Pitt | Swanson Engineering

The Department of Bioengineering combines hands-on experience with the solid fundamentals that students need to advance themselves in research, medicine, and industry. The Department has a long-standing and unique relationship with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and other academic departments at the University of Pittsburgh as well as neighboring Carnegie Mellon University. Our faculty are shared with these organizations, offering our graduate and undergraduate students access to state-of-the-art facilities and a wide array of research opportunities. We currently have 187 graduate students who are advised by some 100 different faculty advisers, pursuing graduate research across 17 Departments and five Schools. Our undergraduate class-size of approximately 50 students per year ensures close student-faculty interactions in the classroom and the laboratory.

The main engineering building is located next to the Medical Center in Oakland, an elegant university neighborhood with museums, parks, and great restaurants. Beautiful new facilities have also been built, a short shuttle ride from the main campus, along the Monongahela River, replacing the steel mills that once were there. Our department is growing rapidly, both in numbers of students and faculty, and in the funding and diversity of our research. The Pittsburgh bioengineering community is a vibrant and stimulating alliance of diverse components for which our department forms an essential and central connection.

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.

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