As I write this message, the sun is shining, and the temperatures are rising. Spring represents growth and the start of something new – a welcome relief as we finally edge toward a return to normal and reflect on the things we have learned in recent months.
We are more than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, in which I have proudly watched my Pitt bioengineering family (students, staff, and faculty) thrive, despite the difficult circumstances. We have treated each challenge as an opportunity innovate and deliver the quality research and education that we are known to provide. On behalf of our faculty, staff, and students, I am happy to share some of this news with you in our Spring 2021 eNewsletter
This edition’s feature story will highlight a few inspiring stories that illustrate the resilience of our Pitt bioengineering family during the COVID-19 pandemic. I hope that we can learn from one another’s accomplishments and continue to grow as one of the nation’s leading biomedical engineering departments
We have plenty to celebrate as a department, and I would like to start by recognizing the election of three faculty members as Senior Members of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI). Bryan Brown, Kacey Marra, and Michael Lotze were selected among 61 academic inventors for the 2021 class of NAI Senior Members. This adds to the growing number of Pitt bioengineers who have been recognized by the organization as fellows, including Stephen Badylak, Rory Cooper, William Federspiel, Mir Imran, and William Wagner
Translational research is at the heart of biomedical engineering, and our faculty and students seek to apply basic scientific discoveries to the creation of new applications to benefit human health. Mark Redfern recently received funding from the NIH to establish a new program in the Human Factors of Aging to inform and support investigators that desire to advance translational research focused on improving the lives of older adults
Some of the department’s research in heart disease also received recent funding. The Vascular Bioengineering Lab will use an NIH award to create an AI-based model that can predict the eventual need for surgical intervention in abdominal aortic aneurysms. The department has also had recent success in stent technology area. Youngjae Chun, whose primary appointment is in industrial engineering, received second-year funding to develop a new type of metallic frame for pediatric heart valves that could not only be placed by a minimally invasive catheter-based procedure but would also grow with the child, eliminating the need for follow-up surgeries. A team of Pitt researchers demonstrated the first successful use of a biodegradable magnesium-alloy stent for pediatric patients. This work, originating from the Kumta laboratory and published in Communications Biology, was performed by Jingyao Wu, Abhijit Roy, Bouen Lee, Youngjae Chun, William Wagner, and Prashant Kumta. Our students have been active in this arena as well. Youngjae’s graduate student, along with Jonathan Vande Geest’s undergraduate student, received awards from the Wells Competition for their respective stent devices
Partha Roy is another Pitt bioengineer whose work was recently highlighted by a peer-review journal. He and his laboratory were featured in the Journal of Biological Chemistry’s special virtual issue for their work that uncovered a novel mechanism of interactions between actin-regulatory proteins during cell migration.
Our undergraduate students continually impress me with their innovative ideas, passion for the field, and eagerness to drive their own education. I am proud that our bioengineering undergraduate Hannah Geisler was named the Swanson School’s 2020 Co-op Student of the Year for her work on a wearable cardiac defibrillator at ZOLL Medical Corporation. Congratulations to our 2020 iGEM team who clinched a gold medal at the Virtual Giant Jamboree for their “Bluetooth Bacteria” project. Their work was also selected as one of the four finalists for the “Best Foundational Advance Project” award.
Our graduate students also had a fruitful fall semester as well. Jorge Jimenez is part of a team that earned a 2020 Year of Engagement award for a series of remote bilingual (Spanish/English) workshops engaging Latinx youth in prototype design activities. Ande Marini nominated our very own Steven Abramowitch to participate in Alpha Chi’s panel discussion on race, privilege, and responsibility. A group of MS-MPE students helped a barber from Dubois develop a device that can help individuals with physical disabilities have a more tailored, comfortable, and safe experience at the salon.
Finally, I would like to congratulate all of the graduate students who received external predoctoral fellowships in AY20. Since the department started an effort to help our graduate students apply for these awards, we have seen a steady increase in funding. In the past academic year, there were 38 external fellowships, which represents 30 percent of the AY20 PhD student population. I am incredibly proud of this student accomplishment and the fact that students are taking charge of their graduate education.
On behalf of the Department of Bioengineering, I thank you for your continued interest and support. Stay safe and stay healthy.
Sanjeev G. Shroff, PhD
Distinguished Professor of and McGinnis Chair in Bioengineering