Pitt | Swanson Engineering
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Aug

Aug
3
2020

Bioengineering Undergrads Receive BMES Outstanding Chapter Industry Program Award

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (Aug. 3, 2020) … For many students, part of a fulfilling undergraduate experience is engaging with like-minded peers and interacting with professionals who can help guide and advance their careers. Bioengineering undergraduates at the University of Pittsburgh cultivate these connections through the student chapter of the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES), and the group was recently recognized for their efforts. BMES awarded Pitt’s undergraduate chapter the 2020 Outstanding Chapter Industry Program Award, which recognizes “chapters who demonstrate outstanding partnership with industries in their community.” It also acknowledges groups that “go above and beyond by creating joint programs with academic and industry leaders in the BME field in order to give their members a headstart upon graduation.” Pitt BMES’ interactions with local industry along with professional development activities throughout the year landed them the highest score among a nationally competitive roster. “Through professional networking events, social outings, and outreach opportunities, we have helped solidify a true undergraduate biomedical engineering community that makes students’ time at Pitt both more valuable and enjoyable,” said Tyler Bray (BioE BS ‘20), who led the chapter as president during the 2019-2020 academic year. The group provides an opportunity to learn and network with local leaders in the field through biomedical industry site visits, clinical and industrial panel presentations, and networking dinners with both industry and academic professionals. “Networking is an essential part of what we do in our chapter of BMES,” said Daniela Krahe, a senior bioengineering student at Pitt and the elected president for the 2020-2021 academic year. “It gives students the confidence to navigate the post-grad career life and helps build their professional skills. When they graduate, they are less anxious about their first job in bioengineering because they’ve already been exposed to many aspects of industry.” Among the professional development opportunities is a career fair tailored to bioengineering students. This past year, they hosted 11 companies who offered cooperative education, internship, and full-time positions. More than 150 students attended the 2019 event, and the group plans to make the 2020 event even larger. “Organizing the 2019 career fair was very rewarding, and working with the leadership team, particularly Tyler, on the career fair was a blast. The enthusiasm shown by the BMES officers was indeed invigorating and a key aspect in the event’s success,”  said Arash Mahboobin, assistant professor of bioengineering, BMES chapter advisor, and director of the undergraduate program. “Considering that close to half of our graduates opt for an industry position, this award is very timely and, in my opinion, deserved as it reflects the tremendous effort our undergraduate BMES chapter leadership team has put in place towards partnering with industry leaders. I am extremely proud of this achievement and applaud Pitt BMES’ efforts wholeheartedly,” he continued. The chapter provided additional professional development opportunities such as mock interviews, resume reviews, and Bioengineering Day -- a research showcase and networking event, in collaboration with the graduate BMES chapter. These events gave students more opportunities to connect with faculty and prepare for life after graduation. “BMES has opened up a lot of professional doors for me, and I’m really excited we were able to continue doing that for our peers this year,” said Bray. “BMES strives to provide an all-around experience for the bioengineers at Pitt, and this year we focused on amplifying our exposure to industry. “We’re fortunate to have top-notch talent in Pittsburgh and around the country, from startup co-founders to design engineers at Fortune 500 companies, who all love to be involved with Pitt BMES,” he continued. “Our student body, myself included, has a jump-start on our careers because of the relationship-building opportunities BMES has facilitated with these awesome industry partners.” As the winning chapter, the undergraduate group will be asked to lead a best practice panel at the virtual BMES Annual Meeting in October 2020. They will also participate in a webinar featuring their successes. # # #

Jul

Jul
23
2020

Infant Heart-Assist Pump Secures $4.7M from the DOD

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (July 23, 2020) … The Center for Disease Control estimates that roughly 40,000 infants are born with congenital heart defects (CHDs) each year. Among that population, 25 percent are critical cases that require cardiac surgery. The waitlist for a heart transplant continues to grow; yet, the only FDA-approved life-saving device for CHD has shortcomings and is based on technology from the 1970s. A multi-institutional team, including faculty and students from the Swanson School of Engineering (SSoE) and McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine (MIRM), recently received funding to advance this technology. The PediaFlow® Ventricular Assist Device (VAD), a heart-assist pump for infants and young children, received a $4.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). The device, originally developed at the University of Pittsburgh, is intended to support patients with congenital and/or acquired heart disease. James Antaki, the Susan K. McAdam Professor of Heart Assist Technology at Cornell University’s Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering, will lead the project’s development and preclinical validation. (See Cornell University’s announcement) “It is a new lease on life for this device for children who have no other alternative,” said Antaki. The device is a miniaturized, magnetically levitated, rotary VAD that is roughly the size of a AA battery and can provide sufficient blood flow for infants and small children. Implantation of the device could also potentially rehabilitate a child’s heart back to health, thus obviating the need for a cardiac transplant. The project began in 2002 at Pitt and builds upon blood pump technology developed by several SSoE and MIRM faculty and students over the past decade. After evaluating three pump topologies, the research group chose a mixed-flow configuration and applied a computational fluid dynamics approach to optimize the design from the point of view of outstanding biocompatibility. Bench and preclinical studies have demonstrated outstanding biocompatibility of the PediaFlow VAD. “Despite the clinician mantra that ‘babies are not just tiny adults,’ pediatric heart pump development has been historically limited to the miniaturization of existing adult devices with minimal success,” said Salim Olia (BioE PhD ’18), adjunct assistant professor of surgery at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Olia conducted the crucial bench and preclinical PediaFlow tests as part of his PhD dissertation in the Department of Bioengineering at Pitt and is continuing his work for the DoD award. “PediaFlow represents a clean slate approach of designing from the ground up with the primary objective of maximizing patient safety by minimizing blood damage,” he continued. Pitt’s subcontract on this DoD award is a collaboration between SSoE and MIRM. In particular, Marina Kameneva, research professor of surgery and bioengineering, and William Wagner, director of the McGowan Institute and distinguished professor of surgery, bioengineering and chemical engineering, will direct studies assessing the biocompatibility and overall suitability of the PediaFlow pumps developed under the DoD award for clinical use. According to Harvey Borovetz, Distinguished Professor of Bioengineering and the Robert L. Hardesty Professor of Surgery, “It is our goal at the end of the three-year DoD award to have completed development of the PediaFlow heart-assist pump, in anticipation of submitting an Investigational Device Exemption (IDE) application to the FDA and initiating clinical feasibility studies in these very special patients.” # # #

Jul
20
2020

In Memoriam: John C. "Jack" Mascaro BSCE ’66 MSCE ’80, 1944-2020

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

From James R. Martin II, U.S. Steel Dean of Engineering: It is with great sadness to inform you that Jack Mascaro BSCE ’66 MSCE ’80, one of our outstanding alumni, volunteers, advocates, and benefactors, passed away this weekend after a hard-fought battle with illness. On behalf of our Swanson School community, I extend our deep condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues.Jack was a creative, caring juggernaut of ideas and inspiration, and his passing leaves an emptiness in our hearts and minds. It was an incredible honor and privilege to work with him during my short tenure as dean thus far, but I know those of you who have a long history with Jack and his family experienced a deep connection and now share a tremendous loss. I hope your memories of his lighthearted spirit, curious intellect, and enthusiasm for our students and programs provide solace and smiles.As one of our Distinguished Alumni, Jack was lauded by the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the School for his contributions to Pitt, the region, and the profession, and was also honored by the University with the Chancellor’s Medallion. Thanks to his beneficence, the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation and our focus on sustainability will continue his legacy for generations. Most importantly, it was his passion for sustainability, and what he saw as its inexorable link to engineering, that will forever inform our mission to create new knowledge for the benefit of the human condition. He truly was an engineer’s engineer, and we can never thank him and his family enough for his generosity of mind and spirit. Please join me in expressing our sympathies to the Mascaro Family, and to thank them for Jack’s impact on our students, alumni, and entire Swanson School community. Visitation will be held this Thursday in McMurray and you may leave thoughts for the family at his obituary page. Sincerely,Jimmy Other Remembrances Some Random and Personal Observations. Jeffrey Burd, Tall Timber Group & Breaking Ground Magazine (7-21-20). Jack Mascaro, founder of one of Pittsburgh's largest construction firms, dies at 76. Tim Schooley, Pittsburgh Business Times (7-22-20). Pittsburgh builder and sustainability pioneer Jack Mascaro dies after long illness. Paul Guggenheimer, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (7-23-20). John C. 'Jack' Mascaro / Builder of Heinz Field, science center embraced 'green' construction. Janice Crompton, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (7-27-20). Founder of Mascaro Construction, Heinz Field builder, dies at age 75. Harry Funk, Washington Observer-Reporter (8-1-20).

Jul
9
2020

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

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (July 1, 2020) … The University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Medical Innovation (CMI) awarded grants totaling $60,000 to three research groups through its 2020 Round-1 Pilot Funding Program for Early Stage Medical Technology Research and Development. The latest funding proposals include a virus-resistant wear-resistant textile, a system for removal of cell-free plasma hemoglobin in extracorporeal therapies, and a biocontainment unit for reducing viral transmission to healthcare workers and patients CMI, a University Center housed in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering (SSOE), supports applied technology projects in the early stages of development with “kickstart” funding toward the goal of transitioning the research to clinical adoption. Proposals are evaluated on the basis of scientific merit, technical and clinical relevance, potential health care impact and significance, experience of the investigators, and potential in obtaining further financial investment to translate the particular solution to healthcare. “This is our eighth year of pilot funding, and our leadership team could not be more excited with the breadth and depth of this round’s awardees,” said Alan D. Hirschman, PhD, CMI Executive Director. “This early-stage interdisciplinary research helps to develop highly specific biomedical technologies through a proven strategy of linking UPMC’s clinicians and surgeons with the Swanson School’s engineering faculty.” AWARD 1: “Wash-Stable and Mechanically Durable Anti-Virofouling Medical Textiles”For the development of a nanoparticle-based reusable textile for use in healthcare settings. Paul W. Leu, PhD;  Associate Professor of Industrial Engineering, Swanson School of EngineeringRobert Shanks , PhD  Associate Professor of Ophthalmology, UPMC                                                 Eric Romanowski, MS,  Research Director, Charles T. Campbell Laboratory of Ophthalmic Microbiolog AWARD 2: “Targeted removal of cell-free plasma hemoglobin in extracorporeal therapies” For an extracorporeal hemoperfusion device that removes plasma hemoglobin from a blood column using treated porous beads. Nahmah Kim-Campbell, MD, MS, Assistant Professor of Critical Care Medicine and PediatricsWilliam Federspiel, PhD; Professor of Bioengineering, Swanson School of EngineeringRyan Orizondo, PhD  Researcher in Bioenengineering, Swanson School of Engineerin AWARD 3: “Individual Biocontainment Unit for Reducing Viral Transmission to healthcare Workers and Patients”For the expedited development, approval and manufacture of a novel device for use with ICU patients to reduce contamination by aerosolized particles. David M. Turer, MD, MS Department of Plastic Surgery, UPMCHeng Ban, PhD; Professor Mechanical Engineering and Material Science, Swanson School of EngineeringJ.Peter Rubin, MD;  Chairman, Dept of Plastic Surgery, UPMC # # # About the University of Pittsburgh Center for Medical Innovation The Center for Medical Innovation is a collaboration among the Swanson School of Engineering, the Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the Innovation Institute, and the Coulter Translational Research Partnership II (CTRP). CMI was established in 2012 to promote the application and development of innovative biomedical technologies to clinical problems; to educate the next generation of innovators in cooperation with the schools of Engineering, Health Sciences, Business, and Law; and to facilitate the translation of innovative biomedical technologies into marketable products and services. Over 70 early-stage projects have been supported by CMI with a total investment of over $1.4 million since inception.

Jul
8
2020

Two Swanson School Projects Secure 2020 Pitt Seed Funding

All SSoE News, Bioengineering

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

Jun

Jun
29
2020

Reversing Drug Resistance in Breast Cancer

Bioengineering

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

Jun
25
2020

Making a Sustainable Impact Throughout Pitt and Our Communities

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

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

Jun
16
2020

A Micro Look at Metastatic Environments in Ovarian Cancer

Bioengineering

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

Jun
2
2020

Crafting a Better Graft

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (June 2, 2020) … As the Baby Boomer generation gets older, the number of Americans over 65 continues to grow. With this growth, there is a need for improved medical technology that will help clinicians more effectively treat common age-associated conditions such as heart disease -- a leading cause of death in the U.S. The University of Pittsburgh’s David A. Vorp received a $394,300 award from the National Institutes of Health to address this issue and will lead a project to improve technology for bypass grafting and hemodialysis. Vorp’s Vascular Bioengineering Lab produces small-diameter, tissue engineered vascular grafts (TEVGs), which can be used to replace blood vessels damaged by coronary heart disease or to remove and return blood during dialysis. A TEVG consists of a scaffold that provides a framework for seeded cells, which when given environmental cues, will promote tissue regeneration. These devices are an improvement on synthetic grafts which often become obstructed and fail, especially at small diameters. The degree of openness, known as patency, is a measure that defines the success of these devices. “There is a lot of promise for this technology; however, we have only observed its effects in young recipients, despite the fact that older patients are the demographic most commonly in need of arterial bypass or hemodialysis,” said Vorp, the John A. Swanson Professor of Bioengineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering and member of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. In this project, he seeks to understand how age affects the successful implantation of their small-diameter TEVG. “A major complication is that older populations typically have high quantities of the plasma protein plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 (PAI-1), which could jeopardize the success of the device,” he said. “We believe that elevated PAI-1 may compromise TEVG remodeling and patency,” he continued. “If increased levels of PAI-1 are associated with age, we want to determine if middle-aged and older recipients are capable of generating a successful TEVG.” PAI-1 is a protein that comes with complications: it is important because it helps prevent premature clot removal after injury, but in elevated levels, it also increases risks for cardiovascular disease. There are FDA-approved drugs that inhibit PAI-1 production to help mitigate these issues, and as part of this project, Vorp will examine whether pharmacological intervention using these drugs will improve patency of their TEVGs. “We hope that the results of this project will not only be foundational for tailoring a translatable TEVG for those who are most in need – elderly patients – but may also be paradigm-shifting in how TEVGs and other tissue engineering-based therapies are tested preclinically,” said Vorp. # # #

Jun
1
2020

BioE Graduate Student Awarded 2020 GPSG Leadership and Service Award

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (June 1, 2020) — The University of Pittsburgh Graduate and Professional Student Government (GPSG) presented Haley Fuller, vice president of the Swanson School of Engineering’s Engineering Graduate Student Organization (EGSO), with the 2020 GPSG Leadership and Service Award. Fuller is a second-year graduate student in bioengineering. The Award recognizes current Pitt graduate and professional students’ service or leadership to the University, surrounding community, and world at large. Fuller joined EGSO when she matriculated in 2018 and, within the first two months, fulfilled the Communications Officer position, which is normally held by more senior students. Driven to be more involved, she ran for and was elected Vice President of EGSO within her second year as a graduate student. She also joined the Pitt chapter of the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES), where she was selected as first-year representative for her class. “When I moved to Pittsburgh from the Washington, DC, area, I was eager to make friends and get involved with my new graduate program right off the bat. EGSO accomplished exactly this for me, as well as has provided academic and professional support over the past two years of my involvement,” said Fuller. “Since EGSO is an interdepartmental organization run entirely by student volunteers, I was immediately greeted at the door by the most enthusiastic, self-driven individuals across various engineering disciplines who have since become both my friends and scientific collaborators.” In addition to her work in EGSO and BMES, Fuller serves as a program facilitator for Investing Now, an initiative that introduces Pittsburgh high school students to STEM disciplines. The role requires training throughout the spring semester in preparation for teaching self-directed two-hour sessions, four days a week, through the month of July, all while continuing her own research in Warren Ruder’s Synthetic Biology and Biomimetics Laboratory at Pitt. “Working alongside like-minded students has driven me to become involved in other organizations across campus, as well as encouraged me to pursue projects on campus in which I’ve gotten the chance to interact directly with faculty members to influence institutional direction for the future of the university,” said Fuller. Before arriving at Pitt, Fuller earned a B.S. in Biological Systems Engineering with a Biomedical Focus and spent three years working at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as the High-throughput and Robotics lead and bioprocess engineer at the Vaccine Research Center (VRC). “Haley has already demonstrated her leadership and commitment to service during her brief period here at the University of Pittsburgh, and resident of the community,” said Mary Besterfield-Sacre, associate dean for academic affairs and EGSO faculty mentor. “She has the self-awareness to understand the gaps in the system and speak up for those unable or too shy to do so.”
Maggie Pavlick

