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May

May
4
2021

Taking Charge: How to Use a Battery to Prevent Workplace Injury

Bioengineering

Workplace injuries and deaths have an enormous economic impact in the United States, costing society billions of dollars annually. According to the National Safety Council, work injury costs totaled $170.8 billion in 2018. One of the top causes is slip-and-fall injuries – an accident that can be mitigated in a variety of ways, such as proper footwear. The University of Pittsburgh’s Kurt Beschorner leads research to predict the risk of a slip-and-fall injury based on shoe tread. They have examined the impact of worn shoes on slipping and are now working with the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) Traumatic Injury Prevention Council to develop safety signage for hospitals and the restaurant industry. “Our research focuses on understanding the underlying causes of slippery shoes, and we have been working to identify the tread thresholds where shoes become unsafe,” said Beschorner, associate professor of bioengineering at Pitt and a member of the Human Movement & Balance Laboratory. “Slip-resistant shoes are designed with train channels that help drain fluid, but as shoes wear down, the channels disappear and become ineffective. This can create a slipping effect similar to tires hydroplaning on a wet road.” Unlike tire tread, which focuses on depth, Beschorner and his team found that the risk of slipping depends on the size of the worn patch of shoe. They developed a test that uses a universal device, a battery, to determine when it might be time to replace your footwear. “The strength of our test is in its simplicity,” Beschorner said. “Use the base of a AA battery to measure the worn region of your slip-resistant shoe. When the worn region becomes larger than the base of a battery, the shoe should be replaced. As the worn patch grows larger, there is a steady decline in function, and the base of the battery is the size where it becomes meaningful.” The team considered several common items – such as pens or coins – for the test, but most objects varied in size from brand to brand and country to country. Batteries, however, are globally universal in size. Beschorner suggests monitoring your shoes and replacing them before the worn patch becomes too large. His research also suggests that individuals will wear through their shoes at different rates. “The rate of wear was predicted by the walking style of the individual. Particularly, participants who utilized more friction during dry walking wore through shoes at a faster rate,” he said. “Thus, individuals may require different replacement schedules based on their unique walking style.” In addition to monitoring shoe wear, Beschorner also advises workers to examine the tread before buying a new pair. “Certain footwear comes with large tread features, which should be avoided since these treads mimic the worn patch that can lead to slips,” he explained. Check out the NORA Traumatic Injury Prevention Council’s posters for the food service and health care industries. “Common sense research meets the real world,” said Patrick Kubis, president of SR Max Slip Resistant Shoes. “We are already sharing this research with customers through educational posters and shoe box inserts. With one simple picture, our customers visualize the solution and the importance of replacing worn out shoes.” You can find more information on the HMBL website. # # #

May
4
2021

Bioengineering Introduces Two New Faculty Members in 2021

Bioengineering

The University of Pittsburgh Department of Bioengineering welcomed two new assistant professors in 2021. Katrina Knight, an alumna of the department, will advance the work she started as a graduate student at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Female Pelvic Health. Helen Schwerdt will build a research program committed to learning more about the brain, developing and integrating tools to examine and manipulate neural circuits. “Dr. Knight is a rising star in the bioengineering community, and her research in pelvic floor disorders aligns well with ongoing work in the women’s health arena within and outside of the department,” said Sanjeev Shroff, Distinguished Professor and Gerald E. McGinnis Chair of Bioengineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “She is an engaged citizen and an excellent science ambassador, with a deep commitment to promoting diversity in the STEM field and enhancing access to STEM education for underprivileged and underserved communities. “Dr. Schwerdt is another superstar who has applied her electrical engineering background to develop novel neural interfaces and help us better understand how the brain works under normal and pathological conditions,” he said. “She will be a major asset to our research efforts in the neural engineering area, and her work nicely complements ongoing research within our department and at the collaborative Brain Institute. I’m thrilled to have them both on our team.” Katrina Knight (PhD, Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh) Knight’s research focuses on the pathogenesis and treatment of pelvic organ prolapse (POP), a common condition where the organs in the pelvis push against the vagina, creating a “bulge” that can extend outside of the body. Despite the fact that this condition affects nearly one-third of all women, repair surgeries using synthetic mesh often result in complications. Knight’s work explores the biomechanical mechanisms underlying the failure of synthetic meshes in an effort to develop improved mesh materials and design. “Current prolapse meshes are simply hernia meshes repurposed for the repair of pelvic organ prolapse,” she explained. “My research aims to develop a novel device that is specifically tailored for prolapse repair and one that is based on scientific evidence. “Such a device will improve the lives of millions of women around the world who are impacted with this condition.” Knight joins the Department of Bioengineering from a postdoctoral associate position in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences and the Magee-Women’s Research Institute and Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship Program. Her research career has so far produced 13 peer-reviewed journal publications, 2 book chapters, and 24 presentations at national and international conferences in the field of urogynecology. She also currently serves as a co-founder and chief engineering officer of Your Village Is My Village, Incorporated, a 501c3 non-profit organization that aims to positively transform communities through mentoring and the education of at-promise youths. Helen Schwerdt (PhD, Electrical Engineering, Arizona State University) Schwerdt’s research involves building and applying novel, multi-modal neural interfaces to explore how the brain works, understand its pathological mechanisms, and improve the treatment of debilitating neurological disorders. She will focus on monitoring and manipulating neural activity from the level of individual cells and molecules – such as dopamine and other neurotransmitters – to the connections they shape between cells across the brain. Her group will examine how all of this activity collectively drives adaptive behavior. She will also work to improve neural implant device longevity for lifetime diagnostic and therapeutic use. “Direct interfacing and communication with the human brain requires implantable devices that work over a lifetime without degradation,” she said. “Adding the ability to probe multiple forms of neural activity, outside of the traditional electrical neural signals, would enable a more directed approach to intervention as well as open up new ways to study the brain. “My goal is to develop a new class of multi-modal neural interfaces capable of monitoring and perturbing chemical and electrical forms of neural activity in a longitudinally stable manner. We will use these devices to study brain function and dysfunction and improve treatment for a wide range of neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders.” Prior to her appointment at Pitt, Schwerdt was a postdoctoral associate and research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has 12 peer-reviewed journal publications, 2 book chapters, and 16 presentations and/or abstracts at national and international conferences. In 2018, she received an NIH/NINDS Pathway to Independence Award for a project titled “Mapping neurochemical activity of the basal ganglia in pathological behaviors.” Two years later, she received the NARSAD Young Investigator Grant from the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation to examine the role of the basal ganglia circuits and the underlying dopamine molecular signaling that become dysregulated in major mood disorders. # # #

Apr

Apr
28
2021

William Federspiel Receives the 2020-2021 Marlin Mickle Outstanding Innovator Award

