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.

Oct
16
2018

Ruder’s research on magnetically activated engineered cells attracts prestigious NIH funding

Bioengineering

During graduate school at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh, Warren Ruder wondered if it might be possible to  genetically engineer cells to respond to magnetic fields. When implanted in the body, cell-based therapies could then be fine-tuned by exposing a patient to a magnetic field. Though the necessary technology to pursue this project did not exist at the time, Ruder has found himself back in Pittsburgh a decade later with diverse training, advanced technology, and a significant NIH award to now further his original idea at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering. Ruder, now an assistant professor at the Swanson School’s Department of Bioengineering, was one of 58 researchers to be awarded $1.5 million with the competitive and prestigious NIH Director’s New Innovator Award. Established in 2007 under the High-Risk, High-Reward Research program, this award supports “exceptionally creative scientists proposing high-risk, high-impact research,” according to the NIH. Ruder’s research group works at the interface of biology and engineering to create new biomimetic systems that provide insight into biological phenomena while also serving as platform technologies for future medical applications. He plans to combine his backgrounds in synthetic biology and biomimetics for this project titled “Creating Magnetically Inducible Synthetic Gene Networks for Cell and Tissue Therapies.” Ruder’s background in biomechanics and biomimetics started as an inaugural trainee in the Joint Pitt-CMU  Biomechanics in Regenerative Medicine Training Program in 2005, where he learned to manipulate the cell environment, particularly with magnetics. “During my graduate studies in Pittsburgh, I learned how to use magnetic tensile cytometry - a form of magnetic tweezers - to place very small forces on the membrane of mammalian cells,” said Ruder. “I was also introduced to biomimetics and learned to create microscale and nanoscale systems - such as lab-on-a-chip or microfluidic devices - that mimic cellular environments.” Ruder took this training and continued his scientific career as a postdoctoral research associate in Boston where he joined the lab of Jim Collins, PhD, a founder of synthetic biology. In Collins’ lab, he learned to manipulate genetic circuitry to reprogram and put new functions into cells. Ruder later received his first faculty position at Virginia Tech where he combined his research experience from Pittsburgh and Boston to pioneer the use of synthetic biology with robotics. His team engineered living bacteria to command and control a robot and mimic the connection between a gut microbiome and an animal host. They also engineered a nutrient-producing bacteria designed for an organ-on-a-chip system that mimics a gut. After four years honing his research, Ruder decided to make a change and return to Pittsburgh. “The University of Pittsburgh and its surrounding environment have allowed me to move from a focus on engineering bacteria, which has been straightforward for synthetic biologists for over a decade, to engineering mammalian cells,” said Ruder. “Now, my lab is moving beyond engineering bacteria species that live in our guts and focusing on the actual human cells that make up our bodies.” This NIH-funded project combines the skills he learned in his previous training and appointments with the goal of reprogramming mammalian cell behavior, incorporating magnetics and magnetic field manipulation. “In this project, we will design and build mechanical protein scaffolds that will be inside of the cell, and upon application of a magnetic field, these scaffolds will morph and control the cell’s behavior,” explained Ruder. An advantage to Ruder’s strategy is that magnetic fields may be able to reach places that similar technology cannot. “A complimentary approach is optogenetics where researchers use light to manipulate cellular behavior,” said Ruder. “One of the advantages of using a magnetic field, particularly if you can manage the challenge of concentrating it, is that it can penetrate the body where light may not be able. “We hope to create structures that could regulate multiple downstream pathways, creating a new class of magnetically activated transcription factors as opposed to membrane-bound channels,” said Ruder. Ruder’s short-term goal is to build the system and instrumentation for the project. His long-term, ultimate goal is to regulate a pathway and work with collaborators at Pitt to explore the effects of these tools on diseased organs, such as the heart or lungs. Ruder said, “We hope to make scientific discoveries and create technologies that can be applied to biomedical interventions and successfully regulate disease pathways.” ###

Oct
16
2018

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

Bioengineering, MEMS, Student Profiles

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!” ###

Oct
12
2018

Debski and Collaborators Receive PInCh Funds to Prevent Overuse Injury in Athletes

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (October 12, 2018) … Athletes and fans alike understand the aggravation that comes with players getting benched for multiple weeks due to an injury. Athletes are often sidelined for tendon injuries that can be attributed to overuse. But thanks to a $25,000 award from the Pitt Innovation Challenge (PInCh), a team of researchers at the University of Pittsburgh hope to develop a new technology that predicts tendon overuse and prevents injury. The research team includes Richard Debski, professor of bioengineering; Volker Musahl, chief of sports medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center; Kang Kim, associate professor of medicine; and Gerald Ferrer, a bioengineering PhD candidate. Debski and Musahl co-direct the Orthopedics Robotics Laboratory (ORL) in the Swanson School of Engineering where they created QUPTI - Quantitative Ultrasound to Prevent Tendon Injury. “Overuse injury is a problem that occurs because of repetitive trauma to tissues without sufficient time for recovery,” said Debski. “It affects a wide range of joints in the body including the elbow, knee, ankle, and shoulder. This issue may lead to a performance reduction and a loss of playing time for the athletes.” According to Debski, overuse injuries account for 30 percent of all collegiate athlete injuries, and 20 percent of athletes with an overuse injury were sidelined for over three weeks. “There are currently no predictive methods for preventing overuse injuries, only diagnostic tests after athletes complain of pain,” said Debski. “We plan to use QUPTI to track tendon health. It uses an acoustic radiation force impulse (ARFI) ultrasound technology to quantify location-specific tendon mechanical properties using remote palpation.” With this technology, the research team can target and evaluate the exact location where injuries normally occur in the tendon. “QUPTI can be used on a tendon to track the health during a season, practice, or game,” said Debski. “It provides real-time feedback of tendon health to reduce the occurrence of overuse injury by informing the coaching staff to modify training intensity and ultimately maximize the performance of athletes.” ###

