BE Seminar: “Emerging Technologies for Detection of Early Stage Bladder Cancer” (Audrey Bowden)

Audrey Bowden, PhD, Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering. (Vanderbilt University / Steve Green)

Speaker: Audrey Bowden, Ph.D.
Dorothy J. Wingfield Phillips Chancellor’s Faculty Fellow and Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Electrical Engineering & Computer Science
Vanderbilt University

Date: Thursday, November 19, 2020
Time: 3:00-4:00 PM EST
Zoom – check email for link or contact

Title: “Emerging Technologies for Detection of Early Stage Bladder Cancer”


Bladder cancer (BC) —  the 4th most common cancer in men and the most expensive cancer to treat over a patient’s lifetime — is a lifelong burden to BC patients and a significant economic burden to the U.S. healthcare system. The high cost of BC stems largely from its high recurrence rate (>50%); hence, BC management involves frequent surveillance. Unfortunately, the current in-office standard-of-care tool for BC surveillance, white light cystoscopy (WLC), is limited by low sensitivity and specificity for carcinoma in situ (CIS), a high-grade carcinoma with high potential to metastasize. Early detection and complete eradication of CIS are critical to improve treatment outcomes and to minimize recurrence. The most promising macroscopic technique to improve sensitivity to CIS detection, blue light cystoscopy (BLC), is costly, time-intensive, has low availability and a high false-positive rate. Given the limitations of WLC, we aim to change the paradigm around how BC surveillance is performed by validating new tools with high sensitivity and specificity for CIS that are appropriate for in-office use. In this seminar, I discuss our innovative solutions to improve mapping the bladder for longitudinal tracking of suspicious lesions and to create miniature tools for optical detection based on optical coherence tomography (OCT). OCT and its functional variant, cross-polarized OCT, can detect early-stage BC with better sensitivity and specificity than WLC. We discuss the critical technical innovations necessary to make OCT and CP-OCT a practical tool for in-office use, and new results from recent explorations of human bladder samples that speak to the promise of this approach to change the management of patient care.


Audrey K. Bowden is the Dorothy J. Wingfield Phillips Chancellor Faculty Fellow and Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering (BME) and of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) at Vanderbilt University. Prior to this, she served as Assistant and later Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Bioengineering at Stanford University. Dr. Bowden received her BSE in Electrical Engineering from Princeton University, her PhD in BME from Duke University and completed her postdoctoral training in Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard University. During her career, Dr. Bowden served as an International Fellow at Ngee Ann Polytechnic in Singapore. From 2007-2008, she was the Arthur H. Guenther Congressional Fellow sponsored by the OSA and SPIE and served as a Legislative Assistant in the United States Senate through the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellows Program. Dr. Bowden is a Fellow of SPIE, a Fellow of AIMBE and is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Air Force Young Investigator Award, the NSF Career Award, the Hellman Faculty Scholars Award, the Phi Beta Kappa Teaching Award, Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship, and the NSBE Golden Torch Award. She is a former Associate Editor of IEEE Photonics Journal, former Lead Guest Editor of a Biomedical Optics Express Special Issue and is a member of numerous professional committees. Her research interests include biomedical optics – particularly optical coherence tomography and near infrared spectroscopy – microfluidics, and point of care diagnostics.

Neuroengineering/Bioengineering Seminar: “Photovoltaic Restoration of Sight in Age-related Macular Degeneration” (Daniel Palanker)

Daniel Palanker, PhD

The Center for Neuroengineering and Therapeutics and the Department of Bioengineering present:

Speaker: Daniel Palanker, Ph.D.
Director of the Hansen Experimental Physics Laboratory and Professor of Ophthalmology
Stanford University

Date: Wednesday, November 18, 2020
Time: 1:00-2:00 PM EST
Zoom – check email for link or contact

Title: “Photovoltaic Restoration of Sight in Age-related Macular Degeneration”