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (April 28, 2021) ... The current COVID-19 pandemic has not only shaken the healthcare industry but also delivered more than a year of social and economic disruption across the globe. During this time, innovators at the University of Pittsburgh quickly adapted their research to meet new safety standards and managed to tackle the effects of the pandemic. On April 22, the Innovation Institute recognized Pitt faculty, students and staff who thrived, despite these unprecedented circumstances, at its 2020-2021 Celebration of Innovation. William Federspiel, John A. Swanson Professor of Bioengineering, received the Marlin Mickle Outstanding Innovator Award for his consistent dedication to achieving societal impact through commercial application of his research. This prestigious award honors Professor Mickle, a Pitt innovator who holds the University record for invention disclosures filed, patents issued, and startups formed. “I am honored and thankful to be this year’s recipient of the Marlin Mickle Innovation Award. I’m also humbled knowing many of the past recipients of this award,” said Federspiel, who also holds appointments in chemical engineering, the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, critical care medicine, and the Clinical Translation Institute. “This award has personal meaning for me. I always knew Marlin to be a scholar and an innovator, but through conversation, I recognized that he was the ultimate gentleman and extremely humble.” Federspiel directs the Medical Devices Laboratory wherein clinically significant devices are developed for the treatment of pulmonary and cardiovascular ailments by utilizing engineering principles of fluid flow and mass transfer. He is also a co-founder of ALung Technologies, a Pittsburgh-based medical device company, at which he now serves as head of the scientific advisory board. Among Federspiel’s innovations is the Hemolung® Respiratory Assist System (RAS), a minimally invasive device that does the work of the lungs by removing carbon dioxide from the blood. During the coronavirus pandemic, the device received Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for COVID-19. “It is an amazingly rewarding experience to develop technologies that help save lives,” Federspiel said. “[ALung Technologies] did an amazing job creating the Hemolung RAS system that was seeded in my laboratory. “Last year we experienced the beginning of a once in a lifetime pandemic. While I was already proud that the Hemolung RAS device was in FDA clinical trials for approval, I was ecstatic when I learned the company sought and obtained EUA authorization from the FDA to treat severe COVID-19 patients,” he added. “Obviously, these are circumstances I would have never envisioned 25 years ago when I joined Pitt. It came from the hard work of many individuals both at the University and the company.” Click here to watch Dr. Federspiel’s acceptance speech. To date, 97 COVID-19 patients have been treated using the Hemolung® RAS device, and the company has experienced increased demand as a result of the pandemic. Federspiel has developed additional artificial lung platforms that combine fiber technology with cellular and biomolecular components to create biohybrid artificial lung tissue and bioactive hollow fibers. Some of his other innovations include a membrane and particle-based blood purification devices for use in critical care settings; improved transport models for drug delivery from nanoparticles and microparticles; and oxygen depletion devices for blood storage systems that will extend the shelf life of red cell units and deliver red cells of higher efficacy and lower toxicity for transfusion therapy. “Although publication is one of the core activities of academia, the ultimate goal of bioengineering research is to make a real-world impact, e.g., improve health care. Bill has dedicated his career to translating novel research findings into improved treatments of cardiopulmonary diseases – this is perhaps his highest contribution,” said Sanjeev Shroff, Distinguished Professor and Gerald E. McGinnis Chair of Bioengineering. During his time at Pitt, Federspiel has submitted 32 invention disclosures, been issued 14 patents, and has had his work licensed 11 times. He is an elected Fellow of several prestigious professional organizations such as the National Academy of Inventors, the Biomedical Engineering Society, the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, and the American Society for Artificial Internal Organs. In 2019, he received the Carnegie Science Award for Life Sciences. # # #

Apr
21
2021

Sarah Hemler Clinches First Place at Pitt’s Three Minute Thesis Competition

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

Each year, graduate students from the University of Pittsburgh participate in the University of Queensland’s Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) Competition to challenge their research communication skills. The event invites higher degree students to effectively explain their work in three minutes to a non-specialist audience. Sarah Hemler, a bioengineering PhD candidate in the Swanson School of Engineering’s Human Movement and Balance Laboratory, was awarded first place in Pitt’s 2021 competition. She used the platform to discuss the assessment and mechanics of shoe tread wear. “I think research or any work we do is only as potent as its communication,” she said. “In the lab, we know the details of our work more than anyone else. It’s in relaying this information with accuracy, tact, and attention to the audience that the information is disseminated effectively. Even the best interventions require strategic communication around their importance and validity to reach the intended audiences.” Her dissertation work includes monitoring shoe traction performance and wear, and developing footwear replacement strategies to prevent slips and falls. She designed and prototyped a portable shoe scanner, which could ultimately help reduce the billions of dollars spent on medical claims due to workplace injuries. “Part of my research involves user-centered design which understands how to assess and incorporate user needs into the product design process for optimal efficiency,” Hemler added. “I think effective communication involves applying some user-centered design techniques; we need to know what is useful, usable, and desirable for the audience in order for information to be remembered.” “Sarah has worked hard to refine the skill of communicating in a concise and understandable way,” said Kurt Beschorner, associate professor of bioengineering and Hemler’s research advisor. “This skill can be especially challenging when communicating highly technical research. I was so pleased that her efforts and talents were recognized in this competition.” Swanson School students have continually placed as finalists or won the top prize in this competition since 2018.

Apr
9
2021

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

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum

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

Apr
9
2021

Studying the Mechanism Behind Metastatic Breast Cancer

Bioengineering

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

Apr
8
2021

15 Pitt Students Earn NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, MEMS, Student Profiles

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

Pitt and CMU Host Annual Northeast Bioengineering Conference

Bioengineering

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

Apr
6
2021

DIY Device Climbs to the Top of the Charts

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

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

Mar

Mar
31
2021

From Superman to Super Research

Bioengineering

Reposted from Pittwire. Click here to see the original story. Of all people, Superman changed the course of Kacey Marra’s (A&S ’96G) professional life. In 2002, the chemist was attending a tissue engineering conference in downtown Pittsburgh. One of the featured speakers was actor and disability advocate Christopher Reeve, who Marra recalls saying, “Whatever you’re doing, think about what you’re working on and how that can translate to spinal cord injury.” The day after Reeve’s speech, Marra turned her attention to just that. Today, she is a professor of plastic surgery in the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and bioengineering in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, as well as vice chair of research for the Department of Plastic Surgery. Her research focuses on a biodegradable tube that repairs severe peripheral nerve injuries, such as loss of feeling in limbs due to spinal cord injury like Reeve had. The tube releases a protein that repairs affected tissue in wounds while slowly disappearing to prevent infection or dislodging. Prior research in animals has demonstrated that the nerve guide device could restore up to 80% of nerve function. The device could have applications for people injured in car accidents, machinery accidents, newborn nerve injuries incurred during delivery, nerve damage due to tumor removal and diabetic neuropathy. Soldiers, too, could benefit. If it is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the project will then enter human clinical trials. “Over half of our injured soldiers have a nerve injury. As a daughter of a Marine and a Vietnam vet who fought on the front lines, I found that highly motivational,” Marra said. “To turn my research efforts into something that can help our brave soldiers and veterans completely motivated me.” Marra has been attending military medicine meetings and working with colleagues at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland. She has also met with soldiers affected by nerve injuries. To help advance her research, Marra has been entering competitions and filed an invention disclosure with Pitt’s Innovation Institute for her research. In 2018, she created her own startup company, Nerve Repair Technologies. In June 2020, Marra received the People’s Choice award at Equalize2020, a competition for female academic entrepreneurs. Shortly after that, she was named a senior member of the National Academy of Inventors. “I tell my students to try to find something in life that you’re going to be passionate about. That’s what got me to where I am today,” she said. “I knew I wanted to be a scientist since I was 10. I didn’t even realize I could do this kind of work for the military without enlisting.”

Mar
30
2021

Connecting the Dots Between Engagement and Learning

All SSoE News, Bioengineering

Reposted with permission from Carnegie Mellon University. Click here to view the original story. We’ve all heard the adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” but new research from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh finds that it isn’t all about repetition. Rather, internal states like engagement can also have an impact on learning. The collaborative research, published today in Nature Neuroscience, examined how changes in internal states, such as arousal, attention, motivation, and engagement can affect the learning process using brain-computer interface (BCI) technology. Findings suggest that changes in internal states can systematically influence how behavior improves with learning, thus paving the way for more effective methods to teach people skills quickly, and to a higher level of proficiency. Internal states are known to modulate brain-wide neural activity, and studies continue to explore their impact on motor control, sensory processing, and cognition. However, the specific interaction between internal states and learning is not well understood. “Intuitively, we know that neural activity changes as we’re learning different things, because our behavior gets better with practice,” explains Jay Hennig, a graduate student in neural computation and machine learning at Carnegie Mellon. “However, what we’re finding is that it’s not just about getting better. All of the things that go on alongside of learning, such as one’s level of attention or state of arousal, play a significant role.” Using a BCI learning paradigm, the researchers observed how neural activity changed, and the degree to which these changes were influenced by shifts in internal states, as subjects performed tasks by moving a cursor on a computer screen using only patterns of neural activity. As the study unfolded, the team began to notice occasional large, abrupt fluctuations in neural population activity within the motor cortex. At first, they did not understand why this was happening, but over time, they came to realize that the fluctuations happened whenever the subject was surprised with a change in the task. (Changes ranged from brief pauses to perturbations of the BCI mapping.) At these moments, the subjects’ pupils dilated, suggesting that the abrupt fluctuation was the neural manifestation of an internal state, engagement. “We weren’t looking for this particular effect in the neural data,” says Steve Chase, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Carnegie Mellon and the Neuroscience Institute. “The pupil diameter was tightly correlated with the engagement signal that we saw in the neural activity, and it seems to have a massive effect in the motor cortex.” Ultimately, the research suggests that subjects’ level of engagement or attention can make things easier or harder to learn, depending on the context. “You might have imagined that the brain would be set up with a clear segregation of functions, like motor areas to motor control, and emotional areas to emotional control, and sensory areas to sensory representation,” says Aaron Batista, professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh. “What we’re finding is a serendipitous kind of intrusion of an internal state into a motor area. It could be that we can harness that signal to improve learning.” The group’s work is ongoing and done in collaboration with the Center for Neural Basis of Cognition, a cross-university research and educational program between Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh that leverages each institution’s strengths to investigate the cognitive and neural mechanisms that give rise to biological intelligence and behavior. “One of the unique parts of our collaboration is how integrated we all have been throughout the entire project, from experimental design, to experimental conduction, to data analyses, and adopting; we’re all involved in all parts of that,” says Byron Yu, professor of biomedical engineering and electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon. “The findings here might one day help people learn everyday skills, such as math or dance, more quickly and to a higher level of proficiency.” # # #
Sara Vaccar, Communications Manager, College of Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University
Mar
26
2021

