Jenny Jiang, the Peter & Geri Skirkanich Associate Professor of Innovation in the department of Bioengineering, has received a Lloyd J. Old STAR Program grant from the Cancer Research Institute (CRI), which is a major supporter of cancer immunotherapy research and clinical trials with the goal of curing all types of cancer.
The CRI Lloyd J. Old Scientists Taking Risks (STAR) Program “provides long-term funding to mid-career scientists, giving them the freedom and flexibility to pursue high-risk, high-reward research at the forefront of discovery and innovation in cancer immunotherapy.” This prestigious grant was give to six awardees this year, chosen from a pool of hundreds of applicants, and recognizes “future leaders in the field of cancer immunotherapy [who are expected to] carry out transformational research.”
The Old STAR Program Grant comes with $1.25 million in funding over 5 years to support the awardees’ cancer immunology research.
Jiang, who recently joined Penn Bioengineering, is a pioneer in developing tools in genomics, biophysics, immunology, and informatics and applying them to study systems immunology and immune engineering in human diseases. She was also inducted into the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE) College of Fellows in March 2021 for her outstanding contributions to the field of systems immunology and immunoengineering and devotion to the success of women in engineering. 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.
“The STAR Award from CRI allows my lab to answer some of the fundamental questions in T cell biology, such as is the T cell repertoire complete to cover all possible cancer antigens, as well as to improve the efficacy of T cell based cancer immunotherapies,” says Jiang.
Shreya Parchure, a recent graduate of Penn Bioengineering, was selected by a committee of faculty for a 2021 Rose Award from the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships (CURF). The Rose Award recognizes outstanding undergraduate research projects completed by graduating seniors under the supervision of a Penn faculty member and carries with it a $1,000 award. Parchure’s project, titled “BDNF Gene Polymorphism Predicts Response to Continuous Theta Burst Stimulation (cTBS) in Chronic Stroke Patients,” was done under the supervision of Roy H. Hamilton, Associate Professor in Neurology and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and director of the Laboratory for Cognition and Neural Stimulation in the Perelman School of Medicine. Parchure’s work in Hamilton’s lab previously resulted in a 2020 Goldwater Scholarship.
Each year, Penn Engineering’s seniors present their Senior Design projects, a year-long effort that challenges them to test and develop solutions to real-world problems, to their individual departments. The top three projects from each department go on to compete in the annual Senior Design Competition, sponsored by the Engineering Alumni Society, which involves pitching projects to a panel of judges who evaluate their potential in the market. While the pandemic made this year’s competition logistically challenging, students and organizers were able to come together virtually to continue the tradition.
This year’s virtual format provided an opportunity for judges from around the country to participate in evaluating projects. Brad Richards, Director of Alumni Relations at Penn Engineering who helped plan the competition, was able to help recruit more than 60 volunteers to serve on the panel.
“The broad number of judges from varying industries made this competition incredibly meaningful, we will absolutely be integrating a virtual component to allow for more judges in the future.”
Eighteen teams total, three from each department, virtually presented to the panel of judges, who awarded $2,000 prizes in four categories.
Technology & Innovation Prize
This award recognized the team whose project represents the highest and best use of technology and innovation to leverage engineering principles.
Winner: Team OtoAI Department: Bioengineering Team Members: Krishna Suresh, Nikhil Maheshwari, Yash Lahoti, Jonathan Mairena, Uday Tripathi Advisor: Steven Eliades, Assistant Professor of Otorhinolaryngology in Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine Abstract: OtoAI is a novel digital otoscope that enables primary care physicians to take images of the inner ear and leverages machine learning to diagnose abnormal ear pathologies.
Sofia Gonzalez, who graduated with both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Bioengineering this spring, was one of a select number of Penn students to receive 2021 Student Leadership Awards. Gonzalez was awarded a Penn Alumni Student Award of Merit as well as the William A. Levi Kite & Key Society Award for Service and Scholarship. Awardees were celebrated during the university’s annual Ivy Day, “a tradition recognizing students’ leadership, service, and scholarship for nearly 150 years.”
“Sofia reflected that on countless college tours, she noticed a striking pattern: only one of the ambassadors she encountered was a female engineer, and none of them were Latinx. While the nation was reckoning with racism, Sofia was leading critical discussions about how Kite & Key could improve in areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion to mirror the Penn student body. Sofia is now graduating, confident that she took measurable strides toward breaking the cycle of underrepresentation at America’s first University. Sofia’s work leaves a lasting legacy at Penn and beyond.”
Gonzalez also served as a Senior Advisor to the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) and as President of the Kite and Key Society, a society which welcomes all visitors to campus, acquaints prospective students and families with the undergraduate experience, and fosters a community of students dedicated to serving the University of Pennsylvania. Having completed her degrees, Gonzalez is headed for the first year of a rotational program as a member of the Merck Manufacturing Leadership Development Program in Durham, NC.