Retinal degenerative diseases lead to blindness due to loss of the “image capturing” photoreceptors, while neurons in the “image-processing” inner retinal layers are relatively well preserved. Information can be reintroduced into the visual system using electrical stimulation of the surviving inner retinal neurons. We developed a photovoltaic substitute of photoreceptors which convert light into pulsed electric current, stimulating the secondary retinal neurons. Visual information captured by a camera is projected onto the retina from augmented-reality glasses using pulsed near-infrared (~880nm) light. This design avoids the use of bulky electronics and wiring, thereby greatly reducing the surgical complexity. Optical activation of the photovoltaic pixels allows scaling the number of electrodes to thousands. In preclinical studies, we found that prosthetic vision with subretinal implants preserves many features of natural vision, including flicker fusion at high frequencies (>30 Hz), adaptation to static images, antagonistic center-surround organization and non-linear summation of subunits in receptive fields, providing high spatial resolution. Results of the clinical trial with our implants (PRIMA, Pixium Vision) having 100μm pixels, as well as preclinical measurements with 75 and 55μm pixels, confirm that spatial resolution of prosthetic vision can reach the pixel pitch. Remarkably, central prosthetic vision in AMD patients can be perceived simultaneously with peripheral natural vision. For broader acceptance of this technology by patients who lost central vision due to agerelated macular degeneration, visual acuity should exceed 20/100, which requires pixels smaller than 25μm. I will describe the fundamental limitations in electro-neural interfaces and 3-dimensional configurations which should enable such a high spatial resolution. Ease of implantation of these wireless arrays, combined with high resolution opens the door to highly functional restoration of sight.


Daniel Palanker is a Professor of Ophthalmology and Director of the Hansen Experimental Physics Laboratory at Stanford University. He received MSc in Physics in 1984 from the State University of Armenia in Yerevan, and PhD in Applied Physics in 1994 from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. Dr. Palanker studies interactions of electrical field with biological cells and tissues, and develops optical and electronic technologies for diagnostic, therapeutic, surgical and prosthetic applications, primarily in ophthalmology. In the range of optical frequencies, his studies include laser-tissue interactions with applications to ocular therapy and surgery, and interferometric imaging of neural signals. In the field of electro-neural interfaces, he is developing highresolution photovoltaic retinal prosthesis for restoration of sight and implants for electronic control of organs. Several of his developments are in clinical practice world-wide: Pulsed Electron Avalanche Knife (PEAK PlasmaBlade, Medtronic), Patterened Scanning Laser Photocoagulator (PASCAL, Topcon), Femtosecond Laser-assisted Cataract Surgery (Catalys, J&J), and Neural Stimulator for enhancement of tear secretion (TrueTear, Allergan). Photovoltaic retinal prosthesis for restoration of sight (PRIMA, Pixium Vision) is in clinical trials.

See the full list of upcoming Penn Bioengineering events here.

Immunology/BE Seminar: “Engineering Next-Generation CAR-T Cells for Cancer Immunotherapy” (Yvonne Chen)

Yvonne Chen, PhD

This event is part of the Penn Institute for Immunology Colloquium seminar series in conjunction with the Department of Bioengineering.

Speaker: Yvonne Chen, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Microbiology, Immunology & Molecular Genetics
University of California, Los Angeles

Date: Tuesday, November 17, 2020
Time: 4:00-5:00 PM EST
This event will be held virtually on Bluejeans.

Title: “Engineering Next-Generation CAR-T Cells for Cancer Immunotherapy”


The adoptive transfer of T cells expressing chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) has demonstrated clinical efficacy in the treatment of advanced cancers, with anti-CD19 CAR-T cells achieving up to 90% complete remission among patients with relapsed B-cell malignancies. However, challenges such as antigen escape and immunosuppression limit the long-term efficacy of adoptive T-cell therapy. Here, I will discuss the development of next-generation T cells that can target multiple cancer antigens and resist immunosuppression, thereby increasing the robustness of therapeutic T cells against tumor defense mechanisms. Specifically, I will discuss the development of multi-input receptors and T cells that can interrogate intracellular antigens. I will also discuss the engineering of T cells that can effectively convert TGF-beta from a potent immunosuppressive cytokine into a T-cell stimulant. This presentation will highlight the potential of synthetic biology in generating novel mammalian cell systems with multifunctional outputs for therapeutic applications.


Dr. Yvonne Chen is an Associate Professor of Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is also a faculty, by courtesy, in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. The Chen Laboratory focuses on applying synthetic biology and biomolecular engineering techniques to the development of novel mammalian-cell systems. The Chen Lab’s work on engineering next-generation T-cell therapies for cancer has been recognized by the NIH Director’s Early Independence Award, the NSF CAREER Award, the Hellman Fellowship, the ACGT Young Investigator Award in Cell and Gene Therapy for Cancer, the Mark Foundation Emerging Leader Award, and the Cancer Research Institute Lloyd J. Old STAR Award. Prior to joining UCLA in 2013, Yvonne was a Junior Fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows. She received postdoctoral training at the Center for Childhood Cancer Research within the Seattle Children’s Research Institute, and in the Department of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School. Yvonne received her B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Stanford University and her Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from the California Institute of Technology.