Brown Lab’s Marissa Behun Receives CTS Predoctoral Fellowship

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (Mar. 26, 2021) … Marissa Behun, a first-year PhD student in bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, received a Predoctoral Clinical and Translational Science Fellowship. This competitive award equips researchers with the skills to advance the translation of discoveries into improved patient outcomes and health policy. Behun’s research examines the correlation between aging, skeletal muscle repair and immune cell populations. She works to address defects in aging skeletal muscle, such as sarcopenia – a condition characterized by loss of skeletal muscle mass and function that affects 10 percent of individuals over 65 years old. “Sarcopenia is a chronic, debilitating condition with many unsatisfactory treatment plans,” Behun explained. “This condition is often present in elderly patients who experience adverse outcomes, morbidity and mortality during surgery. Aging and sarcopenia are also associated with a reduced capacity to heal muscle injury, contributing to the incidence of incisional hernias.” While defects in extracellular matrix composition and/or cellular response to injury are deemed explanations for this condition, both have been poorly tested. “The cellular response to injury has been well characterized in young animals, and evidence has shown that old cells placed on young matrix have a youthful phenotype,” Behun said. “However, recent evidence from our lab has shown that defective repair in aging is at least partially attributed to defects in immune cell recruitment, not polarization.” Behun uses special biomaterials in a well-established body wall defect to assess tissue remodeling and compare young animals to aged ones. “The main things we want to evaluate are the types of cells that respond to injury, the effect of different bioactive molecules delivered via biomaterials on infiltrating immune cell types, and the contribution these cells have on constructive repair of injured tissues,” she said. Understanding these bioactive materials may improve development, which could ultimately help clinicians more effectively address defects in aging skeletal muscle in humans and improve surgical outcomes. Behun works in the Brown Lab, which is led by Bryan Brown, a member of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine and associate professor of bioengineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. The group’s research seeks to couple a mechanistic understanding of the host inflammatory response with the development of biomaterials for regenerative medicine. ###

Mar
23
2021

Resilience in a Time of Uncertainty

Bioengineering

When the COVID-19 crisis took hold of the United States more than a year ago, the University shut down all but essential work and had to transform day-to-day operations. Research was put on hold, students were told to stay home, and campus quickly became a ghost town. Despite these unprecedented circumstances, which continue to affect life on campus, research and education quickly revived, and University of Pittsburgh engineers returned to what they do best – addressing complex problems to improve the human condition. From collecting donations and making personal protective gear to advancing lung assist devices and mitigating viral exposure for doctors and nurses, Pitt bioengineers have overcome obstacles to help contribute to pandemic relief and adapt their research and education to the “new normal.” Reengineering Research Given the nature of biomedical research, managing human and non-human subjects was an obstacle to overcome in this new environment. The first steps toward restarting research were to reduce personnel and mitigate risk, which required many labs to reengineer operations for a safe return. Tamer Ibrahim’s group uses its unique head coil system and one of the strongest MRI devices in the world to perform scans on patients with neurological disorders. To return to these studies and to keep their patients safe, the team had to adapt their technology. “We created new standard operating procedures, modified our devices with clever engineering, and completely changed the way we do human imaging in order to mitigate the risk of infections and spreading of the disease,” said Ibrahim, professor of bioengineering. “Despite significant difficulties, we have been conducting human studies for about seven months now and are becoming even busier than before the pandemic shut down our operation. I am amazed at the resilience of our students, postdocs, and staff.” Students have played a large role in adapting research to these new safety standards. Undergraduate students, like bioengineering senior Yuxuan Hu, have had to find creative ways to continue their lab work. Hu works on FingerSight, a device for the blind worn as a ring on the index finger. It has a camera and vibrators that can help a visually impaired individual navigate their environment and guide manipulation. During the pandemic, he managed to develop a system that allows a blindfolded person to pick up a plastic strawberry with a spoon. “The system uses relatively straightforward computer vision methods, such as binary thresholding, but adjusting parameters in the methods was still challenging as it requires repetitive testing,” he explained. “Dr. Stetten delivered basic parts of the hardware to my apartment so I could work on the prototype from home and only had to come to the lab for formal experiments. Additionally, I met with the lab virtually every week to present and discuss my progress.” Hu’s success will be published in the Swanson School’s annual student journal, Ingenium. “Considering my lab was otherwise shut down, and he was all alone, his efforts were above-and-beyond,” said George Stetten, professor of bioengineering who devised the concept for FingerSight. Though operations are still far from “normal,” most bioengineering labs have reopened and are continuing their work to advance human medicine and treatment. Restructuring Education In addition to a new research environment, faculty and students have also had to tackle an unconventional classroom. An integral part of engineering education is engaging in the creative design process and exploring solutions through hands-on learning – a task that is difficult to accomplish remotely. During the pandemic, faculty and students have had to apply their engineering skills to restructure the teaching environment. “My TA team and I have viewed this situation as a profoundly interesting challenge for us to reinvent a hands-on, project-based design course for remote delivery – and build the plane as we're flying it,” said Joseph Samosky, assistant professor of bioengineering who teaches the Art of Making: Hands-On System Design and Engineering, a Swanson School course that focuses on innovation, human-centered design, experiential learning and projects that address real-world problems. To equip the 43 students enrolled in the course’s spring 2021 term, Samosky and his wife sorted thousands of prototyping materials and tools to be shipped to each student by the first day of class. In a time of physical distance, this enabled the Art of Making students to remotely interact with one another, explore technologies and build prototypes “We had a communal ‘unboxing ceremony’ during the first class session to foster a sense of unity and promote the ability to work with physical ‘atoms’ even when our communications are mediated by ‘bits,’” he said. “We’ve seen dramatically increased engagement when students can ‘break the fourth wall’ of the Zoom screen by working together with physical artifacts.” In an early assignment, students built robots that play music and dance together – even while spatially remote. They also paused for creative physical activity breaks as a team. “Everyone stares at a screen all day, and since the class is almost two hours long, we try to get students out of their seats -- whether for a nature break or a virtual roller coaster simulation,” said Jessica Steinberg, a bioengineering sophomore and Art of Making TA. The teaching assistants took creative measures to try to make the “covid classroom” mimic an in-person experience. “Inspired by techniques used at the Stanford d.school to enhance creativity and community, Dr. Samoksy suggested playing ‘ideation music’ during some of our class activities. I DJ music while the students are working, playing calmer music during brainstorming and more high energy songs while they are prototyping or doing workshops,” said Mackenzie Stiles, a bioengineering sophomore who is also a TA for the course. “We used to listen to music together in G34 so something small like that really creates a nice sense of community while we work in different places.” Both Steinberg and Stiles were part of the spring 2020 course offering and were well equipped to help the new cohort of students navigate the untraditional classroom. “When we returned last spring, everything was so unstable with all of my classes, except the Art of Making,” said Stiles. “It was shocking how normal it felt, which is a testament to the hard work that Dr. Samosky and the TAs made during the week of spring break. That made me value what I do as a TA now and motivated me to provide the same level of consistency during these unpredictable times.” Samosky and his TA team also developed, tested and deployed a new Art of Making Online Expo where the capstone project teams presented their projects to their peers, industry guests and course alumni joining from around the world. “It is a great opportunity for the students to show off, get feedback, and take pride in everything they accomplished during the course,” Steinberg added. “Experiential learning has always been at the core of Art of Making, so it has been a rewarding challenge to help create ways for students to engage in hands-on, collaborative learning, even while physically distant.” Reimagining the Future Bioengineering is closely connected to the clinical world, and graduate programs in the field often draw health care professionals. During the pandemic, many of these professionals have faced unique challenges and have been pushed to the front line of the crisis. Two current MS in Medical Product Engineering (MS-MPE) graduate students have had to learn how to strike a balance between a career and education during these unprecedented circumstances. As COVID-19 swept through New York City in March 2020, hospital intensive care units (ICUs) were quickly slammed with patients and in desperate need of healthy hospital workers, like travel nurse Kelsey Cox. “I was in Seattle at the beginning of the pandemic and saw the immediate need for nurses in New York City,” said Cox, who started the MS-MPE program in the fall. “With my background and interest in failing lungs and hearts, I knew I had to help, so I moved to Brooklyn in mid-March.” After her time in New York, Cox traveled to Pittsburgh to settle in and prepare for the start of the program; however, she was soon called to Texas – another state hit hard by the pandemic. “I worked 21 days straight in an ICU in McAllen and later did the same thing in El Paso,” she said. “Though they were difficult months, I was happy I could contribute to the crisis and grateful to have had the experience. “Being a travel nurse has given me an amazing opportunity to work all across the nation and has allowed me to network with like-minded peers. It has also afforded me the chance to focus on my graduate studies and not have to work a part-time job as a student.” Cox hopes to connect her two professional worlds and engineer devices and solutions that can improve daily life for nurses. Another MS-MPE student juggling a career and graduate school is Brandon D’Aloiso (BS BioE ’15), a lead perfusionist at UPMC Presbyterian who supports cardiac patients, including heart and lung transplant patients. He also supports individuals on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) – a device that can do the work of the patient’s heart and/or lungs while native organs recover. “We have seen an increasing use of ECMO in the COVID-19 patient population and have supported these ECMO patients round-the-clock since last April,” he said. D’Aloiso also participates on the StatMedivac ECMO Transport team, a group that branches out to regional hospitals, places qualifying individuals on ECMO, and transports them back to UPMC Presbyterian for further care. “This life-saving effort was one of the coolest things I got to do during the pandemic,” he added. “It really helped regional centers to care for these sick patients. “While balancing life as a graduate student has been tough, I love my job and learning in the program so I have made it work. I have been fortunate that many of my courses have allowed me to focus on projects I am very interested in and that relate to my work as a perfusionist as well.” D’Aloiso has an interest in cardiac medical devices and joined the MS-MPE program to further his knowledge in this area. Though these stories only represent a fraction of the Pitt bioengineering population, they demonstrate the diverse backgrounds and interests that can come together to impact and improve the human condition – even during times of crisis.

