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.

Apr
7
2020

Uncovering Stimulation’s Impact on Neurons

Bioengineering

PITTSBURGH (April 7, 2020) … Using electrodes smaller than a human hair, researchers are able to connect mind to machine and interact with the human brain in revolutionary ways. Brain-computer interfaces have helped rehabilitate neurodegenerative diseases and restore function to individuals with brain damage. This cutting-edge technology, however, comes with complications. Takashi D-Y Kozai, assistant professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, received a $437,144 CAREER award (#1943906) from the National Science Foundation to improve the integration of the brain and technology in order to study long-standing questions in neurobiology and improve clinical applications of these devices. One of the challenges remaining with this technology is achieving long-term and precise stimulation of a specific group of neurons. Kozai has designed a wireless, light-activated electrode that enables precise neural circuit probing while minimizing tissue damage. In this project, he will further improve this technology. “Our first objective is to design a coating technology that will be applied to the wireless axon and release biomolecules during simulation,” said Kozai, who leads the Bio-Integrating Optoelectric Neural Interface Cybernetics Lab in the Swanson School of Engineering. “These specific biomolecules can control the activity of a small population of neurons, and the device will recharge by drawing upon intrinsically produced biomolecules.” A laser shining onto an untethered, ultrasmall carbon fiber electrode to stimulate neurons via the photoelectric effect. Photo credit: J. Mater. Chem. B, 2015,3, 4965-4978 - Reproduced by permission of The Royal Society of Chemistry. Developing this coating will help Kozai achieve the main research goal of this CAREER project, which is to establish the relationship between different types of stimulation and their impact on excitability of neuronal populations. “In order for the brain to properly function, there needs to be a balance between excitatory and inhibitory neuronal activity,” explained Kozai, “but we don’t know how stimulation impacts this balance.” According to Kozai, an imbalance between excitatory and inhibitory neuronal activity can lead to cognitive dysfunctions and is a hallmark of autism spectrum disorder. Moreover, brain injuries such as traumatic brain injuries, stroke, and microelectrode implantation have also been shown to disrupt this balance. “We believe that different types of stimulation will differentially alter excitatory and inhibitory neuronal activity, which will in turn alter the long-term excitability of nearby neurons in different capacities,” said Kozai. “To better understand the relationship between stimulation and neuronal activity, we will use optical and optogenetic methods to determine the excitability of neurons, which will give us a better physiological understanding of the activated brain region.” The research team will use in vivo two-photon microscopy and genetically encoded fluorescent indicators to investigate this relationship. They will collect images across 12 weeks and examine the number, distance, timing and neuronal subtype densities before, during and after electrical stimulation. This method will allow them to track stimulation-induced changes over time with high spatial resolution near the electrodes. Kozai expects that this work will impact the future design of neural interfaces and give researchers an improved tool to answer neurobiological questions. A better understanding of how stimulation affects long-term neural excitability will hopefully advance BCI technology and impact the rehabilitation of neurodegenerative disease and brain damage. As part of this CAREER award’s educational goal, Kozai will target underrepresented minority students with an outreach program designed to demonstrate how science and engineering converge at the neural interface. In an effort to better disseminate neurobiology and neural engineering resources, he will provide an early platform for lecture videos, protocols and training materials. Kozai will also develop a virtual "Education in Biological and Neuroelectronic Interface Community" (eBioNIC.org). # # #

