Ghana Trip to Study Tuberculosis: Day Three

by Danielle Tsougarakis, Bioengineering ’20; Jason Grosz, Bioengineering ’19; Ethan Zhao, Bioengineering ’19; and Kate Panzer, Bioengineering ’18

Ghana 3.1
Danielle Tsougarakis (left) and Kathleen Givan (right) on a paddleboat along Lake Bosomtwe.

David Issadore, a faculty member in the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania teaches an engineering course ENGR566 – Appropriate Point of Care Diagnostics. As part of this course, he and Miriam Wattenberger from CBE, have taken nine Penn students, most of them majoring in Bioengineering, to Kumasi, Ghana, to study the diagnosis of pediatric tuberculosis. While in Ghana, these students are blogging daily on their experiences.

This morning, we headed to Lake Bosomtwe, which is in the Kumasi metropolitan area. The setting was surreal, with an expansive lake surrounded by rich vegetation and puffy white clouds. Lake Bosomtwe is the only natural lake in Ghana, formed by a collision with a meteor millions of years ago. However, the local story behind the lake’s origin involves a hunter who seeks to shoot an antelope. The first day, he goes into the forest and successfully shoots an antelope, but the animal runs away. The next day, the hunter once again goes into the forest and successfully shoots the antelope, but the same escape occurs. Finally, on the third day, the hunter decides to follow the antelope after it has been shot. The hunter ends up at a small pond and sees the antelope enter the water and disappear. The hunter determines that the antelope is a ghost and decides to name the pond “Antelope god,” or Bosomtwe in Twi, one of the languages of Ghana. Bosom translates to “god,” and twe means “antelope.”

Ghana 3.2
Students enjoying jollof rice and fufu by Lake Bosomtwe.

Now there are 22 communities surrounding the perimeter. We found out it would take eight hours to walk around the entire lake – a trek no one wanted to attempt. However, we did get to wade into the warm water and explore further with the paddleboats. At first glance, the water appeared polluted with scattered plastic bottles. Upon further examination, we realized these were actually makeshift flotation devices for fish traps. We later saw a group of young boys wading through the water catching fish with their hands. Overall, there weren’t a lot of other people there, and we were the main tourist group.

After dinner, we converted our dollars to Ghanian cedis by a currency exchanger named Aness. Aness was a Muslim born in Kumasi with heritage in Niger, and we had an extensive discussion about the various aspects of his identity, including his identifications with Kumasi, Ghana, and Islam.   First, even though his parents came from Niger, he identified more strongly with Kumasi and Ghana since he was born here, saying, “You must be proud of where you are born because it’s the only thing you have.” He was extremely proud of the fact that Kumasi was the cultural center of Ghana. He seemed to have very strong stereotypes against people from Accra, claiming that the businessmen were dishonest and cared only about making money, not the way it was made. He also explained to us the use of various regional dialects across Ghana.  In Kumasi, the primary language of communication is Twi.

Ghana 3.3
Students playing card games and board games by the scenic Lake Bosomtwe.

Ghana Trip to Study Tuberculosis: Day Two

by Kaila Helm, Biological Basis of Behavior ’20; Kathleen Givan, Bioengineering and Political Science ’20; Kathryn Cocherl, Bioengineering ’20; Hope McMahon, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering ’18; and Dave Pontoriero, Biotechnology MS ’18

Ghana 2.1
Grilled beef kebabs at a street side market, on the way from Accra to Kumasi.

David Issadore, a faculty member in the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania teaches an engineering course ENGR566 – Appropriate Point of Care Diagnostics. As part of this course, he and Miriam Wattenberger from CBE, have taken nine Penn students, most of them majoring in Bioengineering, to Kumasi, Ghana, to study the diagnosis of pediatric tuberculosis. While in Ghana, these students are blogging daily on their experiences.

Our day started early: at 6 A.M. We were startled to see an aerobic fitness class outside our hotel room door. Participants were sweating and dancing with smiling faces to high-energy rhythmic music — a definite contrast to the decidedly low-energy sleeping state we were hoping to enjoy further.

