Sally and Kayla wrap up the You Do Belong in Science series with listener stories and lessons learned from this series. Listeners write in with stories about the importance of professors’ LGBTQ allyship and dealing with chronic illness in graduate school. Sally and Kayla reveal who does not belong in science (spoiler alert/content advisory: it’s sexual harassers). They also welcome allyship correspondent Jon Muncie to discuss actions everyone can take to prevent and respond to sexual harassment in the workplace, fairly judge peers’ research, and increase representation and promote the inclusion of people from underrepresented groups in STEM. He reminds Double Shelix that we need to get comfortable being uncomfortable when it comes to discussing and addressing these important issues facing our science workplaces.
Sally and Kayla thank the Berkeley Student Tech Fund, as well as Gustavo Villarreal @wikirascals for their graphics. Get your Double Shelix and You Do Belong in Science stickers at doubleshelix.com/stickers.
Share your thoughts on this episode — or your belonging story — on voicemail 415-895-0850 or email Double Shelix firstname.lastname@example.org. Sally and Kayla are on Twitter @doubleshelixpod and coming soon to Instagram @doubleshelixpodcast — give them a follow!
Among the deadliest and most difficult to treat types of cancer is glioblastoma, an especially aggressive form of brain cancer. Widely available imaging techniques can diagnose the tumor, but often the diagnosis is too late to treat the cancer effectively. Although blood-based cancer biomarkers can provide for earlier detection of cancer, these markers face the difficult task of crossing the blood-brain barrier (BBB), which prevents all but the tiniest molecules from moving from the brain to the bloodstream.
A study recently published in Scientific Reports, coauthored by Hong Chen, PhD, Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL), reports of successful deployment of a strategy consisting of focused ultrasound (FUS), enhanced green fluorescent protein (eGFP), and systemically injected microbubbles to see if the BBB could be opened temporarily to allow biomarkers to pass from the brain into the bloodstream. The authors used eGFP-activated mouse models of glioblastoma, injecting the microbubbles into the mice and then exposing the mice to varying acoustic pressures of FUS. They found that circulating blood levels of eGFP were several thousand times higher in the FUS-treated mice compared to non-treated mice, which would significantly facilitate the detection of the marker in blood tests.
The method has some way to go before it can be used in humans. For one thing, the pressures used in the Scientific Reports study would damage blood vessels, so it must be determined whether lower pressures would still provide detectable transmission of proteins across the BBB. In addition, the authors must exclude the possibility of FUS unexpectedly enhancing tumor growth.
In other body areas, with easier access from tissue to the bloodstream, engineers have developed a disease-screening pill that, when ingested and activated by infrared light, can indicate tumor locations on optical tomography. The scientists, led by Greg M. Thurber, PhD, Assistant Professor of Biomedical and Chemical Engineering at the University of Michigan, reported their findings in Molecular Pharmaceutics.
The authors of the study used negatively charged sulfate groups to facilitate absorption by the digestive system of molecular imaging agents. They tested a pill consisting of a combination of these agents and found that their model tumors were visible. The next steps will include optimizing the imaging agent dosage loaded into the pill to optimize visibility. The authors believe their approach could eventually replace uncomfortable procedures like mammograms and invasive diagnostic procedures.
Liquid Assembly Line to Produce Drug Microparticles
Pharmaceuticals owe their effects mostly to their chemical composition, but the packaging of these drugs into must be done precisely. Many drugs are encapsulated in solid microparticles, and engineering consistent size and drug loading in these particles is key. However, common drug manufacturing techniques, such as spray drying and ball milling, produce uneven results.
University of Pennsylvania engineers developed a microfluidic system in which more than ten thousand of these devices run in parallel, all on a silicon-and-glass chip that can fit into a shirt pocket, to produce a paradigm shift in microparticle manufacturing. The team, led by David Issadore, Assistant Professor in the Department of Bioengineering, outlined the design of their system in the journal Nature Communications.
The Penn team first tested their system by making simple oil-in-water droplets, at a rate of more than 1 trillion droplets per hour. Using materials common to current drug manufacturing processes, they manufactured polycapralactone microparticles at a rate of ‘only’ 328 billion particles per hour. Further testing backed by pharma company GlaxoSmithKline will follow.
Preventing Fungal Infections of Dental Prostheses
Dental prostheses are medical devices that many people require, particularly as they age. One of the chief complications with prostheses is fungal infections, with an alarming rate of two-thirds among people wearing dentures. These infections can cause a variety of problems, spreading to other parts of the digestive system and affecting nutrition and overall well-being. Fungal infections can be controlled in part by mouthwashes, microwave treatments, and light therapies, but none of them have high efficacy.
To address this issue, Praveen Arany, DDS, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Oral Biology and Biomedical Engineering at SUNY Buffalo, combined 3D printing technology and polycaprolactone microspheres containing amphotericin-B, an antifungal agent. Initial fabrication of the prostheses is described in an article in Materials Today Communications, along with successful in vitro testing with fungal biofilm. If further testing proves effective, these prostheses could be used in dental patients in whom the current treatments are either ineffective or contraindicated.