Following her time at Merck, Gonzalez will continue her education at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Gaining admission to the M.B.A. program via the Early Admission offering, she will matriculate within the following five years.
The National Science Foundation’s CAREER Award is given to early-career researchers in order to kickstart their careers in innovative and pivotal research while giving back to the community in the form of outreach and education. Alex Hughes, Assistant Professor in Bioengineering and in Cell and Developmental Biology, is among the Penn Engineering faculty members who have received the CAREER Award this year.
Hughes plans to use the funds to develop a human kidney model to better understand how the development of cells and tissues influences congenital diseases of the kidney and urinary tract.
The model, known as an “organoid,” is a lab-grown piece of human kidney tissue on the scale of millimeters to centimeters, grown from cultured human cells.
“We want to create a human organoid structure that has nephrons, the filters of the kidney, that are properly ‘plumbed’ or connected to the ureteric epithelium, the tubules that direct urine towards the bladder,” says Hughes. “To achieve that, we have to first understand how to guide the formation of the ureteric tubule networks, and then stimulate early nephrons to fuse with those networks. In the end, the structures will look like ‘kidney subunits’ that could potentially be injected and fused to existing kidneys.”
The field of bioengineering has touched on questions similar to those posed by Hughes, focusing on drug testing and disease treatment. Some of these questions can be answered with the “organ-on-a-chip” approach, while others need an even more realistic model of the organ. The fundamentals of kidney development and questions such as “how does the development of nephrons affect congenital kidney and urinary tract anomalies?” require an organoid in an environment as similar to the human body as possible.
“We decided to start with the kidney for a few reasons,” says Hughes. “First, because its development is a beautiful process; the tubule growth is similar to that of a tree, splitting into branches. It’s a complex yet understudied organ that hosts incredibly common developmental defects.
“Second,” he says, “the question of how things form and develop in the kidney has major medical implications, and we cannot answer that with the ‘organ-on-a-chip’ approach. We need to create a model that mimics the chemical and mechanical properties of the kidney to watch these tissues develop.”
The fundamental development of the kidney can also answer other questions related to efficiency and the evolution of this biological filtration system.
“We have the tendency to believe that systems in the human body are the most evolved and thus the most efficient, but that is not necessarily true,” says Hughes. “If we can better understand the development of a system, such as the kidney, then we may be able to make the system better.”
Hughes’ kidney research will lay the foundation for broader goals within regenerative medicine and organ transplantation.
Each Penn Bioengineering (BE) student’s undergraduate experience culminates in Senior Design, a two-semester capstone project in which student teams conceive, design, and develop a bioengineering project, whether a medical device, molecular biological therapeutic, or research tool. Projects are inherently interdisciplinary, and can involve biomaterials, electronics, mechanics, molecular biology, nanotechnology, and microfluidics. Research and development is supervised by BE faculty, lab staff, and graduate student TA’s and project managers, and work is conducted in the George H. Stephenson Foundation Educational Laboratory & Bio-MakerSpace (which successfully reopened for in-person activities this Spring semester).
This year’s 11 teams included the variety and innovation we’ve come to expect from our outstanding students, ranging from devices which track medical conditions, such afib and POTS, to technology responding to our post-COVID world, such as a disinfecting robot and a kit to make telemedicine more effective. The year finished with presentations to alumni judges, and BE’s annual Demo Day (the only in-person demo day on the engineering campus this year) on April 15, 2021, in which students showcased their designs to faculty.
Several teams were highlighted for awards recognition.
Tula won the Grand Prize Award at the Weiss Tech House Senior Design Pitch competition, sponsored by Penn’s Weiss Tech House, as well as a Berkman Opportunity Fund grant from Penn Engineering. Tula’s members are Bioengineering student Shreya Parchure (BSE 2021 & MSE 2021), Mechanical Engineering student Miriam Glickman (BSE 2021 & MSE 2022), and Computer Science students Ebtihal Jasim (BSE 2021) and Tiffany Tsang (BSE 2021).
TelemedTree (David Alanis Garza, Aurora Cenaj & Raveen Kariyawasam) and rUmVA (Yasmina Al Ghadban, Rachel Madhogarhia, Jeong Inn Park, Robert Paslaski & Phuong Vu) also received Berkman Opportunity Fund grants.
RHO Therapeutics was named a finalist in the Rice 360 Design Competition for 2021 (David Bartolome, Ethan Boyer, Patrisia de Anda, Kelly Feng & Jenny Nguyen).
In addition, three teams won BE’s internal Senior Design competition: IdentiFly (MEAM student Armando Cabrera, ESE student Ethan Chaffee, MEAM student Zachary Lane, ESE student Nicoleta Manu & BE student Abum Okemgbo), OtoAI, and rUmVa.
