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
15
2019

Pitt Bioengineers Create Ultrasmall, Light-Activated Electrode for Neural Stimulation

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (February 15, 2019) … Neural stimulation is a developing technology that has beneficial therapeutic effects in neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease. While many advancements have been made, the implanted devices deteriorate over time and cause scarring in neural tissue. In a recently published paper, the University of Pittsburgh’s Takashi D. Y. Kozai detailed a less invasive method of stimulation that would use an untethered ultrasmall electrode activated by light, a technique that may mitigate damage done by current methods. “Typically with neural stimulation, in order to maintain the connection between mind and machine, there is a transcutaneous cable from the implanted electrode inside of the brain to a controller outside of the body,” said Kozai, an assistant professor of bioengineering in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “Movement of the brain or this tether leads to inflammation, scarring, and other negative side effects. We hope to reduce some of the damage by replacing this large cable with long wavelength light and an ultrasmall, untethered electrode.” Kaylene Stocking, a senior bioengineering and computer engineering student, was first author on the paper titled, “Intracortical neural stimulation with untethered, ultrasmall carbon fiber electrodes mediated by the photoelectric effect” (DOI: 10.1109/TBME.2018.2889832). She works with Kozai’s group - the Bionic Lab - to investigate how researchers can improve the longevity of neural implant technology. This work was done in collaboration with Alberto Vasquez, research associate professor of radiology and bioengineering at Pitt. The photoelectric effect is when a particle of light, or a photon, hits an object and causes a local change in the electrical potential. Kozai’s group discovered its advantages while performing other imaging research. Based on Einstein's 1905 publication on this effect, they expected to see electrical photocurrents only at ultraviolet wavelengths (high energy photons), but they experienced something different. “When the photoelectric effect contaminated our electrophysiological recording while imaging with a near-infrared laser (low energy photons), we were a little surprised,” explained Kozai. “It turned out that the original equation had to be modified in order to explain this outcome. We tried numerous strategies to eliminate this photoelectric artifact, but were unsuccessful in each attempt, so we turned the ‘bug’ into a ‘feature.’” “Our group decided to use this feature of the photoelectric effect to our advantage in neural stimulation,” said Stocking. “We used the change in electrical potential with a near-infrared laser to activate an untethered electrode in the brain.” The lab created a carbon fiber implant that is 7-8 microns in diameter, or roughly the size of a neuron (17-27 microns), and Stocking simulated their method on a phantom brain using a two-photon microscope. She measured the properties and analyzed the effects to see if the electrical potential from the photoelectric effect stimulated the cells in a way similar to traditional neural stimulation. “We discovered that photostimulation is effective,” said Stocking. “Temperature increases were not significant, which lowers the chance of heat damage, and activated cells were closer to the electrode than in electrical stimulation under similar conditions, which indicates increased spatial precision.” The lab recently showed how electrical stimulation frequency can activate different populations of neurons. “What we didn’t expect to see was that this photoelectric method of stimulation allows us to stimulate a different and more discrete population of neurons than could be achieved with electrical stimulation.” said Kozai, “This gives researchers another tool in their toolbox to explore neural circuits in the nervous system. “We’ve had numerous critics who did not have faith in the mathematical modifications that were made to Einstein’s original photoelectric equation, but we believed in the approach and even filed a patent application” (patent pending:US20170326381A1), said Kozai. “This is a testament to Kaylene’s hard work and diligence to take a theory and turn it into a well-controlled validation of the technology.” Kozai’s group is currently looking further into other opportunities to advance this technology, including reaching deeper tissue and wireless drug delivery. Stocking anticipates  graduating in April 2019 and plans to pursue a doctoral degree. She said, “The University of Pittsburgh has amazing resources that have allowed me to gain meaningful research experience as an undergraduate, and I’m grateful to Dr. Kozai and the Department of Bioengineering for giving me the opportunity to do impactful work.” ###

Feb
13
2019

Scholar Works to Restore Sensory Perception

Bioengineering

Reposted from the ARCS Foundation. Click here to see the original article. Mind over matter—a phrase meant to draw out mental fortitude in a time of physical exhaustion. For University of Pittsburgh ARCS® Scholar Christopher Hughes, this phrase takes on new meaning as he works with a quadriplegic patient to use his brain to move a robotic arm from a few feet away. Hughes, a third-year Pittsburgh Chapter Scholar, is working on the human brain-computer interface (BCI) project studying intracortical micro stimulation (ICMS) for the restoration of tactile perception.  His project team was recently featured in the New Yorker where their work to restore movement by implanting a microelectrode array in a human brain is described. Currently, he focuses on using biomimetic pulse trains to improve naturalness of sensory perception in his patients. Hughes’ work creates an environment for the electrical stimulation to more closely mimic normal neural activity. These pulses give his participants a chance to get back a sense of physical freedom and purpose. “Some of our participants feel as if their life was taken from them,” Hughes said. “Participating in research studies like this helps give them purpose and goals to help others.” He will travel to Japan in April to present findings from this project to several hundred attendees at the Neural Control of Movement Conference. A first generation college student, Hughes says the ARCS Scholar award helped him set aside financial worries and put more focus and thought into his research. The California native says ARCS has enabled him to find community in a place far from home. “Beyond the financial component, I have really appreciated my donors and I have established relationships with them that would have never existed had it not been for ARCS,” he said. "I left all of my family behind to study here in Pittsburgh. But my ARCS donors have made me feel like I have family here.” Help fund scholars like Chris who are changing lives with their passion for science and make a donation to the ARCS Foundation.