May

May
27
2020

Exploring the Neurological Male-Female Divide in Dementia

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (May 27, 2020) … Fifty million people worldwide are living with dementia, a broad term for diseases and conditions characterized by progressive cognitive decline. Alzheimer’s disease (AD), the most common form of dementia, afflicts 5.8 million Americans, and nearly two-thirds are women. Despite the staggering disparity among the sexes, researchers have yet to discover how biological factors affect this disease. University of Pittsburgh faculty Bistra Iordanova believes that disease treatment is not a one-size-fits-all approach. She received a $2,581,762 R01 award from the National Institutes of Health to study how sex differences contribute to cognitive impairment and dementia. “We believe that the brain vascular system -- the network of blood vessels that circulate oxygen and glucose throughout the brain -- plays an important role in dementia,” said Iordanova, a bioengineering assistant professor in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “The vascular system affects cognitive impairment and dementia of both men and women with Alzheimer’s disease; however, research shows that the pathways, severity and presentation seem to be different,” she continued. These findings have illustrated the disparity among the biological sexes in Alzheimer’s disease, but a complete understanding of these differences remains elusive. “One reason it is difficult to understand the sex-based distinctions in dementia is because in a significant portion of the human studies, the gender is regressed out, and the data are pooled together to increase the effect size,” said Iordanova. “Also, until recently, the bulk of animal studies exclusively used males in an effort to keep costs low.” In this project, she will take a closer look at the brain to see how sex differences influence the connection between neural activity and changes in cerebral blood flow. She will also examine the flow of energy within the brain in real-time and how hormonal changes during aging may affect the energy consumption of the brain. “Our approach will examine the gene expression of individual cells and use brain imaging to determine the specific cell types that contribute to neurovascular resilience,” said Iordanova. “We hope that our data will uncover personalized molecular targets for therapy and improve treatment of dementia.” While Iordanova’s project looks specifically at dementia, a personalized medicine approach can be applied to other diseases as well, including COVID-19. The novel coronavirus has had different severity and presentation among not only older and younger individuals, but also among men and women. “It is important to track this information and try to understand why more men are dying from COVID-19 than women,” said Iordanova. “Much like with Alzheimer’s research, this pandemic is treated as though all humans have exactly the same physiology, and it may benefit treatment to have a person-specific approach.” # # # Image caption: A two-photon image of brain vasculature (red), neurons (green) and Alzheimer's plaques (blue). Credit: Bistra Iordanova.

May
18
2020

David Gau Receives National Cancer Center Fellowship for Kidney Cancer Research

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (May 18, 2020) … According to the American Cancer Society, kidney cancer is among the top ten most common cancers in men and women. More than 73,000 new cases and nearly 15,000 deaths are predicted for in the US for 2020. Clear cell renal cell carcinoma (ccRCC) -- the most common subtype of tumor associated with kidney cancer -- accounts for more than 75 percent of cases. David Gau (Math BS ‘11, BioE BS ‘11, PhD ‘18), a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, will use a fellowship from the National Cancer Center to study the role of a protein in ccRCC progression. He will work with Partha Roy, associate professor of bioengineering in the Swanson School of Engineering, and Walter Storkus, professor of dermatology and immunology in the School of Medicine. “Twenty to thirty percent of patients with clear cell renal cell carcinoma will have cancer metastasis by the time of diagnosis and a third of those treated will have recurrence,” said Gau. “Our lab wants to look at the underlying mechanisms associated with this disease so that we can help develop more effective treatments.” A common theme of this type of cancer is the highly vascularized nature of the tumor environment, that is, an abundance of blood vessels in the tumor area. In this project, the research group will look at how to control a process called angiogenesis - the formation of new blood vessels. “Anti-angiogenic treatments to limit vessel formation in the tumor initially work well in patients, but many will have cancer progression due to innate resistant mechanisms to current anti-angiogenic agents,” explained Gau. “We want to evaluate the role of the protein Profilin1 in ccRCC progression.” According to Gau, current research suggests that increased Profilin1 expression in ccRCC is correlated with poor patient prognosis, and preliminary data suggests that it plays a key role in vessel formation, which would make it a candidate for a potential new therapeutic target. “Our lab has previously developed Profilin1 inhibitors, which will also be tested as a potential therapy for kidney cancer,” he said. “Completion of this project would demonstrate direct impact of Profilin1 and regulation of vessel formation in clear cell renal cell carcinoma and provide foundational evidence for targeting Profilin1 as a potential treatment for kidney cancer.” # # #

May
14
2020

ALung Announces Commercial Development of its Breakthrough Next Generation Artificial Lung

Covid-19, Bioengineering

Reposted from Business Wire. Click here to view the original press release. PITTSBURGH–(BUSINESS WIRE)– April 4, 2020 ALung Technologies, Inc., the leading provider of low-flow extracorporeal carbon dioxide removal (ECCO2R) technologies for treating patients with acute respiratory failure, announced the recent initiation of commercial development of its next generation artificial lung, which expands the Company’s focus on highly efficient gas exchange devices and also broadens its applicable market. The Company’s current product, the Hemolung® Respiratory Assist System (RAS), is the only fully comprehensive extracorporeal carbon dioxide removal (ECCO2R) system specifically designed and manufactured for this therapy, as compared to complex competitive products that are modifications of existing technologies designed for other purposes. The Hemolung continues to be the most highly efficient and simple to use ECCO2R system on the market today. The next generation Hemolung RAS is based upon intellectual property recently licensed to ALung from the University of Pittsburgh. Developed by Professor William Federspiel, PhD and colleagues at the Swanson School of Engineering and the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, this new technology platform significantly enhances gas exchange efficiency while reducing the deleterious hematologic effects from extracorporeal blood circulation. The licensed research was supported in part by the National Institutes of Health and the Coulter Translational Research Partners II Program at the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Federspiel has an equity holding in the company and is compensated as an advisory board member. “The next generation Hemolung RAS is a direct result of the continued collaboration between the University of Pittsburgh and ALung Technologies. This collaboration, spanning 20+ years, has resulted in a rich pipeline of innovation for ALung that will accelerate the development of highly efficient, simple to use artificial lung devices for the treatment of acute respiratory failure. The foundation of our next generation system is an integrated artificial lung cartridge/blood pump that will be unparalleled in the industry as the most efficient carbon dioxide removal and oxygen delivery system, which will address the needs of acute respiratory failure patients that require ECCO2R and/or ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation). All of this will again be consolidated in a comprehensive, easy to use system without all of the complexities represented in competitive systems,” stated Peter M. DeComo, Chairman and CEO of ALung Technologies. Jeremy Kimmel, PhD, Vice President of New Technology at ALung Technologies stated, “Professor Federspiel and colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh have rapidly advanced this technology toward commercial readiness through state of the art computational, in vitro and in vivo testing, including successful 7-day and 30-day large animal studies. ALung has initiated commercial development of the next generation Hemolung RAS to provide clinicians with the flexibility to support patients across the full spectrum of acute and acute-on-chronic respiratory failure using a single integrated device. The system design will accommodate bedside therapy as well as portability and wearability, further enhancing device usability and expanding potential clinical indications.” Key features and benefits of the next generation Hemolung RAS will include: Patent-pending technology that generates superior blood flow uniformity to maximize gas exchange efficiency. A custom designed centrifugal pump integrated with a low surface area (0.65 m2) gas exchange membrane without the need for additional components (e.g. heat exchanger, pressure ports) that will reduce operational complexity of the system. Low flow ECCO2R (250 – 700 mL/min) as well as full ECMO (2 – 4 L/min) using a single integrated pump and gas exchange membrane. The highest efficiency oxygenation of any ECMO device on the market providing full oxygen saturation at ≤4 L/min blood flow with membrane surface area of 0.65 m2. COPD affects 30 million Americans1 and is the third leading cause of death in the United States behind cancer and heart disease.2 Acute exacerbations, defined as a sudden worsening of COPD symptoms, are a major cause of morbidity and mortality in COPD patients. ARDS is estimated to affect more than 10% of intensive care unit patients globally, has a mortality rate as high as 45% and requires invasive mechanical ventilation in the majority of cases.3,4 Combined, these disorders represent a significant need and a global market for innovative respiratory assist devices. The COVID-19 pandemic is a recent example of such a dramatic need. Currently, the Hemolung RAS has European marketing clearance (CE Mark). In addition, it is the only system that has been studied for safety and efficacy in two large landmark pivotal trials; the FDA approved VENT-AVOID trial and the U.K. REST trial. The Hemolung RAS was recently granted Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by FDA for the treatment of acute respiratory failure caused by COVID-19. About ALung Technologies ALung Technologies, Inc. is a privately held Pittsburgh-based developer and manufacturer of innovative lung assist devices. Founded in 1997 as a spin-out of the University of Pittsburgh, ALung has developed the Hemolung RAS as a dialysis-like alternative or supplement to mechanical ventilation. ALung is backed by Philips, UPMC Enterprises, Abiomed, The Accelerator Fund, Allos Ventures, Birchmere Ventures, Blue Tree Ventures, Eagle Ventures, Riverfront Ventures, West Capital Advisors, and other individual investors. For more information about ALung and the Hemolung RAS, visit www.alung.com. For more information on the VENT-AVOID trial, and a list of enrolling sites, please visit clinicaltrials.gov. For more information about the REST Trial, please visit UK National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) – REST Trial Project Website. For more information on the use of the Hemolung RAS for COVID-19 patients, please visit https://www.alung.com/covid-19/covid-19-us/ CAUTION: The Hemolung RAS is an Investigational Device and limited by United States law to investigational use. This press release may contain forward-looking statements, which, if not based on historical facts, involve current assumptions and forecasts as well as risks and uncertainties. Our actual results may differ materially from the results or events stated in the forward-looking statements, including, but not limited to, certain events not within the Company’s control. Events that could cause results to differ include failure to meet ongoing developmental and manufacturing timelines, changing GMP requirements, the need for additional capital requirements, risks associated with regulatory approval processes, adverse changes to reimbursement for the Company’s products/services, and delays with respect to market acceptance of new products/services and technologies. Other risks may be detailed from time to time, but the Company does not attempt to revise or update its forward-looking statements even if future experience or changes make it evident that any projected events or results expressed or implied therein will not be realized. References 1. https://www.copdfoundation.org/What-is-COPD/COPD-Facts/Statistics.aspx 2. http://www.lung.org/assets/documents/research/copd-trend-report.pdf 3. Bellani. Epidemiology, Patterns of Care, and Mortality for Patients With Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome in Intensive Care Units in 50 Countries. JAMA. 2016;315(8):788-800. 4. Walkey A. Acute respiratory distress syndrome: epidemiology and management approaches. Clinical Epidemiology 2012:4 159–169.

May
4
2020

Innovating for Impact with Health Technology Entrepreneurship

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

Equipped with a degree in bioengineering, four years of research and development experience, and an award-winning design process, Jacob “Jake” Meadows (BioE ’20) is prepared to embark on a new journey to the United Kingdom, thanks to a Fulbright scholarship. Initially inspired to help individuals with fine motor control issues, Meadows and his classmate Tyler Bray (BioE ‘20) spent the last two years working on their project to help older individuals and people with movement disorders like Parkinson’s disease. “In the Art of Making course, Tyler and I learned how to create solutions to complex real-world problems with human-centered design” said Meadows, a recent University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering alumnus. “Since then, we’ve worked with over 100 individuals with Parkinson’s, physical therapists, and physicians to continue developing a wearable device that detects and alerts poor posture.” The project, Posture Protect, has since received a series of awards and funding, including Best Overall Project at the Swanson School Design Expo and first place at the Innovation Institute’s Startup Blitz. Meadows and Bray also participated in the University’s student accelerator, Blast Furnace, and were part of the first cohort of the University’s new student startup incubator, the Forge. Continuing this project outside of the classroom also motivated Meadows, Bray, and their mentor Joseph Samosky, assistant professor of bioengineering, to start Classroom to Community, a program that seeks to bridge the gap between academic projects and real-world impact. As Design & Innovation Manager, Meadows helped grow the program to support six student teams comprising more than 30 students in a collaborative community space on the fourth floor of Benedum Hall called “Studio 437.” Meadows also worked in the Department of Rehabilitation Science & Technology at Pitt, where he helped build products to improve the lives of people with physical disabilities. On campus, he was involved in student organizations and served as president of Tau Beta Pi, the engineering honor society, and as the public relations chair of the Biomedical Engineering Society. Meadows will use the Fulbright scholarship to attend University College London (UCL), where he will pursue a one-year master’s degree in entrepreneurship with the goal of starting a health technology company that focuses on healthy aging. “Studying in London, one of the world's leading centers of entrepreneurship, will empower me with an international Meadows at a user outreach session at the Fit4Boxing Gym in Allison Park after one of the RockSteady Parkinson’s Boxing classes. network of people that are excited to make health technology more accessible, affordable and effective,” said Meadows. “These relationships will enable me to begin a career dedicated to improving the lives of older individuals and people with chronic conditions through international collaboration.” He plans to connect with the Global Disability Innovation Hub, an organization at UCL whose goal is to challenge how the world thinks about disability through co-design, collaboration and innovation. He will also continue participating in the “maker movement” by joining UCL’s Institute of Making. “I care a lot about inclusive design, and I am excited to continue promoting it in both engineering and entrepreneurship,” he said. Meadows’ creativity doesn’t stop at health technology design. In addition to his studies, he hopes to explore different regions of the U.K. and continue to practice another passion -- photography. “I am excited to explore the culture, architecture and landscapes of the United Kingdom through the lens of my camera alongside fellow photographers I meet in Britain,” he said. When Meadows returns to the U.S., he plans to continue addressing issues in aging by starting a health technology company that will combine empathetic design and advanced technologies to benefit the public good. He hopes that this experience will give him the global perspective needed to apply different approaches to medical care and help individuals age in a healthy way. “My studies in the UK will ultimately help me promote the global shift in health technology from expensive and intimidating to affordable and empowering,” he said. # # #

May
4
2020

Czech You Later: BioE Alumna Receives Fulbright Scholarship to Teach English Abroad

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

Following a well-rounded four years at the University of Pittsburgh, Swanson School of Engineering alumna Madeline Hobbs (BioE ‘20) will use a Fulbright Scholarship to pursue an English teaching assistantship (ETA) position in the Czech Republic. In addition to her engineering studies at Pitt, Hobbs was a member of the Blue and Gold Society, served as a Swanson School ambassador and was a defensive player on Pitt’s varsity D1 women’s soccer team. During her time at Pitt, Hobbs also capitalized on opportunities to travel abroad. In 2018, she used a Gilman Scholarship to study at the National Institute of Applied Sciences (INSA) in Lyon, France, and this past summer she had an internship in Cape Town, South Africa. These unique experiences helped influence her decision to apply to the Fulbright scholarship. “In France, I learned about engineering from an entirely new perspective and the influence technology and language can have on a culture,” she said. “In South Africa, I learned about the impact of teaching English and math, doing engineering outreach, and the barriers so many girls around the world are facing in accessing education and sports. “In their own way, both experiences taught me to be humble for the multitude of opportunities I have been given in my life and at Pitt,” she continued. Though her athletic experience doesn’t define her, there are lessons that Hobbs has learned through sports that she would like to spread to students across the globe. “I have learned about sacrifices, time management and pushing myself to limits I never thought were possible,” said Hobbs about her time on the soccer team. “Most importantly it taught me to believe in myself when no one else does.” Her unique background will be an asset in her upcoming role. One of the things that drew her to the Czech Republic is its specialized secondary school structure and the need for ETAs with a STEM background, an uncommon combination that she owns. “I am excited to make one-on-one connections in the community, and I hope to expand my role outside of the English classroom to provide math and science academic assistance and become involved with the local youth soccer program,” she said. Hobbs believes that the Swanson School has been instrumental in preparing her for the future and has helped shape her post-graduate plans. “I have learned fundamental problem-solving skills, which will be vital in managing roadblocks in my role ahead,” she said. “I have also learned the importance of teamwork and how much more successful we can all be by combining our knowledge and supporting one another. I have learned about the power of an idea and where it can take you. I want to thank everyone at the Swanson School and Pitt for preparing and supporting me for this next opportunity.” # # #

