Noordergraaf Fellows Conduct Summer Research

Each year, the Penn Department of Bioengineering chooses undergraduate students to receive fellowships for summer research. These fellowships, which provide a $3,500 stipend for use over 10 weeks, were endowed by the Abraham Noordergraaf Student Summer Bioengineering Research Fund. Dr. Noordergraaf, who died in 2014, was a founding member and first chair of the Penn BE Department. In keeping with Dr. Noordergraaf’s research focus on the cardiovascular system, fellows with a focus on this system are favored but not exclusively awarded.

Noordergraaf
Brianna Karpowicz

The fellows for the summer of 2017 were Brianna Karpowicz, Jacqueline Valeri, and Alejandro Villasmil. Brianna is a junior bioengineering major working in the lab of Professor Yale Cohen. In her research, Brianna worked with Dr. Cohen in the Auditory Research Laboratory, examining the modeling of multisensory perceptual decision making and specifically seeking to better understand the mechanisms underlying the relationship between sensory information and perception.

Noordergraaf
Alejandro Villasmil

Alejandro Villasmil, who is a senior bioengineering major working in Professor Beth Winkelstein’s lab, used his Noordergraaf’s grant to study chronic pain in neck injury. To better understand this problem, Alejandro helped to model injury to the facet capsular ligament — one of the structures in the neck — by examining how painful and nonpainful stimuli affected the axonal structure. He found using fluorescence technology that uniaxial tension resulted in axonal changes resulting in pain.

Noordergraaf
Jacqueline Valeri

Finally, Jacqueline Valeri is a senior bioengineering major doing research in the lab of Professor Jennifer Phillips-Cremins. In Professor Cremins’s lab, Jackie undertook research on stem cells, specifically examining the question of whether light could be used to control and modulate the fate of these cells — a field called optogenetics. She helped to design two light boxes to stimulate the interaction between two proteins as a first step toward ultimately attempting to control pluripotent stem cells using light, specifically determining what cell lines these stem cells ultimately produce.

We congratulate our Noordergraaf award winners!

Sperry Wins BMES Design and Research Award

Sperry
Megan Sperry

Megan Sperry, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Bioengineering, is a recipient of a Student Design and Research Award from the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES). Megan works in the Spine Pain Research Lab of Beth Winkelstein, Ph.D., professor of Bioengineering and Vice Provost for Education at Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, as well as with Eric Granquist, DMD, MD, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon at Penn Dental Medicine.

With Drs. Winkelstein and Granquist, Megan studies temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain and osteoarthritis, the latter of which can develop as a long-term consequence of untreated TMJ dysfunction.  There’s currently no way to determine which patients will progress to TMJ osteoarthritis, so Megan’s extended abstract, which was submitted to the BMES competition, detailed a study using 18F-EF5 PET, an imaging modality used mainly in oncology. Hypothesizing that hypoxia, or low oxygen, was a key factor in the development of TMJ osteoarthritis, Megan studied the relationship between hypoxia and persistent TMJ pain and found that hypoxia preceded reorganization of the cartilage of the TMJ, part of the process culminating in TMJ osteoarthritis (see image below).

Sperry
An example of 18F-EF5-PET imaging of the TMJ.

“This project has been both fun and challenging because it brings together concepts and techniques from multiple fields, including orthopedics, neuroscience, and, with the use of 18F-EF5, radiation oncology,” Megan said. “I’m excited to have the opportunity to share my work at the BMES Annual Meeting and receive feedback as we continue to move the project forward.”

Each year, BMES awards up to five graduate students the Student Design and Research Award from dozens of submissions. Congratulations to Megan for this elite recognition of her research!

Dan Huh Receives $1M CRI Grant to Study Cancer

CRI huh
Dan Huh, Ph.D.

Dan Huh, Wilf Family Term Assistant Professor in the Penn Department of Bioengineering, has received the Cancer Research Institute (CRI) Technology Impact Award. Dr. Huh, whose research attempts to model cancer-immune cell interactions in microphysiological systems, will receive $1 million over the next three years for direct costs of his research.

