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
15
2019

Partha Roy receives $600K to study novel regulator of kidney cancer progression

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (October 15, 2019) … According to the American Cancer Society, kidney cancer is among the top ten most common cancers in men and women, and clear cell renal cell carcinoma (ccRCC) - the most common subtype of tumor associated with kidney cancer - accounts for more than 75 percent of cases. Partha Roy, associate professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, received a $603,807 award from the Department of Defense to identify novel regulators that can potentially target ccRCC progression. This project is in collaboration with Michael Lotze, professor of surgery and bioengineering, who is a co-investigator of the grant. “The five-year survival of patients with advanced ccRCC is still only 10 percent,” said Roy. “A distinguishing hallmark of ccRCC is the highly vascular (angiogenic) tumor microenvironment due to genetic loss of VHL, a major negative regulator of angiogenesis – the process in which a network of blood vessels is developed.” Through this network of blood vessels, oxygen and nutrients can be supplied to the tumor microenvironment, allowing it to grow and spread. “The tumor microenvironment is a collection of cells, molecules, and blood vessels that surround a tumor,” explained Roy, “and studying the close relationship and interactions between the tumor and its microenvironment may help researchers better understand the growth and development of cancer. “Given my lab’s research interests in angiogenesis and cancer, we would like to identify novel regulators of tumor blood vessel formation in the kidney that contribute to disease progression when dysregulated and therefore, be potentially targeted to slow down tumor progression.” Roy directs the Cell Migration Laboratory in the Swanson School of Engineering, where they have developed a better understanding of the role of actin-binding protein profilin1 (Pfn1) in physiological and pathological processes and want to examine its role in kidney cancer. “With clear evidence of a clinical association between high Pfn1 level and poor disease outcome in ccRCC, we plan to use this study to determine whether Pfn1 contributes to ccRCC progression and investigate whether Pfn1 inhibition by novel small molecules is an effective strategy to control the tumor microenvironment and slow down the progression of RCC.” The underlying hypothesis of this study is that Pfn1 stimulates tumor angiogenesis and limits the immune responses that otherwise would help slow cancer progression. In the first part of the study, the group will address whether Pfn1 dysregulation in vascular cells has an effect on the tumor microenvironment and ccRCC progression. They will also determine if Pfn1 expression has any correlation with the responsiveness of ccRCC patients to immunotherapy. In the second part of the study, they will determine if novel investigative compounds targeting Pfn1 function can be used to suppress tumor angiogenesis, improve immune response, and inhibit ccRCC progression. “The results of this study could establish Pfn1 as a novel regulator of ccRCC progression and a biomarker for predicting the therapeutic response of ccRCC patients,” said Roy. “This could pave the way for future development of improved classes of Pfn1 inhibitor as a possible novel therapeutic direction that might benefit patients who are resistant to standard VEGF-targeted anti-angiogenic therapy.” ###

