Pitt | Swanson Engineering

Welcome to the Department of Bioengineering’s Undergraduate Program landing page. Within this and other relevant pages you can find pertinent information about all aspects of the program.

For a complete description of the undergraduate curriculumbioengineering trackslist of undergraduate bioengineering coursesminors (bioengineering and other) and certificates, and other pertinent program-related matters, such as academic regulationsmentoring and advisingcooperative educationstudy abroadpost-graduation planning, etc., please refer to the Undergraduate Bioengineering Program Handbook.

For advising and further information contact:

Arash Mahboobin (mahboobin@pitt.edu
Undergraduate Coordinator 
302 Benedum Hall 
Office: 412-624-9819
Erin Schuetz (eeschuetz@pitt.edu
Undergraduate Administrator 
302 Benedum Hall 
Office: 412-624-7279




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


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


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

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


BioE Undergraduate Research Recognized at the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting

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PITTSBURGH (October 22, 2018) … Ellen Martin, a senior bioengineering student at the University of Pittsburgh, received an award for her research presented at the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting on October 3 in Philadelphia, PA. The conference paper, “Characterizing the Required Friction during Ladder Climbing”, details her work on improving ladder safety and was selected as the best student paper by the Safety Technical Group at the meeting. Martin works with Kurt Beschorner, associate professor of bioengineering, in the Swanson School of Engineering’s Human Movement and Balance Laboratory where part of their research aims to create safer occupational environments by investigating the mechanics behind slips, trips, and falls. This diagram demonstrates the effect ladder angle has on center of mass (black circle) and foot angle. The increased horizontal distance between the center of mass and feet may explain the increased maximum RCOF at steeper ladder angles. According to the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration1, falls from ladders are one of the leading causes of occupational fatalities and injuries. “To help improve ladder safety, we investigated the risk of slipping by finding the amount of friction that a person requires to safely climb a ladder, known as the Required Coefficient of Friction (RCOF),” said Martin. “Ladders can be set up at different angles ranging from vertical to slanted so our group adjusted and measured the RCOF at various positions to determine which orientation was the safest for climbing.” RCOF is calculated as the friction force over normal force during climbing. Martin and the group measured these values by embedding force sensors into the ladder and using motion capture to find the orientation of the shoe. The orientation determined which part of the overall force was the friction force, where the shoe is parallel with the surface, and which part was the normal force, where the shoe is perpendicular with the surface. “A high RCOF value indicates that the subject requires a greater amount of friction force to stay stable, making the user more susceptible to slipping,” said Martin. “Based on our research, we determined that the RCOF was highest in the vertical configuration. This suggests that safety could be improved by making sure that a ladder is placed at an angle that keeps a person’s body over the ladder instead of hanging off of the ladder.” Beschorner has applied similar coefficient of friction assessment methods to his other work with gait and encouraged Martin to adapt it to climbing. He added, “Ms. Martin’s work is an important step for developing a mechanism-based model of slipping risk for ladder climbing. Such a model will enable us to develop new methods for assessing ladder rung traction, which is needed to select and design safer ladders.” ### 1 “According to the US Department of Labor’s...” https://www.osha.gov/Publications/portable_ladder_qc.html


Swanson School Undergraduates Recognized for Developing a Kid-Friendly Pill Dispenser

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PITTSBURGH (October 16, 2018) … Two undergraduate students from the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering participated in the Hack This. Help Kids pediatric healthcare hackathon on October 5-6, 2018. The Swanson School team, along with another Pitt undergraduate, won the Kids’ Choice Award for their prototype pill dispenser. The event was hosted by UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation and presented by the Citrone Thirty Three Foundation and Tulco. The hackathon participants spent 24 hours working in teams to solve a unmet pediatric problem identified by the hospital’s community. The team, called Sailbot 2020, included Kaylene Stocking, a senior bioengineering student; Jay Maier, a senior mechanical engineering student; and Andrew Lobos, a senior computer science student. Each group tackled a “pain point” topic for their project. The Sailbot 2020 team chose the “stick to the medicine schedule” option and decided to prototype a smart, kid-friendly pill dispenser. This “pain point” addresses the issue that pediatric patients, who may leave the hospital with a strict regimen, often have difficulty following a medication schedule. “Our idea was that a physician could enter what medications need to be taken at what time into our device, and it will track the medication schedule, alerting the patient and dispensing a pill at the appropriate times,” said Stocking. “The prototype can accommodate up to five pills for four different medications. The onboard screen also provides real-time instructions for parents on how to load the pills into each slot.” The team added additional features to target their main demographic - pediatric patients. “We utilized a touch screen and lights make it attractive for kids, and our thought was to later develop games would appeal to kids and make the process more fun,” said Stocking. The prototype was successful in this regard because it proceeded to the competition finals and was awarded the Kids Choice Award by a panel of adolescent judges. Regarding their success, Stocking said, “We built the prototype in under 20 hours, so we were pretty happy with the result!” ###


Bioengineering sends a record number of undergraduates to the 2018 BMES Annual Meeting

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PITTSBURGH (September 24, 2018) … The University of Pittsburgh Department of Bioengineering is gearing up for this year’s Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) Annual Meeting. The Swanson School of Engineering will be represented by a number of faculty and students; most notably, a department record-breaking 57 undergraduate students. This year’s meeting will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the event on October 17-20 in Atlanta, Georgia. “We encourage our undergraduate students to take their education experience beyond the classroom and participate in scientific research. BMES is a great opportunity for them to present their work and learn more about their field by attending talks and networking with other participants,” said Arash Mahboobin, undergraduate coordinator and assistant professor of bioengineering. Over 35 bioengineering undergraduate students presented at the 2017 annual meeting in Phoenix, AZ. For BMES 2018, the department saw over a sixty percent increase in the amount of participants with 57 students presenting 59 submitted abstracts. The large number of participating students this year could make the Pitt BMES chapter a contender for the Fleetest Feet Award, which acknowledges the chapter traveling the most miles to attend the conference (the number students times the distance traveled). The award was founded in 1992 by the Arizona State University BMES student chapter and promotes student participation in the BMES Annual Meeting. “It is great to see our students continually show interest in this annual event,” said Sanjeev Shroff, professor and Gerald E. McGinnis Chair of Bioengineering. “This group of talented individuals will help showcase the impressive research being performed in the Swanson School of Engineering.” ###