“This award will provide us with an exciting opportunity to explore the potential of our organ-on-a-chip technology for the study of cancer immunotherapy, which is one of the most promising yet poorly understood clinical strategies for cancer treatment,” Dr. Huh said. “I am honored to receive this major award and excited with the prospect of contributing to this rapidly emerging area of medicine using innovative bioengineering technologies.”

Join us in congratulating Dr. Huh!

SockRocker Aims to Rehab Sprained Ankles

Ankle sprains are among the most common injuries suffered. Not only do 23,000 sprains occur annually, but nearly two-thirds of people with sprained ankles don’t finish their rehabilitation programs, and more than one-third will sprain the same ankle again. A senior design project team that addressed this topic was one of this year’s three winners: the SockRocker

SockRocker
The SockRocker

Among the problems with the currently available rehab technologies are issues of effectiveness, lack of personalization, and poor accessibility. The team — which consisted of Aras Fanuscu, Andrea Frank, David Hernandez, and Angel Xiao — sought to address these issues, coming up with the SockRocker (right). The device, which cost approximately $350 to produce, combines targeted muscle therapy, individualized physician input, and a universal design. The patient places his/her foot into the SockRocker and is then able to move the ankle 30° in either direction, thus strengthening the injured joint. In a pilot study, the design team found that the SockRocker rated 4.8 out of 5 for comfort. In addition, the device is fully portable and can run on 24-volt battery for one month.

Going forward, the team hopes that the SockRocker can be tested clinically to determine its long-term efficacy. According to Timothy Dillingham, MD, MS, chair of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in the Perelman School of Medicine, the device has potential to close “an unfortunate gap in our clinical rehabilitation and management” of patients with ankle sprains.

Margulies Among Recipients of Award to Study Concussions

How can physicians and engineers help design athletic equipment and diagnostic tools to better protect teenaged athletes from concussions? A unique group of researchers with neuroscience, bioengineering and clinical expertise are teaming up to translate preclinical research and human studies into better diagnostic tools for the clinic and the sidelines as well as creating the foundation for better headgear and other protective equipment.

concussions margulies
Susan Margulies, PhD

The study will be led by three coinvestigators: Susan Margulies, the Robert D. Bent Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering and Applied Science (right); Kristy Arbogast, co-scientific director of the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; and Christina Master, a primary care sports medicine specialist and concussion researcher at CHOP. They will use a new $4.5 million award from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

The five-year project focuses specifically on developing a suite of quantitative assessment tools to enhance accuracy of sports-related concussion diagnoses, with a focus on objective metrics of activity, balance, neurosensory processing, including eye tracking, and measures of cerebral blood flow. These could also provide prognoses of the time-to-recovery and safe return-to-play for youth athletes. Researchers will examine such factors such as repeated exposures and direction of head motion. In addition, they will also look at sex-specific data to see how prevention and diagnosis strategies need to be tailored for males and females.

The multidisciplinary research team believes this study will result in post-concussion metrics that can provide objective benchmarks for diagnosis, a preliminary understanding of the effect of sub-concussive hits, the magnitude and direction of head motion and sex on symptom time course, as well as markers in the bloodstream that relate to functional outcomes.

Knowing the biomechanical exposure and injury thresholds experienced by different player positions can help sports organizations tailor prevention strategies and companies to create protective equipment design for specific sports and even specific positions.

The study will enroll research participants from The Shipley School, a co-ed independent school in suburban Philadelphias, and from CHOP’s Concussion Care for Kids: Minds Matter program which annually sees more than 2,500 patients with concussion in the Greater Delaware Valley region.

The study is funded by the National Institutes of Health.

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.

Phytoplankton Research Earns Award

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Phytoplankton

The Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, announced last week that one of its faculty members, Andrew Barton, PhD, received a Simons Foundation Early Career Award to study phytoplankton — a type of algae that requires sunlight to survive and that serves as the basis for much of the marine food chain.

Dr. Barton’s research will use the Scripps Plankton Camera System, which provides real-time photographic images to monitor these phytoplankton. While not exactly offering the excitement or cuteness factor of the Golden Retriever Puppy Cam, this sort of technology is incredibly important to better understanding certain aspects of marine biology.