Short descriptions of each project are below. See each project’s full abstract, final paper, and video presentation here. The full 2021 presentation Youtube playlist is linked below.
reActive is a low-cost wearable device that measures ground reaction force as well as knee angle to aid physical therapists in quantifying an athlete’s recovery from an ACL injury.
EndoMagno is a novel magnetic endoscopy probe that effectively grips metallic objects by interfacing with an endoscope.
NoFib is an at-home wearable for athletes with histories of atrial fibrillation or those recovering from ablation surgeries who wish to continue their workout regimen and track their cardiac recovery without needing to leave their residence.
Tula is a smart compression stocking platform to improve quality of life for people with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), a disease which causes fainting upon standing due to blood pooling in legs. Tula can predict a POTS attack through real-time heart rate monitoring and then prevent fainting using dynamic compression.
RHO Therapeutics is a low-cost, wearable glove device that trains fine motor movements using a rehabilitative game that causes motor-mediated flexion and extension of the patient’s hand to aid in chronic stroke rehabilitation.
EarForce aims to monitor fighter pilots’ health during training and in-flight missions via a low-cost headphone system. The device collects physiological data through the ear and is compatible with existing pilot headphone systems.
IdentiFly is a low-cost device which will provide labs with an easy to integrate way to automatically sort fruit flies by sex.
TeleMedTree introduces a new level of telemedicine. It is an affordable precision-focused, at-home diagnostic kit to help immunocompromised individuals with respiratory conditions receive a high quality monitoring of their health that is on par or better than what is possible during an in-person visit.
OtoAI is a novel digital otoscope that enables primary care physicians to take images of the inner ear and leverages machine learning to diagnose abnormal ear pathologies.
Synchro-Sense is a device which detects when patients on ventilators are at maximum inhalation and triggers an X-ray image capture for accuracy.
rUmVa is a cost-effective, autonomous robot that can quickly disinfect rooms by intelligently sanitizing high-touch surfaces and the air.
Congratulations to recent Penn Bioengineering graduate Dayo Adetu, who was awarded a 2021 Graduate Leadership Award, one of only sixteen recipients across the university. Adetu is a recipient of the Dr. Andy Binns Award for Outstanding Service to Graduate and Professional Student Life. This award is presented to “graduate or professional students, upon their graduation from Penn, who have significantly impacted graduate and professional student life through service involvement in student life initiatives or organizations.” Adetu wins this award for her “service and leadership in advancing wellness and diversity initiatives across departments in the School of Engineering.”
César de la Fuente, PhD, Presidential Assistant Professor in Bioengineering, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Psychiatry, and Microbiology, was featured in the Philadelphia Business Journal’s Class of 2021 “40 Under 40” list. Currently focused on antibiotic discovery, creating tools for microbiome engineering, and low-cost diagnostics, de le Fuente pioneered the world’s first computer-designed antibiotic with efficacy in animal models.
De la Fuente was previously included in the AIChE’s “35 Under 35” list in 2020 and most recently published his work demonstrating a rapid COVID-19 diagnostic test which delivers highly accurate results within four minutes.
Read “40 Under 40: Philadelphia Business Journal’s complete Class of 2021” here.
Read other BE blog posts featuring Dr. de la Fuente here.
César de la Fuente, Presidential Assistant Professor in Bioengineering, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Microbiology, and Psychiatry, was the inaugural recipient of the Nemirovsky Engineering and Medicine Opportunity (NEMO) Prize from Penn Health-Tech in 2020 for his low-cost, rapid COVID test. Now with promising results recently published in the journal Matter (showing 90 percent accuracy in as little as four minutes), Penn Health-Tech caught up with de la Fuente to discuss his experience over the past year:
“How did [your project] evolve in the past year?
‘We started with one prototype and now have three entirely different prototypes for the test. Two use electrochemistry, and we are now working on a new technology that uses calorimetry. With calorimetry, when the cotton swabs are exposed to the virus, they change color. This means users are able to see if they’re affected by a virus through a simple color change, making it more of a visual detection method.'”
Congratulations to recent Penn Bioengineering graduate Gabriel DeSantis on being awarded a Fulbright grant for the 2021-22 academic year:
“The Fulbright Program is the United States government’s flagship international educational exchange program, awarding grants to fund as long as 12 months of international experience.
‘As an avenue for building cross-cultural understanding, the U.S. Student Fulbright Program is an unparalleled opportunity for American students to represent our country and our University across the world,’ says Jane Morris, executive director of Penn’s Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships, which supports applicants. ‘We are so proud of all our Penn Fulbright students who will be contributing to this important mission through their study, research, and English teaching as Fulbrighters.’