On May 8, 2019, first year Bioengineering students at the University of Pennsylvania gathered together for a marathon two-hour session in which no fewer than twenty-one groups presented the results of their final projects. These projects were the culmination of two semesters’ work in the courses BE 100 and 101, the department’s year-long introduction to Bioengineering. The topics were as diverse and creative as the students, ranging from medical devices and pediatric monitors to plant-care and diagnostic apps. They covered a variety of issues and needs, including tools to help the blind; lockboxes that incorporate breathalyzers (to stop you getting to your keys when intoxicated); mechanisms to sense epileptic seizures and monitor heart rate; and more. Each group had only four minutes to present the research, concept, and results of their project and give a brief demonstration. In the end, the entire class voted and two clear winners emerged. In first place was Group R7 with Heart Guide, a heart-shaped ultrasonic collision device for the blind. Group R3 came in second place with Pulsar the Robot, an adorable pediatric heart rate monitor. The course’s instructor, Dr. Michael Rizk, ended by saying that all of the students should be very proud of their work and that these final projects and the skills learned in year one are the foundation on which the rest of their BE curriculum will be based.
Congratulations to all of our first years on their amazing work. Check out some photos of their impressive work below! For more information on the Penn Bioengineering Undergraduate Curriculum, visit the department website. Most BE student projects are created in the George H. Stephenson Foundation Education Laboratory and “Bio-MakerSpace”, the department’s primary teaching lab.
Today, the team took various field trips related to water supply and public health. After being picked up on the bus, we drove for about an hour through the busy (and bumpy) streets of Kumasi to the Barakese Headworks of Ghana Water Company Limited. We spent the majority of the morning and early afternoon on a tour of the plant, following in chronological order the retrieval and treatment of water from the reservoir.
Upon walking up to the dam, the roar of the water was powerful. We went into a garage-like building which housed the four large pumps from the dam, pumping water uphill for further processing. After climbing approximately five stories on a shaky ladder, we reached the top of the dam to observe the reservoir from which the Ghana Water Company extracts its water. From there, our team ventured up the hill to observe the water treatment plant.
With the sun beating down, we slowly made our way through the facility, observing each stage of the treatment process in which millions of gallons of water were being treated at a time. The first stage, aeration, takes about six hours to complete. From there, water is pumped into giant drums for sedimentation, where water is stirred and polymers are added to force harmful chemicals to settle at the bottom. Clean water then slowly rises up in the million-gallon drum, with the clean water spilling over the edges to be collected and further processed in large sand filters. The sludge at the bottom of the drum is currently pumped back into the river, which may propose a serious public health problem in the future. The team then followed our guide into the labs, where we observed the various tests which are performed daily on the water after treatment to ensure proper sanitation. Lab technicians perform chemical experiments and culture the water to ensure that water-borne diseases cannot be carried by the filtered water.
After learning so much at the treatment plant, the team jumped on the bus to escape the heat and then traveled, after lunch, to the Komfo Akoye Teaching Hospital to observe the patient intake process in the hypertension clinic. We watched carefully in small groups from the corner of each doctor’s office to see how patients are treated and diagnosed. The doctors see around twenty to thirty patients per day, but on worse days they can see up to forty, with around two being new referrals from peripheral clinics. After speaking with the patient, the doctor makes a prescription recommendation on the patient’s paper file and gives it to the nurse for further processing. Each patient has a paper book which contains all of their medical data and history since coming to the hospital, and they retrieve it from a records room every time they visit. When asked about digitizing the process, the nurses were surprisingly resistant, arguing that they already were used to the paper filing system and they do not have the proper training to efficiently use a computer to file records.
After a long day of observations, the team traveled back to the guest house to eat dinner. Over our meal of pizza , spring rolls, and ambiguous but delicious juice, we discussed the events of the day and refocused our project, ironing out a specific plan for how we want to design our program and creating a vision for its implementation. We went to bed exhausted from a long day’s work but motivated for the project developments to come.
by Aime Bienfait Igiraneza (Computer Science, ’20)
Operation: Relaxation…and laundry
Breakfast: Eggs, bread and tea. 8:30am
Lunch at the Magnificent Foods
Running (or more of walking in my case) and swimming at the KNUST university
After what was a fun, informative, but busy week filled with hospital and clinic visits and walks through communities (and not forgetting the activity-filled day we had before, of course), this Sunday was supposed to be the time to relax…and do laundry.