People and Places
West Virginia University has announced that it will launch Master’s and doctoral programs in Biomedical Engineering. The programs will begin enrolling students in the fall. The graduate tracks augment a Bachelor’s degree program begun in 2014.
This year’s winner of the Staff Recognition Award from the School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) at the University of Pennsylvania is Sevile Mannickarottu, the Director of Instructional Laboratories in the Department of Bioengineering. A 1999 alumnus of Penn’s undergraduate Electrical and Systems Engineering program, Sevile joined the staff at Penn Bioengineering in 2005 as a laboratory coordinator and has risen through the ranks since then to run the undergraduate instructional lab. He is also President of the SEAS Alumni Association and has earned Master’s degrees from the Schools of Arts and Sciences and Liberal and Professional Studies during his time at Penn.
Awarded since 1989, the SEAS Staff Recognition Award recognizes each year a non-faculty staff member whose presence contributes in an extraordinary way to the aspirations of the SEAS and inspires excellent performance from others. In the words of the committee giving him the award, “Sevile is a highly esteemed administrator and ambassador of SEAS. Since 1996 from student worker, to labs coordinator, and now the Manager of Bioengineering Undergraduate Laboratories, Sevile has shown integrity, commitment, and imagination throughout his SEAS career. His ability to lead in the significant and continuing educational environment are invaluable to the students, faculty, and peers he works with.” He is also tremendously popular among the undergraduate students in the Bioengineering department. We heartily congratulate him!
Professor Suhair Sunoqrot joins Sally and Kayla to discuss her experiences running her research lab at Al Zaytoonah University of Jordan and what she wishes international colleagues understood about the research climate in Jordan. Also on this episode, a listener is having a hard time fitting in while researching in another country, and Suhair’s experience finding belonging in research labs in the US and Europe is discussed. Suhair successfully balances her nanoparticle and drug delivery research with a heavy teaching load, and Sally and Kayla learn her secrets for making it work. Suhair is an outstanding researcher and mentor.
The last week of April is when classes end at the University of Pennsylvania. It’s was an especially busy week for students in Penn’s Department of Bioengineering. In addition to university- and school-wide events, students enjoyed our department picnic and Senior Sendoff.
On Monday and Tuesday, junior Bioengineering students in BE 310 (Bioengineering Modeling, Analysis, & Design Laboratory II) participated in Demo Day, with presentations of groups’ solutions to a problem posed in the class to crate a spectrophotometer. The students’ creativity was on full display, with designs based on the McDonalds logo, Star Wars, and Hogwarts (see below).
Wednesday was the Bioengineering Spring Picnic. Although the event had to be moved inside due to rain, students, faculty, and staff were able to enjoy a catered lunch. Thursday was Hey Day (April 26), the day on which Penn juniors across the university “officially” become seniors.
Finally, on Friday, the school-wide Senior Design competition was held among the teams who won the previous week’s department-wide competition. One of our Bioengineering teams (see above) won second honorable mention. Congratulations to them and all of the winners!
The University of Pennsylvania Department of Bioengineering is proud to announce that our faculty member Beth Winkelstein, PhD, has been named the Eduardo D. Glandt President’s Distinguished Professor by the Penn School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS). The endowed professorship is named for Eduardo D. Glandt, PhD, former Dean of SEAS and Professor Emeritus in the Department of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering.
An undergraduate alumna of Penn, Dr. Winkelstein earned her PhD in Biomedical Engineering from Duke in 1999. Recruited by Dr. Glandt himself, Dr. Winkelstein returned to Penn as a Bioengineering faculty member in 2002, with tenure and promotion to Associate Professor in 2007 and promotion to Professor in 2011. Beginning that same year, she has taken on a series of increasingly important administrative positions, first as Bioengineering Graduate Group Chair (2011-12), then as Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education in SEAS (2012-2015), and now as Vice Provost for Education (since 2015).
Dr. Winkelstein is the principal investigator at the Spine Pain Research Lab, which studies and seeks to better understand chronic pain syndromes. On the basis of her research, she has received multiple awards and honors, including the NSF Career Award, the Y.C. Fung Award from the American Association of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), and election as a fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, the Biomedical Engineering Society, and the ASME. Most recently, Dr. Winkelstein was elected as a councilor in the World Council of Biomechanics.
“Receiving an endowed chair represents a recognition of an individual’s contributions to their field, their leadership, and the legacy of their trainees,” said David Meaney, PhD, Chair of the Bioengineering Department. “Beth’s research program continues to flourish, and her leadership in national societies grows constantly.”
The University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Bioengineering is proud to announce that Professor Jason Burdick, PhD, has been named the Robert D. Bent Chair. Robert Bent is an internationally recognized nuclear physicist who spent most of his career at Indiana University.
A PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Colorado (2002), Dr. Burdick was a postdoc in Robert Langer’s lab at MIT before coming to Penn in 2005 as Wilf Family Assistant Professor. He was tenured with a promotion to Associate Professor in 2010 and subsequently promoted to Professor in 2013. His research, which focuses on the development of polymeric biomaterials for tissue engineering and drug delivery, has earned him recognition including an NSF Career Award, the American Heart Association Established Investigator Award, and most recently the Heilmeier Research Award and Clemson Award for Basic Research.
“This chair recognizes Jason’s prolific and deep scholarly contributions to the field of biomaterials, in addition to his leadership at Penn and beyond,” said David Meaney, PhD, Chair of the Bioengineering Department. “For anyone who saw Jason’s Heilmeier lecture, you know how impactful his work has been in the field.”
You might have heard reporting over the last few years that honeybees are dying at faster-than-usual rates. Over the last decade, colony collapse rates increased significantly, causing precipitous losses in the overall bee population. The consequences could be grave: in addition to providing honey, bee pollination is an important factor in agriculture, affecting major crops such as melons. squashes, and several kinds of nuts. Loss of this factor could substantially increase prices or even result in shortages.
To address this crisis, scientists at Washington State University focused on the role played by pesticides in colony collapse disorder. These poisons are particularly toxic to bees in tiny amounts, with the problem compounded by the ability of these toxins to build up in the bees’ bodies. A group of students led by Waled Suliman, PhD, a postdoctoral research associate in WSU’s Department of Biological Systems Engineering, developed a powder that acts like a magnet to draw pesticide out of the insects’ bodies. The bees then excrete the pesticide-laden particles like any other kind of waste.
The initiative, called Gaminus, has already tested its material in bees and found that the design works as planned. In coming months, they intend to continue their research by measuring toxin levels in the excreted particles.
Advances in Visualization
An important field within bioengineering is visualization, or the ability to use technology to enable scientists to see biological processes not normally visible to the naked eye. If you’ve seen a fetal ultrasound, for instance, then you’ve seen how one part of this area has advanced enormously in recent years. However, integrating visualization technologies with surgery remains a major challenge, particularly for minimally invasive surgeries. One key obstacle is that surgeons must rely on video screens during surgery, rather than being able to look down and feel the tissue with their hands.
A startup at the Cleveland Clinic is attempting to integrate perioperative visualization with HoloLens, a brand of smart glasses developed by Microsoft, to produce “mixed reality,” i.e., a combination of actual vision and virtual reality. With a grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute awarded to Centerline Biomedical, the Cleveland Clinic startup, and to Karl West, Director of Medical Device Solutions at Cleveland Clinic and a staff member in the Lerner Research Institute’s Department of Biomedical Engineering, the integrated visualization device will be tested in a preclinical model of cardiac stent placement.
Elsewhere in the Midwest, Nathan Gianneschi, PhD, Professor of Chemistry, Biomedical Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering at Northwestern University, has been leading an effort to augment transmission electron microscopy (TEM). In its common form, TEM provides highly detailed images of submicroscopic organisms and structures and can provide visualization of nanomaterials as they grow. Gianneschi’s new approach, called liquid cell TEM (LCTEM), uses an irradiated region of a liquid cell to facilitate real-time visualization. The work is detailed in a recent article in ACS Central Science. You can see video posted online at the journal website.
Ultraviolet and infrared light appear beyond either end of the visible light spectrum. Past work using either ultraviolet or infrared light to activate fluorescent proteins can help visualize biochemistry in vivo, but it can also damage cells because of the activating light or the chemicals produced by illuminating the proteins. Recently, Young L. Kim, PhD, Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Purdue, led a team of scientists who produced red fluorescent silk to kill harmful bacteria when the protein is activated by external green light. Dr. Kim and his colleagues report their findings in Advanced Science. The silk requires further testing, but if ultimately proved successful, it could overcome a current limitation of the use light-activated fluorescent biomaterials in controlling pathogens, which is that the light itself, often in the ultraviolet part of the spectrum, comes with its own potentially negative effects on health.
Absorbable Stents for Cardiac Care
Vascular stents to reopen blocked coronary arteries are usually the treatments used for patients with mild coronary artery disease. These simple devices are a small tube, sometimes coated with a drug to prevent clotting, inserted into the artery to restore flow. Stents can fail over time, requiring reimplantation, and the stents may also narrow over time and reduce blood flow to the surrounding tissue. To overcome this problem, Donghui Zhu, PhD, Associate Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of North Texas, developed a stent that is fully biodegradable and disappears over time as the damaged tissue heals. Dr. Zhu recently won a $2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to test the stent in a series of trials.
People and Places
Penn State University has won a research grant from the American Heart Association, which will be used to support its 10-week Penn State Summer Translational Cardiovascular Science Institute (STCSI). Led by Keefe Manning, PhD, Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Penn State, the STCSI will provide $4,000 stipends for undergraduate students to conduct summer research on cardiovascular disease.
Finally, here at Penn Bioengineering, we are immensely proud to announce that our PhD student Jina Ko was named one of 14 PhD candidates in the inaugural class of Schmidt Science Fellows. Schmidt Fellows are each awarded a $100,000 stipend to cover the cost of living while conducting postdoctoral research. Congratulations, Jina!