“This is an interesting project that brings cutting edge image-processing technology to the natural habitat to study complex organismal dynamics in the real-world setting,” says Brian Chow, PhD, assistant professor of bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania. “Establishing the critical interplay between an organism’s form and function and the forces of its local and global environments are important problems in physical biology in general. Diatoms have long been studied by bioengineers interested in self-assembly, programmed assembly, biomineralization, and biomimicry, so the work may lead to some novel insights for our field.”

Congratulations to Dr. Barton on receiving this prestigious award.

Students Receive Awards for the Year

students receiving awards
Students in the BE Department have received several awards

Every year the Penn Bioengineering Department presents several awards to students. In addition to the Senior Design Awards, which will be featured over the course of the month, students were awarded for their service, originality, leadership, and scholarship.

The Hugo Otto Wolf Memorial Prize, endowed more than a century ago by the Philadelphia architect Otto Wolf, in memory of his son, was given to Margaret Nolan and Ingrid Lan. The Herman P. Schwan Award, named for a former faculty member in Bioengineering, was given to Elizabeth Kobe and Lucy Chai.

The Albert Giandomenico Award, presented to four students who “reflect several traits that include teamwork, leadership, creativity, and knowledge applied to discovery-based learning in the laboratory,” was given to Justin Averback, Jake Budlow, Justin Morena, and Young Shin.

In addition, Sushmitha Yarrabothula received the Bioengineering Student Leadership Award and four students — Hayley Williamson, Amey Vrudhula, Jane Shmushkis, and Ikshita Singh, won the Penn Engineering Exceptional Service Award.

Finally, the Biomedical Applied Science Senior Project Award, presented annually to the students who have “best demonstrated originality and creativity in the integration of knowledge,” was awarded to Derek Yee and Andrea Simi.

“These awards recognize many aspects of our students: their high academic achievement,  exceptional collaborative spirit, and leadership abilities,” said BE department chair David Meaney. “However, these traits are not limited to the only these students. Every single one of our undergraduates at Penn pushes themselves well beyond the classroom and into the community to make a unique difference.”

Dan Huh Receives Ryan Medal

Ryan Medical recipient Dan Huh
Professor Dan Huh

A professor in the Penn Department of Bioengineering, Dongeun (Dan) Huh, PhD, has been awarded the John J. Ryan Medal, which is given annually by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI).

Every year this honor recognizes a scientist who has made major contributions to developing innovative biomedical technologies with the potential to have a broad impact on the life sciences. Dr. Huh, who is Wilf Family Term Endowed Chair in the BE Department, received the medal at an RCSI Research Retreat on March 9 on the RCSI campus in Dublin, and he delivered the John J. Ryan Distinguished Lecture.

“As an engineer, I am honored to have been selected by a group of biologists and clinicians for this prestigious award that recognizes significant contributions to biomedical research,” Professor Huh said. “It is truly rewarding and encouraging to experience strong support and enthusiasm for our pursuit of innovative biomedical technologies.”

Penn BE Lab Associate Wins Goldwater Scholarship

Michael Duong
Michael Duong

One of two Penn students recently awarded Barry Goldwater Scholarships is sophomore Michael Tran Duong, who works in the lab of Bioengineering Department faculty member Jennifer Phillips-Cremins.

“It is a wonderful honor for Michael to receive this extremely competitive award,” Professor Phillips-Cremins said. We are fortunate that Michael landed in a lab within Bioengineering at Penn, as this award indicates he has a very bright future well beyond Penn.”

Barry Goldwater
Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ)

Michael said, “I feel honored to receive this award and really appreciate the mentorship of Dr. Phillips-Cremins and her 3D Genome Folding and Neurobiology lab. Conducting research with Dr. Cremins as a high school student and undergraduate and receiving this award have strengthened my resolve to help patients with brain disease as a physician-scientist.”

The Goldwater Scholarship, named for the late U.S. Senator and Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater is awarded annually to 240 students who intend to pursue careers in math or science research. The amount of the award is as much as $7,500.