BE Seminar: “High-throughput Screening of a Combinatorial CAR Co-stimulatory Domain Library” (Kyle Daniels)

Kyle Daniels, PhD

Speaker: Kyle Daniels, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Scholar, Cellular Molecular Pharmacology
University of California, San Francisco

Date: Thursday, October 22, 2020
Time: 3:00-4:00 PM EDT
Zoom – check email for link or contact

Title: “High-throughput Screening of a Combinatorial CAR Co-stimulatory Domain Library”


CAR T cells—T cells engineered to express a chimeric antigen receptor that redirects their function to a specific antigen—have proven to be an effective therapy for certain B cell cancers, but many issues remain in order to apply CAR T cells to a broader range of cancers. The activity of CAR T cells can be modulated by varying their co-stimulatory domains. Most CARs use co-stimulatory domains from natural proteins such as 41BB or CD28, each of which contains motifs that recruit unique signaling molecules and elicit a corresponding T cell response. One strategy to achieve increased control over T cell function is to engineer synthetic co-stimulatory domains composed of novel combinations of motifs from natural co-stimulatory proteins. We constructed libraries of CARs containing synthetic co-stimulatory domains and screened these library in primary human T cells for the ability to promote proliferation, degranulation, and memory formation. The results of the screens give insights into how signaling motifs dictate cell function and offer clues on how to engineer co-stimulatory domains that promote desired CAR T cell functions.


Kyle completed his BS in Biochemistry at University of Maryland-College Park, and did undergraduate research in the lab of Dorothy Beckett where he studied ligand binding to biotin protein ligases. He did his graduate work at Duke University with Terry Oas working to understand the mechanism of coupled binding and folding in the protein subunit of B. subtilis RNase P. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow in Wendell Lim’s lab at UCSF studying how combinations of linear motifs in receptors dictate cell function. He was an HHMI undergraduate researcher, an NSF graduate research fellow, and a Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation postdoctoral fellow. His research interests include synthetic biology, how cells process information and make decisions, and cellular therapy. Outside of lab, he enjoys swimming, videogames, and quality time with friends.

See the full list of upcoming Penn Bioengineering fall seminars here.

BE Seminar: “Imaging and Sequencing Single Cells” (Aaron Streets, UC Berkeley)

The Penn Bioengineering virtual seminar series continues on October 8th.

Aaron Streets, PhD


Speaker: Aaron Streets, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Bioengineering
University of California, Berkeley

Date: Thursday, October 8, 2020
Time: 2:00-3:00 pm (note the change from our regular seminar time)
Zoom – check email for link or contact

Title: “Imaging and Sequencing Single Cells”


Recent advances in microfluidics and high-throughput sequencing technology have enabled rapid profiling of genomic material in single cells. Valve- and droplet-based microfluidic platforms can precisely and efficiently manipulate, sort, and process cells to generate indexed sequencing libraries, allowing for high-throughput single-cell analysis of the genome, transcriptome, proteome, and epigenome. Such technology has been instrumental in the global effort to create a human cell atlas, with the ambitious goal of identifying and cataloging all human cell types and cell states in health and disease. However, not all cell phenotypes are directly encoded in the genome and high-throughput sequencing cannot probe the full space of cellular identity. Therefore, microscopy remains one of the most powerful and versatile tools for characterizing cells. Fluorescent imaging and quantitative non-linear optical imaging can reveal morphological characteristics, protein localization, chromatin organization, and chemical composition in single cells. Both single-cell genomics and microscopy can uncover heterogeneity in cellular populations that would otherwise be obscured in ensemble measurement. In this talk, I will discuss a suite of new microfluidic platforms for coupling genomic measurements and optical measurements of the same single cell, and some novel computational approaches to grapple with these new datasets. With a combination of new hardware and software, our goal is to converge on a quantitative and comprehensive understanding of cellular identity.


Aaron received a Bachelor of Science in Physics and a Bachelor of Arts in Art at UCLA. He completed his PhD in Applied Physics at Stanford with Dr. Stephen Quake. Aaron then went to Beijing, China as a Whitaker International Postdoctoral Fellow and a Ford postdoctoral fellow and worked with Dr. Yanyi Huang in the Biodynamic Optical Imaging Center (BIOPIC) at Peking University. Aaron joined the faculty of UC Berkeley as an Assistant Professor in Bioengineering in 2016 and is currently a core member of the Biophysics Program and the Center for Computational Biology and he is a Chan Zuckerberg Biohub investigator. Aaron has received the NSF Early Career award and was recently named a Pew Biomedical Scholar.

