Penn Alumnus Peter Huwe Appointed Assistant Professor at Mercer University

Peter Huwe, Ph.D.

Peter Huwe, a University of Pennsylvania alumnus and graduate of the Radhakrishnan lab, was appointed Assistant Professor of Biomedical Sciences at the Mercer University School of Medicine beginning this summer 2020 semester.

Huwe earned dual B.S. degrees in Biology and Chemistry in 2009 from Mississippi College, where he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. At Mississippi College, Huwe had his first exposure to computational research in the laboratory of David Magers, Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry. He went on to earn his Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics in 2014 in the laboratory of Ravi Radhakrishnan, Chair of the Bioengineering Department at Penn. As an NSF Graduate Research Fellow in Radhakrishnan’s lab, Huwe focused his research on using computational molecular modeling and simulations to elucidate the functional consequences of protein mutations associated with human diseases. Dr. Huwe then joined the structural bioinformatics laboratory Roland Dunbrack, Jr., Professor at the Fox Chase Cancer Center as a T32 post-doctoral trainee. During his post-doctoral training, Huwe held adjunct teaching appointments at Thomas Jefferson University and at the University of Pennsylvania. In 2017, Huwe became an Assistant Professor of Biology at Temple University, where he taught medical biochemistry, medical genetics, cancer biology, and several other subjects.

During each of his appointments, Huwe became increasingly more passionate about teaching, and he decided to dedicate his career to medical education. Huwe is very excited to be joining Mercer University School of Medicine as an Assistant Professor of Biomedical Sciences this summer. There, he will serve in a medical educator track, primarily teaching first and second year medical students.

“Without Ravi Radhakrishnan and Philip Rea, Professor of Biology in Penn’s School of Arts & Sciences, giving me my first teaching opportunities as a graduate guest lecturer at Penn, I may never have discovered how much I love teaching,” says Huwe. “And without the support and guidance of each of my P.I.’s [Dr.’s Magers, Radhakrishnan, and Dunbrack], I certainly would not be where I am, doing what I love.  I am incredibly thankful for all of the people who helped me in my journey to find my dream job.”

Congratulations and best of luck from everyone in Penn Bioengineering, Dr. Huwe!

Beth Winkelstein Appointed Deputy Provost at Penn

Provost Wendell Pritchett has announced the appointment of Beth Winkelstein as Deputy Provost.

Beth Winkelstein, Ph.D.

“Beth Winkelstein has become one of our most essential leaders of teaching, learning, and student life,” said Pritchett, “since she began her tenure as vice provost for education five years ago. Her insight and energy enhance every part of our campus. She leads both undergraduate and graduate education, collaborating with deans, faculty leaders, and the Office of the Vice Provost for University Life, as well as the Council of Undergraduate Deans, Council of Graduate Deans, Graduate Council of the Faculties, and Council of Professional Master’s Degree Deans.

“As deputy provost, she will continue this invaluable work while working closely with me to better integrate and expand our educational initiatives, especially by incorporating new technologies, new ways of teaching, and additional supports for faculty and students that advance our core priorities of innovation, impact, and inclusion,” Pritchett said. “As we enter this new and challenging phase of Penn history, Beth is the perfect person to help us chart the landscape ahead.”

Drawing on her experience as a former Penn undergraduate, Winkelstein has been a dynamic leader of initiatives to enhance undergraduate student life, especially the new Penn First Plus program, which provides targeted support for first-generation and/or low-income students, and the dedicated Second-Year Experience, which offers enhanced programs for second-year students to accompany Penn’s new second-year housing requirement. She has at the same time been a vital advocate for graduate and professional students, overseeing the Graduate Student Center and Family Center, while advancing a series of initiatives to improve every aspect of support for students’ academic progress, professional advancement, and work-life balance. Her leadership spans such key areas as College Houses and Academic Services, New Student Orientation, the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships, and the Office of Student Conduct. And that leadership has been especially critical for the Online Learning Initiative and the Center for Teaching and Learning, in these recent months when that work has become central to Penn’s educational efforts.