Mar
18
2021

For Women’s History Month, Women in STEM Share Their Journeys

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Civil & Environmental, Industrial, MEMS, Diversity

PITTSBURGH (March 18, 2021) — The path for women in STEM fields has historically been fraught with obstacles that their male counterparts may not have had to face. The path is a bit clearer today thanks to the women who walked it before: women like Rachel Carson, the marine biologist and environmentalist; Katherine Johnson, the space scientist who made the Apollo 11 flight possible; and Edith Clarke, the first professionally employed female electrical engineer in the U.S. On Wednesday, March 31, 2021, in celebration of Women’s History Month, a panel of women from the Swanson School of Engineering will discuss their own paths to success as women in STEM and higher education. The six faculty and staff members will discuss their journeys and lessons learned while building their fruitful careers. The panel, “My Journey, My Story: The Path to Success for Women in STEM and Higher Education,” is presented by the Swanson School of Engineering Office of Diversity. The discussion is open to all members of the Swanson School. You can find more information and RSVP here. PANELISTS: Xinyan Tracy Cui, Professor of Bioengineering Tracy Cui runs NTE Lab, where they investigate and develop tools that interface with the nervous system for neuroscience research or clinical diagnosis and therapies. One major thrust of the lab research is to understand and modulate neural tissue interactions with smart materials and biosensors—an effort that can be applied to several fields of research, including neural electrode/tissue interface, neural tissue engineering, implantable biosensors and drug delivery. The NTE Lab also designs advanced functional biomaterials and electrode devices that will intimately integrate with the host neural tissue. They simultaneously develop rigorous methods to comprehensively and accurately evaluate these novel materials and devices. Related news: $2.37M NIH Award to Deliver Improved Neural Recording Technology Katherinetarget="_blank" Hornbostel, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science On the way to renewable energy, there will still be a need for traditional power plants, like natural gas and coal, to keep the electrical grid stable during the transition. Katherine Hornbostel’s research focuses primarily on making those traditional energy sources cleaner through carbon capture technology. Her research group investigates materials for post-combustion carbon capture and direct air capture. Another project funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s ARPA-E program will model a novel plant that can capture more carbon dioxide from the air than it produces, making it carbon-negative. Related news: New Research Led by Pitt Analyzes Modeling Techniques for Carbon Capture Technology Gena Kovalcik, Co-Director of the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation The Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation (MCSI) focuses on sustainability initiatives and practices through the development and integration of curriculum, groundbreaking research, community outreach and innovation. Gena Kovalcik has led MCSI since 2003, when she joined as Codirector of Administration and External Relations. Kovalcik was also recently selected as Strategic Advisor to the Dean of the Swanson School of Engineering. In this new position, Gena will play an important role in helping to formalize and lead development of the Swanson School’s strategic processes and operationalizing its strategy across all units. In addition to her work at Pitt, Kovalcik serves as a member of the Allegheny County Green Action Team, which provides high-level, strategic input to Allegheny County officials to better support regional sustainability. She is also on the Board of Directors of the Pittsburgh Green Innovators. Related news: https://www.engineering.pitt.edu/MCSI/News/ Carla Ng, Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering There are tens of thousands of industrial chemicals currently in commerce—the majority of which were not carefully evaluated to understand their toxicity, bioaccumulation potential, or persistence. As researchers continue to discover environmental contaminants, Carla Ng’s lab works to effectively screen these potentially dangerous substances. Ng’s group works at the intersection of biology and chemistry to understand and predict the fate of chemicals in the environment. They build and validate models for legacy and emerging chemicals at multiple scales, from molecules to organisms to global systems. Recent news: Mapping PFAS Contamination in Packaged Food Cheryl Paul, Director of Engineering Student Services and Graduate Student Ombudsperson In her dual role assisting undergraduates and as the school’s graduate Ombudsperson, Cheryl Paul provides support to engineering students as they navigate academic and life challenges. Additionally, Paul extensively consults with staff, faculty, and parents in situations where extra assistance is required. As a member of Pitt’s Campus Crisis Support Team, the Care & Resource Support group, & the LGBTQI+ Task Force, she is invested in leading the effort to improve student’s educational experiences with care & compassion. Paul’s work has been widely recognized by her peers. In 2013, she received the Chancellor’s Award for Staff Excellence for her work assisting student organizations.To honor this work, Pitt’s Fraternity and Sorority Life recently named the Cheryl Paul Professional Academic Mentor of the Year Award after her. Anne Robertson, William Kepler Whiteford Endowed Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science Anne Robertson joined the University of Pittsburgh in 1995, where she was the first female faculty member in Mechanical Engineering. Her research is focused on understanding the relationship between biological structure and mechanical function of soft tissues with a particular focus on vascular tissues. She directs a multi-institution program on cerebral aneurysms that is supported by the NIH and served a four-year term as a standing member of the Neuroscience and Ophthalmic Imaging Technologies (NOIT) Study Section of the NIH. Robertson is founding Director of the Center for Faculty Excellence in the Swanson School of Engineering at Pitt, which takes the lead in developing and implementing programs to enhance the effectiveness of junior faculty in building outstanding academic careers. She was recently promoted to Associate Dean of Faculty Development so that she can expand this work to include recently promoted Associate Professors. Dr. Robertson is a strong supporter of diversity-related initiatives and in 2007, she received the Robert O. Agbede Faculty Award for Diversity in the Swanson School. Related news: Pitt and Mayo Clinic Discover New, Immediate Phase of Blood Vessel Restructuring After Aneurysm
Maggie Pavlick
Mar
9
2021