Breakfast was a lovely, carbohydrate-heavy smorgasbord of avocado, pancakes, and flower-shaped chicken sausages. We then boarded our bus for our trip to Kumasi. Along the way, we noticed the changing landscape as we headed out to the rural area. On the bus, Ethan played his ukulele. Due to construction, the traffic sides switch slightly at random. This could be hair-raising at times: suddenly, the bus would simply divert to the side of the road where, mere moments before, the traffic was streaming along merrily in the opposite direction.

We also stopped at a rest area, and we tried guinea fowl, goat, and banana milk. As we continued, we saw more goats and churches and fewer vendors on the side of the street. It was also interesting to see more and more mosques as we passed in to the more Muslim northern/central area. We arrived at the exceedingly spacious KNUST campus, lush and green, and also, not the bus (we were very ready to be off after four hours of driving!). We set up our rooms and prepared for the rest of the night.

The afternoon was hot and lazy, filled with unpacking and chatting about the wild experiences that we’d already had. A definitive highlight was a run that some students took on campus. The group was lucky enough to see the computer lab and a Ghanaian wedding and to meet up with some Ghanaian friends who helped with the program last year. After a shower and perhaps a quick nap for the lucky ones among us, we were ready for the next stage of the evening: the welcome party.

At the welcome party, we met the Ghanaian students who will be with us during our time here. We then watched a performance by drummers and traditional Ghanaian dancers. They pulled us in their circle and taught us some of their dance moves. We met some of the KCCR staff members who told us more about the work we will be starting this week. We ended the night in the lounge, reflecting on our day and getting to know each other better.

Ghana 2.2
Students enjoying snacks at a market on the road between Accra and Kumasi.

Ghana Trip to Study Tuberculosis: Day One

by Danielle Tsougarakis, Bioengineering ’20; Jason Grosz, Bioengineering ’19; Ethan Zhao, Bioengineering ’19; and Kate Panzer, Bioengineering ’18

Ghana 1.0


David Issadore, a faculty member in the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania teaches an engineering course ENGR566 – Appropriate Point of Care Diagnostics. As part of this course,  he and Miriam Wattenberger from CBE,
 have taken nine Penn students, most of them majoring in Bioengineering,  to Kumasi, Ghana to study the diagnosis of pediatric Tuberculosis. While in Ghana, these students will be blogging daily on their experiences.

 

Our trip began with a 10-hour flight, departing from JFK Airport on Thursday and arriving in Accra on Friday. Infrared cameras scanned us as we walked through customs at the Accra Airport (our guess was for fever), and we exited the airport to meet our contacts from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST).
Ghana 1.1
(Left to right) Dr. Wattenbarger, Jason Grosz, Ethan Zhao, Hope McMahon, Katharine Cocherl, Kaila Helm

As soon as we walked out of the airport, we were hit with our first wave of hot and humid Ghanaian air. Shortly after driving out of the hectic airport traffic, we approached a coconut stand and hydrated with freshly cut coconuts. Many of us had coconut meat for the first time, with the coconuts hacked open by machetes.  The meat had an unexpectedly sweet and gooey texture, as opposed to dry and flaky texture of coconut shavings.

Ghana 1.2
(Left to right) Kaila Helm, David Pontoriero

As we were driving around Accra, we were surprised by the abundance of street vendors selling items on the side of the road. In order to sell their goods (gum, sunglasses, peanuts, fried bread, shampoos, etc.), the vendors dodged oncoming traffic and balanced their items in baskets on their heads.

Next, we went on a bus tour of the University of Ghana, admiring the expansive campus, green lawns, and beautiful whitewashed buildings with terracotta roofing. The remainder of the day was spent swimming in the hotel pool and eating our first Ghanaian meals of rice, chicken, fish, plantains, and banku — a Ghanaian dish made of fermented corn and cassava dough cooked in hot water into a paste.