Oct
9
2019

Manufacturing in Microgravity

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (October 9, 2019) … Magnesium and magnesium alloys have the potential to become a revolutionary material for a variety of industries because of their lightweight structure and ability to quickly biodegrade in water or inside the human body. Researchers, however, are still struggling to process this very reactive metal to eliminate defects that accelerate corrosion. Prashant N. Kumta, the Edward R. Weidlein Chair Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, believes that a microgravity environment may positively affect the solidification mechanisms of these alloys. He received grant funding from the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory to examine microgravity’s influence on his lab’s novel patented magnesium alloys. The team is partnering with Tec-Masters, Inc., the commercial hardware facility partner that operates the high-temperature SUBSA furnace aboard the ISS National Lab. Once in the microgravity environment of the space station, the alloy composition will be melted in the SUBSA furnace, and then solidified for further analysis. This is the first selected project in the new Biomedical Research Alliance - a multi-year collaboration between the ISS U.S. National Laboratory and the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine to push the limits of biomedical research and development aboard the orbiting laboratory. “The alloy’s improved mechanical properties, ability to store charge, and lightweight structure will make it an attractive material for aerospace, energy storage, and automotive applications,” said Kumta. He believes that this research will play a major role in the economical manufacturing of magnesium alloys, particularly in additive manufacturing and customized 3D printing of magnesium structures. “Magnesium and magnesium alloys are extremely light, with a density similar to natural bone,” explained Kumta. “They are two-fold lighter than titanium alloys and five-fold lighter than stainless steel and cobalt-chrome alloys – all of which are materials typically used in today’s implants and frameworks. Thus, the development of these materials could open new International Space Station applications as a lightweight structural framework material.” Because of their weight and earth abundance, the alloys may also prove to be beneficial for climate change and energy storage. “Fixtures or accessories in the aerospace industry - such as seats and lighting - that are made from magnesium alloys will be lighter which will consequently reduce fuel consumption,” said Kumta. “These benefits will help reduce costs and decrease greenhouse gas emissions – an advantage that can be applied to the automotive industry which accounts for a large amount of emissions in the United States. The material could also be used as a rechargeable battery similar to lithium-ion batteries.” The magnesium alloys developed by Kumta’s team may also serve as a cheaper and improved bioresorbable material for implanted medical devices. This type of material, which can be broken down and absorbed by the body, has a variety of applications in regenerative medicine and tissue engineering, such as implanted scaffolds that help guide the growth of new tissue. “Despite expensive post-processing steps to minimize defects, magnesium alloys processed on earth react in a physiological fluid environment and form large amounts of hydrogen gas, resulting in gas pockets that must be aspirated by a syringe,” said Kumta. “We believe that processing the material in microgravity will considerably minimize or perhaps even eliminate melting and casting defects. As a result, the alloys will likely exhibit improved corrosion resistance, resulting in soluble hydrogen and salt products with better bioresorption response when implanted as scaffolds. Further, expensive post-processing will likely be eliminated, thereby reducing costs by almost 50 percent.” Kumta, who holds secondary appointments in chemical and petroleum engineering, mechanical engineering and materials science, the McGowan Institute of Regenerative Medicine, and oral biology, will work with a team of researchers from his laboratory in the Swanson School of Engineering, including Bioengineering Research Assistant Professors Abhijit Roy, Moni Kanchan Datta, and Oleg Velikokhatnyi. The research team hopes that this work will lead to the processing of better quality magnesium alloys, which will be free of many of the defects that form in terrestrially processed alloys, ultimately enabling improved functionality on Earth with significantly reduced processing steps and costs. “This work offers a tremendous opportunity for advancing the science and technology of microgravity metal casting, widening the translational potential of the versatile magnesium-based systems for biomedical, energy, and aerospace applications,” said Kumta. “Magnesium has not yet been studied in space so this project gives us the chance to explore a new frontier in scalable manufacturing of high quality magnesium and magnesium alloys in space.” ###

Oct
8
2019

Improving Neural Implants

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (October 8, 2019) … A microelectrode array (MEA) is an implantable device through which neural signals can be obtained or delivered. It is an invaluable tool in neuroscience research and is critical to advancements in brain-computer interface (BCI) research, which has progressed to allow humans to operate robotic devices with their minds. Xinyan Tracy Cui, professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, developed a coating that improves the performance of MEA technology and received a $2,370,218 award from the National Institutes of Health BRAIN initiative to help bring it closer to commercialization and clinical translation. “Researchers have yet to find a long-term and stable microelectrode array that provides high-yield and high-quality recordings,” explained Cui, “but our lab has developed a biomimetic coating that mitigates the inflammatory host tissue reaction and improves recording quality and longevity. “Manufacturers and users have expressed strong interest in this technology, but the coating made of biological protein is fragile and may lose bioactivity during the harsh environment of shipping, storage, and sterilization,” she continued. Cui leads the Neural Tissue/Electrode Interface and Neural Tissue Engineering Lab, where they develop new engineering tools to study and clinically control the interface between tissue and implanted neural devices. With this NIH award, Cui and her group plan to optimize the coating stability and develop a protocol to preserve, store, package, deliver, and sterilize the technology. “The active ingredient of the biomimetic coating is a brain derived neural adhesion molecule that promotes neurons and inhibits inflammatory cell attachment on the electrode,” said Cui. “This is a patented technology with proven efficacy to improve neural recording by establishing a healthy electrode-neuron interface. This new project will make the wide dissemination of the technology possible by overcoming the protein stability issues with nanotechnology.” Once her lab has optimized the technology, they will deliver it to collaborators who will test and evaluate the device performance in rodents and non-primate animal subjects. Additionally, they will work with representatives from two manufacturing companies who will help guide them toward commercialization and ensure that the developed procedures are compatible with their devices. Cui said, “In addition to improvements in BCI research, this technology may greatly improve our ability to perform long-term mapping of neural activity and ultimately give neuroscience researchers a more robust understanding of brain function in learning and memory, development and aging, or disease progression and wound healing.” ###