Winkelstein’s leadership is based in her deep knowledge of and appreciation for the University, as well as her own scholarly and research distinction. She has taught in the Bioengineering Department in the School of Engineering and Applied Science since 2002, becoming in that time one of the world’s leading innovators in research on new treatments for spine and other joint injuries. Appointed two years ago as the Eduardo D. Glandt President’s Distinguished Professor, she continues to lead her pioneering Spine Pain Research Lab, mentor students and postdocs, and serve as co-editor of the Journal of Biomechanical Engineering. Among her many professional honors, she is a Fellow of the Biomedical Engineering Society and the American Society of Mechanical Engineering and was elected to the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering and the World Council of Biomechanics.

Winkelstein earned a Ph.D. in bioengineering from Duke University and a B.S.E. cum laude in bioengineering from Penn as a Benjamin Franklin Scholar.

Originally posted in Penn Today.

Dan Huh Receives Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Grant for Placenta-on-a-chip Research

CRI huh
Dan Huh, Ph.D.

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) has announced $14 million in funding to support 29 interdisciplinary teams who are investigating the role of inflammation in disease. Among these recipients is Dan Huh, Associate Professor in Bioengineering, whose placenta-on-a-chip research will “explore how maternal and fetal cells respond to specific inflammatory signals and analyze the network of placental cells and immune cells that impact pregnancy outcomes in chronic inflammatory diseases.”

Kellie Ann Jurado, Presidential Assistant Professor in the Perelman School of Medicine’s Department of Microbiology, will lead the research team. She and Huh will collaborate with Monica Mainigi, William Shippen, Jr. Assistant Professor of Human Reproduction in Penn Medicine.

A version of the Huh Lab’s placenta-on-a-chip from 2018

Huh’s placenta-on-a-chip consists of a small block of silicone containing microfluidic channels separated by a membrane of human cells. Variations in designs and cell types allow researchers to study how different molecules cross that barrier, allowing for experiments that would be otherwise impossible or unethical. For example, Huh and his group previously used a placenta-on-a-chip designed to model the placental barrier to research the effect of maternally-administered medications on the fetal bloodstream.

In this new study, Huh, Jurando and Mainigi were motivated by even more fundamental questions of pregnancy.

“It has been known for quite some time that women with chronic inflammatory diseases are at increased risk of developing various complications during pregnancy,” Huh says. “Despite accumulating clinical evidence, we understand little about how inflammation contributes to adverse pregnancy outcomes.”

Read the full story on the Penn Engineering blog.

President’s Innovation Prize Winner Strella Biotechnology Raises $3.3 Million in Seed Funding

Alumni Malika Shukurova (left) and Katherine Sizov, Strella Biotechnology

Last year, Katherine Sizov (BIO ’19) and Malika Shukurova (BE ’19) earned the 2019 President’s Innovation Prize for their plan to use Internet-of-Things technology to monitor fruit ripeness and reduce waste in produce supply chains. Their company, Strella Biotechnology, received $100,000 of financial support, a $50,000 living stipend for both awardees, and a year of dedicated co-working and lab space at the Pennovation Center.

Now, it has $3.3 million on hand as it attempts to take its technology into retail stores.

As reported in Technically Philly and the Philadelphia Business Journal, the “fruit hacking” company’s seed round funding comes from several venture capital firms, including Pennovation’s Red & Blue Ventures, as well as celebrity investor Mark Cuban.

Strella’s ethylene sensors are already being used by fruit packers in order to more precisely time shipments as their produce ripens. The Penn start-up company thinks retailers could similarly benefit when it comes to deciding when to put their stock out for sale.

Read more at Technically Philly and the Philadelphia Business Journal.

Originally posted on the Penn Engineering Blog.

NB: The initial work for Strella Biotechnology was done by Sizov in Penn Bioengineering’s  George H. Stephenson Foundation Educational Laboratory and Bio-MakerSpace. Read more about how BE’s Bio-MakerSpace has become a hub for start-ups here.

Lyle Ungar on Normalizing Face Masks

As scientists continue to battle the novel coronavirus, public health officials maintain that wearing a face mask is a powerful way to curb the spread of the virus and keep communities safe. However, America has struggled to adopt this change, as compared to other countries that have made wearing a face mask an unremarkable aspect of their culture.