Apr

Apr
27
2020

Giving Distressed Lungs a Safer Fighting Chance

Covid-19, Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (April 27, 2020) … A device designed at the University of Pittsburgh could help improve outcomes as a treatment for COVID-19 when used in conjunction with non-invasive or mechanical ventilation, and it recently received Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Health records from a New York study showed that close to 90 percent of patients who were placed on mechanical ventilation did not survive.1 Some intensive care units are now considering mechanical ventilation as a last resort because of the complications and side effects associated with the process, and researchers believe this device could help. The Hemolung® Respiratory Assist System is a minimally invasive device that does the work of the lungs by removing carbon dioxide directly from the blood, much as a dialysis machine does the work of the kidneys. The device was developed by William Federspiel, PhD, professor of bioengineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, and the Pittsburgh-based lung-assist device company ALung Technologies, co-founded by Federspiel. A public health emergency related to COVID-19 was declared by the Secretary of Health and Human Services on February 4, 2020, and the FDA issued ALung the EUA to treat lung failure caused by the disease. Hemolung could help eliminate damage to the lungs caused by ventilators and does not require intubation or sedation, which allows patients to remain mobile during treatment. “Ventilation can cause serious issues in lungs that are already being damaged by the disease itself,” said Federspiel. “The Hemolung would allow the lung to rest and heal during the ventilation process by allowing for gentler ventilation. It could also prevent certain patients, who have less severe symptoms, from having to go on ventilation in the first place.” Mechanical ventilation requires patients to be sedated and intubated, and a myriad of complications can arise from the treatment, including collapsed lung, alveolar damage, and ventilator-associated pneumonia. For these more critically ill patients, the Hemolung could be used to help remove CO2, which would allow the mechanical ventilation process to be done more gently. Before resorting to mechanical ventilation, less severe COVID-19 cases can use non-invasive ventilation, which uses a mask to help support breathing, but sometimes this treatment is not sufficient. In this case, the Hemolung device could be used to support the non-invasive methods and prevent mechanical ventilation altogether. Peter M. DeComo, Chairman and CEO of ALung Technologies, stated, “With published mortality rates as high as 90% for patients receiving invasive mechanical ventilation (IMV), we believe that the Hemolung can be a valuable tool for physicians to be used in conjunction with IMV, by reducing or eliminating the potential of further lung damage caused by high ventilator driving pressures, often referred to as Ventilator Induced Lung Injury. Many of the academic medical centers involved with our clinical trial have already requested the use of the Hemolung RAS for treatment of their COVID-19 patients.” Created to help chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) patients, Hemolung has already been used on thousands of patients in Europe, where it was approved in 2013, and it is currently in clinical trials in the United States. Since the onset of the pandemic, the device has been used on some COVID-19 patients with success; however, set-up of the Hemolung is not trivial. Medical professionals would need to be trained to use the technology, and it would take time to supply a significant number of devices. Federspiel also holds appointments in the School of Medicine and the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine (MIRM) at Pitt and is a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors. “This technology developed by Dr. Federspiel and ALung Technologies is a perfect example of how collaborative research at the McGowan Institute can impact human lives,” said William Wagner, director of MIRM and professor of surgery, bioengineering and chemical engineering at Pitt. “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.” # # # 1: Most COVID-19 Patients Placed on Ventilators Died, New York Study Shows, https://www.usnews.com/news/health-news/articles/2020-04-22/most-covid-19-patients-placed-on-ventilators-died-new-york-study-shows

Apr
24
2020

Shaniel Bowen Receives Ford Foundation Fellowship for Women’s Health Research

Bioengineering, Diversity, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (April 24, 2020) … Despite the fact that women make up more than half of the U.S. population, women’s health continues to be an underserved area of research in science and medicine. Shaniel Bowen, a bioengineering graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, is doing her part to narrow that gap by studying the biomechanical roots of a common pelvic floor disorder, and she has received a Ford Foundation Fellowship to support these efforts. Pelvic organ prolapse (POP) occurs when the muscles and tissues that support the pelvic organs weaken and allow the organs to push against the vagina. This common condition adversely affects women’s quality of life, including their body image, sexual function and personal relationships. Surgical repair for POP often fails within five years and requires reoperation, but the exact causes of this failure are unknown. The goal of Bowen’s research is to create a tool to better assess POP repairs. “The standard tool used to evaluate POP repairs is limited to external vaginal examination,” explained Bowen. “As a result, it cannot detect the internal changes and interactions of pelvic structures involved in POP recurrence.” This work is led by her advisor, 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. Abramowitch’s research uses experimental and computational methods to develop preventative treatment options for POP and more effective patient-specific treatments. He has a background in biomechanics, which he and the lab believes will play an important role in better understanding the causes of failed surgery. “Nearly one-third of POP repairs fail due to abnormal mechanical behavior of the muscles, connective tissues, and nerves that help provide pelvic floor support following surgery,” said Bowen. “Failure of POP repair is fundamentally a biomechanical process; therefore, a biomechanical understanding of how and why repairs fail is needed to better treat POP and prevent its recurrence after surgery.” Bowen’s goal is to create a novel assessment tool to evaluate and predict surgical outcomes of POP repairs based on patient anatomy. The project uses magnetic resonance images (MRIs) to get a better idea of the internal changes after POP surgery. She will apply statistical shape analysis and finite element modeling to the MRIs of 89 women with POP that underwent native tissue repair or mesh repair 30-42 months post-surgery. She will then use these data to identify anatomic descriptors and predictors of surgical outcomes and quantify the relationship between the mechanical demand required for POP repair to successfully correct prolapse. “We need to address the gaps in scientific knowledge about women’s health,” said Bowen. “If this research is successful, it will advance our biomechanical knowledge of how and why failures occur after POP surgery. We hope that this tool will provide useful data to clinicians and help guide and optimize surgical decision-making to improve POP repair.” # # # About the Ford Foundation Fellowship Through its Fellowship Programs, the Ford Foundation seeks to increase the diversity of the nation’s college and university faculties by increasing their ethnic and racial diversity, maximize the educational benefits of diversity, and increase the number of professors who can and will use diversity as a resource for enriching the education of all students. Predoctoral, Dissertation, and Postdoctoral fellowships will be awarded in a national competition administered by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine on behalf of the Ford Foundation.

Apr
20
2020

Twelve Pitt Students Awarded 2020 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships

All SSoE News, Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Electrical & Computer, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (April 20, 2020) … Twelve University of Pittsburgh students were awarded a 2020 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. This is the highest number of students to receive this competitive award since 2015 when the University had a total of 13 recipients. An additional sixteen Pitt students also earned an honorable mention. For the past two years, the University’s Honors College has been working with the Office of the Provost to host informational workshops and boost participation in the fellowship program. Patrick Loughlin, professor of bioengineering, also holds workshops in the Swanson School of Engineering to encourage graduate students to apply to external fellowships. The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) is designed to ensure the vitality and diversity of the scientific and engineering workforce in the United States. GRFP supports the graduate study of U.S. citizens, nationals and permanent residents attaining research-based master's and doctoral degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) or in STEM education at institutions located in the United States. Fellows receive a three-year annual stipend of $34,000 as well as a $12,000 cost-of-education allowance for tuition and fees. Four Swanson School students and three alumni are among this year’s cohort. Three current students and three alumni received honorable mentions. Award Recipients Janet Canady, a bioengineering undergraduate, works in Dr. George Stetten’s lab where she helps design and test FingerSight, a device for the visually impaired. Zachary Fritts, a bioengineering undergraduate, works in Dr. Tamer Ibrahim’s lab where he helps design and build multi-channel transmit arrays for ultra-high field magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Brian Gentry, a mechanical engineering undergraduate, works in Dr. John Keith’s lab where he investigates local solvent effects on density functional theory energy calculations applied to a class of organic compounds called chelating agents. Evan Miu, a chemical engineering graduate student, works with Drs. James R. McKone and Giannis Mpourmpakis. His research explores combined thermo- and electro-catalytic processes through experimental electrochemistry and density functional theory. Honorable Mentions Evan Becker, an electrical and computer engineering undergraduate, works in Dr. Natasa Miskov-Zivanov’s lab where he has designed representation schemes for modeling and simulating dynamic behavior in systems such as intracellular networks and geopolitical systems. Dr. Miskov-Zivanov’s lab uses discrete logic techniques, allowing him to rapidly assemble these models from scientific literature. Alexander Maldonado, a chemical engineering graduate student, works in Dr. John Keith’s lab to develop novel ways to accurately and quickly predict how complicated chemical reactions occur in solvents using state-of-the-art quantum chemistry and machine learning. Jordyn Ting, a bioengineering graduate student, works in the Rehab Neural Engineering Labs with Dr. Douglas Weber where her work focuses on investigating the spared connection between the motor cortex and muscles. Swanson School alumni Kiara Lee (BioE, Brown University), Harrison Douglas (ChemE, Michigan State University) and Katarina Klett (BioE, Stanford University) also received awards. The alumni to receive honorable mentions include Katreena Thomas (IE, Arizona State University), Richard Hollenbach (MEMS, Duke University) and Arjun Acharya (BioE, University of Utah). # # #

Apr
20
2020

Mind Over Body: The Search for Stronger Brain-Computer Interfaces

Bioengineering

Reposted with permission from Pittwire. Click here to read the original story. When people suffer debilitating injuries or illnesses of the nervous system, they sometimes lose the ability to perform tasks normally taken for granted, such as walking, playing music or driving a car. They can imagine doing something, but the injury might block that action from occurring. Brain-computer interface systems exist that can translate brain signals into a desired action to regain some function, but they can be a burden to use because they don’t always operate smoothly and need readjustment to complete even simple tasks. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University are working on understanding how the brain works when learning tasks with the help of brain-computer interface technology. In a set of papers, the second of which was published today in Nature Biomedical Engineering, the team is moving the needle forward on brain-computer interface technology intended to help improve the lives of amputee patients who use neural prosthetics. “Let’s say during your work day, you plan out your evening trip to the grocery store,” said Aaron Batista, associate professor of bioengineering in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “That plan is maintained somewhere in your brain throughout the day, but probably doesn’t reach your motor cortex until you actually get to the store. We’re developing brain-computer interface technologies that will hopefully one day function at the level of our everyday intentions.” Batista, Pitt postdoctoral research associate Emily Oby and the Carnegie Mellon researchers have collaborated on developing direct pathways from the brain to external devices. They use electrodes smaller than a hair that record neural activity and make it available for control algorithms. In the team's first study, published last June in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the group examined how the brain changes with the learning of new brain-computer interface skills. “When the subjects form a motor intention, it causes patterns of activity across those electrodes, and we render those as movements on a computer screen. The subjects then alter their neural activity patterns in a manner that evokes the movements that they want,” said project co-director Steven Chase, a professor of biomedical engineering at the Neuroscience Institute at Carnegie Mellon. In the new study, the team designed technology whereby the brain-computer interface readjusts itself continually in the background to ensure the system is always in calibration and ready to use. “We change how the neural activity affects the movement of the cursor, and this evokes learning,” said Pitt’s Oby, the study’s lead author. “If we changed that relationship in a certain way, it required that our animal subjects produce new patterns of neural activity to learn to control the movement of the cursor again. Doing so took them weeks of practice, and we could watch how the brain changed as they learned.” In a sense, the algorithm “learns” how to adjust to the noise and instability that is inherent in neural recording interfaces. The findings suggest that the process for humans to master a new skill involves the generation of new neural activity patterns. The team eventually would like this technology to be used in a clinical setting for stroke rehabilitation. Such self-recalibration procedures have been a long-sought goal in the field of neural prosthetics, and the method presented in the team’s studies is able to recover automatically from instabilities without requiring the user to pause to recalibrate the system by themselves. “Let’s say that the instability was so large such that the subject was no longer able to control the brain-computer interface,” said Yu. “Existing self-recalibration procedures are likely to struggle in that scenario, whereas in our method, we’ve demonstrated it can in many cases recover from even the most dramatic instabilities.” Both research projects were performed as part of the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition. This cross-institutional research and education program leverages the strengths of Pitt in basic and clinical neuroscience and bioengineering with those of Carnegie Mellon in cognitive and computational neuroscience. Other Carnegie Mellon collaborators on the projects include co-director Byron Yu, professor of electrical and computer engineering and biomedical engineering, and also postdoctoral researchers Alan Degenhart and William Bishop, who led the conduct of the research.

Apr
15
2020

Peering Into Undergraduate Research at Pitt: Swanson School of Engineering Publishes Sixth Edition of Ingenium

All SSoE News, Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Civil & Environmental, Electrical & Computer, Industrial, MEMS, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (April 15, 2020) … Demonstrating the diverse and exceptional undergraduate research in the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, Associate Dean for Research David A. Vorp recently released the sixth edition of Ingenium. This edition features a collection of 26 articles that highlight work performed throughout the 2019-20 academic year and during the school’s 2019 summer research program. Ingenium mirrors the peer-review process of scientific journals by inviting undergraduate researchers to submit manuscripts to a board of graduate students. The review board provides feedback to which the undergraduates are required to respond before their work is accepted. The co-editors-in-chief for this edition were Monica Liu, a bioengineering graduate student, and Jianan Jian, an electrical and computer engineering graduate student. “I think Ingenium is a great experience for undergraduates,” said Liu. “They have been diligently working on research all year, and Ingenium is a great way for them to present it to a larger audience and get experience writing a scientific paper.” While the publication is designed to help prepare undergraduates, members of the graduate review board also benefit from a different point of view in the academic writing process. “Graduate students spend so much time writing about their research and incorporating feedback,” said Liu. “Ingenium is a great way to experience the other side of things -- taking the time to review others' work gives us a broader perspective when we review our own work.” Ingenium features research from each department in the Swanson School and is divided into five categories: experimental research, computational research, device design, methods, and review. The publication is sponsored by the school’s Office of Research. “With each year and with each edition of Ingenium, we continue to see notable and impressive academic and professional growth and development in our undergraduate students when given opportunities to engage in scientific research,” said Vorp. “We witness students taking the knowledge, skills, and information that they learn in their coursework and apply it in a meaningful and intentional manner outside of the classroom. These thriving students are our future -- of both our highly accredited institution and our world.” ###

Apr
14
2020

Michelle Heusser Receives Scholarship from the Society for the Neural Control of Movement

