Karen Xu Honored with P.E.O. Scholar Award

Karen Xu, a 2024 doctoral graduate in Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania, is one of 100 doctoral students in the U. S. and Canada selected to receive a $25,000 Scholar Award from the P.E.O. Sisterhood. 

The P.E.O. Scholar Awards were established in 1991 to provide substantial merit-based awards for women of the United States and Canada who are pursuing a doctoral-level degree at an accredited college or university.  Scholar Awards recipients are a select group of women chosen for their high level of academic achievement and their potential for having a positive impact on society.

The P.E.O., founded January 21, 1869, at Iowa Wesleyan College, Mount Pleasant, Iowa, is a philanthropic educational organization dedicated to supporting higher education for women.  There are approximately 6,000 local chapters in the United States and Canada with nearly a quarter of a million active members.

Xu graduated summa cum laude with a B.S.E. in Biomedical Engineering from Duke University in 2018, after which she joined the M.D.-Ph.D. program at the University of Pennsylvania. She completed her Ph.D. in Bioengineering in spring 2024, funded by an NIH NRSA F30 fellowship, and is set to earn her M.D. in 2026. Under the mentorship of Jason Burdick, Bowman Endowed Professor in Chemical and Biological Engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder and Adjunct Professor in Bioengineering in Penn Engineering, and Robert Mauck, Mary Black Ralston Professor in Orthopaedic Surgery in the Perelman School of Medicine and in Bioengineering in Penn Engineering, her doctoral research has focused on engineering disease models to facilitate therapeutic discoveries. Her doctoral thesis involved the fabrication of hydrogels as tissue mimics to investigate how extracellular environments affect cell behaviors, thereby informing repair of dense connective tissues.

Beyond her research, Xu has taught with the Educational Pipeline Program at the Netter Center and the Perelman School of Medicine, where she hopes to inspire and support the next generation of healthcare workers and scientists.

Penn Bioengineering Junior Named 2024 Udall Scholar

by Louisa Shepard

Third-year undergraduate Joey Wu (Image: Courtesy of the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships)

The University of Pennsylvania’s Joey Wu, a third-year student studying bioengineering and environmental science in the Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research (VIPER) program, has been named a 2024 Udall Scholar by the Udall Foundation. VIPER is a dual-degree program in the School of Engineering and Applied Science and School of Arts & Sciences.

Wu is among 55second-year and third-year students selected from 406 candidates nominated by 192colleges and universities nationwide. Scholars are recognized for leadership, public service, and commitment to issues related to the environment or to Native American nations. Each scholar will be awarded as much as $7,000.

A Taiwanese-American undergraduate scientist from Woodbury, Minnesota, Wu is the founder and international director of Waterroots, a nonprofit environmental education project that uses climate storytelling to combat water insecurity in more than 20 countries. Wu is a researcher in Penn Engineering’s McBride Lab, where he works as a plant specialist for a project that promotes environmental stability and sustainable agriculture. He is the deputy director of research for the nonprofit Climate Cardinals, a member of Penn’s Student Advisory Group for the Environment, and the North America representative for the Tunza Eco-Generation Ambassador program. Wu is a Clinton Global Initiative Scholar, a Duke Interfaith Climate Fellow, an IEEE Bio-X Scholar, a 2023 Millennium Fellow, and a 2024 UN ECOSOC Youth Delegate. In addition, he is a resident advisor in Penn’s Stouffer College House, as well as a Penn Engineering and a VIPER student ambassador.

Wu is the 10th student from Penn to be named a Udall Scholar since Congress established the foundation in 1992 to honor Morris and Stewart Udall for their impact on the nation’s environment, public lands, and natural resources and for their support of the rights and self-governance of American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Wu applied to the Udall Scholarship with the support of Penn’s Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships.

This story was originally posted in Penn Today.

Arjun Raj Explores Whether Cells Can Learn in 2024 Heilmeier Lecture

Arjun Raj (center) accepts the Heilmeier Award, with Bioengineering Department Chair Ravi Radhakrishnan (left) and Dean Vijay Kumar (right).

