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.

Mar
22
2019

Bioengineering undergraduates take their diagnostic innovation to the Rice 360° Global Health Competition

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (March 22, 2019) … Two junior bioengineering students from the University of Pittsburgh were accepted to the Rice 360° Global Health Design Competition where more than 20 national and international student teams will present low-cost global health innovations. Sneha Jeevan and Shivani Tuli will be representing Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering at the competition in Houston, Texas on March 29, 2019. They will demonstrate their handheld complete blood count (CBC) point-of-care device, which can be used as a diagnostic tool for doctors working in underdeveloped nations. The competition asks teams to identify a challenge in delivering healthcare in developing countries and propose a potential technological solution. Tuli was inspired to create this device after a visit to India where she had the opportunity to travel to underprivileged areas and witness healthcare problems first-hand. “Disparities in healthcare access and quality can greatly affect the health of residents in third world countries,” said Tuli. “Diseases like malaria and tuberculosis are rampant, and the lack of quality healthcare prevents proper treatment and contributes to further spread of disease. In developed areas, these illnesses are typically diagnosed through primary blood tests, specifically complete blood count testing, so we wanted to create a tool to help make this technology widespread.” Their team, Blodot, used lab-on-a-chip technology and microfluidic concepts to develop a prototype CBC point-of-care device. Their portable technology uses a drop of blood and receives results within a few minutes. “A CBC test checks several measurable components of your blood in order to detect possible diseases and assess overall health,” said Jeevan. “In underdeveloped countries, however, CBC testing cannot be easily implemented because the machinery involved is expensive and unsuitable for the unhygienic conditions. Additionally, the time it takes for families to receive their results - typically two-to-four days - is impractical for residents who need to travel hours for their appointments with a physician.” According to the competition, teams will be judged on “the quality of the problem definition, the effectiveness and potential impact of the design solution, and the likelihood that the solution can be successful in improving healthcare delivery in low-resource settings by faculty, clinicians, and private and public sector partners from around the country.” “It is an absolute delight to see our undergraduates take advantage of such initiatives to become innovators of the future,” said Arash Mahboobin, assistant professor of bioengineering and coordinator of the undergraduate program. “I have known Shivani and Sneha since the start of their engineering endeavors in the Swanson School and am very proud of their achievements thus far. I will certainly continue to watch their careers develop with great interest and high expectations.” Tuli and Jeevan recently participated in the final round of the Innovation Institute’s Randall Family Big Idea Competition, an event that awards $100,000 in cash prizes to Pitt student innovations with the goal of helping teams discover how to take their idea to the next level towards startup creation. Blodot placed second in the competition and won a $15,000 prize. ###

Mar
21
2019

Pitt researchers receive $550,000 NSF CAREER award to develop new brain-computer therapy method for people with autism