Our breakfast started a little later than usual. Though breakfast was ready at 8:30 am, most of us had a lazy morning in and came out to eat at 9:00 am. When all the team members were assembled before the usual omelet and tea breakfast, we decided to do an impromptu recap of the week and brainstormed on how we could adapt our initial project to fit the clinics and hospitals we had visited during the week. This session, as spontaneous as it was, became a good way for us to build on our observations from the week not just for the applications of our project, but for identifying certain problems that can become future projects for future APOC teams.
Keeping the theme of lazy Sunday in mind, we did not start laundry until late morning, around 10:30 am. This didn’t prove to be a very wise idea, especially since we were supposed to do laundry the old-fashioned way with water, a bar of soap, and our good old hands. Furthermore, there proved to be a shortage of buckets for all of us to do laundry at the same time, which didn’t seem to leave enough time before the bus was supposed to pick us up at 1:00 pm for lunch. Nonetheless, we bonded as we shared our buckets (who knew that manual laundry-washing was such a social activity) and we made it in time for lunch; also nothing a little adrenaline and team work couldn’t fix.
After laundry, we had lunch at the same restaurant we visited last Sunday: Magnificent Foods. The food was just as fantastic as we know it is in Ghana (the serving sizes are still too large for any of us to finish), but the most eventful thing was that the tailor came to take our measurements for the traditional clothes we are to wear to the King’s palace next Sunday. Everyone had their designs on their phones, their cloths bought from the market, and a bit of excitement on their faces as we saw our plans on the clothes being born. We anticipate receiving the clothes sometime this week. (Emotion check: beaming with excitement!!)
Once our long lunch meal was over, we decided to do a very un-lazy thing and went running on the KNUST campus before the sun set. This created another team bonding moment and we went swimming afterwards. This was the most memorable part for me because, though I can’t swim, I had my teammates with me and they taught me some basic swimming skills.
The rest of the night was very lazy. We played cards until late and each prepared for the week to come. (Emotion check: tired but excited to start the week.)
by Aime Bienfait Igiraneza (Computer Science, ’20)
The morning was fantastic! Several group members were having a slightly enhanced digestion, which turned out not so great. It did not help that we also saw at least three guys peeing on the street, a serious public health issue that should be looked into. Nonetheless, we were excited for the day and we were not disappointed. We were about to visit one of the regional hospitals. If I were to summarize the day, there were two main takeaways: First, the hospital has an amazing system that works. Second, the potential of the system in place is not fully explored.
We started by meeting the medical director of the hospital along with another doctor specializing in tuberculosis. The main methods used to diagnose TB are microscopy and GeneXpert when the patient can produce sputum. Otherwise, the use of X-rays test is the remaining option. Although patients with TB can be diagnosed within two hours, it is still challenging to catch all cases due to stigma and the fact that testing is only ever done in the morning. Even the detected cases are more likely to be very advanced as people tend to first try other medicines when they encounter symptoms such as coughing, thinking that it will simply go away. However, an interesting program to collect sputum from pharmacies has been initiated which allows professionals to catch those who simply buy cough medicines from drug stores. After being diagnosed, patients are prescribed TB pills and these patients are re-checked after six months, which unfortunately is not always followed up on. When possible, patients are also followed up on at home by special health workers who ensure that pills are taken as prescribed. Even better, injectables are administered once in four months, thus reducing the burden of taking pills every day.
A few technical challenges were mentioned. The first one is that medical records for every patient are still saved in books, which pile up over time making it difficult to manage. A software called Health Administration Management System (HAMS) is used to save patients’ identifications and registration book numbers. When this book is updated, so is the HAMS account corresponding to the particular patient. All this is done in real time. Then, at the end of the day, staff from the Health and Information office use a software called District Health Management System (DHMS) to collect the information about the types of patients seen that day. This information is drawn from HAMS as well as record books. Thus, the challenge is how to automate the uploading of data from HAMS to DHMS in real time without waiting until the end of the day to manually do it. This has not been possible in part because HAMS does not contain all the necessary details.
Overall, it’s impressive how well everything works, given the current structure and workflow. At least, we learned about a few challenges, which by the way, were not always revealed to us. As usual, a ridiculously delicious lunch was provided. We also passed by the mall and bought a few fabrics. When we came back from the hospital, we picked up some KFC chickens for dinner and kept enjoying the incredible Ghanaian hospitality until we called it a day.