Arjun Raj, Professor in Bioengineering at Penn Engineering and in Genetics at the Perelman School of Medicine, has been honored with the 2023-24 George H. Heilmeier Faculty Award for Excellence for “pioneering the development and application of single-cell, cancer-fighting technologies.”

The George H. Heilmeier Faculty Award for Excellence in Research was “established by Penn Engineering for the purpose of recognizing excellence in scholarly activities of the faculty. Named in honor of George H. Heilmeier, it recognizes his extraordinary research career, his leadership in technical innovation and public service, and his loyal and steadfast support of Penn Engineering.”

Dr. Raj delivered his lecture, entitled “Can a Cell Learn?” on April 8, 2024. In this talk, Raj explores whether it is possible for cells to adapt to their environment by learning, thereby overcoming their genetic destiny.

Learn more about, this award, Dr. Raj and his research here. View the lecture recording below.

The Raj Lab for Systems Biology is interested in building a quantitative understanding of cellular function. They develop new tools for quantifying biological processes based on imaging and sequencing and then use those techniques to help us answer questions in molecular and cellular biology. Read more stories featuring Raj in the BE Blog.

Honoring a Life Scientist’s Lifesaving Science

by Nathi Magubane

Carl June (center) is awarded the 2024 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences. His innovative contributions to CAR T cell therapy have transformed the approach to treating certain cancers. His co-recipient is Michel Sadelain of Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital (right). Flanking them on the stage are (from left to right) Olivia Wilde, Camille Leahy, and Regina King. (Image: Courtesy of Breakthrough Prize)

In his acceptance speech for the 2024 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, Carl June, a pioneer in cancer treatment, highlighted the people most affected by his groundbreaking work developing CAR T cell immunotherapy: the patients. 

When all other cancer treatments failed them, said June, “instead of giving up, they pushed forward and volunteered for an unproven experimental new treatment. It’s because of these brave volunteers like our first patients Doug Olson, Bob Levis, and Emily Whitehead, that we have now treated over 34,000 cancer patients.” 

June, the Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy in Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine and director of the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies (CCI) at Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center, was honored at the 10th Breakthrough Prize awards ceremony for the development of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell immunotherapy. This is a cancer treatment approach in which each patient’s T cells are modified to target and kill their cancer cells.

Held on Saturday, April 13, and nicknamed the “Oscars of Science,” world-renowned researchers exchanged lab coats for tuxedos at the star-studded Breakthrough Prize awards ceremony hosted by Emmy Award-winning actor and comedian James Corden. Actors Olivia Wilde and Regina King handed June and his co-winner, Michel Sadelain of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the awards.

“We’re so grateful to have some recognition for a lot of years of work on cancer research,” said June at the event. “I think the best thing is that people learn about this, that this came out of research right here in the country. Now there’s been 34,000 people treated and it just started 10 years ago so people need to understand the value of research to make these new breakthrough therapies.” 

Read the full story in Penn Today.

Carl June is a member of the Penn Bioengineering Graduate Group. Read more stories featuring June in the BE Blog.

Kyle Vining Earns Hartwell Foundation Award to Study Childhood Leukemia

Kyle Vining, D.D.S., Ph.D.

Kyle Vining, Assistant Professor in Preventive and Restorative Sciences in Penn Dental Medicine and in Materials Science and Engineering in Penn Engineering, has received an Individual Biomedical Research Award from The Hartwell Foundation to explore a novel approach to improving treatment for childhood leukemia. Vining is among ten researchers representing eight institutions selected as a 2023 Hartwell Foundation awardee. Vining is also a member of the Penn Bioengineering Graduate Group.

“The proposed studies lay the foundation to make a major scientific impact in the childhood leukemia field and ultimately improve outcomes for children,” says Vining.

Read the full story at Penn Dental Medicine.

Read more stories featuring Vining in the BE Blog.

2024 Penn Bioengineering Senior Design Projects Advance to Interdepartmental Competition

On April 17, 2024, the Department of Bioengineering held its annual Bioengineering (BE) Senior Design Presentations in the Singh Center for Nanotechnology, followed by a Design Expo in the George H. Stephenson Foundation Educational Laboratory & Bio-MakerSpace.