A Joint Effort to Improve Shoulder Surgery

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (Mar. 10, 2021) … A dislocated shoulder is a common sports injury that can occur with a single swing of the tennis racket or an awkward fall on the field. Though popping the bone back into the socket may seem like a simple solution, the reality is more complex. The injury can sometimes require an operation, and improper surgical technique and healing can further exacerbate the injury. This puts individuals at increased risk for future dislocation or joint disease later in life. To tackle this issue, multidisciplinary researchers from the University of Pittsburgh will use an award from the National Institutes of Health to study an individualized approach that may improve surgical outcomes and help athletes avoid lasting repercussions. Richard Debski, PhD, professor of bioengineering, and Albert Lin, MD, associate professor of orthopaedic surgery, will lead a study to improve injury assessment and repair using quantitative techniques to measure the magnitude and location of injury. “Repair surgery has up to a 15 percent rate of failure, and these cases lead to instability and additional dislocations which limit the patient’s ability to return to an active life,” said Debski, who runs the Orthopaedic Robotics Laboratory at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “Our research reveals this injury affects a larger region than previously thought and indicates that the location and magnitude vary from person to person,” he explained. “This suggests that an individualized approach may be more effective in treating dislocation injuries and improving surgical outcomes.” Dislocation injuries involve a sheet of soft tissue -- called a capsule -- that surrounds and stabilizes the joint. The high recurrence rate in capsular injuries can enlarge the damaged area, making a successful recovery even more difficult. In this study, Debski and Lin will use a custom robotic system to dislocate a cadaveric shoulder and simulate clinical exams to assess joint stability. They will use an optical tracking system to measure the amount of permanent deformation or injury after each dislocation. A surgeon will then perform a more precise repair procedure with the given location and magnitude of injury, and the results will be evaluated and compared to current methods. “Despite significant advancement in surgical technique to address shoulder instability over the past 20 years, the rate of failure remains unacceptably high with real socioeconomic impact, particularly in a young patient population,” said Lin. “Dr. Debski and I have found that injury patterns vary significantly between patients; therefore, the key to improving recurrence rates may be individualized, anatomic surgeries specifically tailored to address the unique pattern injury rather than the current one-size-fits-all approach.” Since the current optical tracking system cannot be used in a clinical setting, the team will also develop a new strategy to collect patient-specific measurements. “We will use an MRI technique to characterize the injury and compare it to the quantitative patterns from our cadaveric model to see if there is a correlation between the data before and after surgical repair,” said Debski. The findings of this study could validate the need for an individualized approach to capsular injury repair and potentially lead to a clinical trial. “With this personalized approach, we hope to reduce the amount of failed capsular surgeries,” Debski said. “In the long run, we also hope to reduce the development of osteoarthritis in young adults, and ultimately, help these athletes make a healthy return to the sport that they love.” # # # Caption: 3D model of MR arthrogram with division of the capsule into eight sub-regions.

Feb

Feb
18
2021

University of Pittsburgh Faculty Elected Senior Members of the National Academy of Inventors

Bioengineering

Reposted from the Innovation Institute. Click here to view the original story. The National Academy of Inventors (NAI) has selected three University of Pittsburgh professors among 61 academic inventors for the 2021 class of NAI Senior Members. They are: Bryan Brown, Associate Professor, Department of Bioengineering Michael Lotze, Professor, Department of Surgery Kacey Marra, Professor, Departments of Plastic Surgery NAI Senior Members are active faculty, scientists and administrators from NAI Member Institutions who have demonstrated remarkable innovation producing technologies that have brought, or aspire to bring, real impact on the welfare of society. They also have growing success in patents, licensing and commercialization. “I want to congratulate Drs. Brown, Lotze and Marra on joining an exclusive society of academic inventors,” said Evan Facher, Vice Chancellor for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Pittsburgh and Director of the Innovation Institute. “They all have demonstrated exceptional commitment to achieving impact for their research through commercial translation. Importantly, they have years of innovating ahead of them. We look forward to helping them bring more of those discoveries to market where they can make a difference in people’s lives.” Two of the new NAI Senior Members are developing solutions for treating large gap nerve injuries. Bryan Brown has been issued eight patents, with several more pending. He launched a startup company in 2017, Renerva, from his lab at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. Dr. Brown leveraged more than $300,000 in commercialization gap funding from within the university while working one-on-one with an entrepreneur in residence from Pitt’s Innovation Institute, Lorenzo Soletti, who has become Renerva’s CEO. Since launching, the company has raised more than $1 million in investment capital, while also securing more than $3 million in grants from the Department of Defense, the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, to advance its preclinical programs. Kacey Marra was inspired to pursue commercial translation after receiving funding from the Department of Defense for her research and meeting soldiers who had received significant nerve damage from wounds suffered in combat. Since arriving at Pitt in 2002, she has submitted 20 invention disclosures to the Pitt Innovation Institute, which ties her for most among female faculty members. She has been issued 3 patents with many more pending. Dr. Marra and her lab have demonstrated in animal studies the ability to restore up to 80 percent of nerve function in large-gap injuries through the application of a biodegradable tube containing a time-released protein growth factor. With her research showing continuing promise, Dr. Marra launched her own company, Nerve Repair Technologies, in 2018. Michael Lotze is a pioneer in the cancer immunotherapy field and is the co-inventor of multiple patents in dendritic cell vaccines, antigen discovery, and tumor infiltrating lymphocyte therapy. He previously held leadership roles in industry as the chief scientific officer of Iovance Biotherapeutics, which is presently conducting four Phase 2 clinical trials for treatment of patients with metastatic melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck, non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and cervical cancer. Earlier he had been vice president of research at GlaxoSmithKline. He was also senior advisor for the Immune Transplant and Therapy Center, a partnership between Pitt and UPMC. This latest class of NAI Senior Members represents 36 research universities, government, and non-profit research institutes. They are named inventors on over 617 issued U.S. patents. “With the NAI Senior Member award distinction, we are recognizing innovators who are rising stars in their fields and the innovative ecosystems that support their work,” said Paul R. Sanberg, NAI President. Following a nomination for NAI Senior Member, individuals undergo a rigorous selection process by the NAI Advisory Committee, which is composed of elected NAI members and other professionals considered pioneers in their respective field. Senior Members are elected biannually, and nominations are accepted on a rolling basis. Nominations are currently being accepted for the next Senior Member class. A full list of NAI Senior Members is available on the NAI website.

Feb
16
2021

Using a Machine Model to Predict Risk of Human Aneurysms

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (Feb. 16, 2020) ... An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) can be a ticking time bomb if undiscovered in time. However, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh are developing a new model to better predict at-risk patients. And the tools they are using apply mechanical testing to the human body - which is itself a complex machine. An AAA occurs when the aorta weakens and begins to irreversibly dilate, like a slowly inflating balloon. If left untreated, the risk of rupture increases and has a 90 percent rate of mortality, making AAA the 15th leading cause of death in the United States with more than 15,000 deaths reported annually. Once diagnosed, clinicians must determine whether the aorta requires surgery, using the AAA diameter to decide if an aneurysm is clinically relevant. A diameter 5.5 centimeters or larger typically calls for surgical intervention, barring other contraindications, but this one-size-fits-all approach misses nearly 25 percent of patients who experience a rupture at a smaller size. Pitt bioengineer David A. Vorp received an award from the National Institutes of Health to track the natural evolution of small AAA and develop a predictive model to improve patient prognosis. His Vascular Bioengineering Lab at the university’s Swanson School of Engineering is focused on finding novel diagnoses and treatments for these silent killers. “It’s a ticking time bomb,” explained Timothy Chung, a post-doctoral associate in Vorp’s lab. “Once you diagnose an abdominal aortic aneurysm, you don’t know when or if it’s going to rupture. “Imagine you’re blowing up a balloon, and it pops. This event involves the mechanics and forces that are interacting with the wall of the balloon,” continued Chung, who will help lead the project. “We’re interested in the biomechanics of why elevated pressure or a weakening of the aneurysm wall might lead to rupture or accelerated growth.” The research team hopes that CT scans and other data from a rare, longitudinal clinical trial (“Non-Invasive Treatment of Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Clinical Trial”) will help them identify the risks of elevated growth rate or eventual rupture. Vorp’s lab group will create 3D geometric reconstructions and perform biomechanical simulations on patient datasets at each imaging scan interval (every six months) to learn how small AAA progresses over time. They will then use the scans and unique software tools from their lab to perform shape analyses that will determine which geometries may lead to poor patient outcomes. “Currently, clinicians are simply applying a one-dimensional shape analysis, using diameter as a threshold for clinical intervention,” said Chung. “The tools developed in the Vascular Bioengineering Lab can help us extract more than one-dimensional measurements. They allow us to create two- and three-dimensional shape indices derived from image-based surface reconstructions, allowing for a more robust analysis.” The team will then feed data from the shape analysis and biomechanical simulations to train a machine learning algorithm to classify different types of aneurysm outcomes. This will be used to develop a predictive model that can help guide clinicians and determine the need for surgical intervention. “Early in my career, the advent of finite element analysis – a computational method to predict mechanical wall stress distribution in complex shapes both biological and human-made  – provided a game-changing tool to better understand the role of biomechanics in AAA disease,” said Vorp, Associate Dean for Research and John A. Swanson Professor of Bioengineering. “Now, machine learning technologies can not only help us better understand the combination of factors that lead toward rupture or clinical intervention, but also package that knowledge into a true, personalized health tool for those afflicted with this potentially lethal condition.” # # #