Ghana 1.3
(Left to right) Kathleen Givan, Danielle Tsougarakis

Pressure Sores Targeted by Flysole

Among the myriad medical complications caused by diabetes, pressure sores of the feet are among the most troubling. Because of the common  complication of peripheral neuropathy, people with diabetes are often unable to determine how much pressure is being exerted on their feet. As a result, they cause foot ulcers, which can become infected, leading in the worst cases to amputation.

pressure sores
The Flysole combines an insole with five sensors (top) and an ankle band (bottom) to house the electrical components, including the circuit for the pressure sensors as well as the microcontroller and SD card to log the pressure data.

One of the senior design teams from the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania developed a project to address this problem. Their solution was Flysole (right), a prognostic implant that diabetic patients can wear to collect data on foot pressure so that the doctor can prescribe an optimal orthotic to prevent sores from developing. The team was named one of the three winners of this year’s competition.

The team, which consisted of Parag Bapna, Karthik Ramesh, Jane Shmushkis, and Amey Vrudhula, designed the Flysole as a lightweight insole with ankle band paired with software that generates a profile of the pressure on the sole of the patient’s foot. The insole has five sensors to collect these data. The cost is approximately $75 per pair.

In addition, the team made the Flysole to be reusable by including a polyurethane laminate sleeve for the individual patient. Future improvements envisioned by the students include improving the software to include recommendations for orthotics and alternate arrangements for the sole sensors.

Project Builds on Breast Cancer Screening Tech

breast cancer
An embedded 11×11 cluster of 100-micron objects (which models a cluster of microcalcifications — one of the earliest indicators of breast cancer). (A) shows the results from the current standard of imaging only along the chest wall. (B) shows the results of our method that considers the patient’s unique breast geometry using a Custom V imaging pattern. (B) resolves the embedded cluster as a distinct cluster of objects while (A) appears to blur the final image.

Breast cancer continues to affect more than 10% of all women — and a small percentage of men — despite significant advances in diagnosis and treatment. While a majority cases today can be successfully treated, early detection is essential to beginning treatment before it’s too late.

Among the more recent innovations in screening has been three-dimensional mammography. However, this modality has lacked the ability to personalize the scan to the individual patient’s breast, instead only acquiring several two-dimensional images along the chest wall, resulting in a lack of individualization for the patient.

A senior design project team at the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Bioengineering, however, has helped to develop a more personalized 3D imaging technology, which acquires a series of images but instead following the contour of the breast itself. With their efforts, the team earned one of the three awards given to student teams yearly.

The four-student team, consisting of Lucy Chai, Elizabeth Kobe, Margaret Nolan, and Sushmitha Yarrabothula, picked up a project begun last year (a common practice with senior design projects) and demonstrated with their work that the imaging technique could be applied using a digital phantom (a computerized breast model) with great clarity, including successful resolution of a simulated mass just one-tenth of a millimeter in size.

Now, the four seniors will hand off the project to another team, continuing this multi-year research. Ultimately, before it can be applied in actual patients, the modality will need to be tested against the current standard of care in terms of its ability to detect small masses in the breast. Nevertheless, this year’s team moved the ball downfield significantly.

Broad Street Run Is a Day Out for BE Students

Four students from the Bioengineering Department at the University of Pennsylvania participated in this year’s Blue Cross Broad Street Run, which was held on Sunday, May 7, in Philadelphia.

broad street run
(left to right) Melissa Schweizer, Mike Patterson, Kyle O’Neil, Margaret Schroeder

The four students (right) ran the annual event, which begins at Broad Street and W. Fisher Avenue, in the Logan section of North Philadelphia and runs almost the entire length of Broad to the Navy Yard in South Philadelphia. Broad Street is one of Philadelphia’s main thoroughfares and runs 11 miles along the city’s north-south axis. This year was the 38th year that the Broad Street Run has taken place.

“The Broad Street Run is one of the greatest Philadelphia running traditions,” department chair David Meaney, PhD, said, “and it is remarkable that our students would take time from their finals for an ‘easy’ ten-mile run — remarkable but not surprising.”