Bioengineering, Electrical & Computer

PITTSBURGH (March 21, 2019) … Autism was first described by U.S. researchers more than 70 years ago, and today the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 59 children are identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), affecting more than 3.5 million Americans. Although clinical techniques are used to help patients with ASD respond to stress and other factors, none are known to couple with technology that could monitor brain response in real time and provide the patient with feedback. However, thanks to a $550,000 award from the National Science Foundation, engineers at the University of Pittsburgh and clinicians at the UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital, a new intervention using electroencephalography (EEG)-guided, non-invasive brain-computer interface (BCI) technology could complement clinical treatments and improve emotion regulation in people with ASD. The multidisciplinary team includes Murat Akcakaya, PhD, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, and Carla A. Mazefsky, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and psychology in Pitt’s Department of Psychiatry. The proposal is funded through an NSF CAREER award, which supports early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.“People on the autism spectrum today have access to effective clinical strategies or technologies, but none are coupled effectively to provide real-time feedback in real-life activities. This limits reinforcement techniques that the patient can utilize on his or her own, without the need for a clinical appointment,” Dr. Akcakaya explained. “However, by utilizing EEG to couple clinical techniques with BCI technologies, we can develop a closed-loop system that will help patients better learn how to recognize emotional triggers and respond with appropriate techniques generalizing the effects of clinical treatment strategies to real-life activities.” Akcakaya and Mazefsky will develop social interaction scenarios in virtual environments while recording EEG responses simultaneously in order to detect patterns that represent changes in distress levels. The virtual scenario will then present audio or visual cues to help remind them how to handle stress. The project will also develop new machine learning algorithms and neuroscience methods to identify EEG features associated with emotion regulation to classify between distress and non-distress conditions, and to distinguish among different distress levels.The two will also investigate the promise of these EEG and virtual reality approaches within the context of Mazefsky’s randomized controlled clinical trial funded by the US Department of Defense. The clinical trial is testing the efficacy of an intervention Mazefsky and colleagues developed, called the Emotion Awareness and Skills Enhancement (EASE) program, in 12- to 21-year-old verbal youth with ASD. “EASE emphasizes awareness of one’s own emotional responses as a foundational skill that promotes the ability to manage intense negative emotions, which is taught through mindful awareness,” Mazefsky explained. “By coupling the clinical strategies we teach in EASE with technological interventions, we believe we can enhance patients’ ability to distinguish different distress levels and therefore potentially reap even greater (and more generalized) benefit.”The CAREER award will also enable Akcakaya to develop courses related to the research and outreach activities to promote STEM and ASD research to K-12 populations and the broader public. Outreach will focus especially on individuals with ASD, their families, and caretakers.  “Early diagnosis and intervention can help patients with ASD and their families improve quality of life, and so providing clinicians with a new tool that both enhances and reinforces what patients learn is critical to closing the loop between triggers and responses,” Akcakaya said. “Additionally machine learning based on biological responses could also be integrated in to the existing technologically driven intervention techniques targeting patients across the autism spectrum.  Eventually, the technology could be incorporated in an accessory like a smart watch or glasses, enhancing patient privacy and building confidence.” ###

Mar
21
2019

Bistra Iordanova receives a $25K award to address the differences between men and women in Alzheimer’s disease risk and progression

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (March 21, 2019) Alzheimer's disease (AD) is one of the leading causes of disability in the elderly, affecting 5.4 million people in the United States and 35 million people worldwide.1 Two-thirds these individuals are women, and though they are disproportionately affected, the biological basis of the sex differences in AD onset and progression is not well understood. Bistra Iordanova, assistant professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, received a $25,000 award from the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center to collect data from female rodent models, integrate it with her existing datasets from males, and begin to examine whether AD onset and progression differs between the two. One reason AD research lacks female data is because in a significant portion of human studies, the sex variable is regressed out, and the data are pooled together. And until recently, the bulk of animal studies exclusively used males in an effort to keep costs low. “A long-held view for the cause of the disparity between men and women developing Alzheimer’s disease pointed at the greater female lifespan,” said Dr. Iordanova. “However, a growing number of studies demonstrate that even if we control for the fact that women live longer, they are still at higher risk than men to develop dementia, and we have only recently begun to examine the cause.” According to Dr. Iordanova, research suggests that vascular dysfunction and oxygen deficiencies may be major risk factors in AD for both men and women, however, evidence reveals that the pathways may be different and some susceptibilities may be significantly stronger in one sex. “The aging metabolic transitions in women have a specific bioenergetic profile with early mitochondrial dysfunction, a drop in vascular reactivity, and reduced oxygen availability,” said Dr. Iordanova. “This transitional stage makes women particularly vulnerable to vascular and metabolic assaults. It is important to note that the unique aspects of woman’s aging do not happen in isolation but interact with the genetic and environmental factors that are common for all humans.” Dr. Iordanova plans to use this award to compare metabolic and vascular health between male and female rat models and correlate the data with well-established hallmarks of AD such as amyloid plaques in brain tissues and blood vessels. Her laboratory, located at the Center for Bioengineering, develops multi-level imaging platforms to understand the neurovascular unit - a system that supports proper brain function through communication between neurons, which drives cerebral blood flow and local delivery of oxygen and glucose. “In patients with Alzheimer’s disease, a number of cellular events precede the onset of clinical symptoms, but the causal relationship between these events is still unclear,” said Dr. Iordanova. “For example, cerebral blood flow decreases, causing the delivery of nutrients and waste clearance to decrease; the neural responses asking for more oxygen and glucose from the blood flow also decrease; and amyloid accumulates in the blood vessels, while neurons degenerate and lose communication with each other.” Dr. Iordanova will use high field 9.4 Tesla magnetic resonance imaging at the Advanced Imaging Center to measure the sex-specific decline in cerebrovascular reactivity, cerebral blood flow, and oxidative and glucose metabolism in rodent models of AD. She will then use in vivo two photon microscopy to correlate these measures with the amyloid plaque accumulation in the blood vessels. She hopes that starting this data collection will spur other researchers to do the same and perhaps reveal biological differences between the sexes related to AD development. Dr. Iordanova is also the current recipient of a three-year, $175,000 Alzheimer’s Association Research Grant and an award from the Brain Institute to develop multimodal platforms for systems-level brain imaging in rodent models of dementia. “The use of knowledge about the sex differences in metabolic and vascular contributions to AD will benefit both men and women,” said Iordanova. “It will allow earlier diagnosis on a sex-specific timeline, improve personalized therapy development, and provide more accurate biomarkers for treatment monitoring.” ### 1 https://www.alz.org/media/HomeOffice/Facts%20and%20Figures/facts-and-figures.pdf

