Carl June Receives the Sanford Lorraine Cross Award

Carl June, MD

Carl June, MD, the Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy in the department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, director of the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies at Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center, and member of the Penn Bioengineering Graduate Group, received the $1 million Sanford Lorraine Cross Award for his groundbreaking work in developing chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy. June is a world renowned cancer cell therapy pioneer.

“Sanford Health, the only health system in the country to award a $1 million prize for achievements in the medical sciences, announced the award on April 13 at a special ceremony in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The biennial award recognizes life-changing breakthroughs and bringing emerging transformative medical innovations to patients.

‘This is a well-deserved and exciting award for one of Penn’s most distinguished faculty members, whose pioneering research has reshaped the fight against cancer and brought fresh hope for both adults and children with the disease,’ said J. Larry Jameson, MD, PhD, Executive Vice President of the University of Pennsylvania for the Health System and Dean of the Perelman School of Medicine. ‘His contributions truly have been transformative for patients across the globe and taken the field of oncology in new and powerful directions.'”

Read the full story in Penn Medicine News.

Alumni Spotlight: Christopher B. Rodell

Chris Rodell, Ph.D.

Christopher B. Rodell completed his Ph.D. in Penn Bioengineering in 2016 and has since gone on to complete a postdoc at the Center for Systems Biology at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. He is now an Assistant Professor in the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems at Drexel University. Chris caught up with the BE Blog to talk about his love of Philly and the Penn Bioengineering community:

“Yes, Penn is a great place to study – it’s full of brilliant instructors and classmates. No big surprises there. But Penn Bioengineering is so much more than that! It’s a community with passion, grit, and great times that reflect the city as a whole.

I grew up in the South, so I didn’t really know much about the school or Philly in general when I first visited. But what stood out to me was the people. From the professors to the grad students and even the other visiting students, nearly everyone I met was genuinely excited to talk about their work and just wanted to have a good time doing it. Looking back, I realize that’s exactly what I needed to thrive in a research-based education. Whether studying for a class or pulling long hours at lab, it takes some grit to make it through an engineering degree. But being passionate and having others to share your excitement with make it fun. Penn Bioengineering is a really unique place where I always felt welcome to talk with anyone – the sense of community and openness is probably one of the biggest reasons for their great success in education, research, and productive collaboration.

Through my time at Penn, I was fortunate enough to work with Jason Burdick who is, as everyone told me, ‘one of smartest and nicest people you’ll ever meet.’ I also had the opportunity to build a network of lifelong friends and mentors that span the school of engineering, the medical school, and the broader academic community of Philadelphia. These connections have continued to provide me a sense of community as I embark on an independent research career at Drexel, and I’m excited to be back in Philly!”

This post is part of BE’s Alumni Spotlight series. Read more testimonies from BE Alumni on the BE website.

Modified Nanoparticles Can Stop Osteoarthritis Development

Zhiliang Cheng

As we age, the cushioning cartilage between our joints begins to wear down, making it harder and more painful to move. Known as osteoathritis, this extremely common condition has no known cure; if the symptoms can’t be managed, the affected joints must be surgically replaced.

Now, researchers are exploring whether their specially designed nanoparticles can deliver a new inflammation inhibitor to joints, targeting a previously overlooked enzyme called sPLA2.

Zhiliang Cheng, a research associate professor in the Department of Bioengineering, recently collaborated with members of Penn Medicine’s McKay Orthopaedic Research Laboratory, on a study of this approach, published in the journal Science Advances.

The normal function of sPLA2 is to provide lipids (fats) that promote a variety of inflammation processes. The enzyme is always present in cartilage tissue, but typically in low levels. However, when the researchers examined mouse and human cartilage taken from those with osteoarthritis, disproportionately high levels of the enzyme were discovered within the tissue’s structure and cells.

“This marked increase strongly suggests that sPLA2 plays a role in the development of osteoarthritis,” said the study’s corresponding author, Zhiliang Cheng, PhD, a research associate professor of Bioengineering. “Being able to demonstrate this showed that we were on the right track for what could be a potent target for the disease.”

The next step was for the study team – which included lead author Yulong Wei, MD, a researcher in Penn Medicine’s McKay Orthopaedic Research Laboratory – to put together a nanoparticle loaded with an sPLA2 inhibitor. This would block the activity of sPLA2 enzyme and, they believed, inflammation. These nanoparticles were mixed with animal knee cartilage in a lab, then observed as they diffused deeply into the dense cartilage tissue. As time progressed, the team saw that the nanoparticles stayed there and did not degrade significantly or disappear. This was important for the type of treatment the team envisioned.

Continue reading at Penn Medicine News.

Originally posted in Penn Engineering Today.