Cataract Surgery Instrument With an Eye on India

Cataracts are a leading cause of vision loss worldwide. In the world’s more developed countries, laser is commonly used for cataract removal. However, in much of the developing world, lasers are expensive or difficult to acquire. In these countries, cataract surgeries are still largely performed freehand, with all of the attendant risks that such procedures involve.

One of this year’s senior design projects in the Department of Bioengineering at Penn was a surgical tool for ophthalmic surgeons to perform capsulorhexis, the fancy term for the circular incision necessary to remove a cataract. The team, which included seniors Akshatha Bhat, Nimay Kulkarni, Steven Polomski, and Ananya Sureshkumar, collaborated with the Aravind Eye Hospital in Puducherry, India, created a surgical device called the Rhex to create this round incision

cataract-rhex
A) The Rhex (top), compared to forceps (center) and a scalpel (bottom); B) Rhex inserted into a model eye.

The Rhex (right) consists of a stem with a ring at the end, into which a blade is fitted. It can be inserted into a scleral incision, pressed, and rotated to perform the capsulorhexis. Initial testing indicated the Rhex could create a circulation incision approximately 6.7 mm in diameter, with eccentricity (indicating deviation from a perfect circle) of 0.254±0.08, which was within the acceptable range determined by the team.

The students designed the Rhex to be autoclavable and to use disposable blades. The next step will be to decrease the size of the instrument further and perhaps to use translucent or even transparent material to produce newer prototypes, which could be particularly useful, since cataract surgeries are open performed using backlighting.

 

Design Project Offers Help for Parkinson’s Patients

parkinson's
ShuffleAssist demonstrated by a student

With increasing age in the population, Parkinson’s disease has become increasingly common. One of the most frustrating effects of the disease is freezing of gait (FOG), in which a patient will suddenly stop while walking and find it difficult to begin again. Falls are a common consequence.

Despite intensive research, FOG is poorly understood. However, studies have shown that certain external stimuli, including metronomes and devices that provide visual cues, can be helpful. With this knowledge, a team of bioengineering students set to tackle this issue with their senior design project.

The team whose members were Priyanka Ghosh, Fiona La, Laurel Leavitt, and Lia Lombardi — came up with ShuffleAssist, a wearable device that uses force sensors and an internal measurement unit to detect FOG and automatically provide a cue for the patient. The patient can choose a metronome beat or visual laser cue that can be provided either as determined by the device or continually, for patients who so choose.

ShuffleAssist tested well among normal subjects, detecting FOG correctly 98% of the time within approximate one second. In addition, the students were able to create their prototype for a cost of $107 per unit, compared to similarly intended products already on the market costing more than twice that much.

The next step for the team is to test the device in actual patients with Parkinson’s. The students have left the device with a faculty member in the Perelman School of Medicine who treats patients with motor disorders. This faculty member will offer the device to patients for testing.

See below for a video demonstration of ShuffleAssist.

Network Visualization Program Unites Artists and Scientists

network-rebecca
Rebecca Kellner

In high school, Rebecca Kellner (right) always had a dual love of art and science. When she entered the University of Pennsylvania as a freshman, she thought that her interest in art would always be separate from her pursuit of science. “I’ve always loved art and science and I wondered how I would integrate my passions into one area of study,” Rebecca says. “Then I heard about the Network Visualization Program run by Dr. Danielle Bassett . In this program, the intersection of art and science is celebrated, and this intersection is a place where I feel right at home.”

The Penn Network Visualization Program, begun in 2014, had long been a dream of Dr. Bassett. She wanted a forum where young artists and research scientists could interact with each other. “Science and art are often perceived to be at odds with each other, two fundamentally different ways of understanding the world. As a scientist, I’ve learned that the visual impact of the information I present is crucially important. Networks are visually intuitive,” says Bassett, “and represent an opportunity to foster a common language between scientists and artists.”