Mar
20
2019

Pitt Bioengineering Graduate Students Take Their “Smarter Cardiac Triage” Technology to the Rice Business Plan Competition

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (March 20, 2019) … More than 400 student startups applied to the prestigious Rice Business Plan Competition, and only 42 teams were selected from the world’s top institutions to compete for over $1,500,000 in prizes. Among this elite group of teams will be Heart I/O, a digital diagnostics startup led by University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering graduate students Utkars Jain and Adam Butchy. Their “smarter cardiac triage” technology uses artificial intelligence to detect problems with a patient’s heart more quickly and accurately at a fraction of the cost of current technology. The Heart I/O team includes four co-founders: Mr. Jain, a bioengineering graduate student and the chief executive officer; Mr. Butchy, a bioengineering graduate student and the chief strategy officer; Michael Leasure, a Pitt School of Business alumnus and the chief operating officer; and Nick Flanigan, a business student at Carnegie Mellon University and the chief technology officer. “When an individual reports to the hospital with chest pain, they enter triage, which determines treatment based on the severity of presented symptoms,” explained Butchy. “Using artificial intelligence to read an electrocardiogram (ECG) signal, our technology will more efficiently determine if the patient is experiencing a serious cardiac event in a mere 10 seconds - a vast improvement from the current process, which can take 8-72 hours for a diagnosis.” The Heart I/O technology feeds ECG signals to an artificial intelligence model, which takes the delivered data, learns from it, and determines the most efficient pattern recognition based on what it has learned. In time, the computer trains itself on how to diagnose cardiac events from an ECG. Their inexpensive and cloud-based tool will help emergency providers rapidly and effectively sort patients that need further diagnostic testing from those who can be safely discharged. “Heart I/O is the result of a class project during my undergraduate studies at Pitt,” said Jain. “ECGs are one of the first tests that patients reporting with chest pain receive, and I thought that if I could equip ECGs with the computational power of artificial intelligence, I could improve the accuracy of diagnoses.” Jain’s grandfather, who passed away from the misdiagnosis of a cardiac event, was the inspiration for this project. “When my grandfather reported to the hospital with chest pain, physicians assumed it was a heart attack and prescribed blood thinners,” explained Jain. “This caused an ulcer to burst, and he died almost instantly. If they had more information about whether or not he was actually experiencing a cardiac event, it might have saved his life.” The team tested their technology by feeding it a collection of ECG data to see if the computational results matched the actual diagnosis. Based on their studies, their tool is currently 95-97 percent accurate. “Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US, which also makes it one of the most costly,” said Butchy. “Not only will our tool help save lives, but it will also save money for patients and insurance providers.” Before heading to the Rice Business Plan competition, the Heart I/O team will participate in the Innovation Institute’s Randall Family Big Idea Competition, an event that awards $100,000 in cash prizes to Pitt student innovations with the goal of helping teams discover how to take their idea to the next level towards startup creation. The team plans to continue developing their technology and raising money with the hope of eventually moving their tool toward commercialization. ### Acknowledgement: Heart I/O would like to thank all the great minds and leaders at the Innovation Institute. In particular, Babs Carryer for her endless enthusiasm, support, and guidance; Joanna Sutton for being an early sounding board, really refining a lot of our ideas to what they are today; Philip Marzolf for all his work with us on our Rice application, Don Morrison for his feedback on revenue models and commercialization; Ketaki Desai for her incredible insight into the healthcare market; and Jess Malandro for all the work she does behind the scenes. In addition, Heart I/O has had the support of many University of Pittsburgh students who have contributed their time, effort, and passion to making Heart I/O into a reality. In particular, Katherine Poduska, a senior Bioengineering student; Mazen Megahed, a sophomore Mechanical engineering student; and Adam Duca, a junior in Rehabilitation Science and Assistive Technology. Lastly, Heart I/O would like to thank, Matt Kesinger, John Cordier, and Lou Camerlengo for their endless patience with revisions, guidance, and support; John Marous, a great mentor who is helping us through the commercialization process; and Dr. Veronica Covalesky and Dr. Emerson Liu,  great physicians helping us with clinical studies and overall medical knowledge.

