduate School of Public HealthAlex Star, PhD,  Department of Chemistry, Dietrich School of Arts and Science ### 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 $1.2 million since inception. Nine companies have been formed to commercialize these early stage University of Pittsburgh technologies.
Alan Hirschman, PhD Executive Director, CMI
Jan
9
2019

Engineering New Career Exploration Opportunities

Bioengineering

In addition to the four weeks of camp hosted at the University of Pittsburgh, the CampBioE team also headed to the Crossroads Foundation in Homewood for a free 4-day camp experience with 19 rising sophomore scholar participants. Here is an article reposted from the Crossroads Foundation about their experience... If a mannequin head falls 25 feet from the Calland Center patio to the sidewalk below, does it make a sound? What if it’s full of gelatin? And wearing a helmet? The answer, as this year’s rising sophomore scholars can tell you, is “yes, and the brain fragments get a little messy.” The experiment was just one of the many fascinating activities exploring bioengineering at Camp BioE. Now in its 11th year, Camp BioE is an interactive week-long exploration of bioengineering and regenerative medicine, which hosted its summer mentor training week at Crossroads for the first time this summer. The camp’s theme of STEM applications in criminal investigation had scholars gathering clues to solve an office murder mystery (complete with a crime scene set up in the back hallway). Designed and facilitated by the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, CampBioE invites students--especially from groups underrepresented in STEM fields--to learn with a team of college student-mentors from Pitt and working professionals in STEM education, including Dr. Juel Smith (CCAC), Dr. Steven Abramowitch (University of Pittsburgh), and Mr. Mark “Special K” Krotec (Central Catholic High School). “It’s so encouraging to see the faces of the campers, their parents and our staff as learning and growth takes place,” says Dr. Smith. “For us it’s not only about the campers themselves, but about our ability to change the lives of our interns and junior counselors as well. To expose them to diversity...and to assist in the development of the next generation of educators and scientists.” On a given day during CampBioE, guests walking through the Calland Center might find Scholars wearing giant bubble suits and building PVC pipe structures for a bio-themed relay race Raw chicken in various parts of the office for tissue regrowth testing A robotic machine serving hundreds of ping pong balls to scholars as a “lesson in biomechanics” Mr. Krotec leading an “Enzymes” singalong to the tune of The Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.” “Camp BioE was an amazing opportunity to learn about the principles of engineering and biology rolled into one, enhancing our inner scientists,” said Seton sophomore Hadia Killang. “My favorite part was when we dissected a chicken leg/thigh and learn[ed] about the different parts of the leg.” Despite accounting for 30% of the population, black, hispanic, and native American students are awarded only 15% of the nation’s share of bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. “Our goal was to try to change that,” says Dr. Smith. The program’s vision, Dr. Abramowitch adds, “is that the field of STEM should reflect the population.” ### About Crossroads Foundation: Crossroads Foundation is a non-denominational 501c3 enjoying its 30th school year as a Pittsburgh leader in providing educational equity to low-income youth.  We envision a world where all students, regardless of means, have access to the educational opportunities and support necessary to achieve their God-given potential.  Our mission is to provide promising, low-income youth who have limited access to a quality high school education, with tuition assistance to attend one of six local Catholic high schools partnered with a wide range of after-school and summer support in academics, college and career exploration, and personal guidance.  Learn more about us and our important work at www.crossroadsfoundation.org.
Esther Mellinger Stief, Executive Director, Crossroads Foundation
Jan
7
2019

Changing Frequencies: Pitt Bioengineers Look Deeper Into How Electrical Stimulation Activates Neurons

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (January 7, 2019) … Electrical stimulation of the brain is common practice in neuroscience research and is an increasingly common and effective clinical therapy for a variety of neurological disorders. However, there is limited understanding of why this treatment works at the neural level.  A paper published by Takashi D. Y. Kozai, assistant professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, addresses gaps in knowledge over the activation and inactivation of neural elements that affect the desired responses to neuromodulation. The article, “Calcium activation of cortical neurons by continuous electrical stimulation: Frequency dependence, temporal fidelity, and activation density” (DOI: 10.1002/jnr.24370), was published in the Journal of Neuroscience Research. Co-investigator is Kip Ludwig, associate professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. For this study, Kozai’s group - the BIONIC Lab - used in vivo two-photon microscopy to capture neuronal calcium activity in the somatosensory cortex during 30 seconds of continuous electrical stimulation at varying frequencies. They imaged the population of neurons surrounding the implanted electrode and discovered that frequency played a role in neural activation - a finding that conflicted with earlier studies. “Electrical stimulation has a large number of parameters that can be used to activate neurons, such as amplitude, pulsewidth, waveform shapes, and frequency,” explained Kozai. “This makes it difficult to compare studies because different stimulation parameters are used in other studies. Based on the parameters that were previously employed, it was thought that activation occurs in a sphere centered around the electrode where neurons near the electrode would activate more than neurons far from the electrode. “Recent research, however, shows that stimulation mostly activates distant neurons whose axons are very close to the electrode by transmitting action potentials backward to the neuron cell body,” he continued. “We demonstrate that both of these things can be true depending on stimulation frequency and duration.” According to Kozai, the fact that researchers can use varying stimulation parameters to activate different neurons in the same location has huge implications in basic science research. The findings will allow them to activate different neural circuits with the same implant to elicit different behaviors. Beyond its research applications, Kozai believes that this knowledge may also help in clinical settings. “Empirical evidence in the field suggests that frequency plays a role in deep brain stimulation, but the why and how have puzzled scientists since the beginning,” said Kozai. “This research is a first glimpse into understanding the mechanisms underlying the role of frequency in clinical therapies. In the long-term, this research could also give insight on how to activate distinct glial and vascular populations, which could have a prolonged impact on behavior, attention, and tissue regeneration.” Kozai believes that more research needs to be done to understand neuronal activation properties and hopes that this work will lead to new tools in neuroscience and improved neuromodulation therapy by explaining why electrical stimulation produces its effective responses. ###