Oct
11
2018

Brain Computer Interface Researchers Receive $8 Million from NIH to Expand Groundbreaking Work

Bioengineering

Read more about recent NIH funding for brain computer interface research from several Pitt bioengineering faculty (Batista and Loughlin) and secondary faculty. Reposted from UPMC. You can find the original article here. PITTSBURGH – A team of University of Pittsburgh and UPMC researchers was recently awarded two grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) totaling over $8 million to expand their groundbreaking brain computer interface (BCI) research in collaboration with researchers at the University of Chicago and Carnegie Mellon University. The BCI team at Pitt and UPMC, composed of Jennifer Collinger, Ph.D., Michael Boninger, M.D., Robert Gaunt, Ph.D., and Elizabeth Tyler-Kabara, M.D., Ph.D., has worked with two Pittsburgh-area clinical trial participants since 2012, both of whom had paralysis of their arms and hands, to allow them to control a robotic arm with their minds. One of them even regained his sense of touch through the robotic arm. The new funding will support critical next steps in their research.The first grant, led by Boninger, provides $7 million in NIH funding to expand Pitt and UPMC’s BCI trial to a second site at the University of Chicago, where the researchers will collaborate with a team led by Sliman Bensmaia, Ph.D., and Nicholas Hatsopoulos, Ph.D., with the goal of restoring hand function via a robotic arm. The Pittsburgh and Chicago teams will each enroll two additional research participants over the next five years, allowing them to replicate the promising work done already in Pittsburgh and increasing their research capacity with the goal of uniting the sensory and motor systems so they can work together for improved and more functional control of the robotic arm.“Expanding our BCI research is a critical part in the translational process of bringing research to the people who need it most,” said Boninger, the UPMC Endowed Vice Chair for Research in the Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation at Pitt. “Together with our collaborators at the University of Chicago, we hope to reach our eventual goal of making this technology functional for everyday use.” The second grant, led by Collinger, provides $1.2 million in NIH funding for the research team over the next two years to study how the environment and the context of a task impacts motor plans and sensory perception. The grant is part of the federal BRAIN Initiative, a large-scale effort announced in 2013 aimed at gaining a deeper understanding of the brain and applying the knowledge to prevent and treat brain disorders. Additional collaborators on the grant include Steven Chase, Ph.D., and Byron Yu, Ph.D., of Carnegie Mellon University's College of Engineering; and Aaron Batista, Ph.D., and Patrick Loughlin, Ph.D., of Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering.“When someone is controlling a robotic arm using a BCI, we get a very strong signal that tells us how they are planning to move that arm, but that signal is drastically impacted by changes in the environment around them,” said Collinger, assistant professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Pitt. “For example, the way we move our arm to grasp is likely very different if we are reaching for a full glass of water, an empty glass, a hot cup of coffee or a plastic water bottle. Uniting our expertise with new collaborators at Pitt and CMU will allow us to gain a better understanding of how and why the brain functions in this way when generating motor plans or perceiving sensory information.” This research will be funded by NIH grants U01NS108922 and UH3NS107714.
Arvind Suresh and Courtney Caprara, UPMC
Oct
9
2018

ECE’s Ervin Sejdic to Participate in the Arab-American Frontiers of Science, Engineering, and Medicine Symposium

Bioengineering, Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (October 9, 2018) … Ervin Sejdić, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, will participate in the sixth annual Arab-American Frontiers of Science, Engineering, and Medicine symposium. The meeting is presented by the US National Academy of Sciences and the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences. The symposium brings together a multidisciplinary group of young scientists, engineers, and medical professionals from across the US and the 22 Arab League countries. It aims to foster a collaborative and open dialogue amongst industry leaders and program participants. It will be held at the Kuwait National Library in Kuwait City on November 4-6, 2018. The program’s organizing committee selects and chairs session topics and suggests speakers who are experts in their field. This year’s topics include big data, water systems, the microbiome, air quality, and next generation buildings and infrastructure. Sejdić will be presenting a talk on the use of modern data analytics tools to develop computational biomarkers to track diseases during the big data session on Tuesday afternoon. “A human body is comprised of several physiological systems that carry out specific functions necessary for daily living,” said Sejdić. “Traumatic injuries, diseases, and aging negatively impact human functions, which can cause a decreased quality of life and many other socio-economical and medical issues. “Accurate models of human functions are needed to propose interventions and treatments that can restore deteriorated human functions,” continued Sejdić. “Therefore, our research aims to develop novel data analytics and instrumentation approaches that can accurately assess changes in swallowing, and gait functions by focusing on dynamical interactions between musculoskeletal and other physiological systems.” For the Arab-American Frontiers of Science, Engineering, and Medicine symposium, Sejdić will present some of his lab’s recent contributions dealing with both engineering and clinical aspects of their work as well as future research goals and strategies. Sejdić leads the Innovative Medical Engineering Developments (iMED) laboratory in the Swanson School of Engineering with a core expertise in signal processing, instrumentation, and physiological monitoring. ###

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