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (April 14, 2020) … Michelle Heusser, a bioengineering graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, received a scholarship from the Society for the Neural Control of Movement (NCM). Although the 2020 meeting did not take place, the society recently recognized the scholarship winners and celebrated their work. Members of the NCM pursue the common goal of engaging in research to better understand how the brain controls movement. Heusser works under the direction of Neeraj Gandhi, professor of bioengineering, in the Swanson School of Engineering’s Cognition and Sensorimotor Integration lab. She is studying how neurons in the superior colliculus of the brain signal different types of information. “We know that neurons in the superior colliculus sometimes send a ‘visual’ signal, indicating that there is an object of interest in our field of view. We also know that these neurons can send a ‘motor’ signal, indicating our desire to make an eye movement towards that object,” she explained. “In this project, I asked the question, ‘What signals are represented in the time between seeing an object and making an eye movement towards it?’” Heusser found that the type of information represented by these neurons during this period is distinct from both a ‘visual’ and a ‘motor’ signal and could be related to yet another signal type. This work can be applied to many disorders, such as ADHD, in which individuals can lose control over their ability to properly move their eyes. “The results of this study give us additional knowledge about the typical types of information conveyed by these healthy neurons and may, in the future, allow researchers to compare these patterns to those exhibited by the neurons of individuals with eye movement disorders,” she said. Heusser is also one of 20 graduate students from across the University to participate in this year’s Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) competition. In addition to a first place and runner-up prize, the competition awards a People’s Choice prize that is selected by the general public. Voting for the award closes on Friday, April 17th, and the Office of the Provost plans to announce the winners on Monday, April 20th. A total of six Swanson School graduate students are participating in the 2020 competition. # # #

Apr
7
2020

Pitt Makerspace Creates Open Source Face Shield to Fill Local PPE Need

Covid-19, Bioengineering, MEMS, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (April 7, 2020) — The shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) caused by the spread of the coronavirus has inspired a fleet of makers in the community to pitch in and make items like masks and face shields to be used in hospitals. The Pitt Makerspace at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering is no exception—a team there has partnered with a local printing company and the UPMC 3D Print Lab to create a single material plastic shield, and they have made the details free for anyone to use. The project was led by Brandon Barber, the design, innovation and outreach coordinator in the Department of Bioengineering at Pitt, and Dan Yates (BSME ’19), innovation project coordinator for the Pitt Makerspace. The Pitt team worked closely with Ken Mattheis and Steve Reed from the Pittsburgh-based printers Reed & Witting to develop the design, and they utilized input from medical professions to ensure the shields would meet their needs. Single material face shield on a mannequin head. The shields are made of a single piece of material and are then folded into place to form the shield; because of this, can be made with any thin, clear plastic and do not require any other materials, like foam or elastic. They were designed with high-volume die-cutting in mind, and many commercial print shops already have the equipment and materials to make thousands of these shields in a short period of time, according to Barber. Reed & Witting is set to make as many as 5,000 shields a day. “We were inspired to act when we saw the shortage of PPE in our community and realized how impactful something like this could be,” said Barber. “The Makerspace is all about finding innovative designs that positively influence the world around us, and we hope that’s what we have been able to do with this project.” You can find the open source face shield here. ### The Pitt Face Shield has not been medically certified for use as PPE. The creators make no warranties of any kind (express or implied) relating to accuracy, usefulness, usability, marketability, performance, or otherwise of the content release.

Apr
7
2020

Uncovering Stimulation’s Impact on Neurons

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (April 7, 2020) … Using electrodes smaller than a human hair, researchers are able to connect mind to machine and interact with the human brain in revolutionary ways. Brain-computer interfaces have helped rehabilitate neurodegenerative diseases and restore function to individuals with brain damage. This cutting-edge technology, however, comes with complications. Takashi D-Y Kozai, assistant professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, received a $437,144 CAREER award (#1943906) from the National Science Foundation to improve the integration of the brain and technology in order to study long-standing questions in neurobiology and improve clinical applications of these devices. One of the challenges remaining with this technology is achieving long-term and precise stimulation of a specific group of neurons. Kozai has designed a wireless, light-activated electrode that enables precise neural circuit probing while minimizing tissue damage. In this project, he will further improve this technology. “Our first objective is to design a coating technology that will be applied to the wireless axon and release biomolecules during simulation,” said Kozai, who leads the Bio-Integrating Optoelectric Neural Interface Cybernetics Lab in the Swanson School of Engineering. “These specific biomolecules can control the activity of a small population of neurons, and the device will recharge by drawing upon intrinsically produced biomolecules.” A laser shining onto an untethered, ultrasmall carbon fiber electrode to stimulate neurons via the photoelectric effect. Photo credit: J. Mater. Chem. B, 2015,3, 4965-4978 - Reproduced by permission of The Royal Society of Chemistry. Developing this coating will help Kozai achieve the main research goal of this CAREER project, which is to establish the relationship between different types of stimulation and their impact on excitability of neuronal populations. “In order for the brain to properly function, there needs to be a balance between excitatory and inhibitory neuronal activity,” explained Kozai, “but we don’t know how stimulation impacts this balance.” According to Kozai, an imbalance between excitatory and inhibitory neuronal activity can lead to cognitive dysfunctions and is a hallmark of autism spectrum disorder. Moreover, brain injuries such as traumatic brain injuries, stroke, and microelectrode implantation have also been shown to disrupt this balance. “We believe that different types of stimulation will differentially alter excitatory and inhibitory neuronal activity, which will in turn alter the long-term excitability of nearby neurons in different capacities,” said Kozai. “To better understand the relationship between stimulation and neuronal activity, we will use optical and optogenetic methods to determine the excitability of neurons, which will give us a better physiological understanding of the activated brain region.” The research team will use in vivo two-photon microscopy and genetically encoded fluorescent indicators to investigate this relationship. They will collect images across 12 weeks and examine the number, distance, timing and neuronal subtype densities before, during and after electrical stimulation. This method will allow them to track stimulation-induced changes over time with high spatial resolution near the electrodes. Kozai expects that this work will impact the future design of neural interfaces and give researchers an improved tool to answer neurobiological questions. A better understanding of how stimulation affects long-term neural excitability will hopefully advance BCI technology and impact the rehabilitation of neurodegenerative disease and brain damage. As part of this CAREER award’s educational goal, Kozai will target underrepresented minority students with an outreach program designed to demonstrate how science and engineering converge at the neural interface. In an effort to better disseminate neurobiology and neural engineering resources, he will provide an early platform for lecture videos, protocols and training materials. Kozai will also develop a virtual "Education in Biological and Neuroelectronic Interface Community" (eBioNIC.org). # # #

Apr
6
2020

Two Swanson School Projects Win University of Pittsburgh Scaling Grants

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Civil & Environmental

PITTSBURGH (April 6, 2020) — Two projects from the Swanson School of Engineering have received University of Pittsburgh Scaling Grants.The first, tackling the global problem of plastic waste, is headed by Eric Beckman, PhD, Bevier Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering and co-director of the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation. The second project, which will support the push for artificial intelligence innovation in medical imaging, was also awarded a Scaling Grant and is led by Shandong Wu, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Radiology. The Scaling Grants provide $400,000 over two years to support detailed project planning, gathering proof-of-concept results, and reduction of technical risk for teams pursuing an identified large extramural funding opportunity. The Scaling Grants are part of the University’s Pitt Momentum Funds, which offer funding across multiple stages of large, ambitious projects. Addressing the Global Waste Challenge The problem of plastic waste is growing on a global scale, with an annual global production rate of more than 500 million tons per year and predicted to triple by 2036. The project, “Attacking the Global Plastics Waste Problem,” seeks to create a convergent academic center welcoming expertise from across the University that will focus on the circular economy as a solution. “For most new technologies, one group creates the technology in the lab as a pilot, then at full scale. The group launches it, and only later decides if there are environmental and/or policy and/or legal issues,” says Beckman. “We're proposing to do these analyses in parallel, so that each section of the work informs the others. Further, the technology we are proposing to develop is a mixture of chemical engineering, chemistry, and materials science.” The interdisciplinary team will take advantage of its deep expertise in both the science of plast ics recycling and the legal and governance frameworks that will help governments implement a circular economy for plastics. In addition to Beckman, the team consists of Melissa Bilec, PhD, Roberta A. Luxbacher Faculty Fellow, associate professor in civil and environmental engineering (CEE), and deputy director of MCSI; Vikas Khanna, PhD, Wellington C. Carl Faculty Fellow and associate professor in CEE and Chemical and Petroleum Engineering; Gotz Veser, PhD, professor in chemical and petroleum engineering; Peng Liu, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry; Amy Wildermuth, professor and dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law; and Joshua Galperin, visiting associate professor in the School of Law. “Recycling can only do so much. A circular economy framework is a promising solution to the complex, urgent problem that plastic pollution presents,” says Bilec, who is part of a five-university team that received a two-year National Science Foundation grant for $1.3 million to pursue convergence research on the circular economy as a plastic waste solution. “Our proposed center will integrate the science and engineering of plastics recycling, using a novel approach on both the recycling and manufacturing sides, into frameworks tracking its environmental and economic impact.” Applying Artificial Intelligence to Medical Research The second project to receive a Scaling Grant is the “Pittsburgh Center for Artificial Intelligence Innovation in Medical Imaging,” a collaboration between the Departments of Radiology, Bioengineering, Biomedical Informatics, and Computer Science. This work, led by Wu, aims to use artificial intelligence (AI) to reshape medical imaging in radiology and pathology. Through the Pittsburgh Health and Data Alliance, the region is already at work using machine learning to translate “big data” generated in health care to treatments and services that could benefit human health. "The advancement in AI, especially in deep learning, provides a powerful approach for machine learning on big healthcare data,” said Wu. “Deep learning enables large-scale data mining with substantially increased accuracy and efficiency in data analysis." The multidisciplinary research team will work to develop AI imaging methodology and translational applications with the ultimate goal of creating tools that are clinically useful, accurate, explainable and safe. “AI can substantially improve quantitative analysis to medical imaging data and computational modeling of clinical tasks using medical images for disease diagnosis and outcome prediction," explained Wu. David A. Vorp, associate dean for research and John. A. Swanson Professor of Bioengineering, will help facilitate this collaboration in engineering. “Artificial intelligence nicely complements bioengineering and medical research,” said Vorp. “My lab uses AI with CT scans to help predict the prognosis and improve treatment of aortic aneurysm, and that is just one example of how this cutting-edge technology can be applied to medical images. Rather than relying on the naked eye, we can use AI to analyze these images and have a more sensitive detector to identify disease, improve health and save lives.” The group’s long-term vision is to combine the computational expertise and clinical resources across Pitt, UPMC and Carnegie Mellon University to build a center for innovative AI in clinical translational medical imaging. ###
Maggie Pavlick and Leah Russell
Apr
1
2020

Research Assistant Professor in Epithelial Cell Biology and the Mechanics of Morphogenesis

Bioengineering, Open Positions

The Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering (engineering.pitt.edu/bioengineering) invites applications from accomplished individuals with a PhD or equivalent degree in bioengineering, biomedical engineering, or closely related disciplines for a non-tenure stream Research Assistant Professor faculty position.  Applicants should have greater than five years of postdoctoral experience carrying out independent as well as collaborative research in the field of epithelial cell biology and the mechanics of morphogenesis. This position will involve innovative research and development of tools and methodology to study the integration of cell polarity and cell mechanics during neurulation in the frog Xenopus laevis. These approaches may include live-cell imaging, development and validation of reagents including knock-down, mutant proteins, and small molecule inhibitors, and analysis of mechanosensing and cell signal transduction pathways. The selected candidate will be responsible for writing grant applications and contributing to ongoing projects covering the mechanobiology of development and coordination of collective cell behaviors. The Research Assistant Professor will also be responsible for preparing reports and archival publications of ongoing projects and communicating research results at scientific meetings. Additionally, the selected candidate may assist in teaching and mentoring undergraduate and graduate students, and overseeing laboratory staff engaged on research projects. 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 must submit the following information online at http://apply.interfolio.com/75489: (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 April 30, 2020.  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 of Pittsburgh is an Affirmative Action/ Equal Opportunity Employer and values equality of opportunity, human dignity and diversity. EOE, including disability/vets.

Mar

Mar
31
2020

Engineering Technology to Explore the Human Mind

Bioengineering

The brain is the most complex organ in the human body. At a mere three pounds, it is a workhorse that controls fundamental aspects of human life, such as movement, sensation, memory, and other involuntary processes in the body. In addition, the brain helps make us who we are: it controls our emotions, personality, language, and behavior. Despite being a crucial organ, a comprehensive understanding of the brain is still elusive. Technology developed in the Swanson School of Engineering’s Radiofrequency (RF) Research Facility allows researchers at the University of Pittsburgh to harness the power of one of the strongest human magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) systems. These imaging advancements have illuminated details of brain structure and function that are not visible on standard MRI devices, and researchers now want to study what these images can reveal about the human mind. Getting a Better Look at the Brain The Radiofrequency (RF) Research Facility at the University of Pittsburgh traces its roots to Professor of Bioengineering Tamer Ibrahim’s doctoral work at the Ohio State University, where he designed antennas and coils to address challenges with ultrahigh field MRI imaging. At Pitt, the RF Research Facility and the 7 Tesla (7T) Bioengineering Research Program heavily utilize a 7T human MRI – one of the most powerful imaging devices in the world. “As MRI technology continues to become more powerful, the challenges associated with ultrahigh field imaging are exacerbated,” said Ibrahim. “The increased frequency of imaging at 7 Tesla can cause image inhomogeneities and heat to concentrate at certain locations in the head due to the presence of nonuniform electromagnetic fields. My lab works on designing and constructing devices that smooth those fields to improve the image quality and safety, and thereby, the utility of 7 Tesla Human MRI.” The RF Research Facility created a “Tic-Tac-Toe” RF coil system of antennas that are tightly and uniquely arranged to fit the human head.  It was designed through extensive computer simulations using full wave electromagnetic software developed in the lab to optimize the antenna configuration.  The resulting device solves many of the issues associated with ultrahigh field MRIs, giving Pitt an edge in the field of neural imaging. “Our coil system is a novel design that improves homogeneity, reduces power depositions in tissue, increases the speed of acquisition, and enhances resolution, not just in space, but also in time,” said Ibrahim. “We are able to provide superior neural imaging capabilities, which opens a lot of avenues to explore things unknown.” Ibrahim has used this unique technology to establish interdisciplinary collaborations across the University, in particular with Pitt’s Department of Psychiatry. A Glance Inside the Human Mind Just across the street from the Benedum Hall, where bioengineering resides, is the Western Psychiatric Hospital of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) - home to the Department of Psychiatry. In recent years, mental health research has become more dependent on imaging, and this work at Pitt has been enhanced with the technology developed by the RF Research Facility. “At the broadest level, the problems of psychiatry are based in the complexity of the human brain,” said David Lewis, distinguished professor of psychiatry and neuroscience and chair of psychiatry. “The human brain is, without question, the most complex biological organ in the known universe, and psychiatric illnesses affect the most sophisticated functions of that most complex organ.” One of Ibrahim’s frequent collaborators is Howard Aizenstein, Charles F. Reynolds III and Ellen G. Detlefsen Endowed Chair of Geriatric Psychiatry at Pitt, whose research primarily looks at older adults with depression, cognitive impairment, and dementia. Aizenstein said, “Tamer’s technology has been helpful in moving this research forward because the key challenge in studying the aging brain and the neuropathological changes in aging is to look at the small vessels.” Prior to the development of 7T MRI and Ibrahim’s technology, researchers had to rely on 1.5T or 3T images to see mechanistic changes in human disease, but with Ibrahim’s coil, they can now get a more in-depth look into how the brain works. “Tamer’s 7T head coil allows you to see with much higher contrast very small microstructural changes that you couldn’t see with standard MRI,” explained Aizenstein. “This is really helpful in emerging models of Alzheimer’s disease because we think these small vessels play a big role. We also believe that accelerated aging is part of both depression and Alzheimer’s disease, and this technology allows us to better understand it.” 7T MRI was approved for clinical applications by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in October 2017, which is a pivotal development for Ibrahim’s lab. His group has performed more than 1000 scans using the Tic-Tac-Toe RF coil system on patients/subjects, and with more than $35 million in total funding that utilizes this technology, they have budgeted another 2500 scans for various neurological and epidemiological studies. “Our work is quite advanced in the translational aspect of research,” Ibrahim said. “Everything we do in the lab is applied to patient studies and is impacting the lives of people. No one is using 7T imaging the way we are doing it here at Pitt.” The University has 20 active NIH research grants using this technology. The majority of these are collaborations between bioengineering and psychiatry, so in an effort to formalize this connection, Ibrahim and Aizenstein reached out to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) for support to develop a predoctoral training program. Bridging Two Fields Ibrahim and Aizenstein recently received a $1.1 million grant from the NIMH to develop a unique multidisciplinary training program that prepares students with a background in engineering and other quantitative sciences for careers in mental health research. The NIMH wants to transform mental health care and recently published a strategic plan that, in part, seeks to develop new tools from the BRAIN initiative, apply computational approaches that may provide novel ways to understand relationships among datasets, and develop new and competing applications that target the NIMH research priority areas. Pitt Bioengineering and Psychiatry, two nationally ranked departments, will join forces to train a new generation of students with a focus on both bioengineering and psychiatric research. By tapping into both quantitative and qualitative data, they hope that this training grant will forge collaborations, stimulate research in each field, and further strengthen the University’s leadership in biomedical and psychiatric research, with the ultimate goal of benefitting the human condition. “Psychiatry is a field that has not been traditionally quantitative,” said Ibrahim, “and engineering is the opposite so I think there is a clear marriage between the two.” 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. “With interdisciplinary work, there’s effort that comes with learning to speak to each other and appreciating other perspectives,” Aizenstein said, “but there is so much you gain from it, and that’s where it’s beneficial and fun.” The announcement of this program has already sparked new collaborations between bioengineering and psychiatry, and the department leadership hopes that these collaborations will continue to grow and benefit both areas. “This program will help stimulate the field of bioengineering given the complexity of the challenges in psychiatric research,” said Lewis. “I’m also hopeful that the collaborations and new investigators that emerge as the product of this program will, by harnessing complex datasets and new technologies, enhance precision medicine, create novel therapeutics and improve the clinical practice of psychiatry.” “Tamer’s work and this unique collaboration with psychiatry puts Pittsburgh in a great position to become a leader in neural imaging,” said Sanjeev Shroff, distinguished professor and Gerald E. McGinnis Chair of Bioengineering. “I strongly believe that this training program will create a new breed of investigator who can tackle the fundamental biological questions in psychiatry using engineering (quantitative) approaches and I look forward to seeing how these collaborations will expand and produce cutting-edge research.” # # #