Lyle Ungar, Ph.D.

In an opinion piece for the New York Times, Lyle Ungar, Professor of Computer and Information Science, Angela Duckworth, Rosa Lee and Egbert Chang Professor in Penn Arts & Sciences and the Wharton School, and Ezekiel J. Emanuel, Professor of Medical Ethics and Health Policy in Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine, propose a new approach to increase consistent face mask use among Americans: make wearing a mask “easy,” “understood,” and “expected.”

In their article, Ungar, Duckworth, and Emanuel make reference to communities that provided face masks free of charge for residents and note the decrease in infection in these areas. In addition, they point out how uncertainty about the necessity of face masks in the U.S. has led to public confusion which inhibits trust and use of masks. Finally, the three researchers push for a shift in social norms to embrace wearing a face mask as standard in America for the near future.

Some of Ungar’s recent research is also focused on the pandemic, including a “COVID Twitter map,” created with colleagues at the World Well-Being Project and Penn Medicine’s Center for Digital Health. Their map helps show, in real time, how people across the country perceive the virus and how it is affecting their mental health.

Read more about Ungar, Duckworth, and Emanuel’s strategy for normalizing face masks in their opinion piece for the New York Times.

Originally posted on the Penn Engineering blog.

Lyle Ungar is a Professor of Computer and Information Science (CIS) and a member of the Penn Bioengineering Graduate Group.

Jennifer Phillips-Cremins Promoted to Associate Professor

 

Jennifer Phillips-Cremins, Ph.D.

by Sophie Burkholder

Jennifer Phillips-Cremins, Ph.D., was recently promoted to the tenured position of Associate Professor in Penn’s Department of Bioengineering. Cremins, leads a lab on campus in 3D Epigenomes and Systems Neurobiology.

In a recent piece profiling top technologies to watch in 2020, Cremins spoke to Nature about which technological trends she saw as being important for the year to come. In the panel, which highlighted perspectives from a panel of researchers across several fields, Cremins discussed the increasing relevance of innovations that would allow researchers to study the way that folding patterns within the human genome can influence how genes are expressed in  healthy individuals and misregulated in human disease.

One such innovation is actually employed by the Cremins Lab: light-activated dynamic looping (LADL). This technique uses both CRISPR/Cas9 and optogenetics to induce folding patterns into the genome on demand, using light as a trigger. In doing so, Cremins and her fellow researchers can more efficiently study the patterns of the human genome, and what effects certain folding patterns can have on the gene expression  state of the cell.

Now, with her new promotion, Cremins can continue advancing her research in understanding the genetic and epigenetic mechanisms that regulate neural connections during brain development, with a focus on how that understanding can eventually lead to better treatments of neurological disease. Beyond the lab, she’ll now lead a new Spatial Epigenetics program, bringing together scientists across Penn’s campus to understand how the spatial connections between biomolecules influence biological behavior. She will also continue teaching her hallmark course for Penn Bioengineering undergraduate students, Biological Data Science, and her more advanced graduate-level course in epigenomics. Congratulations, Dr. Cremins!

Connecting Communities Impacted by COVID-19

Three Penn seniors combine their desire to help with their unique skill sets to create Corona Connects, an online platform that connects volunteers with organizations in need of support.

Developed by (from left) Steven Hamel from the School of Engineering and Applied Science, Megan Kyne from the Wharton School, and Hadassah Raskas from the College of Arts & Sciences, Corona Connects bridges the gap between those looking for ways to help and organizations in need of support.

by Erica K. Brockmeier

With college campuses shut due to the novel coronavirus, many students with new-found time on their hands have found themselves asking, “What can I do to help?”

To connect people with organizations that need support, three students have combined their desire to help with the skills they’ve learned both inside and outside the classroom. Developed by Penn seniors Steven Hamel from the School of Engineering and Applied Science, Megan Kyne from the Wharton School, and Hadassah Raskas from the College of Arts & Sciences, the online platform Corona Connects bridges the gap between people looking for ways to help and organizations looking for support.