Apr
6
2020

Two Swanson School Projects Win University of Pittsburgh Scaling Grants

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Civil & Environmental

PITTSBURGH (April 6, 2020) — Two projects from the Swanson School of Engineering have received University of Pittsburgh Scaling Grants.The first, tackling the global problem of plastic waste, is headed by Eric Beckman, PhD, Bevier Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering and co-director of the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation. The second project, which will support the push for artificial intelligence innovation in medical imaging, was also awarded a Scaling Grant and is led by Shandong Wu, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Radiology. The Scaling Grants provide $400,000 over two years to support detailed project planning, gathering proof-of-concept results, and reduction of technical risk for teams pursuing an identified large extramural funding opportunity. The Scaling Grants are part of the University’s Pitt Momentum Funds, which offer funding across multiple stages of large, ambitious projects. Addressing the Global Waste Challenge The problem of plastic waste is growing on a global scale, with an annual global production rate of more than 500 million tons per year and predicted to triple by 2036. The project, “Attacking the Global Plastics Waste Problem,” seeks to create a convergent academic center welcoming expertise from across the University that will focus on the circular economy as a solution. “For most new technologies, one group creates the technology in the lab as a pilot, then at full scale. The group launches it, and only later decides if there are environmental and/or policy and/or legal issues,” says Beckman. “We're proposing to do these analyses in parallel, so that each section of the work informs the others. Further, the technology we are proposing to develop is a mixture of chemical engineering, chemistry, and materials science.” The interdisciplinary team will take advantage of its deep expertise in both the science of plast ics recycling and the legal and governance frameworks that will help governments implement a circular economy for plastics. In addition to Beckman, the team consists of Melissa Bilec, PhD, Roberta A. Luxbacher Faculty Fellow, associate professor in civil and environmental engineering (CEE), and deputy director of MCSI; Vikas Khanna, PhD, Wellington C. Carl Faculty Fellow and associate professor in CEE and Chemical and Petroleum Engineering; Gotz Veser, PhD, professor in chemical and petroleum engineering; Peng Liu, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry; Amy Wildermuth, professor and dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law; and Joshua Galperin, visiting associate professor in the School of Law. “Recycling can only do so much. A circular economy framework is a promising solution to the complex, urgent problem that plastic pollution presents,” says Bilec, who is part of a five-university team that received a two-year National Science Foundation grant for $1.3 million to pursue convergence research on the circular economy as a plastic waste solution. “Our proposed center will integrate the science and engineering of plastics recycling, using a novel approach on both the recycling and manufacturing sides, into frameworks tracking its environmental and economic impact.” Applying Artificial Intelligence to Medical Research The second project to receive a Scaling Grant is the “Pittsburgh Center for Artificial Intelligence Innovation in Medical Imaging,” a collaboration between the Departments of Radiology, Bioengineering, Biomedical Informatics, and Computer Science. This work, led by Wu, aims to use artificial intelligence (AI) to reshape medical imaging in radiology and pathology. Through the Pittsburgh Health and Data Alliance, the region is already at work using machine learning to translate “big data” generated in health care to treatments and services that could benefit human health. "The advancement in AI, especially in deep learning, provides a powerful approach for machine learning on big healthcare data,” said Wu. “Deep learning enables large-scale data mining with substantially increased accuracy and efficiency in data analysis." The multidisciplinary research team will work to develop AI imaging methodology and translational applications with the ultimate goal of creating tools that are clinically useful, accurate, explainable and safe. “AI can substantially improve quantitative analysis to medical imaging data and computational modeling of clinical tasks using medical images for disease diagnosis and outcome prediction," explained Wu. David A. Vorp, associate dean for research and John. A. Swanson Professor of Bioengineering, will help facilitate this collaboration in engineering. “Artificial intelligence nicely complements bioengineering and medical research,” said Vorp. “My lab uses AI with CT scans to help predict the prognosis and improve treatment of aortic aneurysm, and that is just one example of how this cutting-edge technology can be applied to medical images. Rather than relying on the naked eye, we can use AI to analyze these images and have a more sensitive detector to identify disease, improve health and save lives.” The group’s long-term vision is to combine the computational expertise and clinical resources across Pitt, UPMC and Carnegie Mellon University to build a center for innovative AI in clinical translational medical imaging. ###
Maggie Pavlick and Leah Russell
Apr
1
2020

Research Assistant Professor in Epithelial Cell Biology and the Mechanics of Morphogenesis