“New Biosealant Can Stabilize Cartilage, Promote Healing After Injury”

New research from Robert Mauck, Mary Black Ralston Professor in Orthopaedic Surgery and Bioengineering and Director of Penn Medicine’s McKay Orthopaedic Research Laboratory, announces a “new biosealant therapy may help to stabilize injuries that cause cartilage to break down, paving the way for a future fix or – even better – begin working right away with new cells to enhance healing.” Their research was published in Advanced Healthcare Materials. The study’s lead author was Jay Patel, a former postdoctoral fellow in the McKay Lab and now Assistant Professor at Emory University and was contributed to by Claudia Loebel, a postdoctoral research in the Burdick lab and who will begin an appointment as Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan in Fall 2021. In addition, the technology detailed in this publication is at the heart of a new company (Forsagen LLC) spun out of Penn with support from the Penn Center for Innovation (PCI) Ventures Program, which will attempt to spearhead the system’s entry into the clinic. It is co-founded by both Mauck and Patel, along with study co-author Jason Burdick, Professor in Bioengineering, and Ana Peredo, a PhD student in Bioengineering.

Read the story in Penn Medicine News.

BE Seminar: “Promoting Appendage/Limb Regeneration in Jellyfish, Drosophila, and Mouse” (Lea Goentoro)

We hope you will join us for our final seminar of the spring semester!

Speaker: Lea Goentoro, Ph.D.
Professor
Biology
California Institute of Technology

Date: Thursday, April 22, 2021
Time: 3:00-4:00 PM EDT
Zoom – check email for link or contact ksas@seas.upenn.edu

Abstract: Can limb regeneration be induced? In this talk, I will discuss our work to promote regeneration in animals with limited regeneration capacity. I will present our recent discovery of a strategy for inducing regenerative response in appendages, which works across three species that span the animal phylogeny. In Cnidaria, the frequency of appendage regeneration in the moon jellyfish Aurelia was increased by feeding with the amino acid L-leucine and the growth hormone insulin. In insects, the same strategy induced tibia regeneration in adult Drosophila. Finally, in mammals, L-leucine and sucrose administration induced digit regeneration in adult mice, including dramatically from mid-phalangeal amputation. The conserved effect of L-leucine and insulin/sugar suggests a key role for energetic parameters in regeneration induction. The simplicity by which nutrient supplementation can induce appendage regeneration provides a testable hypothesis across animals.

Lea Goentoro Bio: Lea Goentoro is a Professor of Biology in the Division of Biology and Biological Engineering at the California Institute of Technology. She holds a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from University of Wisconsin, Madison and a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Princeton University. Prior to joining Caltech, she did postdoctoral training in the Department of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School. Her work has been supported by the Damon-Runyon Cancer Foundation, the James S. McDonnell Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institute of Health.

Ning Jenny Jiang Appointed Associate Professor in Penn Bioengineering

Jenny Jiang, Ph.D.

We are thrilled to announce the appointment of Ning Jenny Jiang, Ph.D. as a tenured Associate Professor in the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Jenny Jiang comes to Penn from the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. She obtained her Ph.D. from Georgia Institute of Technology and did her postdoctoral training at Stanford University.

Jiang’s research focuses on systems immunology by developing technologies that enable high-throughput, high-content, single cell profiling of T cells in health and disease and she is recognized as one of the leading authorities in systems immunology and immunoengineering. She is a pioneer in developing tools in biophysics, genomics, immunology, and informatics and applying them to study systems immunology in human diseases. Her early work on the development of the first high-throughput immune-repertoire sequencing technology opened up a brand new field of immune-repertoire profiling. Her laboratory developed the first high-throughput in situ T cell receptor affinity measurement technology and she pioneered the development of integrated single T cell profiling technologies. These technological innovations have changed the paradigm of T cell profiling in disease diagnosis and in immune engineering for therapeutics. Using these technologies, her laboratory has made many discoveries in immunology, from unexpected infants’ immunity in malaria infection to “holes” in T cell repertoire in aging immune systems in elderly, from dysregulated T cells in HIV infection to high-throughput identification of neoantigen-specific T cell receptor for cancer immunotherapy.

Dr. Jiang was also recently elected to the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE) College of Fellows for her outstanding contributions to the field of systems immunology and immunoengineering and devotion to the success of women in engineering. A virtual induction ceremony was held on March 26, 2021.

Additionally, Jiang is a recipient of numerous other awards, including the Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovation Award, an NSF CAREER award, and a Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Neurodegeneration Challenge Network Ben Barres Early Career Acceleration Award. She was selected as one of National Academy of Medicine Emerging Leaders in Health and Medicine Scholars in 2019.

Jiang’s appointment will begin June 1, 2021. Welcome to Penn Bioengineering, Dr. Jiang!

Michael Mitchell on Keeping mRNA Vaccines Viable

A National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases lab freezer used for COVID-19 vaccine research. Both of the current mRNA-based COVID vaccines require ultra-cold freezers to prevent their mRNA from degrading, spurring research into other ways to stabilize the molecule.