Feb
15
2021

UPMC/Pitt Orthopaedic Robotics Laboratory Experts Study ACL Injury Features with Three-Dimensional Statistical Shape Modeling

Bioengineering

Reposted from UPMC Physician Resources. Click here to view the original article. A study to investigate tibiofemoral bony morphology features associated with ACL injury and sex utilizing three-dimensional statistical shape modeling was conducted by: Sene Polamalu, BSThird-year Bioengineering PhD Student Researcher  Orthopaedic Robotics Laboratory, University of Pittsburgh Volker Musahl, MDBlue Cross of Western Pennsylvania ProfessorChief UPMC Sports Medicine Medical DirectorProfessor, University of Pittsburgh Departments of Orthopaedic Surgery, Bioengineering, and Clinical Translational Science Institute Richard Debski, PhDWilliam Kepler Whiteford Faculty FellowCo-Director, Orthopaedic Robotics LaboratoryProfessor, University of Pittsburgh Departments of Bioengineering and Orthopaedic Surgery In the study, statistical shape modeling was employed to assess three-dimensional (3D) bony morphology between: Distal femurs and proximal tibiae of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injured knees. The contralateral uninjured knees of ACL injured subjects. Knees with no history of injury. Surface models were created by segmenting bone from bilateral computed-tomography scans of: 20 subjects of their ACL injured knees and non-injured contralateral knees. 20 knees of control subjects with no history of a knee injury. Correspondence particles were placed on each surface, and a principal component analysis determined modes of variation in the positions of the correspondence particles describing anatomical variation. ANOVAs assessed the statistical differences of 3D bony morphological features with main effects of injury state and sex. ACL injured knees were determined to have a more lateral femoral mechanical axis and a greater angle between the long axis and condylar axis of the femur. A smaller anterior-posterior dimension of the lateral tibial plateau was also associated with ACL injured knees. Results of this study demonstrate that there are more bony morphological features predisposing individuals for ACL injury than previously established. These bony morphological parameters may cause greater internal and valgus torques increasing stresses in the ACL. No differences were determined between the ACL injured knees and their uninjured contralateral knees demonstrating that knees of ACL injured individuals are at similar risk for injury. Further understanding of the effect of bony morphology on the risk for ACL injury could improve individualized ACL injury treatment and prevention. Read more about this study on PubMed.

Feb
8
2021

Helping Translational Research Meet the Needs of Older Adults

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (Feb. 8, 2021) … In this digital age, where the internet accelerates technological development, there has been a surge of scientific innovation designed to improve the quality of life for patients in need. However, there are physical, cognitive, and sensory issues that are often overlooked during the process, resulting in poor design for a particular user group –adults aged 65 and older. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, this group will comprise more than 20 percent of the U.S. population starting in 2030. Highlighting the importance for safety and efficacy, the U.S. Federal Drug Administration has made incorporating human factors a priority for device approval which can significantly impact the road to commercialization, leaving many researchers stuck in the design phase. Unfortunately, many of these technologies and interventions struggle to advance to commercialization. A new program at the University of Pittsburgh hopes to help investigators navigate this common roadblock. Funded by the National Institutes of Health, Professor Mark Redfern will establish a Human Factors of Aging program at Pitt to inform, support, and advance the translation of research focused on improving the lives of older adults. “There are a huge number of factors to take into consideration when designing for older adults, and with this program, we hope to educate our investigators and innovators and create a collaborative community to help translate research across the University,” said Redfern, professor of bioengineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. In 2018, Redfern spent part of a sabbatical at the FDA to learn more about how human factors are evaluated. He will use this knowledge along with his 20 years of experience in human factors and aging research to help investigators at Pitt advance their work. “Many changes occur with age that should be considered in design. For example, vision changes can include loss of acuity, contrast sensitivity, depth perception and field of view, making a display more difficult to see.  Physical changes such as reduced strength and struggles with balance can also occur, making devices designed for mobility perhaps more difficult to use,” he explained. “On the cognitive side, memory and attention may be an issue so developers must design a product understanding these limitations. “My goal is to help make our investigators aware of these factors that they may not have otherwise considered as they think of translating their research into action.” Redfern will use this K07 award to educate investigators, their post-doctoral researchers and graduate students.  He currently teaches a course on Human Factors Engineering of Medical Devices for engineering students, but now wants to develop courses and workshops more broadly for the University community. He will also use the Human Factors Laboratory within the Human Movement and Balance Laboratory to help them develop and test prototypes. As part of the program, Redfern hopes to bring together a network of people with a vested interest in aging research – from engineers and clinicians to companies and University centers. “One of the most exciting things is our partnership with Pitt’s Alzheimer's Disease Research Center,” Redfern said. “Their knowledge about the impact of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease on functional capabilities will be integrated into the program to improve design for older adults with these challenges. This collaboration will give program participants a practical and robust education on the human factors of aging.” Ultimately, he hopes that this program will advance the world-class translational research at Pitt and have a positive impact on the lives of older adults. If successful, he will develop resources to extend the program nationally. # # #

Feb
4
2021

Alpha Chi Continues the Conversation on Racial Equality

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

Race relations and social justice have been in the spotlight in recent years, calling on individuals to devote energy toward creating a more equitable future for everyone. Allies have been encouraged to consider their privilege and educate themselves on the deep-rooted issues that contribute to racism in the United States. This self-reflection and realization, however, has left some overwhelmed or uncertain about how they can personally effect change. Working together and learning from one another may lend to a richer understanding of these issues, and Alpha Chi National College Honor Society will host a forum to help its members and greater community start the process. On Saturday, Feb. 6, in line with the start of Black History Month, they hope to facilitate an engaging conversation about “Personal Perspectives on Race, Privilege, and Responsibility.” “The seminar continues the current dialogue of fighting for social justice,” said Ande Marini, a bioengineering PhD student at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering. “Personally, I love learning about other people’s cultures and learning how people’s experiences have shaped their perspectives. “Learning about the hardships others have faced and how we can help those individuals is crucial to growing as a society. We need to have this dialogue to better understand each other’s perspectives, and having difficult conversations provides new avenues for growth and understanding.” When Alpha Chi called for nominations for the panel, Marini decided to nominate Steven Abramowitch, associate professor of bioengineering at Pitt. Abramowitch has contributed diversity and inclusion in the Swanson School through programs such as PITT STRIVE, the Global Engineering Preparedness Scholarship (GEPS), Engineering Design for Social Change: South Africa, and CampBioE. "I was honored to be nominated by Ande and to be selected for this panel,” Abramowitch said. “Our lives have been especially chaotic over the last year; thus, it is wonderful that Alpha Chi is using this time to help us do some reflection and encourage us to think beyond ourselves again." He will participate as one of three panelists in the seminar: Steven Abramowitch, associate professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, will focus on positive actions students can take to address diversity issues. Dwonna Goldstone, associate history professor and director of the African American Studies program at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas, will focus on her experience in helping people with difficult conversations about race. Justine Pas, associate professor of English and associate dean in the School of Humanities at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri, will share personal experiences and discuss the concept of white privilege. The seminar will be hosted and moderated by Lara Noah, executive director of Alpha Chi. “This panel is the second event in the first series of its kind as an educational initiative from Alpha Chi's national headquarters,” she said. “Other than programming during our annual national convention, educational events like these are typically planned and conducted at the local chapter level. I’m very much looking forward to our conversation on Saturday and appreciate Dr. Abramowitch’s participation.” “… and Justice for All” is the theme for the organization’s 2021 national conference, and this event was planned to help raise awareness of these issues among the Alpha Chi community. “Sharing these topics with the collegiate generation, both undergraduate and graduate, is important and can open their eyes to new perspectives,” Marini added. “By impacting this generation, we are laying a foundation built upon understanding, love, and acceptance for our future leaders.” About Alpha Chi Alpha Chi National College Honor Society was founded in 1922 to recognize and promote academic excellence among college and university students of all disciplines, to encourage a spirit of service and leadership, and to nurture the elements of character that make scholarship effective for good. Alpha Chi is a member in good standing with the Association of College Honor Societies. You can learn more about Alpha Chi at AlphaChiHonor.org.