Bioengineering, Open Positions

The Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, Swanson School of Engineering invites applications by accomplished individuals with a Ph.D. or equivalent in Bioengineering, Biomedical Engineering, or closely related discipline.  Applicants should have experience with carrying out independent as well as collaborative research in the field of epithelial cell biology and the mechanics of morphogenesis. This position will involve innovative research and development of tools and methodology to study the integration of cell polarity and cell mechanics during neurulation in the frog Xenopus laevis. These approaches may include live-cell imaging, development and validation of reagents including knock-down, mutant proteins, and small molecule inhibitors, and analysis of mechanosensing and cell signal transduction pathways. The selected candidate will be responsible for writing grant applications and contributing to ongoing projects covering the mechanobiology of development and coordination of collective cell behaviors. The Research Assistant Professor will also be responsible for preparing reports and archival publications of ongoing projects and communicating research results at scientific meetings. Additionally, the selected candidate may assist in teaching and mentoring undergraduate and graduate students, and overseeing laboratory staff engaged on research projects. Located in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh, the University of Pittsburgh is a top-five institution in terms of NIH funding, and provides a rich environment for interdisciplinary research, strengthened through its affiliation with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC).  The Department of Bioengineering, consistently ranked among the top programs in the country, has outstanding research and educational programs, offering undergraduate (~270 students, sophomore-to-senior years) and graduate (~150 PhD or MD/PhD and ~50 MS students) degrees.  The McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine (mirm.pitt.edu), Computational and Systems Biology (https://www.csb.pitt.edu/), the Vascular Medicine Institute (vmi.pitt.edu), the Brain Institute (braininstitute.pitt.edu), Starzl Transplantation Institute (http://www.stiresearch.health.pitt.edu/), and the Drug Discovery Institute (upddi.pitt.edu) offer many collaborative research opportunities.  The Center for Medical Innovation (https://www.engineering.pitt.edu/CMI/), the Coulter Translational Partnership II Program (engineering.pitt.edu/coulter) and the Center for Commercial Applications of Healthcare Data (healthdataalliance.com/university-of-pittsburgh) provide biomedical innovation and translation opportunities. Interested individuals must submit the following information online at http://apply.interfolio.com/75489: (1) cover letter, (2) complete CV (including funding record, if applicable), (3) research statement, (4) teaching statement, (5) three representative publications, and (6) names and complete contact information of at least four references. To ensure full consideration, applications must be received by April 30, 2020.  However, applications will be reviewed as they are received.  Early submission is highly encouraged. The Department of Bioengineering is fully 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 of Pittsburgh is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer and values equality of opportunity, human dignity and diversity. EEO/AA/M/F/Vets/Disabled.