As the technology behind two of the COVID-19 vaccines, Messenger RNA (mRNA) is having a moment. A single-stranded counterpart to DNA, mRNA translates its genetic code into proteins; by injecting mRNA engineered to produce proteins found on the exterior of the virus, the vaccine can train a person’s immune system to recognize the real thing without making them sick.

However, because mRNA is a relatively unstable molecule, distributing these vaccines involves extra logistical challenges. Doses must be transported and stored at ultra-cold temperatures to make sure the mRNA inside doesn’t degrade and lose the genetic information it carries.

Michael Mitchell
Michael Mitchell

As mRNA vaccines and other therapies take off, researchers are looking for other ways to forestall this degradation. One of them is Michael J. Mitchell, Skirkanich Assistant Professor of Innovation in the Department of Bioengineering, who is studying the use of lipid nanoparticles to encapsulate and protect mRNA on its way into the cell. That sort of packaging would be particularly beneficial in proposed mRNA therapies for certain genetic disorders, which aim to deliver the correct protein-making instructions to specific organs, or even a fetus in utero.

But for stabilizing mRNA for vaccine distribution, many other strategies are being explored. In “Keeping covid vaccines cold isn’t easy. These ideas could help,” Wudan Yan of MIT Technology Review reached out to Mitchell for insight on LIONs, or lipid inorganic nanoparticles. These nanoparticles work the opposite way of Mitchell’s organic ones, with the mRNA stabilized by binding to their exteriors.

Continue reading at MIT Technology Review.

Originally posted in Penn Engineering Today.

BE Seminar: “Understanding Spatiotemporal Cell Reprogramming for Precision Medicine” (Xiling Shen)

Xiling Shen, Ph.D.

Speaker: Xiling Shen, Ph.D.
Hawkins Family Associate Professor
Biomedical Engineering
Duke University

Date: Thursday, April 15, 2021
Time: 3:00-4:00 PM EDT
Zoom – check email for link or contact ksas@seas.upenn.edu

Abstract:

Bodily cells undergo transformations in space and time during development, disease progression, and therapeutic treatment. A holistic approach that combines engineering tools, patient-derived models, and analytical methods is needed to map cellular reprogramming and expose new therapeutic opportunities. The talk will cover our effort across the entire spectrum from bench to bedside, including organogenesis during embryonic development, epigenetic and metabolic reprogramming of cancer metastasis and COVID-19 patients, and organoid technology to guide precision- and immune-oncology.

Xiling Shen Bio:

Dr. Shen is the Hawkins Family Associate Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Duke University. He is also the director of the Woo Center for Big Data and Precision Health. He received his BS, MS, and PhD degrees from Stanford University and the NSF career award at Cornell University. He is the steering committee chair of the NCI Patient-Derived Model of Cancer Consortium. His lab studies precision medicine from a systems biology perspective. Areas of interests include cancer, stem cells, the but-brain axis, and infectious diseases.

Bioengineering Contributes to “New COVID-19 Testing Technology at Penn”

César de la Fuente, Ph.D., a Presidential Assistant Professor in Psychiatry, Microbiology, and Bioengineering, is leading a team to develop an electrode that can be easily printed at low cost to provide COVID-19 test results from your smart phone.

A recent Penn Medicine blog post surveys the efforts across Penn and the Perelman School of Medicine to develop novel says to detect SARS-CoV-2 and features several Department of Bioengineering faculty and Graduate Group members, including César de la Fuente, Presidential Assistant Professor in Psychiatry, Microbiology, and Bioengineering; Arupa Ganguly, Professor in Genetics; A.T. Charlie Johnson, Rebecca W. Bushnell Professor in Physics and Astronomy; Lyle Ungar, Professor in Computer and Information Science; and Ping Wang, Associate Professor in Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.

Read “We’ll Need More than Vaccines to Vanquish the Virus: New COVID-19 Testing Technology at Penn” by Melissa Moody in Penn Medicine News.

David Meaney Receives 2021 Lindback Award

David F. Meaney, PhD

David F. Meaney is among the recipients of the 2021 Lindback Awards.

The Lindback Awards, announced annually, are the most prestigious teaching awards that full-time faculty members at the University can receive.

Meaney is the Solomon R. Pollack Professor in Bioengineering and Senior Associate Dean of Penn Engineering and his research areas span from traumatic brain injury to brain network theory. He received his M.S. and Ph.D. in Bioengineering and Biomedical Engineering from Penn Engineering.

The Lindback Awards were established in 1961 with the help of the Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Foundation.

Congratulations to Dr. Meaney from everyone in Penn Bioengineering for this well-deserved honor!

Read more stories on the BE blog featuring Dr. Meaney.

Originally posted in Penn Engineering Today.