Feb
3
2021

Bioengineering Names Linggang Luo its 2020 Wesley C. Pickard Fellow

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (Feb. 3, 2021) … Linggang Luo, a bioengineering graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, was named the 2020 Wesley C. Pickard Fellow by the Department of Bioengineering. Recipients of this award are selected by the department chair and chosen based on academic merit. Luo received his bachelor’s degree in bioengineering at Harbin Institute of Technology in Weihai, China and his master’s degree in biomedical engineering at Columbia University before joining the graduate program at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “I chose Pitt’s bioengineering program because it is among the top programs in the United States,” Luo said. “For those who are simultaneously interested in neuroscience and imaging, there are many opportunities, including collaborations between Pitt, UPMC, Carnegie Mellon University and the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition.” Luo works in the lab of Fang-Cheng (Frank) Yeh, MD, PhD, assistant professor of neurological surgery at Pitt’s School of Medicine, where he studies tractography, a 3D modeling technique that uses magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data to visualize nerve tracts. Specifically, he looks at how this tool can be used to map structural properties of the brain, such as white matter tracts. “Diffusion MRI has arisen as the only non-invasive way to map white matter bundles and assess their structural integrity in the human brain,” Luo explained. “There is a growing interest in large-scale analysis of diffusion MRI to explore its promising applications in biomedical research as an imaging biomarker of neuropathology. “With fast imaging sequences, diffusion MRI -- particularly its high angular resolution variants -- can be acquired on standard clinical scanners,” he added. “This advancement has gained considerable interest because of its roles in mapping human connectome and potential for accessing neurological disorders.” Improved imaging will allow researchers to gain a better understanding of neural function and may eventually help predict and improve treatment of neurological disorders. “Diffusion MRI is a challenging field with keen competition from top engineers around the world, who are striving to lift technical obstacles for clinical needs,” Dr. Yeh said. “I am thrilled that Linggang has decided to take on this challenge and work side-by-side with me. It is a tough choice, but I believe there is promising potential for him to change health care practice in the future.” After he completes his PhD, Luo plans to pursue a career in academia and lead his own neuroscience research laboratory. “I appreciate this fellowship and the opportunity it has allowed me to advance research in this field,” Luo said. “I hope to make a positive impact that can one day improve the treatment of neurological disorders.” About Wesley C. Pickard: Mr. Pickard is an alumnus of the Swanson School of Engineering and earned his bachelor's degree in mining engineering at Pitt in 1961.  He retired from Synergy Inc, a DC based consulting firm as the CFO. Over a period of 33 years, Pickard helped the company grow from five staff members to more than 200 with revenues of approximately $25 million when it was sold in 2005. His support of Pitt includes the establishment of this fellowship, and he was recently inducted into the Cathedral of Learning Society at Pitt—a giving society that honors some of our most generous alumni. In 2010 Mr. Pickard was named the University of Pittsburgh Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering Distinguished Alumnus. He also received the Pitt Volunteer of Excellence Award in 2012 and was named a “Significant Sig” in 2017 by Sigma Chi Fraternity.  In 2018 he was selected as the overall honoree representing the entire Swanson School at the 54th annual Distinguished Alumni Banquet.

Jan

Jan
27
2021

Hemolung® RAS Used to Treat More than 75 COVID-19 Patients

Covid-19, Bioengineering

Reposted from Business Wire. Click here to view the original press release. PITTSBURGH--(BUSINESS WIRE)--ALung Technologies, Inc., the leading provider of low-flow extracorporeal carbon dioxide removal (ECCO2R) technologies for treating patients with acute respiratory failure, announced that it has now treated more than 75 COVID-19 patients, and that it is experiencing increasing demand for the Hemolung® Respiratory Assist System (RAS) as a result of the current pandemic. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted the Company Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) designation to the Hemolung RAS for the treatment of COVID-19 patients in the second quarter of 2020. The Hemolung is the only ECCO2R device currently granted an EUA for the treatment of COVID-19. “The Hemolung RAS has enabled us to recover patients with COVID pneumonia during the pandemic. In select patients where there is a selective issue with hypercarbic respiratory acidosis while their oxygen requirements have normalized post-Veno-Venous ECMO cannulation, we have utilized Hemolung as a bridge in their recovery. We have noticed that these patients are able to wean off mechanical circulatory support in a gradual manner. Additionally, at a time when there was a shortage of ECMO circuits, our program has relied on utilizing this technology in stabilizing patients with severe hypercarbic respiratory acidosis while providing lung protective ventilation,” stated Dr. Bindu Akkanti, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Divisions of Critical Care, Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine, McGovern Medical School, and Director of Heart and Vascular Critical Care, Memorial Hermann - Texas Medical Center. “The Hemolung RAS has given us a new tool during the current pandemic, to safely and easily treat our COVID-19 patients. We were able to rapidly introduce the Hemolung RAS to our staff and start treating patients under Emergency Use Authorization. As a smaller community hospital without an ECMO program, the ease of use of the Hemolung has played a large role in the successful deployment of ECCO2R for the treatment of COVID-19 at Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center,” stated Ribal Darwish, MD, Medical Director Critical Care Medicine, Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center. “We are pleased to be able to assist in this fight against the COVID-19 viral disease by providing the use of the Hemolung RAS as a 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 (VILI). We are treating COVID-19 patients in greater than 20 hospitals worldwide,” said Mr. Peter M. DeComo, Chairman and CEO of ALung Technologies. In its EUA approval letter to ALung the FDA stated that it believes the Hemolung RAS has the potential to treat lung failure as an adjunct to noninvasive or invasive mechanical ventilation, to reduce hypercapnia and hypercapnic acidosis due to COVID-19, and/or to maintain normalized levels of partial pressure of carbon dioxide(PCO2) and pH in patients suffering from acute, reversible respiratory failure due to COVID-19 for whom ventilation of CO2 cannot be adequately, safely, or tolerably achieved and, in turn, may provide clinical benefit, and that there is no adequate, approved and available alternative to the emergency use of the Hemolung RAS to treat lung 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 on the use of the Hemolung RAS for COVID-19 patients, please visit https://www.alung.com/covid-19/covid-19-us/*The Hemolung RAS has not been FDA cleared or approved.*The Hemolung RAS has been authorized for the above emergency use by FDA under an EUA.*This device is authorized only for the duration of the declaration that circumstances exist justifying the authorization of the emergency use of the Hemolung RAS under Section 564(b)(1) of the Act, 21 U.S.C. § 360bbb- 3(b)(1), unless the authorization is terminated or revoked sooner.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.

