BE Seminar: “Engineering Synthetic Biomaterials for Islet Transplantation” (María M. Coronel)

Speaker: María M. Coronel, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Fellow, the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering
Georgia Institute of Technology

Date: Thursday, February 18, 2021
Time: 3:00-4:00 PM EST
Zoom – check email for link or contact

Title: “Engineering Synthetic Biomaterials for Islet Transplantation”


Two major challenges to the translation of cellular-based tissue-engineered therapies are the lack of adequate oxygen support post-implantation and the need for systemic immunosuppression to halt the strong inflammatory and immunological response of the host. As such, strategies that aim at addressing oxygen demand, and local immunological responses can be highly beneficial in the translation of these therapies. In this seminar, I will focus on two biomaterial strategies to create a more favorable transplant niche for pancreatic islet transplantation. The first half will describe an in-situ oxygen-releasing biomaterial fabricated through the incorporation of solid peroxides in a silicone polymer. The implementation of this localized, controlled and sustained oxygen-generator mitigates the activation of detrimental hypoxia-induced pathways in islets and enhances the potency of extrahepatic 3D islet-loaded devices in a diabetic animal model. In the second part, I will focus on engineering synthetic biomaterials for the delivery of immunomodulatory signals for transplant acceptance. Biomaterial carriers fabricated with polyethylene glycol microgels are used to deliver immunomodulatory signals to regulate the local microenvironment and prevent allograft rejection in a clinically relevant pre-clinical transplant model. The use of synthetic materials as an off-the-shelf platform, without the need for manipulating the biological cell product, improves the clinical translatability of this engineered approach. Designing safer, responsive biomaterials to boost the delivery of targeted therapeutics will significantly reinvigorate interventional cell-based tissue-engineered therapies.


Dr. María M. Coronel is currently a Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation postdoctoral fellow at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Dr. Coronel completed her BS degree in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Miami, and her Ph.D. degree in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Florida as a National Institute of Health predoctoral fellow. Her doctoral work focused on engineering oxygen-generating materials for addressing the universal challenge of hypoxia within three-dimensional tissue-engineered implants. As a postdoctoral fellow, her research interest focus on engineering tools and principles to understand, stimulate, and modulate the immune system to develop controlled targeted interventional therapies. In addition to research, Dr. Coronel aims to be an advocate for diversity and inclusion in STEM as the co-president of the postdoctoral group and a founding member of the diversity, equity, and inclusion committee in bioengineering at Georgia Tech. Outside of the lab María enjoys cooking, baking, and traveling.

BE Seminar: “Multi-input Chemical Control with Computationally Designed Proteins for Research Tools and Cell Therapies” (Glenna Wink Foight)

Speaker: Glenna Wink Foight, Ph.D.
Senior Scientist
Lyell Immunopharma

Date: Thursday, February 11, 2021
Time: 3:00-4:00 PM EST
Zoom – check email for link or contact

Title: “Multi-input Chemical Control with Computationally Designed Proteins for Research Tools and Cell Therapies”


Protein modules that are responsive to small molecule inputs have enabled control of cellular processes for decades’ worth of important mechanistic studies. More recently, they have gained attention as a means of control for improved safety of cellular therapies. To date, most small molecule-responsive systems have been adapted from natural proteins, which provide limited control behaviors and often rely on small molecules with non-ideal properties for use in humans. I will describe how we have used computational protein design to move beyond these naturally occurring systems to create a new set of molecular tools that are responsive to multiple clinically approved drugs. The unique architecture of our system enables more complex control behaviors for multiple cellular outputs. I will describe applications of this designed system in the control of mammalian cytoskeletal signaling, transcription, and CAR T-cell therapy.


Dr. Glenna Foight is a Senior Scientist at Outpace Bio, where she leads a team that focuses on engineering small molecule drug-based control of cell therapies. Her work at the startups Outpace Bio and Lyell Immunopharma has involved the adaptation of technologies that she developed as a Washington Research Foundation Innovation Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Washington. Dr. Foight received her Ph.D. in Biology from MIT and her B.S. in Biochemistry from North Carolina State University. Her background is in applying protein design and engineering to develop novel molecular interventions and control strategies for applications in basic research, cancer, and cell therapy.

BE/MEAM Seminar: “Microbes in Biomechanics” (Christopher J. Hernandez)

Speaker: Christopher J. Hernandez, Ph.D.
Professor, Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Cornell University
Adjunct Scientist, Hospital for Special Surgery

Date: Thursday, February 4, 2021
Time: 3:00-4:00 PM EST
Zoom – check email for link or contact

Title: “Microbes in Biomechanics”

This seminar is jointly hosted by the Department of Bioengineering and the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics.


The idea that mechanical stresses influence the growth and form of organs and organisms originated in the 1800s and is the basis for the modern study of biomechanics and mechanobiology. Biomechanics and mechanobiology are well studied in eukaryotic systems, yet eukaryotes represent only a small portion of the diversity and abundance of life on Earth. Bacteria exhibit broad influences on human health (as both pathogens and as beneficial components of the gut microbiome) and processes used in biotechnology and synthetic biology. Over the past eight years my group has explored mechanobiology within individual bacteria and the effects of changes in the composition of commensal bacterial communities on the biomechanics in the musculoskeletal system.