See the full list of upcoming Penn Bioengineering fall seminars here.

BE Seminar: “Predicting the Effects of Engineering Immune Cells Using Systems Biology Modeling” (Stacey Finley, USC)

The Penn Bioengineering virtual seminar series continues on October 1st.

Stacey Finley, PhD


Speaker: Stacey Finley, Ph.D.
Gordon S. Marshall Early Career Chair and Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Biological Sciences
University of Southern California


Date: Thursday, October 1, 2020
Time: 3:00-4:00 pm
Zoom – check email for link or contact

Title: “Predicting the Effects of Engineering Immune Cells Using Systems Biology Modeling”


Systems biology approaches, including computational models, provide a framework to test biological hypotheses and optimize effective therapeutic strategies to treat human diseases. In this talk, I present recent work in modeling signaling in cancer-targeting immune cells, including CAR T cells at Natural Killer cells. Chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) are comprised of a variety of different activating domains and co-stimulatory domains that initiate signaling required for T cell activation. There is a lack of understanding of the mechanisms by which activation occurs. We apply mathematical modeling to investigate how CAR structure influences downstream T cell signaling and develop new hypotheses for the optimal design of CAR-engineered T cell systems. Natural Killer cells also provide a useful platform for targeting cancer cells. However, NK cells have been shown to exhibit reduced killing ability with prolonged stimulation by cancer cells. We use a combination of mechanistic model, optimal control theory and in silico synthetic biology to investigate strategies to enhance NK cell-mediated killing.


Stacey D. Finley is the Gordon S. Marshall Early Career Chair and Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Southern California. Dr. Finley received her B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Florida A & M University and obtained her Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Northwestern University. She completed postdoctoral training at Johns Hopkins University in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. Dr. Finley joined the faculty at USC in 2013, and she leads the Computational Systems Biology Laboratory. Dr. Finley has joint appointments in the Departments of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science and Biological Science, and she is a member of the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. Finley is also the Director of the Center for Computational Modeling of Cancer at USC. Her research is supported by grants from NSF, NIH, and the American Cancer Society.

Selected honors: 2016 NSF Faculty Early CAREER Award; 2016 Young Innovator by the Cellular and Molecular Bioengineering journal; Leah Edelstein-Keshet Prize from the Society of Mathematical Biology; Junior Research Award from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering; the Hanna Reisler Mentorship Award; 2018 AACR NextGen Star; 2018 Orange County Engineering Council Outstanding Young Engineer

See the full list of upcoming Penn Bioengineering fall seminars here.

BE Seminar: “Patients, Providers and Data: How the EMR and Data Science are Changing Clinical Care” (Kevin Johnson, Vanderbilt)

The Penn Bioengineering virtual seminar series continues on September 24th.

Kevin Johnson, MD, MS

Speaker: Kevin Johnson, M.D., M.S.
Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor and Chair
Department of Biomedical Informatics
Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Date: Thursday, September 24, 2020
Time: 3:00-4:00 pm
Zoom – check email for link or contact

Title: “Patients, Providers and Data: How the EMR and Data Science are Changing Clinical Care”


The electronic health record (EHR) is a powerful application of Systems Engineering to healthcare. It is a byproduct of a host of pressures including cost, consolidation of providers into networks, uniform drivers of quality, and the need for timely care across disparate socioeconomic and geographic landscapes within health systems. The EHR is also a fulcrum for innovation and one of the most tangible examples of how data science affects our health and health care. In this talk I will showcase projects from my lab that demonstrate the multi-disciplinary nature of biomedical informatics/data science research and translation using the EHR, and our current understanding of its potential from my perspective as a pediatrician, a researcher in biomedical informatics, a Chief Information Officer, an educator, and an advisor to local and international policy. I will describe advances in applying human factors engineering to support medical documentation and generic prescribing, approaches to improve medication safety, and innovations to support precision medicine and interoperability. I will present our efforts to integrate EHR-enabled data science into the Vanderbilt health system and provide a vision for what this could mean for our future.


Kevin B. Johnson, M.D., M.S. is Informatician-in-Chief, Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor and Chair of Biomedical Informatics, and Professor Pediatrics at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. He received his M.D. from Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and his M.S. in Medical Informatics from Stanford University. In 1992 he returned to Johns Hopkins where he served as a Pediatric Chief Resident. He was a member of the faculty in both Pediatrics and Biomedical Information Sciences at Johns Hopkins until 2002, when he was recruited to Vanderbilt University. He also is a Board-Certified Pediatrician.

