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
20
2020

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

Bioengineering

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

Feb
19
2020

Undergrad Innovators Design Wearable Device to Aid People in Posture

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

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

Feb
19
2020

Bryan Brown Featured in the Products of Pittsburgh Podcast

Bioengineering

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

Feb
4
2020

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

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (January 31, 2020) … The University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Medical Innovation (CMI) awarded grants totaling $47,500 to three research groups through its 2019 Round-2 Pilot Funding Program for Early Stage Medical Technology Research and Development. The latest funding proposals include a system for preservation of explanted hearts used in transplantation surgery, a new vascular stent with anti-thrombogenic capability, and a rugged, infection resistant material for orthopedic implants. CMI, a University Center housed in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering (SSOE), supports applied technology projects in the early stages of development with “kickstart” funding toward the goal of transitioning the research to clinical adoption. Proposals are evaluated on the basis of scientific merit, technical and clinical relevance, potential health care impact and significance, experience of the investigators, and potential in obtaining further financial investment to translate the particular solution to healthcare. “This is our eighth year of pilot funding, and our leadership team could not be more excited with the breadth and depth of this round’s awardees,” said Alan D. Hirschman, PhD, CMI Executive Director. “This early-stage interdisciplinary research helps to develop highly specific biomedical technologies through a proven strategy of linking UPMC’s clinicians and surgeons with the Swanson School’s engineering faculty.” AWARD 1: “A Structurally and Mechanically Tunable Biocarpet for Peripheral Arterial Disease” For the development of a material and method of deployment of specialized materials that coat the inner lumen of synthetic vascular grafts. The coating will greatly improve the viability and anti-thrombogenic properties of long stent grafts which overlap flexible joints. Jonathan P. Vande Geest, PhD, Professor of Bioengineering, Swanson School of Engineering William R. Wagner, PhD, Professor of Surgery and Bioengineering, Surgery, McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine Dr. John J. Pacella, MD, Assistant Professor in the School of Medicine, UPMC AWARD 2: “Ex-Vivo Heart Perfusion System for Human Heart Support, Resuscitation, and Physiologic Testing” For the development of a system for preservation of explanted donor hearts suitable for transplantation. Includes means to verify the heart’s mechanical and biological viability to improve recipient response. Christopher Sciortino, MD, PhD; Dept of Cardiothoracic Surgery; UPMC Harvey S. Borovetz, PhD; Dept of Bioengineering; Swanson School of Engineering Rick Shaub, PhD; UPMC Artificial Heart Program; UPMC Garrett Coyan, MD, Dept of Cardiothoracic Surgery; UPMC AWARD 3: “In Vivo Efficacy of an Antibacterial and Biocompatible Polymeric Nanofilm on Titanium Implants” For the development of biocompatible, anti-biofilm coatings for orthopedic use, especially in children. Houssam Bouloussa, MD, MS,  Pediatric Orthopedic Surgery, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh Michael McClincy, MD, Assistant Professor, Department of Orthopedic Surgery, UPMC Prashant Kumta, PhD, Professor of Bioengineering, Swanson School of Engineering ### About the University of Pittsburgh Center for Medical Innovation The Center for Medical Innovation is a collaboration among the Swanson School of Engineering, the Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the Innovation Institute, and the Coulter Translational Research Partnership II (CTRP). CMI was established in 2012 to promote the application and development of innovative biomedical technologies to clinical problems; to educate the next generation of innovators in cooperation with the schools of Engineering, Health Sciences, Business, and Law; and to facilitate the translation of innovative biomedical technologies into marketable products and services. Over 70 early-stage projects have been supported by CMI with a total investment of over $1.4 million since inception.
Alan Hirschman, PhD, Executive Director, CMI
Jan
31
2020

Got Slime? Using Regenerative Biology to Restore Mucus Production

Bioengineering

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

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