Feb
12
2019

Making a Mark on Cardiovascular Disease Detection

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (February 12, 2019) … According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease (CVD) remains the number one cause of death in the United States.1 Conditions for cardiomyopathy, a heart muscle disease leading to heart failure, are clinically silent until serious complications arise, and current diagnostic tools are unreliable, time consuming, and expensive. Moni K. Datta, assistant professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, received a $300,000 award from the Department of Defense to develop a quicker, simpler, and more reliable diagnostic technology related to cardiomyopathy so that the signs of disease can be spotted and treated earlier. One method currently applied to cardiovascular disease diagnosis is biochemical marker testing, using only bodily fluids or tissues to search for substances that signal disease or other abnormalities. The goal of this project, “Novel Aptamer-Based Biosensor Platforms for Detection of Cardiomyopathy Conditions,” is to create a tool that more efficiently senses and detects various essential cardiac biomarkers in the bloodstream. This work has previously received funding from the Department of Bioengineering’s Coulter Program as well as the Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI) Translational Research Pilot Award. Prashant N. Kumta, Edward R. Weidlein Chair and Distinguished Professor of bioengineering, chemical and petroleum engineering, mechanical engineering and materials science, and professor of oral biology in the School of Dental Medicine, is co-investigator on the project with Robert L. Kormas, Brack G. Hattler Professor of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Datta said, “Dr. Kumta has extensive experience related to materials functionalization and generation of materials platforms for detection and sensing of biological markers while Dr. Robert Kormas is a renowned cardiologist and an expert in understanding the cardiac biomarkers connected to various cardiovascular diseases.” The group will develop a portable biosensor specific to the cardiac biomarkers using only a few drops of blood to detect and provide the levels within minutes. “The design will include a vertical array of metallic wires functionalized with biological sensing agents, namely the aptamer specific to binding the relevant cardiac biomarkers in the blood,” said Datta. “The resulting platform will measure the change in overall resistance due to the binding of the specific cardiac biomarker to the sensing element. The developed biosensors are extremely sensitive to the resistance changes and as a result, will accurately measure the levels of relevant cardiac markers in the blood, thereby serving as an effective measuring device.” Current biochemical marker assays in hospitals and clinics are benchtop machines that lack portability and require expensive instrumentation and training. Datta’s design will be optimized for precision, reliability, and portability, making biochemical marker testing more accessible in hospitals, emergency room settings, ambulances, and perhaps even at home. “This device will allow patients and clinicians to screen for and circumvent cardiovascular diseases at early stages, thus reducing the cardiovascular disease risk and eventual healthcare costs,” said Datta. “Development of this biosensor will create a simple, inexpensive, and efficient point-of-contact device. We hope to eventually make this versatile technology useful for detection and monitoring disease conditions outside of cardiovascular disease states.” ### 1 According to the AHA… https://www.heart.org/-/media/data-import/downloadables/heart-disease-and-stroke-statistics-2018---at-a-glance-ucm_498848.pdf

Jan
29
2019

Lights, Camera, Action: Pitt iGEM team captures silver medal for their “Molecular Movie Camera”