Mar
30
2020

Douglas J. Weber Inducted into Medical and Biological Engineering Elite

Bioengineering

Reposted with permission from the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering WASHINGTON, D.C. — The American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE) has announced the induction of Douglas J. Weber, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh to its College of Fellows. Election to the AIMBE College of Fellows is among the highest professional distinctions accorded to a medical and biological engineer. The College of Fellows is comprised of the top two percent of medical and biological engineers. College membership honors those who have made outstanding contributions to "engineering and medicine research, practice, or education” and to "the pioneering of new and developing fields of technology, making major advancements in traditional fields of medical and biological engineering, or developing/implementing innovative approaches to bioengineering education." Dr. Weber was nominated, reviewed, and elected by peers and members of the College of Fellows for “outstanding contributions to neurorehabilitation engineering, translational neuroscience, and leadership in the field of neural engineering.” As a result of health concerns, AIMBE’s annual meeting and induction ceremony scheduled for March 29-30, 2020, was cancelled. Under special procedures, Dr. Weber was remotely inducted along with 156 colleagues who make up the AIMBE College of Fellows Class of 2020. While most AIMBE Fellows hail from the United States, the College of Fellows has inducted Fellows representing 34 countries. AIMBE Fellows are employed in academia, industry, clinical practice and government. AIMBE Fellows are among the most distinguished medical and biological engineers including 3 Nobel Prize laureates, 18 Fellows having received the Presidential Medal of Science and/or Technology and Innovation, and 173 also inducted to the National Academy of Engineering, 84 inducted to the National Academy of Medicine and 37 inducted to the National Academy of Sciences. # # # About AIMBE AIMBE is the authoritative voice and advocate for the value of medical and biological engineering to society. AIMBE’s mission is to recognize excellence, advance the public understanding, and accelerate medical and biological innovation. No other organization can bring together academic, industry, government, and scientific societies to form a highly influential community advancing medical and biological engineering. AIMBE’s mission drives advocacy initiatives into action on Capitol Hill and beyond.

Mar
30
2020

Thanks for Tuning In: Swanson School Students Present Virtual Dissertation Defenses

Covid-19, Bioengineering, Electrical & Computer, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (March 30, 2020) … After years of classwork, conducting research, collecting results and attempting to publish in peer-reviewed journals, Gary Yu was finally ready to present his dissertation defense to his committee members. He got dressed, confidently entered the room, signed in to Microsoft Teams, and began the virtual meeting. In the days of social isolation during the coronavirus pandemic, this was the only way for Yu, an MD/PhD student in the Department of Bioengineering, to complete the PhD portion of his degree on schedule. Yu is not alone. Across the University, graduate students find themselves reaching long-anticipated academic milestones alone, at home, behind a computer monitor. However, even under these unusual conditions, they are making the best of it - and succeeding. Yu’s presentation started with an introduction from his advisor, John Pacella, associate professor of medicine and bioengineering. The audience then fell silent as they muted their microphones to avoid interruptions and turned off their cameras to save bandwidth. According to Yu, this absence of communication was one of the main challenges in defending remotely. “Usually when I present, I'm reassured by eye contact and other gestures of understanding that my audience is paying attention,” he said. “When I was presenting my dissertation, there were moments where I had doubts creep up in the back of my mind. Since it was completely silent, aside from myself, I wondered whether I had lagged out or disconnected from the call because of computer or internet issues.” Yu continued to present his work on a new microbubble contrast agent with anti-inflammatory properties that can be used with therapeutic ultrasound pulses to treat cardiovascular disease. He recalled a moment of relief after an audience member broke the silence by opening a bag of chips on the other end. He eventually adapted to this new environment and noticed that he began to pick up online vernacular as he subconsciously quipped, “Thanks for tuning in,” at the end of his presentation. After his committee members took turns asking questions, they informed Yu that he successfully passed his defense. Mohammed Sleiman, too, successfully defended his thesis virtually. His advisor, Brandon Grainger, created two “rooms” in Zoom, inviting Sleiman to one and using the second for committee discussion after the defense. Despite the unusual circumstances, Sleiman, who was studying the energy conversion process in electric vehicles, passed with flying colors and earned his MS in electrical engineering. Grainger is an Eaton Faculty Fellow, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, and associate director of the Swanson School’s Electric Power Engineering program. “After a few minutes in the other room, the committee came back to my Zoom room and announced my pass!” recalled Sleiman. “It was a thrilling experience to present to professors online. The sad thing is that I missed taking photos for memories with them, because we were far away.” Grainger, too, noted that one downside of virtual defenses is the absence of in-person celebration with mentors, friends and loved ones that usually comes after them. “The online defense is a bit abnormal, but Mohammed handled the challenges well,” said Grainger. “When a defense is live, in a conference room, the room is typically filled with labmates, friends, and sometimes family, but having a virtual meeting did not allow for this to happen.” Despite the unusual circumstances, both Yu and Sleiman were able to make the best of their experiences. The necessity of social distancing did not stop Sleiman from celebrating; after he heard the news that he passed, he headed to the Cathedral of Learning, still in his suit, to snap a few photos to commemorate the moment for social media. Yu, too, did his best to embrace the quirks of presenting to an audience you cannot see. “Don't be nervous about the silence you will likely encounter,” suggested Yu. “Do your best to have good sound quality and minimize background noise. Enjoy feeling like a Youtuber or an academic streamer, and make sure to celebrate - responsibly - after your defense!” If you find yourself preparing for a virtual defense, here are some tips to make the best of it: Find a good streaming platform. Swanson School students have successfully used Microsoft Teams and Zoom. Consider having your audience turn off video to avoid overwhelming the connection. Ask the audience to remain muted when they are not contributing to the discussion. This will decrease background noise and feedback. Work with your advisor to test your technology ahead of time to make sure you have everything you need. Make sure to be comfortable and have hydration close by! # # #
Maggie Pavlick and Leah Russell
Mar
23
2020

Christopher Reyes Clinches Third Place at McGowan Institute Scientific Retreat Poster Session

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (March 23, 2020) … Christopher Reyes, a bioengineering graduate student in the Swanson School of Engineering, received a third place poster award in the Cellular & Gene Therapy section at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine Annual Scientific Retreat held March 9-10, 2020 in Wheeling, WV. Reyes works in the lab of Sruti Shiva, associate professor of pharmacology and chemical biology at the University of Pittsburgh, where he focuses on understanding regulation of mitochondrial function within the vasculature by molecular and biomechanical cues of the vessel wall. In this project, he investigates how the molecule nitrite may improve outcomes following a cardiac surgical procedure. Balloon angioplasty is a routine procedure used for carotid artery disease where surgeons widen narrowed blood vessels with a balloon catheter, rather than opening the skin to expose organs and tissues. Though this procedure restores blood flow, it often leads to vascular injury resulting in restenosis, a complication characterized by a “re-hardening” of the affected artery, which increases the likelihood of stroke or myocardial infarction. “Vascular smooth muscle (VSMC) proliferation is central to restenosis pathogenesis and therapies are still needed to inhibit VSMC proliferation,” explained Reyes. “My research provides evidence that the molecule nitrite, a dietary constituent found in cured meats and leafy greens and that is also internally produced, inhibits VSMC proliferation through regulation of VSMC mitochondrial function. “My work also provides evidence that mitofusin-1, one of the key proteins involved in modulation of mitochondrial function, plays an important role in the therapeutic benefits of nitrite in treating restenosis,” he continued. The group’s future work will investigate other effects of nitrite on VSMC function in vivo and whether mitofusin-1 can be pharmacologically targeted by other compounds to treat restenosis and related disorders involving VSMC proliferation. # # #

Mar
19
2020

Ameya Nanivadekar Selected for NIH Outstanding Scholar in Neuroscience Award Program

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (Mar. 19, 2020) … University of Pittsburgh graduate student Ameya Nanivadekar was selected by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as a recipient of the Outstanding Scholar in Neuroscience Award Program. This new offering from the NIH recognizes and supports individuals who are conducting exceptional research and have a great academic potential in their scientific PhD programs. Nanivadekar is a bioengineering PhD student at the Swanson School of Engineering who works in the Rehab Neural Engineering Labs under the direction of Lee Fisher, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation. His research focuses on electrical stimulation of the spinal cord to deliver a sense of touch in upper and lower limb amputees. “Nearly 200,000 Americans undergo amputation each year, yet the acceptance rate of prosthetic limbs is less than 40 percent,” explained Nanivadekar. “This low rate is in part due to the lack of sensory feedback - such as the sense of touch - in existing prostheses. My research aims to better understand the response to electrical stimulation and how we can incorporate sensory feedback into modern prostheses.” Nanivadekar has worked on evaluating the performance of novel electrodes, building computational models to study how stimulation recruits neurons and affects tissue in the spinal cord, and conducting human experiments to study the kinds of sensations that can be produced through electrical stimulation of the spinal cord. “The ultimate goal of this work is to provide sensory feedback that can improve the functionality of a prosthesis for activities such as maintaining balance while standing or walking or grasping and interacting with objects,” he said. Nanivadekar was previously an ARCS Scholar, which is a program from the ARCS Foundation that provides unrestricted funding to help the country's brightest graduate and undergraduate students create new knowledge and innovative technologies. “I'm proud of Ameya's accomplishments working to improve the lives of people with limb amputations,” said Fisher. “He is a truly exceptional student and an instrumental member of our lab. This award is well-deserved." # # #

Mar
19
2020

Postdoctoral Position in Glaucoma Mechanobiology

Bioengineering, Open Positions

A postdoctoral position is currently available at the Soft Tissue Biomechanics Laboratory (STBL) in the Department of Bioengineering under the direction of Professor Jonathan Vande Geest. The STBL is currently developing a novel platform to study the mechanobiology of the optic nerve head in primary open angle glaucoma that seamlessly integrates state of the art techniques in regenerative medicine, 3D bioprinting, and intravital imaging. The long term goal of the STBL is to utilize this novel platform to improve the mechanistic understanding of how optic nerve head extracellular matrix remodeling is linked to retinal ganglion cell death and vision loss and if this understanding can be leveraged to discover the next generation of novel therapeutic targets for glaucoma. Applicants should hold a PhD in Bioengineering or Cell Biology or related field. A strong background in biology is preferred, including experience with cell and molecular biology quantitative assay development and optimization. Candidates will also be considered who have a strong computational/mathematical background with experience in mechanistic modeling of extracellular matrix remodeling. This will remain open until filled. The Postdoctoral Fellow will work in a collaborative environment and interact with an interdisciplinary group of scientists and clinicians. In particular, the candidate will work closely with clinician scientists in the Department of Ophthalmology as well as STBL collaborators in the McGowan Institute of Regenerative Medicine and Louis J. Fox Center for Vision Restoration. 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. Please visit our website (www.stblvandegeest.com) to further explore ongoing research in the STBL. Interested applicants should submit a CV, statement of research interest and purpose, Unofficial copy of full UG and Grad transcripts, and the contact information for three references to: Jonathan P. Vande Geest, Professor jpv20@pitt.edu using the subject line “STBL Postdoctoral Position Application” 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 values equality of opportunity, human dignity and diversity. EEO/AA/M/F/Vets/Disabled.

Jonathan P. Vande Geest
Mar
16
2020

Madeline Cramer receives NIH F31 award for regenerative medicine research

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (Mar. 16, 2020) … University of Pittsburgh graduate student Madeline Cramer received an F31 award from the National Institutes of Health for her regenerative medicine research that may help improve outcomes in cardiac disease. Cramer studies bioengineering in the Swanson School of Engineering and works in the lab of Stephen Badylak, professor of surgery at Pitt and deputy director of the McGowan Institute of Regenerative Medicine. Badylak’s lab focuses on the use of biologic scaffolds composed of extracellular matrix (ECM) to facilitate functional tissue and organ reconstruction. Present within all tissues and organs, ECM provides essential structural support and also initiates biochemical and biomechanical cues. Cramer’s project will look at myocardial infarction (MI) and examine how a specific protein embedded within the ECM may affect the underlying mechanisms behind the scaffold’s therapeutic response. “Following myocardial infarction, cardiomyocyte death initiates an intense inflammatory response which is necessary to clear the debris of the dead cells,” explained Cramer. “However, a prolonged pro-inflammatory state is associated with immune-driven fibrosis that can progress to heart failure.” Heart failure is a costly condition that affects millions of adults in the United States. Tissue engineered biologic scaffolds derived from ECM have been shown to promote an anti-inflammatory phenotype in macrophages and reduce fibrosis after MI in pre-clinical and clinical studies, but the underlying mechanisms driving this response are only partially understood. “Previous work in the Badylak lab showed that ECM is an abundant source of extra-nuclear interleukin-33 (IL-33), a protein that is stored and protected from degradation within matrix-bound nanovesicles (MBV),” said Cramer. “My research aims to delineate the roles of MBV-associated IL-33 in mediating the pro-remodeling effects of ECM through in vitro and in vivo models of myocardial infarction.”\ Demonstrating that IL-33 containing MBV can dampen the fibrotic response following MI may prove to be a significant advancement in the treatment of MI and the prevention of subsequent heart failure. “Maddie has worked extremely hard and is very deserving of this award,” said Dr. Badylak. “I’m confident that the results of her work will have a significant impact upon the field.” # # #