After returning to her hometown of Silver Spring, Maryland, Raskas was eager to find some way to help but noticed that it was difficult to find opportunities online. With friends and colleagues voicing similar struggles, Raskas reached out to University of Maryland junior Elana Sichel and started putting together a list of organizations in need of help. Then, after reaching out on the Class of 2020 Facebook page about the project, Hamel, from Philadelphia, and Kyne, from Pittsburgh, offered their support to get an online platform up and running.

The team of students quickly realized that there was both a large number of individuals who wanted to find ways to help alongside an unprecedented level of need from numerous types of organizations. “We knew there was need, and we knew there was an availability of people, but the connection was missing, so we built Corona Connects to bridge this gap,” says Raskas.

Continue reading on Penn Today.

Steven Hamel graduated with his B.S.E. in Bioengineering and a Math minor in in 2020 and is currently pursuing a Master’s in Bioengineering.

Penn Postdoctoral Researcher David Lydon-Staley Appointed Assistant Professor in Annenberg School for Communication

by Sophie Burkholder

A Penn Bioengineer will soon join the Annenberg School for Communication as an Assistant Professor of Communication. David Lydon-Staley, Ph.D., recently completed two years as a Postdoctoral Researcher in Penn’s Complex Systems Lab, led by Danielle Bassett, Ph.D., the J. Peter Skirkanich Professor of Bioengineering and Electrical and Systems Engineering.

David Lydon-Staley, Ph.D.

Lydon-Staley started out studying English and Psychology in his undergraduate education, going on to pursue a Ph.D. from Penn State University in Human Development and Family Studies. What brought him to Bassett’s lab was his interest in using cognitive neuroscience to understand the brain patterns and behaviors behind substance abuse and addiction. There, Lydon-Staley examined networks of nicotine withdrawal behaviors, how those behaviors impact each other, and what information they might hold about how to help smokers in their quit attempts. “David’s breadth of interest is only rivalled by his expansive expertise and bottomless enthusiasm,” says Bassett. “I feel incredibly lucky to have had the chance to work with him.”

In his new role at Annenberg, Lydon-Staley will launch the Addiction, Health, and Adolescence Lab, or “AHA!” for short. “My recent work examines engagement with new media during the course of daily life, and how the information sought and encountered relates to both curiosity and substance use,” he says. Lydon-Staley’s new lab will use methods like experience-sampling and functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging to understand brain and behavior, while drawing on theories and tools from  communication, psychology, cognitive neuroscience, network science, and more.

Even though Lydon-Staley will be working out of a new school at Penn, he still has plans to continue collaborating with the Bassett Lab. One ongoing project he has with the lab involves studying how curiosity works in everyday life, and another looks at moment-to-moment patterns of cigarette withdrawal in daily smokers. “Working in the Bassett Lab gave me the confidence and ability to stretch my wings, chase ideas across traditional disciplinary lines, learn new skills, and collaborate with creative and capable scientists every day,” says Lydon-Staley. Those are opportunities he hopes to keep chasing and fostering in his new position.

Beyond continuing his prior research from a communication-based angle, Lydon-Staley is also excited to develop new classes in the Annenberg School. “Annenberg is a very special place. It is an active school, with frequent seminars and many vibrant research centers,” he says. Informed and inspired by the breadth of research from Annenberg scholars, Lydon-Staley hopes that he can create classes that focus on the psychology of time and timing in everyday life—topics that he spends a lot of time thinking about himself.

Above all, Lydon-Staley is excited by the opportunity to stay at Penn and continue the kind of versatile and multi-faceted studies that have been the bedrock of his research so far. He hopes to continue expanding his previous work with not only the Engineering School, but the School of Medicine and the Graduate School of Education as well. “The opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration at Penn are unrivaled, and I am constantly in awe of the quality of students here.”

A Record 15 BE Students Receive 2020 NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

The Department of Bioengineering at Penn is incredibly proud of its fifteen current and future graduate student recipients of the 2020 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF GRFP). This total surpasses last year’s record of twelve students. In addition, one current student was selected for honorable mention and one additional incoming student has been named a Fullbright Scholar.