The ability of the bacteria to not only resist mechanical loads (biomechanics) but also to respond to changes in the mechanical environment (mechanobiology) is necessary for survival. Here I describe a novel microfluidic platform used to explore the biomechanics and mechanobiology of individual, live bacteria. I discuss work from my group demonstrating that mechanical stress within the bacterial cell envelope can influence the assembly and function of multicomponent efflux pumps used by bacteria to resist toxins and antibiotics. Additionally, I share some of our more recent work showing that mechanical stress and strain within the bacterial cell envelope can stimulate a bacterial two-component system controlling gene expression. Our findings demonstrate that bacteria, like mammalian cells, have mechanosensitive systems that are key to survival.

In musculoskeletal disease, bacteria are commonly viewed as sources of infection. However, in the past decade the studies by my group and others have suggested that commensal bacteria – the microbiome – can modulate the pathogenesis of musculoskeletal disorders. My group is among the first to study the effects of the gut microbiome on orthopaedic disorders. Here I provide an introduction to the microbiome and current concepts of how modifications to the gut microbiome could influence the musculoskeletal system. Specifically, I discuss studies from my group which are the first to demonstrate that the gut microbiome influences bone biomechanics and the development of infection of orthopaedic implants.


Dr. Hernandez is Professor in the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Cornell University and is an Adjunct Scientist at the Hospital for Special Surgery. Dr. Hernandez is a Fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE), the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), and the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research (ASBMR). He is the 2018 recipient of the Fuller Albright Award for Scientific Excellence from the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research. He has served on the Board of Directors of the Orthopaedic Research Society and the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research. His laboratory’s research currently focuses on the effects of the microbiome on bone and joint disorders, periprosthetic joint infection and the biomechanics and mechanobiology of bacteria.

BE Seminar: “Designing Biology for Detection and Control” (Pamela A. Silver)

Speaker: Pamela A. Silver, Ph.D.
Elliot T. and Onie H. Adams Professor of Biochemistry and Systems Biology
Harvard Medical School

Date: Thursday, January 28, 2021
Time: 3:00-4:00 PM EST
Zoom – check email for link or contact

Title: “Designing Biology for Detection and Control”


The engineering of Biology presents infinite opportunities for therapeutic design, diagnosis, and prevention of disease. We use what we know from Nature to engineer systems with predictable behaviors. We also seek to discover new natural strategies to then re-engineer. I will present concepts and experiments that address how we approach these problems in a systematic way. Conceptually, we seek to both design cells and proteins to control disease states and to detect and predict the severity of emerging pathogens. For example, we have engineered components of the gut microbiome to act therapeutics for infectious disease, proteins to prolong cell states, living pathogen sensors and high throughput analysis to predict immune response of emerging viruses.


Pamela Silver is the Adams Professor of Biochemistry and Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. She received her BS in Chemistry and PhD in Biochemistry from the University of California. Her work has been recognized by an Established Investigator of the American Heart Association, a Research Scholar of the March of Dimes, an NSF Presidential Young Investigator Award, Claudia Adams Barr Investigator, an NIH MERIT award, the Philosophical Society Lecture, a Fellow of the Radcliffe Institute, and election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She is among the top global influencers in Synthetic Biology and her work was named one of the top 10 breakthroughs by the World Economic Forum. She serves on the board of the Internationally Genetics Engineering Machines (iGEM) Competition and is member of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity. She has led numerous projects for ARPA-E, iARPA and DARPA. She is the co-founder of several Biotech companies including most recently KulaBio and serves on numerous public and private advisory boards.

BE Seminar: “Deconstructing and Reconstructing Human Tissues” (Kelly Stevens)

Kelly Stevens, PhD

Speaker:  Kelly Stevens, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Department of Bioengineering and Department of Laboratory Medicine & Pathology
University of Washington

Date: Thursday, January 21, 2021
Time: 3:00-4:00 PM EST
Zoom – check email for link or contact

Title: “Deconstructing and Reconstructing Human Tissues”


Although much progress has been made in building artificial human tissues over the past several decades, replicating complex tissue structure remains an enormous challenge. To overcome this challenge, our field first needs to create better three-dimensional spatial maps, or “blueprints” of human tissues and organs. We also need to then understand how these spatial blueprints encode positional processes in tissues. My group is developing new advanced biofabrication technologies to address both of these issues. Here, I will describe some of our work in both attaining transcriptomic maps as well as in controlling spatiogenetic wiring of human artificial tissues.


Dr. Kelly Stevens is an Assistant Professor of Bioengineering, and Laboratory Medicine & Pathology at the University of Washington. Dr. Stevens’ research focuses on mapping and building artificial human tissues to treat liver and heart disease. She has made contributions to improve human cell sourcing, vascularization, structure and physiology of human bioartificial tissues. Dr. Stevens has received several awards in recognition of this work, including the NIH New Innovator Award, BMES CMBE Rising Star Award, John Tietze Stem Cell Scientist Award, and Gree Foundation Scholar Award.

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.