In this six-week summer program, young artists spend time with scientists at Penn who are performing cutting-edge research in network science as applied to social systems, human biology, and physical materials, with the underlying goal of advancing bioengineering. Faculty from the Warren Center for Network and Data Science who have volunteered their time and creativity to the project include Eleni Katifori, Erol Akcay, and Randy Kamien of the School of Arts and Sciences; Robert Ghrist and Victor Preciado of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; Sandra Gonzalez-Bailon of the Annenberg School of Communications; and Francis Diebold of the Wharton School of Business. During the course of the internship, the artists produce works of art interpreting and capturing the intricacies of these networks in novel ways. Artistic supervision and project advice are provided by local artists affiliated with the program. The goal of the internship is to provide scientists with new conceptualizations of their research and to provide the intern with new knowledge in scientific art applications.

Rebecca was thrilled when she was accepted into the program. During her internship she worked with a variety of scientists. Her final artwork focused on the research of Dr. Ann Hermundstad (Janelia), the postdoctoral researcher in the Physics of Living Matter Group, University of Pennsylvania Department of Physics and Astronomy. Dr. Hermundstad’s research focuses on what and how the brain sees. Fascinated by these networks, Rebecca created a painting and a laser-etched acrylic book.

network-nicholas
Nicholas Hanchak

The program also invites six high school students who have exhibited creativity and academic achievement. Nicholas Hanchak (right) from Westtown School participated during the summer of 2016. “I love art, science and baseball and I am thinking about architecture as a possible career,” Nicholas says. “The Penn program challenged me to find new ways to combine these interests.” For his final project, Nicholas created a Plinko Game Board showing the difference between the networks in a healthy brain and in a brain damaged by stroke.

“Artists and scientists are kindred spirits because they both are interested in observing what is in front of them,” says Dr. Bassett. “The Network Visualization program offers an opportunity for scientists and artists to inform each other in very tangible ways.”

The program runs every other summer. During the fall, several of the artists’ pieces are showcased in Philadelphia-area middle and high schools, particularly in disadvantaged areas. These efforts are enabled by ongoing collaborations with the Netter Center for Community Partnerships and Penn’s Center for Curiosity, and they are partially funded by the National Science Foundation. Bassett hopes this outreach effort will encourage children to explore intersections between the arts and sciences, while instilling a growing appreciation of their networked world.

A Solution for Liver Testing for 10 Dollars

Brianna Wronko (left) and Guyrandy Jean-Gilles (right)

One of the Penn Bioengineering Department’s senior projects was the work of a two-person team: Brianna Wronko and Guyrandy Jean-Gilles. The result of their work was the MultiDiagnostic, a microfluidics platform that the two students describe as “A Fast, Inexpensive, and Accessible Diagnostic Solution.”

Brianna says that the project was originally conceived as a way for HIV clinics and treatment centers to test biological parameters such as viral load. However, the inability of Brianna and Guy to handle HIV-infected blood in the lab, as well as the desire to generate a product that could both serve patients directly and have a commercial focus. They decided their first offering would consist of liver function tests.

Manufactured by an automated process, the MultiDiagnostic is a paper microfluidics platform with a software component that can be run on a computer or cell phone. When a bodily fluid is placed into the platform, it diffuses into separate chambers of the platform, where colorimetric analysis is then conducted and data communicated via the software’s graphical user interface to the user.

The students currently have the platform in preclinical trials for the testing of aspartase aminotransferase and alkaline phosphatase; the ability to test alanine aminotransferase, bilirubin, and total protein are in the prototyping stage. Their current model is priced at a $10 customer price, which is considerably less expensive than competing technologies already on the market.

Among the most interesting aspects of this senior project team, other than the product itself, was that it had only two members. Asked how this fact affected their work, Brianna admitted that it posed a bit of an obstacle at first. However, she said, “we decided to break up the concept into parts, with me doing the wet lab parts, in which I have a background and Guy, whose background is in software, doing those parts.” In the end, they’re very happy with their final product.