Mar
31
2020

Engineering Technology to Explore the Human Mind

Bioengineering

The brain is the most complex organ in the human body. At a mere three pounds, it is a workhorse that controls fundamental aspects of human life, such as movement, sensation, memory, and other involuntary processes in the body. In addition, the brain helps make us who we are: it controls our emotions, personality, language, and behavior. Despite being a crucial organ, a comprehensive understanding of the brain is still elusive. Technology developed in the Swanson School of Engineering’s Radiofrequency (RF) Research Facility allows researchers at the University of Pittsburgh to harness the power of one of the strongest human magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) systems. These imaging advancements have illuminated details of brain structure and function that are not visible on standard MRI devices, and researchers now want to study what these images can reveal about the human mind. Getting a Better Look at the Brain The Radiofrequency (RF) Research Facility at the University of Pittsburgh traces its roots to Professor of Bioengineering Tamer Ibrahim’s doctoral work at the Ohio State University, where he designed antennas and coils to address challenges with ultrahigh field MRI imaging. At Pitt, the RF Research Facility and the 7 Tesla (7T) Bioengineering Research Program heavily utilize a 7T human MRI – one of the most powerful imaging devices in the world. “As MRI technology continues to become more powerful, the challenges associated with ultrahigh field imaging are exacerbated,” said Ibrahim. “The increased frequency of imaging at 7 Tesla can cause image inhomogeneities and heat to concentrate at certain locations in the head due to the presence of nonuniform electromagnetic fields. My lab works on designing and constructing devices that smooth those fields to improve the image quality and safety, and thereby, the utility of 7 Tesla Human MRI.” The RF Research Facility created a “Tic-Tac-Toe” RF coil system of antennas that are tightly and uniquely arranged to fit the human head.  It was designed through extensive computer simulations using full wave electromagnetic software developed in the lab to optimize the antenna configuration.  The resulting device solves many of the issues associated with ultrahigh field MRIs, giving Pitt an edge in the field of neural imaging. “Our coil system is a novel design that improves homogeneity, reduces power depositions in tissue, increases the speed of acquisition, and enhances resolution, not just in space, but also in time,” said Ibrahim. “We are able to provide superior neural imaging capabilities, which opens a lot of avenues to explore things unknown.” Ibrahim has used this unique technology to establish interdisciplinary collaborations across the University, in particular with Pitt’s Department of Psychiatry. A Glance Inside the Human Mind Just across the street from the Benedum Hall, where bioengineering resides, is the Western Psychiatric Hospital of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) - home to the Department of Psychiatry. In recent years, mental health research has become more dependent on imaging, and this work at Pitt has been enhanced with the technology developed by the RF Research Facility. “At the broadest level, the problems of psychiatry are based in the complexity of the human brain,” said David Lewis, distinguished professor of psychiatry and neuroscience and chair of psychiatry. “The human brain is, without question, the most complex biological organ in the known universe, and psychiatric illnesses affect the most sophisticated functions of that most complex organ.” One of Ibrahim’s frequent collaborators is Howard Aizenstein, Charles F. Reynolds III and Ellen G. Detlefsen Endowed Chair of Geriatric Psychiatry at Pitt, whose research primarily looks at older adults with depression, cognitive impairment, and dementia. Aizenstein said, “Tamer’s technology has been helpful in moving this research forward because the key challenge in studying the aging brain and the neuropathological changes in aging is to look at the small vessels.” Prior to the development of 7T MRI and Ibrahim’s technology, researchers had to rely on 1.5T or 3T images to see mechanistic changes in human disease, but with Ibrahim’s coil, they can now get a more in-depth look into how the brain works. “Tamer’s 7T head coil allows you to see with much higher contrast very small microstructural changes that you couldn’t see with standard MRI,” explained Aizenstein. “This is really helpful in emerging models of Alzheimer’s disease because we think these small vessels play a big role. We also believe that accelerated aging is part of both depression and Alzheimer’s disease, and this technology allows us to better understand it.” 7T MRI was approved for clinical applications by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in October 2017, which is a pivotal development for Ibrahim’s lab. His group has performed more than 1000 scans using the Tic-Tac-Toe RF coil system on patients/subjects, and with more than $35 million in total funding that utilizes this technology, they have budgeted another 2500 scans for various neurological and epidemiological studies. “Our work is quite advanced in the translational aspect of research,” Ibrahim said. “Everything we do in the lab is applied to patient studies and is impacting the lives of people. No one is using 7T imaging the way we are doing it here at Pitt.” The University has 20 active NIH research grants using this technology. The majority of these are collaborations between bioengineering and psychiatry, so in an effort to formalize this connection, Ibrahim and Aizenstein reached out to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) for support to develop a predoctoral training program. Bridging Two Fields Ibrahim and Aizenstein recently received a $1.1 million grant from the NIMH to develop a unique multidisciplinary training program that prepares students with a background in engineering and other quantitative sciences for careers in mental health research. The NIMH wants to transform mental health care and recently published a strategic plan that, in part, seeks to develop new tools from the BRAIN initiative, apply computational approaches that may provide novel ways to understand relationships among datasets, and develop new and competing applications that target the NIMH research priority areas. Pitt Bioengineering and Psychiatry, two nationally ranked departments, will join forces to train a new generation of students with a focus on both bioengineering and psychiatric research. By tapping into both quantitative and qualitative data, they hope that this training grant will forge collaborations, stimulate research in each field, and further strengthen the University’s leadership in biomedical and psychiatric research, with the ultimate goal of benefitting the human condition. “Psychiatry is a field that has not been traditionally quantitative,” said Ibrahim, “and engineering is the opposite so I think there is a clear marriage between the two.” Predoctoral trainees in this program will benefit from a dual mentorship with advisors from both the Swanson School of Engineering and the School of Medicine. Their research will focus on neuroimaging, neurostimulation, and neural engineering - all of which are widely used in mental health research including mood disorder, anxiety disorder, psychotic disorder, suicide, and cognitive impairment. “With interdisciplinary work, there’s effort that comes with learning to speak to each other and appreciating other perspectives,” Aizenstein said, “but there is so much you gain from it, and that’s where it’s beneficial and fun.” The announcement of this program has already sparked new collaborations between bioengineering and psychiatry, and the department leadership hopes that these collaborations will continue to grow and benefit both areas. “This program will help stimulate the field of bioengineering given the complexity of the challenges in psychiatric research,” said Lewis. “I’m also hopeful that the collaborations and new investigators that emerge as the product of this program will, by harnessing complex datasets and new technologies, enhance precision medicine, create novel therapeutics and improve the clinical practice of psychiatry.” “Tamer’s work and this unique collaboration with psychiatry puts Pittsburgh in a great position to become a leader in neural imaging,” said Sanjeev Shroff, distinguished professor and Gerald E. McGinnis Chair of Bioengineering. “I strongly believe that this training program will create a new breed of investigator who can tackle the fundamental biological questions in psychiatry using engineering (quantitative) approaches and I look forward to seeing how these collaborations will expand and produce cutting-edge research.” # # #