Mar
13
2020

Mimicking Cancer to Avoid Transplant Rejection

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum

Originally published by UPMC Media Relations. Reposted with permission. PITTSBURGH – Inspired by a tactic cancer cells use to evade the immune system, University of Pittsburgh researchers have engineered tiny particles that can trick the body into accepting transplanted tissue as its own. Rats that were treated with these cell-sized microparticles developed permanent immune tolerance to grafts — including a whole limb — from a donor rat, while keeping the rest of their immune system intact, according to a paper published today in Science Advances. “It’s like hacking into the immune system borrowing a strategy used by one of humanity’s worst enemies to trick the body into accepting a transplant,” said senior author Steven Little, Ph.D., William Kepler Whiteford Endowed Professor and Chair of chemical and petroleum engineering in the Swanson School of Engineering at Pitt. “And we do it synthetically.” The advantage of a synthetic approach rather than cell-based therapy, which is currently in clinical trials, is that the treatment logistics are much simpler. “Instead of isolating cells from a patient, growing them up in the lab, injecting them back in and hoping they find the right location, we’re packaging it all up in an engineered system that recruits these naturally occurring cells right to the transplanted graft,” said lead author James Fisher, M.D., Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher in the Pitt School of Medicine. The microparticles work by releasing a native protein secreted by tumors, CCL22, which draws regulatory T cells (Treg cells) to the site of the graft, where they tag the foreign tissue as “self” so that it evades immune attack. Microparticle-treated animals maintained healthy grafts for as long as they were monitored — a little under a year, equivalent to about 30 human years. All it took was two shots to effect seemingly permanent change. In a companion paper published recently in PNAS, the researchers showed that these engineered microparticles can train the immune system of one strain of rat to accept a donor limb from a different strain. This new paper shows that the effects are specific to the intended donor. Skin grafts from a third strain were rapidly rejected. Today, transplant patients take daily doses of immunosuppressant drugs to avoid rejection, leaving them vulnerable to cancer, diabetes, infectious diseases and a host of other ailments that come along with a weakened immune system. “These drugs hammer the immune system into submission so it can’t attack the transplanted organ, but then it can’t protect the body either,” said coauthor Stephen Balmert, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher in the Pitt School of Medicine. “We’re trying to teach the immune system to tolerate the limb, so that a transplant recipient can remain immunocompetent.” The risks of lifelong immunosuppression are particularly problematic when the transplant isn’t a life-saving procedure. Doctors and patients have to consider whether the benefits outweigh the risks. “The ability to induce transplant tolerance while avoiding systemic immunosuppression, as demonstrated in these innovative studies, is especially important in the context of vascularized composite transplantation where patients receive quality-of-life transplants, such as those of hands or face,” said coauthor Angus Thomson, Ph.D., professor of surgery and immunology in the Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute at Pitt. Additional authors on the study include Wensheng Zhang, Ph.D., Ali Aral, M.D., Abhinav Acharya, Ph.D., Yalcin Kulahci, M.D., Jingjing Li, M.D., Heth Turnquist, Ph.D., Mario Solari, M.D., all of Pitt; and Vijay Gorantla, M.D., Ph.D., of the Wake Forest School of Medicine. This research was supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (R01-AI118777 U19-AI131453, R01-HL122489, T32-AI074490), National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Medicine (R01-DE021058), the Department of Defense (W81XWH-15-2-0027 and W81XWH-15-1-0244), The Camille & Henry Dreyfus Foundation and the National Cancer Institute (T32-CA175294).
Author: Erin Hare, Ph.D., Manager, Science Writing
Mar
12
2020

Four Members of the Swanson School are Recognized by the Carnegie Science Awards

Bioengineering, Civil & Environmental, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (Mar. 11, 2020) … Four members of the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering were recognized by the Carnegie Science Awards, announced on March 10 by the Carnegie Science Center. Bioengineering’s Bryan Brown and Alexis Nolfi received the Postsecondary Educator Award and University Student Award, respectively. Civil and environmental engineering’s David Sanchez and Kareem Rabbat received honorable mentions in the same categories. They will receive the awards at the 24th Annual Carnegie Science Awards Celebration, held May 8, 2020. Bryan Brown, associate professor of bioengineering, Postsecondary Educator Award Brown’s educational efforts in the Department of Bioengineering include teaching and mentoring junior faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students. He also serves as the director of educational outreach at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, where he reaches younger audiences through the McGowan Institute’s Summer School. In July 2014, Brown organized and launched the program, which is 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. The program aims to recruit students from underrepresented backgrounds, including those from universities that lack significant bioengineering and/or regenerative medicine programs. In addition to engaging younger audiences in STEM, Brown also targets individuals who wish to continue their education through his course on regenerative medicine hosted by Carnegie Mellon University’s Osher Center for Lifelong Learning program. As an extension of these activities, he also developed an hour long “Open to the Public” session on the “Hype vs. Hope of Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine,” which focuses on the realities of the science and clinical practice related to the use of stem cells in medicine. The program was developed to address the most common questions asked by participants in the Osher classes. Alexis Nolfi, bioengineering graduate student, College Student Award 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. According to Nolfi, the field of basic science research in women’s health topics is underserved by the biomaterials and regenerative medicine community. She believes that 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. As part of her work with biomaterials, she and the lab developed a novel contact lens that is coated with an immune modifying molecule for the treatment of dry eye disease. The bioengineering- and opthamology-led research group was recently awarded $100,000 at the 2019 Pitt Innovation Challenge. David Sanchez, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, Postsecondary Educator honorable mention In addition to his appointment in CEE, Sanchez serves as assistant director of the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation. He directs programs including the Undergraduate Summer Research Program, Sustainability certificate, and Master’s in Sustainable Engineering. He is the founding advisor for Pitt Hydroponics and the principal investigator for Sustainable Design Labs. He teaches the Environmental Engineering Lab, core engineering sustainability courses, and in the First Year Engineering program. Sanchez also leads many community engagement efforts. For the past five years, he has held a Summer Teacher workshop that exposes middle school science teachers to sustainability and engineering. This effort indirectly engages around 2000 students each year. He founded the Constellation Energy Inventor Labs and has used it to teach hundreds of Pittsburgh area students about energy using design-build modules. Furthermore, he has worked with the ALCOSAN summer science program for many years and helped create the Clean Water Academy for 2018. Sanchez organizes an annual Makerspace and Mindsets Bootcamp each fall that introduces engineering students to the creative resources available to them and the design thinking that goes with them. He was the recipient of the Swanson School’s Faculty Diversity Award in 2015 in recognition of his significant contributions in increasing diversity. His research focuses on sustainable solutions to pollution, including a recent $420,000 NSF grant to study biofilms grown on electrodes as a method to degrade the contaminant Bisphenol A (BPA). Kareem Rabbat, undergraduate senior in civil and environmental engineering, College Student honorable mention Rabbat’s passion for the environment is clear to anyone he meets. Through research, coursework, internships, competitions and global summits, he has taken full advantage of his four years at Pitt and does not plan to slow down in his pursuit to educate communities about sustainability and develop technology that helps guide a greener future. From an aquaponics project funded by the competitive Ford College Community Challenge sprouted Ecotone Renewables, a company dedicated to local and sustainable urban farming. Rabbat is CIO of the company which has converted shipping containers into biodigesters and greenhouses throughout the city. They also seek to educate the local communities about sustainable practices of agriculture. This past summer, he performed research looking for bacteria and fungi that could solve persistent pollution problems. If successful, the innovation could be used globally to eliminate toxicity caused by nonylphenol and bisphenol (BPA) that contaminate soil and water near old industrial facilities. Rabbat’s environmental work does not end at Pittsburgh’s city limits. In addition to his local achievements, Kareem has also explored global sustainability: he designed and implemented aquaponics/hydroponics systems in Brazil; he studied abroad in Johannesburg, South Africa as part of the Swanson School’s Engineering Design for Social Change program; and he was recently nominated and selected to attend the 2019 Global Grand Challenges Summit Student Competition in London, a program held jointly by the U.S., U.K., and Chinese academies of engineering. His achievements have been recognized locally by the Incline’s Who’s Next: Environment and Energy Class of 2019. # # #

Mar
11
2020

DARPA Awards $22 Million to Create ‘Smart’ Device for Healing Large Muscle Wounds

Bioengineering

Reposted with permission from UPMC. Click here to view the original article. PITTSBURGH, March 11, 2020 – A multi-institution research team led by the University of Pittsburgh secured a $22 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop a device combining artificial intelligence, bioelectronics and regenerative medicine to regrow muscle tissue, especially after combat injuries. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon, Northwestern, Rice, University of Vermont, University of Wisconsin and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center are also part of this four-year initiative. When more than 20% of a muscle is damaged, as is common for soldiers wounded in recent overseas conflicts, the tissue can’t regenerate and a stiff scar forms in place of the missing muscle, which often leads to significant disability. “With these severe injuries it’s been drilled into us through all of our training that functional muscle replacement is not possible,” said principal investigator Stephen Badylak,  D.V.M., Ph.D., M.D., professor of surgery at Pitt and deputy director of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. “The sort of technology we’re developing offers hope where there otherwise would have been no hope.” Badylak envisions creating a device that would change the environment inside larger wounds to help them heal the way smaller wounds do naturally. Smaller, self-healing wounds typically switch from inflammatory to anti-inflammatory conditions a couple weeks after the initial injury. Badylak imagines kicking larger wounds into anti-inflammatory mode as early as day three or four, and then again a few days later, repeating the cycle until the muscle rebuilds itself, similar to the way fetal wounds heal without forming a scar. All of that would be accomplished by a smart device implanted inside the wound. The device will monitor key molecular signals at each stage of healing – from the first hours after injury to the days and weeks that follow – and deliver specific molecules at specific times under the direction of artificial intelligence. The first two years of the project will involve developing the device, then the next two years will involve close collaboration with surgeons at Walter Reed, who treat patients with major muscle loss, to refine the design so that it’s suitable for the clinic. Meanwhile, the researchers will be working with industry partners and the Food & Drug Administration to identify and clear regulatory hurdles that might slow down clinical translation. For instance, it’s possible to test whether the components of the device are safe to use in the human body while the overall design is evolving. “We’re developing the science and the device in mostly an academic setting,” Badylak said. “If that’s done without consideration of regulatory and industry requirements, patients would never see it because it would remain buried in institutions with no clear path for clinical translation.” One of the companies engaging in this process is ECM Therapeutics, which Badylak spun out of Pitt in 2018 to speed up the clinical translation of several extracellular matrix technologies developed by his lab. Badylak and Pitt both have a financial stake in the company. Additional investigators on the grant include Yoram Vodovotz, Ph.D., Ruben Zamora, Ph.D., Douglas Weber, Ph.D., Bryan Brown, Ph.D., Paul Cohen, Ph.D., and Milos Hauskrecht, Ph.D., of Pitt; Tzahi Cohen-Karni, Ph.D., and Adam Feinberg, Ph.D., of Carnegie Mellon University; Jonathan Rivnay, Ph.D., of Northwestern University; Jacob Robinson, Ph.D., Ashok Veeraraghavan, Ph.D., and Omid Veiseh, Ph.D., of Rice University; Gary An, M.D., and Robert Chase Cockrell, Ph.D., of the University of Vermont; Peng Jiang, Ph.D., of the University of Wisconsin; and Eric Elster, M.D., and Seth Schobel, Ph.D., of Walter Reed. #  #  # About the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences The University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences include the schools of Medicine, Nursing, Dental Medicine, Pharmacy, Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and the Graduate School of Public Health. The schools serve as the academic partner to the UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center). Together, their combined mission is to train tomorrow’s health care specialists and biomedical scientists, engage in groundbreaking research that will advance understanding of the causes and treatments of disease and participate in the delivery of outstanding patient care. Since 1998, Pitt and its affiliated university faculty have ranked among the top 10 educational institutions in grant support from the National Institutes of Health. For additional information about the Schools of the Health Sciences, please visit www.health.pitt.edu. www.upmc.com/media

Mar
10
2020

Learn more about Pitt's planning and response to COVID-19

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

Please visit and bookmark the University of Pittsburgh COVID-19 site for the most up-to-date information and a full list of resources. From the University Times: As the coronavirus COVID-19 continues to spread around the world, Pitt is remaining diligent with addressing related issues as the pop up. For an overall look at updates from Pitt, go to emergency.pitt.edu. On Saturday, Provost Ann Cudd issued a statement about how to support faculty and staff who have committed to attending professional conferences this semester and choose not to attend due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The University will grant an exception for travel booked through May 31 and reimburse any out-of-pocket expenses incurred by those who decide to cancel travel. The administration will reassess this deadline date as COVID-19 evolves and may extend the deadline as conditions evolve. For more updates from the provost, go to provost.pitt.edu. The provost and the University Center for Teaching and Learning is encouraging faculty to be prepared if remote learning situations become required. The center has set up a page detailing the basics of providing instructional continuity. The page will be updated regularly. Find information about remote learning and more at teaching.pitt.edu/instructional-continuity. All business units and responsibilities centers also are being asked to work on how to handle mass absenteeism and/or the need for as many people as possible to work at home.

Mar
10
2020

Developing A Valve for Developing Hearts

Bioengineering, Industrial

PITTSBURGH (March 10, 2020) — Approximately one in every 125 babies in the U.S. is born with a congenital heart defect (CHD), making it the country’s most common birth defect. Heart valves developed for adults have been used on infants to treat CHDs, but the large devices sometimes require open heart surgery, presenting a severe risk to infants and young children. Additionally, infants and children grow quickly, but the artificial valve does not, resulting in repeated surgeries that increase risks. To address this issue, Youngjae Chun, PhD, an associate professor of industrial engineering and bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, is developing a new type of metallic frame for pediatric heart valves that could not only be placed by a minimally invasive catheter-based procedure but would also grow with the child, eliminating the need for follow-up surgeries. The project recently received an award of $120,000 from the Children’s Heart Foundation’s Liam Ward Fund. “Using a heart valve developed for an adult on an infant or young child is considered an emerging technology, but they’re bulky and typically require open heart surgery. Often, these patients are already too weak or ill to undergo such major surgery,” explains Chun. “Our goal is to develop a novel metallic valve frame that would eliminate the need for multiple heart surgeries and their associated hospital stays, and one that would actually grow with the patient.” The proposed new valve will use two types of novel metallic biomaterials: superelastic nitinol and biodegradeable metals like magnesium and iron. Nitinol, an alloy of nickel and titanium, is known for its ability to flex and return to its original shape. This flexibility allows the valve to be compressed and placed by a small catheter inserted into a vein, rather than through open heart surgery, presenting much less risk to the patient. Magnesium and iron, on the other hand, would degrade over time, giving the valve the ability to change and expand with the surrounding heart tissue as the patient grows. “No one wants to see their child go through multiple surgeries before they’re even able to walk, but that’s the reality for thousands of families every year,” says Chun. “With improved devices for these young patients, we can give them a better quality of life and give their parents greater peace of mind.” If the project proves to be successful, Chun will be collaborating with William Wagner, PhD, director of Pitt’s McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, and Antonio D’Amore, PhD, research assistant professor in the departments of Surgery and Bioengineering, to develop it further. The grant began on Jan. 1, 2020, and will last two years.
Maggie Pavlick
Mar
8
2020

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 April 2020. 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

Feb

Feb
25
2020

Pitt bioengineer finds support for female pelvic floor research

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (Feb. 25, 2020) … A paper published by Steven Abramowitch, associate professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, was recently recognized by the editors of the Journal of Biomechanical Engineering (JBME) for exemplifying high quality and significant work (DOI: 10.1115/1.4041743). The article details complications associated with mechanical loads on synthetic mesh used in pelvic organ prolapse and will be listed as an Editors’ Choice paper in JBME’s Annual Special Issue February 2020. William Barone, a bioengineering graduate alumnus, contributed as first author on this paper. 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. Despite the fact that 12.6 percent of women in the U.S. will undergo major surgery for POP by the age of 80,1 most of the studies surrounding these devices were conducted as they are applied to hernias in the abdomen. According to recent research, pelvic floor applications using this technology seem to be more vulnerable to mesh-related complications. Abramowitch’s research in the Swanson School of Engineering and the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Female Pelvic Health uses experimental and computational methods to examine the mechanical behavior of mesh so that it can be optimized for the female pelvic floor environment. “The textile and structural properties of mesh have proven to be an important factor in its efficacy – particularly the pore size, which has shown to increase complications when less than 1mm in size,” said Abramowitch. “Even though these devices are widely used, the in vivo mechanical behavior of synthetic mesh is largely unknown, as is the impact of its mechanics on surrounding biological tissues.” Though most vaginal mesh is developed with pore sizes large enough to minimize complications, researchers have recently discovered that mechanical loading significantly alters pore dimensions. While previous studies have looked at the effects of uniaxial loading, Abramowitch and his group are broadening research in this area by quantifying multiaxial loading. “Transvaginal meshes, which are most commonly associated with complications and have been recently banned from use in the United States, are fixed at multiple locations in the pelvis. This creates multi-directional forces that cause the mesh to change shape in specific regions,” he explained. “Interestingly, our simulations predict the locations where the most shape change occurs, and they happen to be consistent with the most common sites for complications. This gives us a great possible lead to better understanding the mechanisms that cause mesh complications.” Abramowitch’s group developed an experimental model to quantify pore dimensions in response to clinically relevant mechanical forces and a computational model to simulate the mechanical behavior of transvaginal mesh in response to these forces. By developing these models, they will be able to examine a wide range of mechanical conditions, predict mesh behavior, and eventually optimize devices for the female pelvic floor. This research recently led to a $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. Abramowitch 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. # # # This work was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health (R01 HD-045590, K12HD-043441) and the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (DGE-0753293). 1 Wu JM, Matthews CA, Conover MM, Pate V, Jonsson Funk M. Lifetime risk of stress urinary incontinence or pelvic organ prolapse surgery. Obstet Gynecol. 2014;123(6):1201-6. Epub 2014/05/09. doi: 10.1097/AOG.0000000000000286. PubMed PMID: 24807341; PubMed Central PMCID: PMCPMC4174312.