We started the day very early at 7:00 am with a drive to the Suntreso General Hospital where we were to visit Dr. Agyarko-Poku, a venerologist who would help us understand more about mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS to aid in our study of noncommunicable diseases.
We arrived at the hospital, where the in-charge for the STI-OPD unit welcomed us and gave us a general overview of how events are run at the hospital’s HIV clinic which occurs on Wednesdays for adults and on Fridays for children. She gave us also an overview of how viral testing, data collection, and drug dispensary and treatment occur for the confirmed patients in the hospital. We got to see the relevant data points that were collected on each patient visit to help us better understand how well to modify our machine learning system.
We then went to the Disease Control Unit where the professionals there have the job of collating all hospital cases at the end of the week to identify diseases that are on the rise and have the potential to become public health concerns. We also got to understand more about how tuberculosis is diagnosed in the clinics and how treatment occurs for the disease. We found out also that drug-resistant tuberculosis has not been much of a problem for that particular hospital, contrary to what we thought. After this, we split into teams and went to visit the ART center, the counseling center, the dispensary, the data management room, as well as the consulting room where we got to interact more with the health professionals (i.e. nurses and pharmacists) in order to understand the processes that the patients have to go through from entrance into the hospital facility to diagnosis and the reception of their medication.
We left the Suntreso hospital and came back to KNUST where we had lunch before meeting with the civil engineers to discuss writing a report and making possible recommendations for the communities that we visited in order to improve their sanitation and water supply. We arrived at the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital’s Nursing Training School at about 2.30pm where we presented our Tuberculosis Triaging system to the students and received their questions which ranged from the usefulness of our algorithm and project to concerns about data contamination and invalidation. From KATH, we made a final run through KFC to grab dinner before making our way back to the guest house to enjoy our meal and conclude the day.
Vector Flow Imaging Helps Visualize Blood Flow in Pediatric Hearts
A group of biomedical engineers at the University of Arkansas used a new ultrasound-based imaging technique called vector flow imaging to help improve the diagnosis of congenital heart disease in pediatric patients. The study, led by associate professor of biomedical engineering Morten Jensen, Ph.D., collaborated with cardiologists at the local Children’s Hospital in Little Rock to produce images of the heart in infants to help potentially diagnose congenital heart defects. Though the use of vector flow imaging has yet to be developed for adult patients, this type of imaging could possibly provide more detail about the direction of blood flow through the heart than traditional techniques like echocardiography do. In the future, the use of both techniques could provide information about both the causes and larger effects of heart defects in patients.
Using Stem Cells to Improve Fertility in Leukemia Survivors
One of the more common side effects of leukemia treatment in female patients is infertility, but researchers at the University of Michigan want to change that. Led by associate professor of biomedical engineering Ariella Shikanov, Ph.D., researchers in her lab found ways of increasing ovarian follicle productivity in mice, which directly relates to the development of mature eggs. The project involves the use of adipose-derived stem cells, that can be found in human fat tissue, to surround the follicles in an ovary-like, three-dimensional scaffold. Because the radiation treatments for leukemia and some other cancers are harmful to follicles, increasing their survival rate with this stem cell method could reduce the rate of infertility in patients undergoing these treatments. Furthermore, this new approach is innovative in its use of a three-dimensional scaffold as opposed to a two-dimensional one, as it stimulates follicle growth in all directions and thus helps to increase the follicle survival rate.
Penn Engineers Look at How Stretching & Alignment of Collagen Fibers Help Cancer Cells Spread
Cancer has such a massive impact on people’s lives that it might be easy to forget that the disease originates at the cellular level. To spread and cause significant damage, individual cancer cells must navigate the fibrous extracellular environment that cells live in, an environment that Penn Engineer Vivek Shenoy has been investigating for years.
Shenoy’s most recent study on cancer’s mechanical environment was led by a postdoctoral researcher in his lab, Ehsan Ban. Paul Janmey, professor in Physiology and Bioengineering, and colleagues at Stanford University also contributed to the study. Shenoy also received the Heilmeier Award this March and delivered the Heilmeier Award Lecture in April.