The prestigious NSF GRFP program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported fields. Further information about the program can be found on the NSF website. BE is thrilled to congratulate our excellent students on these well-deserved accolades! Continue reading below for a list of 2020 recipients and descriptions of their research.

Current Students:

William Benman

William Benman is a Ph.D. student in the lab of Assistant Professor of Bioengineering, Lukasz Bugaj. His work in the Bugaj lab focuses on developing novel optogenetic tools to control and study cell function.

Paul Gehret

Paul Gehret is a Ph.D. student and Ashton Fellow in the lab of Riccardo Gottardi, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Perelman School of Medicine. Paul works on pediatric cartilage and airway tissue engineering for children with subglottic stenosis. He and his team apply classic tissue engineering principles to the airway.

Rebecca Haley

Rebecca Haley is a Ph.D. student in the lab of Michael J. Mitchell, Skirkanich Assistant Professor of Innovation in Bioengineering. Her current project aims to use polymer and/or lipid nanoparticles for the intracellular delivery of proteins. Successful delivery of proteins (such as antibodies) in this fashion may allow for targeting of previously undruggable intracellular targets.

Patrick John Mulcahey

Patrick John Mulcahey is a Research Assistant and Graduate Student in the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) Epilepsy Research Lab of Douglas A. Coulter, Professor of Pediatrics at the Perelman School of Medicine. His work focuses on developing techniques that combine electrophysiology with two-photon excitation microscopy to study a potential biomarker of the seizure onset zone in models of drug-refractory epilepsy.

Catherine Porter

Catherine Porter is a Ph.D. student in the lab of Alex J. Hughes, Assistant Professor of Bioengineering. She is working on developing high-throughput methods to produce and characterize human-cell-derived kidney organoids for disease modeling and genetic screening. Currently, she is focused on engineering physicochemical control to improve organoid homogeneity.

Sarah Shepherd

Sarah Shepherd is a Ph.D. student who is co-advised in the Michael J. Mitchell lab and the lab of David Issadore, Associate Professor of Bioengineering and Electrical and Systems Engineering (ESE). Her research aims to combine microfabrication with biomaterial design of lipid nanoparticles to address major shortcomings in the field of nanomedicine. Currently, she is prototyping a scale-up microfluidic device to produce lipid nanoparticles for gene therapy.

Michael Tobin

Michael Tobin is a Ph.D. student in the lab of Dennis E. Discher, Robert D. Bent Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (CBE), Bioengineering, and Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics (MEAM). His current research examines phenomena leading to mechano-induced genomic variation in multiple cell subtypes. Through better understanding of characteristic pathways and subsequent cell responses, he hopes to improve treatments for malignant solid tumors.

John Viola, a Ph.D. student in the Hughes lab, was listed as an honorable mention.

Incoming Students:

Additionally, eight NSF GRFP honorees from other institutions will be joining our department in the fall of 2020. We congratulate them as well and look forward to welcoming them to Penn:

Finally, incoming Ph.D. student Dora Racca was awarded a Fullbright Scholarship. Dora will will have rotations in the BIOLines Laboratory of Dongeun (Dan) Huh, Associate Professor of Bioengineering and the McKay Orthopaedic Research Laboratory of Robert Mauck, Mary Black Ralston Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and Professor of Bioengineering.

We would like to send congratulations once again to all our current and future graduate students on another year of outstanding research!

Bomyi Lim Receives KIChE President Young Investigator

Bomyi Lim, Ph.D.

Bomyi Lim, Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemical Biomolecular Engineering, has been selected by the U.S. Chapter of the Korean Institute of Chemical Engineers (KIChE) as the recipient of the KIChE President Young Investigator Award. As a recipient of this Award, Lim will be invited to present a research talk at the KIChE Open Forum during the AIChE Conference.

KIChE is an organization that aims “to promote constructive and mutually beneficial interactions among Korean Chemical Engineers in the U.S. and facilitate international collaboration between engineers in the U.S. and Korea.”

Read more on the Penn Engineering blog. Dr. Lim is a member of the Department of Bioengineering Graduate Group.