Mar
30
2020

Douglas J. Weber Inducted into Medical and Biological Engineering Elite

Bioengineering

Reposted with permission from the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering WASHINGTON, D.C. — The American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE) has announced the induction of Douglas J. Weber, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh to its College of Fellows. Election to the AIMBE College of Fellows is among the highest professional distinctions accorded to a medical and biological engineer. The College of Fellows is comprised of the top two percent of medical and biological engineers. College membership honors those who have made outstanding contributions to "engineering and medicine research, practice, or education” and to "the pioneering of new and developing fields of technology, making major advancements in traditional fields of medical and biological engineering, or developing/implementing innovative approaches to bioengineering education." Dr. Weber was nominated, reviewed, and elected by peers and members of the College of Fellows for “outstanding contributions to neurorehabilitation engineering, translational neuroscience, and leadership in the field of neural engineering.” As a result of health concerns, AIMBE’s annual meeting and induction ceremony scheduled for March 29-30, 2020, was cancelled. Under special procedures, Dr. Weber was remotely inducted along with 156 colleagues who make up the AIMBE College of Fellows Class of 2020. While most AIMBE Fellows hail from the United States, the College of Fellows has inducted Fellows representing 34 countries. AIMBE Fellows are employed in academia, industry, clinical practice and government. AIMBE Fellows are among the most distinguished medical and biological engineers including 3 Nobel Prize laureates, 18 Fellows having received the Presidential Medal of Science and/or Technology and Innovation, and 173 also inducted to the National Academy of Engineering, 84 inducted to the National Academy of Medicine and 37 inducted to the National Academy of Sciences. # # # About AIMBE AIMBE is the authoritative voice and advocate for the value of medical and biological engineering to society. AIMBE’s mission is to recognize excellence, advance the public understanding, and accelerate medical and biological innovation. No other organization can bring together academic, industry, government, and scientific societies to form a highly influential community advancing medical and biological engineering. AIMBE’s mission drives advocacy initiatives into action on Capitol Hill and beyond.

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