Controlled Electrical Stimulation Can Prevent Joint Replacement Infections
Joint replacements are one of the most common kinds of surgery today, but they still require intense post-operative therapy and have a risk of infection from the replacement implant. These infections are usually due to the inflammatory response that the body has to any foreign object, and can become serious and life-threatening if left untreated. Researchers at the University of Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences hope to offer a solution to preventing infections through the use of controlled electrical stimulation. Led by Mark Ehrensberger, Ph.D., Kenneth A. Krackow, M.D., and Anthony A. Campagnari, Ph.D., the treatment system uses the electrical signal to create an antibacterial environment at the interface of the body and the implant. While the signal does not prevent infections completely, these antibacterial properties will prevent infections from worsening to a more serious level. Patented as the Biofilm Disruption Device TM, the final product uses two electrode skin patches and a minimally invasive probe that delivers the electrical signal directly to the joint-body interface. The researchers behind the design hope that it can help create a more standard way of effectively treating joint replacement infections.
People and Places
For their senior design project, four bioengineering seniors — Gabriel Koo, Ethan Zhao, Daphne Cheung, and Shelly Teng — created a low-cost tuberculosis diagnostic that they called TBx. Using their knowledge of the photoacoustic effect of certain dyes, the platform the group created can detect the presence of lipoarabinomannan in patient urine. The four seniors presented TBx at the Rice360 Design Competition in Houston, Texas this spring, which annually features student-designed low-cost global health technologies.
On this beautiful Tuesday, we woke up at our hotel to a lovely breakfast of sausage and pepper omelets. After our meal we loaded up on the bus to drive over to Aprade. On the way to Aprade we picked up our water and sanitation expert of friends: Sophia, Kingsley, and Alfred. We first stopped at Aprade Government School where we met with the entire population of the school to present a demonstration on hand-washing. After the presentation we took a tour of the school to survey their existing water and sanitation systems. We learned about their construction projects and about the school itself, which educates about six hundred students!
Our second stop was to the main village of Aprade. We were taken through the village and observed their rainwater collection systems and boreholes. We discovered the public and private boreholes around the village. Everyone was so hospitable and welcoming. Before continuing we took a quick break to eat lunch on the bus. The food was catered and we had a delicious meal of jollof rice and fried chicken. There was refreshing mango and ginger juice to cool us down from the hot day.
After lunch we drove over to Mmeswam. We were able to make an appointment with the Chief! He brought us into his home with welcoming arms; it was amazing being able to shake the chief’s hand. The chief showed us around Mmeswam and led us to his boreholes and wells. The main borehole pumps water to a large elevated tank. Underneath that tank is a pipe and valve mechanism where villagers come to collect water in large basins. The chief encouraged us to take the basin on our heads and try to carry some of the water. Ellie, Kyler and El were chosen among the group to test their strength.
From the boreholes we walked over to the village’s wells. The oldest well was spoiled and is unusable. The working well in the village was a traditional pulley system well. Several of our students cast the bucket and fished up some water. After our day of water we thanked the chief and hopped back on the bus. We drove back to campus, dropped off the graduate students at campus, and made a stop at the mall. We grabbed dinner at Game and quickly made our way home. It had been a long day so we chowed down on dinner and passed out for the night. A great and very busy day!
The bus came and picked us up just after 8 and took us to the Kwame Nkruma University of Science and Technology (KNUST, for short) for our orientation to the program. We pulled into a small lot guarded by a fence and some old barbed wire to greet Professor Ellis Owusu-Dabo, a charismatic and accomplished professor in public health in Ghana. We were ushered to a board room where we began a meeting with Ghanaian students and professors. They sang their national anthem, and then asked us to sing the Penn fight song—which we learned the words to the night before in the hostel. Throughout the morning, we heard remarks from Professor Ellis as well as his distinguished colleagues regarding the program and introducing us to the university. Then we closed the session with a prayer, as is custom in a Christian nation such as Ghana, and went to have lunch and tour the university some more.
During our lunch break, I got the chance to chat with Kingsley, a Nigerian student at KNUST in the Water Supply Management program (the program gathers students from all over West Africa to train them as young “water professionals” to better combine ideas from across the region). Kingsley was very passionate about the field he worked in, explaining that about 90% of the issues related to public health and electricity in Ghana and the region at large were due to issues with the water supply—whether it be sanitation or accessibility in general.
As we toured the university by bus, I talked to Kingsley some more about water systems currently in place, to which he explained the role of politics in the amount of technology able to be implemented. “Trust me, we have the technology,” he exclaimed. “It’s just the will of the people, and the government, that prevent us from using it.” The government here is peculiar compared to that of the United States: Where we had always been focused on separation of state and church, religion and culture here serve as the two strongest influences on the government and their decision-making, which can serve both as a blessing and a curse in some cases like that of water supply funding.