Oct
3
2019

Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Neural Tissue Electrode Interface and Neural Tissue Engineering Lab

Bioengineering, Open Positions

The Neural Tissue Electrode Interface and Neural Tissue Engineering Lab in the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh has two postdoctoral research fellow positions open immediately. Seeking highly motivated and well trained individuals to conduct neural technology research funded by two NIH BRAIN initiative grants. Neural technologies designed for recording and modulate neural activity have shown enormous potentials in advancing brain science, treating diseases or restoring lost neurological function. Successful candidates will work on improving neural interface technologies with special focuses on understanding the safety of neural stimulation and implant induced brain injury, as well as developing biomimetic and therapeutic strategies to improve the implant-neural tissue integration. The successful candidate should possess a Ph.D. degree in neuroscience, biomedical engineering, materials science, chemistry or a related field. He/she should have a strong research background in neurobiology or neurophysiology. Experiences with some of the following areas are desired, including neuronal and glial cell cultures, molecular and biochemical assays, neural tissue histology, biomaterial and biosensor fabrication, in vitro and in vivo electrophysiology. He/she will be working with interdisciplinary teams of neural engineers, material scientists, chemists, neurosurgeons and neurobiologists, and have the opportunities to collaborate with top neuroscientists and neural engineers nation-wide. The initial appointment will be for one year with the strong possibility for an extension. The start date is flexible, with a preference for candidates ready to begin as soon as possible. Review of applications will begin immediately and will continue until the position is filled. Your application should include: Cover letter Curriculum Vitae Contact information for three references. E-mail your materials to xic11@pitt.edu. For further information or questions about this position you may contact: Dr. Tracy Cui (xic11@pitt.edu). The University of Pittsburgh is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer and values equality of opportunity, human dignity and diversity. EEO/AA/M/F/Vets/Disabled. The Department of Bioengineering is strongly committed to a diverse academic environment and places high priority on attracting female and underrepresented minority candidates.  We strongly encourage candidates from these groups to apply for the position. The University affirms and actively promotes the rights of all individuals to equal opportunity in education and employment without regard to race, color, sex, national origin, age, religion, marital status, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or any other protected class.

Oct
1
2019

Ruder Attends 2019 Israeli-American Kavli Frontiers of Science Symposium

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (October 1, 2019) … Warren Ruder, Associate Professor and William Kepler Whiteford Fellow of Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, was invited to attend the 4th Israeli-American Kavli Frontiers of Science Symposium in Jerusalem, Israel on September 16-18, 2019. The program’s participants are selected from recipients of prestigious fellowships, awards, and other honors, as well as from nominations by members of the National Academy of Sciences and other participants. The meeting brings together young scientists to discuss advances and opportunities in a broad range of disciplines, and the structure of the program allows for one-on-one conversations and group discussions on cutting-edge research in a variety of fields. The meeting also includes formal presentations during the eight themed sessions, which provide insight into topics relevant to participants. Ruder directs the Synthetic Biology and Biomimetics laboratory in the Swanson School of Engineering where his team focuses on applying synthetic biology constructs, methods, and paradigms to solve a range of biomedical problems. “Our lab’s goal is to both understand the fundamental biology of natural systems as well as re-engineer these systems with synthetic gene networks,” said Ruder. “We aim to be a leader in engineering interactions between living systems and machines.” Ruder’s lab has expertise in multiple fields including gene network engineering, cell physiology and biomechanics, microfluidics, mechanical engineering and biomaterials. They are currently developing new approaches to embed synthetic gene networks within biomimetic systems that mimic cell, tissue, and organism physiology. According to the Kavli Frontiers of Science, in addition to the knowledge gained at the meeting, the collaborative environment at the Israeli-American Kavli Frontiers of Science Symposium is meant to “create a network of connections that can be maintained as participants advance in their careers.” ###

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