Bioengineering, Electrical & Computer, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (January 29, 2019) … The ability to measure and record molecular signals in a cell can help researchers better understand its behavior, but current systems are limited and provide only a “snapshot” of the environment rather than a more informative timeline of cellular events. In an effort to give researchers a complete understanding of event order, a team of University of Pittsburgh undergraduate students prototyped a frame-by-frame “video” recording device using bacteria. The group created this project for the 2018 International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition, an annual synthetic biology research competition in which over 300 teams from around the world design and carry out projects to solve an open research or societal problem. The Pitt undergraduate group received a silver medal for their device titled “CUTSCENE.” The iGEM team included two Swanson School of Engineering students: Evan Becker, a junior electrical engineering student, and Vivian Hu, a junior bioengineering student. Other team members included Matthew Greenwald, a senior microbiology student; Tucker Pavelek, a junior molecular biology and physics student; Libby Pinto, a sophomore microbiology and political science student; and Zemeng Wei, a senior chemistry student. CUTSCENE aims to show a “video” of cellular activity by recording events in the cell using modified CRISPR/Cas9 technology. Hu said, “By knowing what time molecular events are happening inside of a cell, we are able to better understand a cell's history and how it responds to external stimuli.” Their system improved upon older methods that could only record the levels of stimuli at a single point in time. They used a movie analogy to illustrate their objective. “Try guessing the plot of a movie by looking at the poster; you can get an idea of what is going on, but to really understand the story, you need to watch the film,” said Becker. “Unless researchers are taking many snapshots of the cellular activity over time, the image doesn’t give any sense of causality. You can see that the molecule is there, but you don't know where it has been or where it is going.” For their project, the iGEM team used modified CRISPR/Cas9 technology called a base editor. The CRISPR/Cas9 system contains two key components: a guideRNA (gRNA) that matches a specific sequence of DNA and a Cas9 protein that makes a cut at the specific sequence, ultimately leading to the insertion or deletion of base pairs - the building blocks of DNA. In addition to these components, a CRISPR/Cas9 base editor contains an enzyme called cytidine deaminase that is able to make a known single nucleotide mutation at a desired location of DNA. “We achieved a method of true chronological event recording by introducing recording plasmids with repeating units of DNA and multiple gRNA to direct our base editor construct,” said Hu. “This technique will provide an understanding of the order in which molecules and proteins appear in systems.” “A recording plasmid can be thought of as a roll of unexposed film, with each frame being an identical sequence of DNA,” explained Wei. “A single-guideRNA (sgRNA) directs the CRISPR/Cas9 base editor to move along the recording plasmid, making mutations at a timed rate and constantly shifting which frame is in front of our base editor. Activated by the presence of a stimulus, another sgRNA can mark the current frame.” The iGEM team’s approach to this technology will allow them to figure out which molecules are abundant at specific times and perhaps reveal hidden, causal relationships. The information gathered from the device has many potential applications and may allow researchers to develop medicines and therapies based on the timing of the cellular malfunction. “The team did a tremendous amount of lab work over the summer, implementing the cellular event recording methodology,” said Alex Deiters, a professor of chemistry at Pitt who helped advise the iGEM team. “Most importantly, the students developed this clever idea on their own by first identifying a current technology gap and then applying modern gene editing machinery to it. The silver medal is well-deserved!” In addition to Dr. Deiters, the 2018 Pitt iGEM team was advised by Dr. Jason Lohmueller, American Cancer Society Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Immunology; Dr. Natasa Miskov-Zivanov, Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Bioengineering, and Computational and Systems Biology; Dr. Sanjeev Shroff, Distinguished Professor and Gerald E. McGinnis Chair of Bioengineering; and Dr. Cheryl Telmer, a Research Biologist at Carnegie Mellon University. Funding for the 2018 Pitt iGEM effort was provided by the University of Pittsburgh (Office of the Senior Vice Chancellor for Research, Honors College, Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, Department of Biological Sciences, Department of Chemistry, Swanson School of Engineering, Department of Bioengineering, and Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering), New England Biolabs (NEB), and Integrated DNA Technologies (IDT). ###

Jan
29
2019

Pitt’s Center for Medical Innovation awards five novel biomedical projects with $60,000 in Round-2 2018 Pilot Funding

All SSoE News, Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (January 29, 2019) … The University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Medical Innovation (CMI) awarded grants totaling $60,000 to three research groups through its 2018 Round-2 Pilot Funding Program for Early Stage Medical Technology Research and Development. The latest funding proposals include a new drug-eluting contact lens for treatment of dry eye disease, a new method of measuring ocular changes in glaucoma, and a new instrument for management of ketogenic diets. 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:  “Polyelectrolyte Multilayer Coating for Delivery of IL-4 from Contact Lenses for Dry Eye Disease” For the development of a drug-eluting contact lens for treatment of chronic “dry eye” disease.Bryan Brown, PhD, Assistant Professor, Depts. of Bioengineering, Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences; McGowan Institute for Regenerative MedicineVishal Jhanji, MD, FRCSG, FRCOphth, Professor of Ophthalmology, Cornea, External Eye Diseases and Refractive Surgery Services, UPMC Eye Center Mangesh Kulkarni, MD, PhD, Research Assistant Professor, McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine and department of Bioengineering AWARD 2: “On the quantitative analysis of a new tonometer to manage/prevent glaucoma” For the development of a novel pulse wave device for measurement of ocular tissue characteristics in the detection and treatment of glaucoma.Piervincenzo Rizzo, PhD, Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of PittsburghIan A. Sigal, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Ophthalmology, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Eye & Ear InstituteIan Conner, PhD, MD, Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology, Department of Ophthalmology, University of Pittsburgh AWARD 3: “Acetone Breathalyzer for Monitoring the Ketogenic State” For the development of a cost-effective, rapid acetone “breath-alayzer” for clinical and consumer usage in ketogenic diets.Sung Kwon Cho, PhD, Department of Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science, Swanson School of EngineeringDavid Rometo, MD, Div of Endocrinology and Metabolism, U of Pittsburgh Medical CenterDavid Finegold, MD,  Department of Human Genetics, Graduate School of Public HealthAlex Star, PhD,  Department of Chemistry, Dietrich School of Arts and Science ### About the University of Pittsburgh Center for Medical InnovationThe 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 2011 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 60 early-stage projects have been supported by CMI with a total investment of over $1.2 million since inception. Nine companies have been formed to commercialize these early stage University of Pittsburgh technologies.
Alan Hirschman, PhD Executive Director, CMI

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