Feb
20
2020

Kozai Co-Chairs 2020 Gordon Research Conference to Foster Collaborations in Neural Engineering

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (Feb. 20, 2020) … Neuroelectronic interfaces are the foundation of technology that connects the human mind to machine and helps to restore motor and sensory function to individuals with neurological diseases and disorders. This technology has been introduced as a successful treatment to the clinical environment, but issues with device stability and longevity remain. The 2020 Gordon Research Conference (GRC) on Neuroelectronic Interfaces will bring together a multidisciplinary group of scientists and engineers to address challenges in this area and collectively discuss how to drive innovation for next-generation devices. Takashi D-Y Kozai, assistant professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, will co-chair the event in Ventura, California, March 15-20, 2020. “The challenges with this technology have been long-standing and complex to solve. It requires fundamentally understanding the problem from both biological and engineering perspectives,”  said Kozai, who helms the Bio-Integrating Optoelectric Neural Interface Cybernetics Lab in the Swanson School of Engineering. “Therefore, the goal of this GRC is to bring together fundamental neuroscientists, brain neurophysiologists, brain biocompatibility experts, material scientists, electrical engineers, clinical neural engineers, and clinical scientists to really understand what the fundamental problems and needs are for these neural interface technologies. “The Gordon Research Conference format is conducive to this type of problem solving and innovation as it brings experts together for a week in an intimate setting,” he continued. “This conference has seeded many new collaborations and new directions in neural engineering.” Pitt is no stranger to multidisciplinary research in this area, and this year’s GRC on Neuroelectronic Interfaces will feature presentations from five professors, each representing different departments at the University: Robert Gaunt (Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Sciences) "Bidirectional Brain Computer Interfaces: Science and Function" Douglas Weber (Bioengineering) "Recording and Stimulating Sensory Neurons in Dorsal Root Ganglia and Spinal Cord" Elizabeth Tyler-Kabara (Neurological Surgery) "Longevity of Intracranial Recordings for BCI" Franca Cambi (Neurology) "The Role of Myelin and Oligodendrocytes in Neural Function and Repair: Implications for Recording Devices" Alberto Vazquez (Radiology) "Optogenetic Assessment of the Contribution of Neuronal Populations to Tissue Metabolic Load and Blood Flow Regulation: Vulnerable Neuronal Populations to Brain Injury" In the past year, Swanson School faculty have received notable awards in this field of research: Kozai received $1,600,000 from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop an innovative wireless neural device for long-term and precise stimulation; and Xinyan Tracy Cui, professor of bioengineering, developed a coating that improves the performance of microelectrode array technology and was awarded a $2,370,218 NIH grant. Douglas Weber, associate professor of bioengineering, and his colleagues in the Rehab Neural Engineering Labs will collaborate on a $20,000,000 Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) grant to develop non-invasive wearable technologies for able-bodied individuals. “We’ve received tremendous support for this conference from the University of Pittsburgh, as well as our industry and foundation partners,” said Kozai. “The level and number of sponsoring partners highlight how important these collaborations are in achieving high-quality work and realizing the full potential of this pioneering and life-changing technology. The leadership at Pitt has cultivated an environment for excellent multidisciplinary research collaborations.” This GRC will be held in conjunction with the "Neuroelectronic Interfaces (GRS): Creating a Roadmap to Translating Neural Technologies" Gordon Research Seminar (GRS). # # #

Feb
19
2020

Undergrad Innovators Design Wearable Device to Aid People in Posture

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

This story is reprinted from Pittwire Health. Click here to view the original post. In the Classroom to Community Design Lab in the Department of Bioengineering on the fourth floor of Benedum Hall, Jacob Meadows tries on a vest-like device. He bends forward slightly as the device vibrates and a red light on the vest’s shoulder flickers on and off. “This is our first iteration prototype from two years ago, which features a light for demonstration during presentations.” said the bioengineering senior in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. Meadows and fellow bioengineering senior Tyler Bray have been developing this wearable device, Posture Protect, to help people with movement disorders like Parkinson’s disease, as well as their physical therapists. Meadows and Bray are among six teams of student innovators supported by the Classroom to Community program, a new initiative directed by bioengineering assistant professor Joseph Samosky and funded by Pitt’s Office of the Provost. The program helps mentor and bridge potential high-impact student projects from the classroom toward real-world impact. The duo has been working on Posture Protect since 2017 when they first developed their idea and prototype as a capstone project in the course “The Art of Making: A Hands-on Introduction to Systems Design and Engineering”—a human-centered design course taught by Samosky. Bray’s grandmother was diagnosed with a stroke that semester, which spurred the idea to help people with fine motor control problems. In their research, they learned that people with Parkinson’s disease share similar issues and honed their focus. “We sat in on fitness classes at a local boxing gym specifically for people with Parkinson’s disease and we learned that people with that disease struggle daily with posture,” Bray said. “We hadn’t really heard of that before because most people just associate it with hand tremors. We followed up with physical therapists who confirmed that this was true and important because it increases their risk of falls.” The team has been experimenting with different designs, including vests, necklaces and one that rests comfortably on the user’s shoulders. And while people with Parkinson’s disease and stroke may have been the impetus for Posture Protect, the device can also be used by people with other conditions that affect postural control, such as multiple sclerosis. When the user of the device bends over or slouches for a certain period of time, the wearable device will vibrate, informing the user that they are in poor posture. The student innovators say the final product aims to be unobtrusive, preventing unwanted attention. The team’s highly successful capstone project in The Art of Making led to their winning the top award for “Best Overall Design” at the 2017 Swanson School of Engineering Design Expo. The two were then introduced to the Big Idea Center, part of Pitt’s Innovation Institute. The center is a hub for student innovation and entrepreneurship on Pitt’s campus. Posture Protect has made progress in the center’s programs, including the most recent program, the Forge student incubator, which is supported by Pitt Seed funding. "We hadn’t thought about the business side of things before the Innovation Institute’s programs. Being able to get this out of the lab and to the people has been helpful for understanding better who our actual customer might be." - Jacob Meadows “This is an example of a couple of students who really keep going; they haven’t gotten discouraged and have been working steadily with our entrepreneurs-in-residence,” said Babs Carryer, the center’s director. “They’re persistent and it’s been great seeing how far they’ve come in the past two years. I have high hopes for them in future competitions. The persistent student entrepreneurs here usually do best because they take what they learn from previous programs and apply them to their products and business analysis for future competitions.” Meadows and Bray have been working with the center to advance their product development, participating in competitions such as the Randall Family Big Idea Competition, the Startup Blitz and the Michael G. Wells Competition. They are entered into this year’s Randall competition and in April, will take Posture Protect to the ACC InVenture Prize Competition at North Carolina State University. They also plan to start a pilot program with local physical therapists and their patients soon. “We’ve learned a lot about the innovation process as a whole: designing the product, showing it to people to get feedback, understanding business use cases and learning which initial target market may be the best,” said Meadows. “We hadn’t thought about the business side of things before the Innovation Institute’s programs. Being able to get this out of the lab and to the people has been helpful for understanding better who our actual customer might be.” “The Big Idea Center has really helped us round out our experience and our education in terms of product development,” Bray added. “As engineers, we can design and build whatever we want, and we’ve learned some unique ways to do that. But once we graduate, so much of that is driven by business, and to be able to understand how that side of things work is extremely valuable.”

Feb
19
2020

Bryan Brown Featured in the Products of Pittsburgh Podcast

Bioengineering

This story is reposted from the Clinical & Translational Science Institute. Click here to view the original post. The Products of Pittsburgh podcast is about the people in Pittsburgh – innovators, scientists, community leaders – and the remarkable stories behind how they came to be and the work they have produced. In 2001, Bryan Brown came to Pittsburgh to study mechanical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh where he would go on to obtain his PhD in bioengineering and become a faculty member at the university.    From winning multiple awards to co-founding a company, Bryan is well on his way to making an impact on health care innovation. About BrownBryan Brown, PhD is an Associate Professor of Bioengineering with secondary appointments in Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences as well as Clinical and Translational Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh.  He’s a core faculty member of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine where he serves as Director of Educational Outreach. He is a two time Pitt Innovation Challenge awardee and serves as Chief Technology Officer of Renerva, LLC, a Pitt start-up company that he co-founded.  Brown received both his B.S. and PhD from the University of Pittsburgh.

Feb
4
2020

Pitt’s Center for Medical Innovation awards three novel biomedical projects with $47,500 in Round 2 2019 Pilot Funding

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (January 31, 2020) … The University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Medical Innovation (CMI) awarded grants totaling $47,500 to three research groups through its 2019 Round-2 Pilot Funding Program for Early Stage Medical Technology Research and Development. The latest funding proposals include a system for preservation of explanted hearts used in transplantation surgery, a new vascular stent with anti-thrombogenic capability, and a rugged, infection resistant material for orthopedic implants. 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: “A Structurally and Mechanically Tunable Biocarpet for Peripheral Arterial Disease” For the development of a material and method of deployment of specialized materials that coat the inner lumen of synthetic vascular grafts. The coating will greatly improve the viability and anti-thrombogenic properties of long stent grafts which overlap flexible joints. Jonathan P. Vande Geest, PhD, Professor of Bioengineering, Swanson School of Engineering William R. Wagner, PhD, Professor of Surgery and Bioengineering, Surgery, McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine Dr. John J. Pacella, MD, Assistant Professor in the School of Medicine, UPMC AWARD 2: “Ex-Vivo Heart Perfusion System for Human Heart Support, Resuscitation, and Physiologic Testing” For the development of a system for preservation of explanted donor hearts suitable for transplantation. Includes means to verify the heart’s mechanical and biological viability to improve recipient response. Christopher Sciortino, MD, PhD; Dept of Cardiothoracic Surgery; UPMC Harvey S. Borovetz, PhD; Dept of Bioengineering; Swanson School of Engineering Rick Shaub, PhD; UPMC Artificial Heart Program; UPMC Garrett Coyan, MD, Dept of Cardiothoracic Surgery; UPMC AWARD 3: “In Vivo Efficacy of an Antibacterial and Biocompatible Polymeric Nanofilm on Titanium Implants” For the development of biocompatible, anti-biofilm coatings for orthopedic use, especially in children. Houssam Bouloussa, MD, MS,  Pediatric Orthopedic Surgery, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh Michael McClincy, MD, Assistant Professor, Department of Orthopedic Surgery, UPMC Prashant Kumta, PhD, Professor of Bioengineering, Swanson School of Engineering ### About the University of Pittsburgh Center for Medical Innovation The Center for Medical Innovation is a collaboration among the Swanson School of Engineering, the Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the Innovation Institute, and the Coulter Translational Research Partnership II (CTRP). CMI was established in 2012 to promote the application and development of innovative biomedical technologies to clinical problems; to educate the next generation of innovators in cooperation with the schools of Engineering, Health Sciences, Business, and Law; and to facilitate the translation of innovative biomedical technologies into marketable products and services. Over 70 early-stage projects have been supported by CMI with a total investment of over $1.4 million since inception.
Alan Hirschman, PhD, Executive Director, CMI

Jan

Jan
31
2020

Got Slime? Using Regenerative Biology to Restore Mucus Production

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (Jan. 31, 2020) … Let’s talk about slime. Mucus is a protective, slimy secretion produced by goblet cells and which lines organs of the respiratory, digestive, and reproductive systems. Slime production is essential to health, and an imbalance can be life-threatening. Patients with diseases such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and ulcerative colitis produce too much mucus, often after growing too many goblet cells. Loss of goblet cells can be equally devastating - for instance during cancer, after infection, or injury. The balance of slime creation, amount, and transport is critical, so doctors and medical researchers have long sought the origins of goblet cells and have been eager to control processes that regenerate them and maintain balanced populations. Recently, a group of bioengineers at the University of Pittsburgh discovered a case of goblet cell regeneration that is both easily accessible and happens incredibly fast on cells isolated from early developing frog embryos. Their findings were published this week in the journal Nature Communications (DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-14385-y). Lance Davidson, William Kepler Whiteford Professor of Bioengineering at Pitt, leads the MechMorpho Lab in the Swanson School of Engineering where his researchers study the role of mechanics in human cells as well as the Xenopus embryo - an aquatic frog native to South Africa. “The Xenopus tadpole, like many frogs, has a respiratory skin that can exchange oxygen and perform tasks similar to a human lung,” explained Davidson. “Like the human lung, the surface of the Xenopus respiratory skin is a mucociliated epithelium, which is a tissue formed from goblet cells and ciliated cells that also protects the larva against pathogens. Because of these evolutionary similarities, our group uses frog embryonic organoids to examine how tissue mechanics impact cell growth and tissue formation.” Studying this species is a rapid and cost-effective way to explore the genetic origins of biomechanics and how mechanical cues are sensed, not just in the frog embryo, but universally. When clinicians study cancer in patients, such changes can take weeks, months, or even years, but in a frog embryo, changes happen within hours. “In this project, we took a group of mesenchymal cells out of the early embryo and formed them into a spherical aggregate, and within five hours, they began to change,” Davidson said. “These cells are known to differentiate into a variety of types, but in this scenario, we discovered that they changed very dramatically into a type of cell that they would not have changed into had they been in the embryo.” The lab surprisingly uncovered a case of regeneration that restores a mucociliated epithelium from mesenchymal cells. They performed the experiment multiple times to confirm the unexpected findings and began to look closely at what microenvironmental cues could drive cells into an entirely new type. “We have tools to modulate the mechanical microenvironment that houses the cells, and to our surprise, we found that if we made the environment stiffer, the aggregates changed into these epithelial cells,” explained Davidson. “If we made it softer, we were able to block them from changing. This finding shows that mechanics alone can cause important changes in the cells, and that is a remarkable thing.” Davidson’s group is interested in how cells, influenced by mechanics, may affect disease states. The results detailed in this article may drive new questions in cancer biology, prompting researchers to consider whether certain kinds of invasive cancer cells might revert to a resting cell type based on the stiffness or softness of their surroundings. “When applying these results to cancer biology, one might ask, ‘If tumors are surrounded by soft tissues, would they become dormant and basically non-invasive?’ Or, ‘If you have them in stiff tissues, would they invade and become deadly?’” said Davidson. “These are major questions in the field that biomechanics may be able to help answer. Many researchers focus solely on the chemical pathways, but we are also finding mechanical influencers of disease.” Hye Young Kim, a young scientist fellow at Institute for Basic Science (IBS) and former member of the MechMorpho Lab, will continue this work at the Center for Vascular Research located at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST). She will study how cell motility changes during regeneration and how epithelial cells assemble a new epithelium. Davidson and his lab will explore how this novel case of mechanical cues are sensed by mesenchymal cells and how these mechanical induction pathways are integrated with known pathways that control cell fate choices. "Frog embryos and organoids give us unparalleled access to study these processes, far more access than is possible with human organs,” he said. “The old ideas that regeneration is controlled exclusively by diffusing growth factors and hormones is giving way to the recognition that the physical mechanics of the environment – such as how rubbery or fluid the environment -  play just as critical a role." ### This research was supported by a grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health. Image caption: "Green Slime covers the surface of a tadpole (bottom) and a goblet-cell regenerated aggregate (top, not the same scale). The images show the molecule intelectin-1, an important factor in tadpole skin, and one of the slime factors synthesized and secreted by goblet cells (single goblet cells can be seen in the aggregate). In human lung, intelectin-1 binds bacteria and is on the front line of the innate immune system. Images courtesy of Hye Young Kim and Lance Davidson."