Dr. Johnson is an internationally respected developer and evaluator of clinical information technology. His research interests have been related to developing and encouraging the adoption of clinical information systems to improve patient safety and compliance with practice guidelines; the uses of advanced computer technologies, including the Worldwide Web, personal digital assistants, and pen-based computers in medicine; and the development of computer-based documentation systems for the point of care. In the early phases of his career, he directed the development and evaluation of evidence-based pediatric care guidelines for the Johns Hopkins Hospital. He has been principal investigator on numerous grants and has been an invited speaker at most major medical informatics and pediatrics conferences. He also was the Chief Informatics Officer at Vanderbilt University Medical Center from 2015-2019.

See the full list of upcoming Penn Bioengineering fall seminars here.

MINS/BE Seminar: “Mapping emotions: discovering structure in mesoscale electrical brain recordings” (Kafui Dzirasa, Duke University)

The Mahoney Institute for Neurosciences (MINS) and Department of Bioengineering will co-host a seminar on September 16. Details and registration information are below. We hope you will join us to hear this upcoming talk.

Title: “Mapping emotions: discovering structure in mesoscale electrical brain recordings”

Kafui Dzirasa, MD, PhD

Speaker: Kafui Dzirasa,MD, PhD
K. Ranga Rama Krishnan Endowed Associate Professor
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
Duke University Medical Center




Date: Wednesday, September 16, 2020
Time: 4:00-5:30 PM Eastern Time
This event will be held virtually via Bluejeans (link here)

Hosted by Danielle Bassett and Joshua Gold



BE Seminar: “Stem Cell Fate is a Touchy Subject” (Quinton Smith, MIT)

The first lecture in the Fall 2020 Penn Bioengineering Seminar Series will be held Thursday, September 10th. All seminars this semester will be held virtually on Zoom.

Quinton Smith, PhD

Speaker: Quinton Smith, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Fellow
Laboratory for Multiscale Regenerative Technologies
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Date: Thursday, September 10, 2020
Time: 3:00-4:00 pm
Zoom – check email for link or contact

Title: “Stem Cell Fate is a Touchy Subject”


The success of regenerative cell therapy relies on the integration of a functional vascular system within the redeveloping tissue, to mediate the exchange of oxygen, nutrients and waste. Although the advent of human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) has accelerated progress towards this goal, owing to their potential to generate clinically relevant scales of patient-specific cells, techniques to drive their specification mainly rely on chemical cues. In this seminar, I will discuss engineering strategies to control the complex stem cell extracellular milieu, emphasizing the importance of mechanical cues during hiPSC development, specification and downstream functionality as it relates to vascular differentiation.


Quinton Smith received his PhD in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering from Johns Hopkins University in 2017 after completing his bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of New Mexico. As a graduate student under the guidance of Dr. Sharon Gerecht, Quinton implemented various engineering tools to explore the roles of physical and chemical cues on stem cell lineage specification and downstream maturation. Dr. Smith is currently a postdoctoral fellow under the mentorship of Dr. Sangeeta Bhatia at MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, where he is investigating the role biliary epithelium in liver regeneration. Dr. Smith’s predoctoral work was supported by an NIH/NHLBI F-31 and NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. He is a recipient of the 2017 Siebel Scholar award, and most recently joined the class of 2018 HHMI Hanna Gray Fellows.

See the full list of upcoming Penn Bioengineering fall seminars here.

Virtual Joint Seminar: Open Source Multicellular Systems Modeling for Cancer (and COVID-19)

The Department of Bioengineering will co-host an upcoming virtual seminar with the Penn Institute for Computational Science (PICS) and the Physical Sciences Oncology Center at Penn (PSOC@Penn).

Paul Macklin, Ph.D.

Speaker: Paul Macklin, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Indiana University

Date: Monday May 4, 2020
Time: 2:00-3:30 PM
Title: “Open Source Multicellular Systems Modeling for Cancer (and COVID-19)”

Paul Macklin is a mathematician, Associate Professor, and Director of Undergraduate studies in the recently-established Department of Intelligent Systems Engineering at Indiana University. He works with biologists, modelers, and clinicians to develop and validate sophisticated 3D computer models of cancer, SARS-CoV-2, and other multicellular systems, using the open source PhysiCell platform developed by his lab. He also works with the National Cancer Institute and the Department of Energy to co-lead a national initiative to create digital twins for the future of personalized predictive cancer medicine.

For the full abstract and registration details, visit the Penn Engineering events calendar.