A panel of expert and alumni judges chose 3 teams to advance to the School-wide, interdepartmental competition, to be held on May 3, 2024.

Team ADONA: Jude Barakat, Allison Elliott, Daniel Ghaderi, Aditi Ghalsasi, Taehwan Kim

ADONA (A Device for the Assisted Detection of Neonatal Asphyxia)

Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) is a condition that arises from inadequate oxygen delivery or blood flow to the brain around the time of birth, resulting in long-term neurological damage. This birth complication is responsible for up to 23% of neonatal deaths worldwide. While effective treatments exist, current diagnostic methods require specialized neurologists to analyze an infant’s electroencephalography (EEG) signal, requiring significant time and labor. In areas where such resources and specialized training are even scarcer, the challenges are even more pronounced, leading to delayed or lack of treatment, and poorer patient outcomes. The Assisted Detection of Neonatal Asphyxia (ADONA) device is a non-invasive screening tool that streamlines the detection of HIE. ADONA is an EEG helmet that collects, wirelessly transmits, and automatically classifies EEG data using a proprietary machine learning algorithm in under two minutes. Our device is low-cost, automated, user-friendly, and maintains the accuracy and reliability of a trained neurologist. Our classification algorithm was trained using 1100 hours of annotated clinical data and achieved >85% specificity and >90% sensitivity on an independent 200 hour dataset. Our device is now produced in Agilus 30, a flexible and tear resistant material, that reduces form factor and ensures regulatory compliance. For our final prototype, we hope to improve electrode contact and integrate software with clinical requirements. Our hope is that ADONA will turn the promise of a safer birth into a reality, ensuring instant peace of mind and equitable access to healthcare, for every child and their families.

Team Epilog: Rohan Chhaya, Carly Flynn, Elena Grajales, Priya Shah, Dori Xu

Epilog

To address the critical need for effective, at-home seizure monitoring in pediatric neurology, particularly for Status Epilepticus (SE), our team developed Epilog: a rapid-application electroencephalography (EEG) headband. SE is a medical emergency characterized by prolonged or successive seizures and often presents with symptoms too subtle to notice or easily misinterpreted as post-convulsive fatigue. This leads to delayed treatment and increased risks of neurological damage and high mortality. Current seizure detection technologies are primarily based on motion or full-head EEG, rendering them ineffective at detecting SE and impractical for at-home use in emergency scenarios, respectively. Our device is designed to be applied rapidly during the comedown of a convulsive seizure, collect EEG data, and feed it into our custom machine learning algorithm. The algorithm processes this data in real-time and alerts caregivers if the child remains in SE, thereby facilitating immediate medical decision-making. Currently, Epilog maintains a specificity of 0.88 and sensitivity of 0.95, delivering decisions within 15 seconds post-seizure. We have demonstrated clean EEG signal acquisition from eight standard electrode placements and bluetooth data transmission from eight channels with minimal delay. Our headband incorporates all necessary electrodes and adjustable positioning of the electrodes for different head sizes. Our unique gel case facilitates rapid electrode gelation in less than 10 seconds. Our most immediate goals are validating our fully integrated device and improving features that allow for robust, long-term use of Epilog. Epilog promises not just data, but peace of mind, and empowering caregivers to make informed life-saving decisions.