Jan
22
2020

Researchers Regrow Damaged Nerves with Polymer and Protein

Bioengineering

Reposted with permission from UPMC. Click here to view the original press release. PITTSBURGH, Jan. 22, 2020 –University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine researchers have created a biodegradable nerve guide — a polymer tube — filled with growth-promoting protein that can regenerate long sections of damaged nerves, without the need for transplanting stem cells or a donor nerve. So far, the technology has been tested in monkeys, and the results of those experiments appeared today in Science Translational Medicine. “We’re the first to show a nerve guide without any cells was able to bridge a large, 2-inch gap between the nerve stump and its target muscle,” said senior author Kacey Marra, Ph.D., professor of plastic surgery at Pitt and core faculty at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. “Our guide was comparable to, and in some ways better than, a nerve graft.” Half of wounded American soldiers return home with injuries to their arms and legs, which aren’t well protected by body armor, often resulting in damaged nerves and disability. Among civilians, car crashes, machinery accidents, cancer treatment, diabetes and even birth trauma can cause significant nerve damage, affecting more than 20 million Americans. Peripheral nerves can regrow up to a third of an inch on their own, but if the damaged section is longer than that, the nerve can’t find its target. Often, the disoriented nerve gets knotted into a painful ball called a neuroma. The most common treatment for longer segments of nerve damage is to remove a skinny sensory nerve at the back of the leg — which causes numbness in the leg and other complications, but has the least chance of being missed — chop it into thirds, bundle the pieces together and then sew them to the end of the damaged motor nerve, usually in the arm. But only about 40 to 60% of the motor function typically returns. “It’s like you’re replacing a piece of linguini with a bundle of angel hair pasta,” Marra said. “It just doesn’t work as well.” Marra’s nerve guide returned about 80% of fine motor control in the thumbs of four monkeys, each with a 2-inch nerve gap in the forearm. The guide is made of the same material as dissolvable sutures and peppered with a growth-promoting protein — the same one delivered to the brain in a recent Parkinson’s trial — which releases slowly over the course of months. The experiment had two controls: an empty polymer tube and a nerve graft. Since monkeys’ legs are relatively short, the usual clinical procedure of removing and dicing a leg nerve wouldn’t work. So, the scientists removed a 2-inch segment of nerve from the forearm, flipped it around and sewed it into place, replacing linguini with linguini, and setting a high bar for the nerve guide to match. Functional recovery was just as good with Marra’s guide as it was with this best-case-scenario graft, and the guide outperformed the graft when it came to restoring nerve conduction and replenishing Schwann cells — the insulating layer around nerves that boosts electrical signals and supports regeneration. In both scenarios, it took a year for the nerve to regrow. The empty guide performed significantly worse all around. With these promising results in monkeys, Marra wants to bring her nerve guide to human patients. She’s working with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on a first-in-human clinical trial and spinning out a startup company, AxoMax Technologies Inc. “There are no hollow tubes on the market that are approved by the FDA for nerve gaps greater than an inch. Once you get past that, no off-the-shelf tube has been shown to work,” Marra said. “That’s what’s amazing here.” Additional authors on the study include Neil Fadia, Jacqueline Bliley, Gabriella DiBernardo, Donald Crammond, Ph.D., Benjamin Schilling, Wesley Sivak, M.D., Ph.D., Alexander Spiess, M.D., Kia Washington, M.D., Matthias Waldner, M.D., Liao Han Tsung, Ph.D., Isaac James, M.D., Danielle Minteer, Ph.D., Casey Tompkins-Rhoades, Deok-Yeol Kim, Riccardo Schweizer, M.D., Debra Bourne, M.D., Adam Cottrill, George Panagis, Asher Schusterman, M.D., Francesco Egro, M.D., Insiyah Campwala, Tyler Simpson, M.S., Douglas Weber, Ph.D., Trent Gause, M.D., Jack Brooker, Tvisha Josyula, Astrid Guevara, Alexander Repko and Christopher Mahoney, all of Pitt. This study was funded by the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine (award number W81XWH-14-2-0003). MedGenesis Therapeutix Inc. supplied the growth-promoting protein. Axomax Technologies was formed after the experiments were completed. For additional multimedia, contact Erin Hare at HareE@upmc.edu or 412-738-1097. #  #  # Video credit: UPMC.

Jan
22
2020

Impacting human life now

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

Reposted with permission from the University of Pittsburgh Center for Research Computing. Click here to read the original story. Two images of MRI brain scans are displayed side-by-side on a poster in the Radiofrequency Research Facility in the basement of BST 3, one image marked 3T and one 7T. On the 7T image the hippocampus region of the brain displays a tracing of vessels not visible on the 3T image. “You can clearly see a microstructure in the 7T scan that doesn’t appear in the 3T scan,”  post-doc Tales Santini points out. “That kind of detail is what our scanner system offers.” That scanner is one of the most powerful MRI devices in the world – designated 7T  for 7 Tesla, a measure of the strength of an electromagnetic field (by comparison, Earth’s magnetic field is about 0.00065 T and a refrigerator magnet 0.01 T). MRI scanners in use are primarily 1.5 and 3 Tesla. The increased power of the 7 Tesla scanner reveals details not visible in typical MRI machines. With a resolution up to 180 microns – a micron is a millionth of a meter – the 7 Tesla can identify problems much earlier than existing scanners. 7 Tesla is particularly effective in early detection of brain issues implicated in diseases associated with aging, such as Alzheimer’s and late life depression, diseases which are a focus of the Radiofrequency Research Facility and the 7 Tesla Bioengineering Research program, directed by Tamer Ibrahim, professor of bioengineering, radiology, and psychiatry. The increased frequency of the 7 Tesla represents challenges. If the electromagnetic waves do not enter the skull evenly in a uniform pattern, heat concentrates in individual areas of the brain, considerably raising their temperatures. The maximum possible heating allowed by the U.S.. Food and Drug Administration is one degree centigrade. The lab is currently developing technology to smooth those electromagnetic waves using an array of 70 intricate radiofrequency antennas surrounding the head and neck, dubbed the Tic-Tac-Toe antenna owing to a nine-square grid marked with X’s and O’s displayed on the array’s housing. The team uses the Center for Research Computing to simulate hundreds of thousands of possible configurations of the antennas to create the most uniform possible waves. “The wavelength of tissue is short, about 12 centimeters at 7 Tesla, while the human head is electrically large, about 20 cm front to back,” explains Ibrahim. “We must create a relatively homogenous magnetic field to image a head that is about twice the wavelength of the 7 Tesla in tissue. This is extremely challenging. Without a uniform field, the image quality and usefulness will significantly degrade, and the electrical field can localize and heat the tissue.” Engineer Anthony Defranco, Tamer Ibrahim, and post-doc Tales Santini. Santini is holding the housing of the Tic-Tac-Toe antenna. Now the computational problem. Hundreds of thousands of configurations of the Tic-Tac-Toe antennas must be modeled to optimize that balance of uniform imaging while minimizing the danger of heating before any testing. Each of the 70 antennas is simulated in the presence of the other 69 antennas, the electromagnetic fields from these simulations are combined – potentially in hundreds of millions of different ways - to form the most even, yet safe, magnetic field distribution.  “We use CRC to do the simulation and optimization of the coils, but also in processing human imaging data,” Santini explained. The 7 Tesla scanner and Tic-Tac-Toe antennas are being heavily used in clinical studies. Ibrahim estimates that his team of 12 PhD students, several MS and BS students, two engineering staff, and two post-docs has performed 4,000 human head and neck scans between 2017 and 2024 looking at blood flow, cerebral spinal fluid, small vessels and microstructures in the hippocampus and other brain regions, all of which correlate with diseases like Alzheimer’s. The research is not limited to conditions associated with aging but includes major depressive disorder, schizophrenia, sickle cell, mild cognitive impairment, normal aging, late-life depression, dementia, psychosis, neurocognitive disparities, and linking personality to health, among others. The Tic-Tac-Toe radiofrequency coil system has achieved breakthrough results in terms of image quality and consistency at 7 Tesla. The new capabilities are stimulating significant translational and collaborative research.  Through extensive collaborations with the Alzheimer Disease Research Center and the  Pitt departments of Psychiatry, Medicine, Epidemiology, Neurology, Psychology, and Anesthesiology, Ibrahim’s lab has attracted close to $40 million in grant funding over the last four years, including 17 National Institutes of Health grants. A recent NIH award of over $3.75 million funds research by Ibrahim and collaborators in the Department of Psychiatry into developing new 7 Tesla technology to investigate relationships between preclinical Alzheimer’s disease and small vessel and cerebrospinal fluid conditions. Ibrahim is also central to an initiative of the departments of Bioengineering and Psychiatry to create a multidisciplinary training program for pre-doc bioengineering students to participate in mental health research, an initiative that recently received $1.1 million from the NIH. “This is an exciting time,” says Ibrahim. “Our engineering innovations are being used on real patient studies. We’re not making something that just could be used some time in the future. We are impacting human life now.”

Jan
9
2020

Advancing Neural Stimulation: Kozai Designs a Wireless, Light-Activated Electrode

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (Jan. 9, 2020) … Neural stimulation is a pioneering technology that can be used to recover function and improve the quality of life for individuals who suffer from brain injury or disease. It serves an integral role in modern neuroscience research and human neuroprosthetics, including advancements in prosthetic limbs and brain-computer interfaces. A challenge that remains with this technology is achieving long-term and precise stimulation of a specific group of neurons. Takashi D-Y Kozai, assistant professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, recently received a $1,652,844 award from the National Institutes of Health (1R01NS105691-01A1) to develop an innovative solution to address these limitations. “Implantation of these devices causes a reactive tissue response which degrades the functional performance over time, thus limiting device capabilities,” Kozai explained. “Current electrical stimulation implants are tethered to the skull, which leads to mechanical strain in the tissue, and in turn, causes chronic inflammation and increases the possibility of an infection.” Kozai, who leads the Bio-Integrating Optoelectric Neural Interface Cybernetics Lab in the Swanson School of Engineering, will use the NIH award to develop a wireless in vivo stimulation technology that will enable precise neural circuit probing while minimizing tissue damage. In this design, the electrode will be implanted in the brain and activated by light - via the photoelectric effect - with a far-red or infrared laser source, which can sit outside of the brain. “This use of photostimulation removes the mechanical requirements necessary in traditional microstimulation technology and improves spatial selectivity of activated neurons for stable, long-term electrical stimulation,” Kozai said. His group found that photostimulation drives a more localized population of neurons when compared to electrical stimulation under similar conditions. When used, the activated cells were closer to the electrode, which indicates increased spatial precision. The proposed technology will be smaller than traditional photovoltaic devices but larger than nanoparticles to improve device longevity. “With this project, we hope to develop advanced neural probes that are capable of activating specific neurons for long periods of time and with great precision,” Kozai said. “This technology could significantly impact neuroscience research and ultimately the treatment of neurological injury and disease in humans.” ###

Jan
6
2020

Take heart: Pitt study reveals how relaxin targets cardiovascular disease

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (Jan. 6, 2020) … As a healthy heart ages, it becomes more susceptible to cardiovascular diseases. Though researchers have discovered that relaxin, an insulin-like hormone, suppresses atrial fibrillation (AF), inflammation, and fibrosis in aged rats, the underlying mechanisms of these benefits are still unknown. In a recent Scientific Reports paper, University of Pittsburgh graduate student Brian Martin discusses how relaxin interacts with the body’s signaling processes to produce a fundamental mechanism that may have great therapeutic potential. The study, “Relaxin reverses maladaptive remodeling of the aged heart through Wnt-signaling” (DOI: 10.1038/s41598-019-53867-y) was led by Guy Salama, professor of medicine at Pitt, and Brian Martin, a graduate student researcher from the Swanson School of Engineering’s Department of Bioengineering. “Relaxin is a reproductive hormone discovered in the early 20th century that has been shown to suppress cardiovascular disease symptoms,” said Martin. “In this paper, we show that relaxin treatment reverses electrical remodeling in animal models by activating canonical Wnt signaling - a discovery that reveals a fundamental underlying mechanism behind relaxin’s benefits.” A better understanding of how relaxin interacts with the body may improve its efficacy as a therapy to treat cardiovascular disease in humans. As the U.S. population ages, the rates of these age-associated diseases are expected to rise, requiring better treatment for this leading cause of death. According to a report from the American Heart Association, the total direct medical costs of cardiovascular disease are projected to increase to $749 billion in 2035. “A common problem in age-associated cardiovascular disease is altered electrical signaling required for proper heart contraction,” Martin explained. “When ions in the heart and their associated channels to enter or exit the heart are disrupted, complications occur.” “Natural, healthy aging has been shown to be accompanied by changes in structure and function,” Salama added. “For example, aged cardiomyocytes start to express embryonic contractile proteins and fewer voltage-gated Na+ channels by unknown mechanisms. The reversal of some aspects of the aging process by relaxin is mediated by the reactivation of Wnt canonical signaling which may partly explain mechanisms of the aging process.” The group’s study found that relaxin upregulated the prominent sodium channel, Nav1.5, in cells of heart tissue via a mechanism inhibited by the Wnt pathway inhibitor Dickkopf-1. “Wnt signaling is thought to be active primarily in the developing heart and inactive later in life,” Martin said. “However, we show that relaxin can reactivate Wnt signaling in a beneficial way to increase Nav1.5.” Increased Nav1.5 is associated with better electrical signaling in the heart may reduce susceptibility to cardiac rhythm disorders. “Further, we show that relaxin can also reverse the age-associated reduction in cell adhesion molecules and cell-cell communication proteins,” he continued. “In summary, relaxin appears to reverse problematic reductions or pathological reorganization of vital cardiac signaling proteins.” While these data provide new insight into relaxin’s mechanisms of action, further work is needed to understand the precise steps required for relaxin to alter Wnt signaling and if steps can be taken to directly alter Wnt signaling to provide its beneficial effects. ### Image caption: “Left ventricular tissue sections (7-µm thick) from aged rat hearts (24 months old) were labeled with the nuclear stain (DAPI-blue) and an antibody against β-catenin (green). Rats were treated with Relaxin (0.4 mg/kg/day for 2-weeks) (left panel) or with the control vehicle (sodium acetate) (right panel) and the tissue sections were imaged by confocal microscopy (600X magnification). Relaxin treatment (left) produced a marked positive remodeling of aged ventricles with a reduction of cell hypertrophy, improved organization of myofibrils and cell membrane compared to untreated, control aged hearts (right).” Credit: Dr. Guillermo Romero.