Mar
19
2019

Gelsy Torres-Oviedo Receives Early Career Award from the Society for the Neural Control of Movement

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (March 19, 2019) … Gelsy Torres-Oviedo, assistant professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, was awarded the Society for the Neural Control of Movement’s 2019 Early Career Award. She will be presented the award at the NCM Annual Meeting on April 23-27, 2019 in Toyama, Japan. NCM’s Early Career Award recognizes outstanding contributions by scientists who have significantly advanced the understanding of the neural control of movement within 10 years of receiving their doctoral degree. The recipient is chosen by NCM’s board and will have the opportunity to present a lecture at the annual meeting. Prof. Torres-Oviedo is the second recipient of this competitive award for junior faculty members, which receives close to 100 nominations annually. She leads the Sensorimotor Learning Laboratory in the Swanson School of Engineering where her research group investigates the ability of the human motor system to adapt walking patterns and learn new movements upon sustained changes in the environment. “My long-term research goals are to advance the current understanding of walking deficits post-stroke and develop treatments to improve their gait,” said Prof. Torres-Oviedo. “My approach has been to combine quantitative tools from engineering and experimental work based on post-stroke neurology.” She will present a talk titled, “Sensorimotor adaptation studies to advance neurorehabilitation after stroke,” where she will discuss her work related to the generalization of movements from trained to untrained situations. “My work is just an example of scientific efforts to address clinical problems through a combination of computational and laboratory-based studies,” said Prof. Torres-Oviedo. “I envision that my research will contribute to the progress of gait rehabilitation and ultimately improve the quality of life of patients and caregivers.” Prof. Torres-Oviedo will receive travel support to the meeting, accommodation at the conference hotel, complimentary conference registration, an engraved plaque, and a $500 award. “I am delighted that Prof. Torres-Oviedo’s work in the area of neural control of movement is being recognized by her colleagues,” said Sanjeev G. Shroff, Distinguished Professor and Gerald E. McGinnis Chair of Bioengineering. “Her work nicely complements the strengths we have at Pitt in systems neuroscience in general and neuro-prosthetics and rehabilitation neural engineering in particular.” ###

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