We wrapped up our tour of the university, which looked verydifferent from Penn with its vast fields and cream-and-orange-colored buildings in all their glory. The afternoon session introduced us to the most prevalent medical problems in Ghana to date, as well as giving us a general idea of what the Ghanaian health system looks like. We were given guidance on our project which we had prepared during the spring, and then promptly sent on our way before the sunset, which abruptly ends each day around 6:30 P.M.
Waking up early to the sound of rooster calls, we washed up, ate, and got ready for our 9:30 am church service. As we drew close to the location, the bus began to rumble to the vibrations of worship—indicative of the amount of passion and volume we were about to experience in the first of many parts of the service. Walking out of the bus, we were engulfed by the music of our open-building communion. The amount of evident love, hope, and faith was overwhelming. The three-hour service in and of itself consisted of worship and thanksgiving—in which we celebrated many lives—as well as a sermon, all of which held a consistently amplified energy, song, and dance.
By the time we got out of service, our stomachs were once again rumbling and we were ready to eat. We sat down for a traditional Ghanaian meal: jhollof rice and fufu. Careful to not use our left hand, we scooped our fufu in our hands and downed many servings, supplemented by the delicious jhollof rice and protein of our choice. Many salads were left untouched.
Plates emptied and stomachs refilled, we set out to our first football (or, as we know it, soccer) game. Sitting down in the stadium filled with cheering fans, we tried to discern which team to cheer for. We decided upon Allie’s favorite color: yellow. Unfortunately, after consulting a local, we found out that the players in the yellow jerseys were of a team far from here, and the red-jerseyed team was the local—the one we should be cheering for. This was good information to have because the game ended in a 2-0 win for our local team.
Post-football game, we wandered our way into the mall, picking up carelessly forgotten essentials and dinner. For the majority of us, this was curry rice, chicken, and kebabs—which ended up being too spicy for everybody except El. We ate. We planned. We debriefed and went to bed, ready for orientation tomorrow.
To finish the second half of Bioengineering Modeling, Analysis, and Design (BE MAD) Laboratory – the hallmark laboratory course of Penn’s Bioengineering program – instructors Dr. Brian Chow and Dr. David Issadore tasked junior undergraduate students with creating their own spectrophotometers for potential use in detecting water-borne pathogens in a design process that involved rapid prototyping techniques, the use of low-cost optoelectronics, and the incorporation of automation software and a graphical user interface for data acquisition. The final projects were assessed for both the creativity of the structural design of the device, and their abilities to measure optical properties of fluorescein, a chromophore used in clinical diagnostics, to determine each device’s accuracy, sensitivity, precision, and dynamic range.
For the final project of the year, many groups planned adventurous structural innovations to house their spectrophotometer circuits. Some of this year’s highlights included a fish tank complete with flashing lights and goldfish, a motorized arm that could successfully shoot a ball into a miniature basketball hoop with every spectrophotometer reading, a guitar with the ability to actually play music, and a working carousel. “My group decided to make a version of the Easy Bake Oven, using an LED oven light bulb, and a motor to open the door,” said junior Alina Rashid. “Of course, it didn’t actually cook anything because of the spectrophotometer inside, but maybe next time!” All of these designs involved the use of CAD-modeling to create sketches and parts that could then be laser-cut or 3D-printed into physical structures. The Department of Bioengineering also allotted each group with a budget for students to purchase any additional parts they required for their designs that were not already available in the lab.
On Demo Day for the spectrophotometer projects, instructors, lab staff, and friends came to the Stephenson Foundation Bioengineering Educational Laboratory and Bio-MakerSpace to assess final designs and celebrate the end of the semester. Given three solutions of unknown concentrations, students used their completed spectrophotometers to create standard curves using Beer-Lambert’s Law and attempt to determine the concentrations of the provided solutions. “I always love Demo Day because that’s when all separate aspects of the project – the mechanical design, the code, the circuitry – come together to make a device that actually works the way we planned and wanted it to all along,” said junior Jessica Dubuque. After nearly a month of working on the projects, each lab group went into Demo Day with designs they were proud of, and ended the semester on a high note with many new insights and lab skills under their belt for the beginning of their Senior Design projects in the fall.