Jan
25
2021

A Microscopic Look at Aneurysm Repair

Bioengineering, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (Jan. 25, 2021) — Hitting a pothole on the road in just the wrong way might create a bulge on the tire, a weakened spot that will almost certainly lead to an eventual flat tire. But what if that tire could immediately begin reknitting its rubber, reinforcing the bulge and preventing it from bursting? That’s exactly what blood vessels can do after an aneurysm forms, according to new research led by the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering and in partnership with the Mayo Clinic. Aneurysms are abnormal bulges in artery walls that can form in brain arteries. Ruptured brain aneurysms are fatal in almost 50% of cases. The research, recently published in Experimental Mechanics, is the first to show that there are two phases of wall restructuring after an aneurysm forms, the first beginning right away to reinforce the weakened points. “Imagine stretching a rubber tube in a single direction so that it only needs to be reinforced for loads in that direction. However, in an aneurysm, the forces change to be more like those in a spherical balloon, with forces pulling in multiple directions, making it more vulnerable to bursting,” explained Anne Robertson, professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Pitt, whose lab led the research. “Our study found that blood vessels are capable of adapting after an aneurysm forms. They can restructure their collagen fibers in multiple directions instead of just one, making it better able to handle the new loads without rupturing.” Researchers have known that blood vessels have the ability to change and restructure over time, but this study represents the first observation of a new, primary phase of restructuring that begins immediately. The researchers used a rabbit model developed by David Kallmes of the Mayo Clinic to observe this restructuring in the brain tissue over time. To see this process up close, the researchers partnered with Simon Watkins at Pitt’s Center for Biologic Imaging, taking advantage of the center’s state-of-the-art multiphoton microscopes to image the architecture of the fibers inside the aneurysm wall. “We found that the first phase of restructuring involves laying down an entirely new layer of collagen fibers in two directions to better handle the new load, while the second phase involves remodeling existing layers so their fibers lie in two directions,” explained Chao Sang, who was a primary investigator on this research as part of his doctoral dissertation in Pitt’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science “The long-term restructuring is akin to a scar forming after a cut has healed, while this first phase that we observed can be thought of as having a role similar to clotting immediately after the cut—the body’s first response to protect itself,” added Robertson, who has a secondary appointment in the Swanson School’s Department of Bioengineering. “Now that we know about this first phase, we can begin to investigate how to promote it in patients with aneurysms, and how factors like age and preexisting conditions affect this ability and may place a patient at higher risk for aneurysm rupture.” The investigative team includes Robertson and graduate students Chao Sang and Michael Durka from Pitt, Simon Watkins from the Center for Biologic Imaging, and David Kallmes, Ramanathan Kadirvel, Yong Hong Ding, and Daying Dai from the Mayo Clinic’s Department of Radiology. The paper, “Adaptive Remodeling in the Elastase-Induced Rabbit Aneurysms,” (DOI:10.1007/s11340-020-00671-9) was published in the journal Experimental Mechanics and was authored by Chao Sang, Michael Durka and Anne Robertson at the Swanson School; David Kallmes, Ramanathan Kadirvel, Yong Hong Ding and Daying Dai at the Mayo Clinic’s Department of Radiology; Simon Watkins at Pitt’s Center for Biologic Imaging.
Maggie Pavlick
Jan
13
2021

Breathing Easier with a Better Tracheal Stent

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (Jan. 13, 2021) — Pediatric laryngotracheal stenosis (LTS), a narrowing of the airway in children, is a complex medical condition. While it can be something a child is born with or caused by injury, the condition can result in a life-threatening emergency if untreated. Treatment, however, is challenging. Depending on the severity, doctors will use a combination of endoscopic techniques, surgical repair, tracheostomy, or deployment of stents to hold the airway open and enable breathing. While stents are great at holding the airway open and simultaneously allowing the trachea to continue growing, they can move around, or cause damage when they’re eventually removed. New research published in Communications Biology and led by the University of Pittsburgh is poised to drastically improve the use of stents, demonstrating for the first time the successful use of a completely biodegradable magnesium-alloy tracheal stent that avoids some of these risks. “Using commercial non-biodegradable metal or silicone based tracheal stents has a risk of severe complications and doesn't achieve optimal clinical outcomes, even in adults,” said Prashant N. Kumta, Edward R. Weidlein Chair Professor of bioengineering at the Swanson School of Engineering. “Using advanced biomaterials could offer a less invasive, and more successful, treatment option.” In the study, the balloon-expandable ultra-high ductility (UHD) biodegradable magnesium stent was shown to perform better than current metallic non-biodegradable stents in use in both in lab testing and in rabbit models. The stent was shown to keep the airway open over time and have low degradation rates, displaying normal healing and no adverse problems. “Our results are very promising for the use of this novel biodegradable, high ductility metal stent, particularly for pediatric patients,” said Kumta, who also holds appointments in Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, and the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. “We hope this new approach leads to new and improved treatments for patients with this complex condition as well as other tracheal obstruction conditions including tracheal cancer.” The paper, “In-vivo efficacy of biodegradable ultrahigh ductility Mg-Li-Zn alloy tracheal stents for pediatric airway obstruction,” (DOI: 10.1038/s42003-020-01400-7), was authored by the Swanson School’s Jingyao Wu, Abhijit Roy, Bouen Lee, Youngjae Chun, William R. Wagner, and Prashant N. Kumta; UPMC’s Leila Mady, Ali Mübin Aral, Toma Catalin, Humberto E. Trejo Bittar, and David Chi; and Feng Zheng and Ke Yang from The Institute of Metal Research at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Maggie Pavlick
Jan
12
2021

“Bluetooth Bacteria” Wins a Gold Medal at iGEM 2020

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (January 12, 2021) … Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technology have provided an invaluable connection to the workplace and the outside world as we remained sheltered at home in 2020. As part of a virtual research competition, a team of University of Pittsburgh undergraduates explored if a comparable equivalent to this ubiquitous technology could allow scientists to wirelessly manipulate cell behavior and control gene expression. The group pitched this idea for the 2020 International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition, an annual synthetic biology research competition in which teams from around the world design and carry out projects to solve an open research or societal problem. More than 250 teams participated in the organization’s first Virtual Giant Jamboree, and the Pitt undergraduate group received a gold medal for their project titled “Bluetooth Bacteria.” This year’s group was also one of three teams that were nominated for “Best Foundational Advance Project.”  This is the first time a Pitt iGEM team has been nominated for an award at the iGEM competition. The team included one Swanson School of Engineering student: Lia Franco, a chemical engineering junior. Other members included Sabrina Catalano, a senior molecular biology student; Dara Czernikowski, a senior biological sciences student; Victor So, a senior microbiology and English literature student; and Chenming (Angel) Zheng, a junior molecular biology student. “This sort of non-invasive technology could be used for timed drug release, synthetic organ and neuron stimulation, or even industrial applications,” Czernikowski said. “We first considered optogenetics, which uses light to manipulate cell behavior, but this strategy cannot target deep tissue without risky invasive methods so we needed to change our approach.” The team ultimately decided to attach magnetic nanoparticles to the surface of bacteria and stimulate them with an alternating magnetic field (AMF). The nanoparticles react to the AMF stimulation and dissipate heat, causing the temperature of the bacterium’s cytoplasm to rise. They then used a protein dimer to act as a “bio-switch” to control gene expression. “At lower temperatures, the protein dimers bind to a target DNA sequence and turn off gene expression, but at higher temperatures, heat causes the proteins to un-dimerize,” Catalano explained. “In its un-dimerized state, it can no longer inhibit gene expression, turning the system on. The change in temperature is controlled by the stimulation of magnetic nanoparticles with AMF, allowing wireless control of gene expression in bacteria.” The team hopes that there is therapeutic potential for their design but recognizes that they need to improve spatial control in order to match techniques like optogenetics. They would like to improve their design to use localized heating that could selectively target one bacterium or a specific region of the cytoplasm. They plan to continue development during the upcoming semester. “The iGEM competition is a unique experience where undergraduates take charge and develop and execute their own research idea, with close mentorship from a set of faculty mentors,” said W. Seth Childers, assistant professor of chemistry at Pitt and one of five faculty advisors for the Bluetooth Bacteria team. “This year’s team worked hard under the stress of a pandemic to bring together engineering and biology concepts to consider how one could wirelessly control a bacterium.” Another unique aspect of their project is the “Bluetooth Bacteria Podcast” – a casual and conversational podcast that seeks to educate the general population on topics and current developments in synthetic biology. “One of our main project goals was effective science communication,” said Catalano. “Because COVID-19 limited our ability to teach synthetic biology in person, we thought it would be fun to make a podcast as it is accessible to a wide audience. It gave us the opportunity to hear from iGEM teams all over the world, including France, London, and India.” The team published two episodes every week, and they are available on Apple Podcast or Spotify. The other faculty advisors include Alex Deiters, professor of chemistry; Jason Lohmueller, assistant professor of surgery and immunology; Jason Shoemaker, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering; and Sanjeev Shroff, Distinguished Professor and Gerald E. McGinnis Chair of Bioengineering. # # # The team was sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh, Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, Pitt’s Department of Bioengineering, the Richard King Mellon Foundation, Open Philanthropy, Integrated DNA Technologies, TWIST Bioscience, GenScript, Ginkgo Bioworks, Benchling, Revive & Restore, SnapGene, MathWorks, New England BioLabs Inc., and Promega. Photo caption: (from left) Sabrina Catalano, Dara Czernikowski, Lia Franco, Victor So, and Chenming (Angel) Zheng.