Team NG-LOOP: Katherine Han, Jeffrey Huang, Dahin Song, Stephanie Yoon

NG-LOOP

Nasogastric (NG) tube dislodgement occurs when the feeding tube tip becomes significantly displaced from its intended position in the stomach, causing fatal consequences such as aspiration pneumonia. Compared to the 50% dislodgement rate in the general patient population, infant patients are particularly affected ( >60%) due to their miniature anatomy and tendency to unknowingly tug on uncomfortable tubes. Our solution, the Nasogastric Lightweight Observation and Oversight Product (NG-LOOP) provides comprehensive protection from NG tube dislodgement. Physical stabilization is combined with sensor feedback to detect and manage downstream complications of tube dislodgement. The lightweight external bridle, printed with biocompatible Accura 25 and coated with hydrocolloid dressing for comfort and grip, can prevent dislodgement 100% of the time given a tonic force of 200g. The sensor feedback system uses a DRV5055 linear hall effect sensor with a preset difference threshold, coupled with an SMS alert and smart plug inactivation of the feeding pump. A sensitivity of 90% and specificity of 100% in dislodgement detection was achieved under various conditions, with all feedback mechanisms being initiated in response to 100% of threshold triggers. Future steps involve integration with hospital-grade feeding pumps, improving the user interface, and incorporating more sizes for diverse age inclusivity.

Photos courtesy of Afraah Shamim, Coordinator of Educational Laboratories in the Penn BE Labs. View more photos on the Penn BE Labs Instagram.

Senior Design (BE 4950 & 4960) is a two-semester capstone course taught by David Meaney, Solomon R. Pollack Professor in Bioengineering and Senior Associate Dean of Penn Engineering, Erin Berlew, Research Scientist in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Lecturer in Bioengineering, and Dayo Adewole, Postdoctoral Fellow of Otorhinolaryngology (Head and Neck Surgery) in the Perelman School of Medicine. Read more stories featuring Senior Design in the BE Blog.

2024 Undergraduate Awards for Bioengineering Students

Georgia Georgostathi accepts the Wolf-Hallac Award from Dean Vijay Kumar.

Each spring, awards are given to undergraduate students in the School of Engineering and Applied Science in recognition of outstanding scholarly achievements and service to the School and University community. The 2024 award recipients were recognized in a ceremony held on Wednesday, March 27, 2024 at the Penn Museum.

Read the full list of Bioengineering undergraduate award winners below.

The Wolf-Hallac Award: Georgia Georgostathi. This award was established in October 2000 to recognize the graduating female senior from across Penn Engineering’s departments who is seen as a role model, has achieved a high GPA (in the top 10% of their class), and who has demonstrated a commitment to school and/or community.

Alexandra Dumas accepts the Maddie Magee Award for Undergraduate Excellence.

The Maddie Magee Award for Undergraduate Excellence: Alexandra Dumas. This award is given to a Penn Engineering senior who best exemplifies the energy, enthusiasm, and excellence of Penn Engineering alumna Madison “Maddie” N. Magee (MEAM BS ’21, BE MS ’21).

The Hugo Otto Wolf Memorial Prize: Jude Barakat & Dori Xu. This prize is awarded to one or more members of each department’s senior class, distinguishing students who meet with great approval of the professors at large through “thoroughness and originality” in their work.

The Herman P. Schwan Award: Angela Song. This department award honors a graduating senior who demonstrates the “highest standards of scholarship and academic achievement.”

Penn Engineering Exceptional Service Awards recognize students for their outstanding service to the University and their larger communities: Srish Chenna, Daniel Ghaderi, Taehwan Kim and Daphne Nie.

Chaitanya Karimanasseri accepts the Bioengineering Student Leadership Award.

The Bioengineering Student Leadership Award: Chaitanya Karimanasseri. This award is given annually to a student in Bioengineering who has demonstrated, through a combination of academic performance, service, leadership, and personal qualities, that they will be a credit to the Department, the School, and the University.

Additionally, the Bioengineering Department  also presents a single lab group with the Albert Giandomenico Award which reflects their “teamwork, leadership, creativity, and knowledge applied to discovery-based learning in the laboratory.” This year’s group consists of Alexandra Dumas, Georgia Georgostathi, Daphne Nie and Angela Song.

A full list of Penn Engineering award descriptions and recipients can be found here.

BE award winners enjoy the ceremony reception in the Penn Museum.

2023 PIP-Winning Team Sonura: Where Are They Now?

Members of Team Sonura: Tifara Boyce, Gabriela Cano, Gabriella Daltoso, Sophie Ishiwari, & Caroline Magro (credit: Penn BE Labs)

In April 2023, three President’s Prize-winning teams were selected from an application pool of 76 to develop post-graduation projects that make a positive, lasting difference in the world. Each project received $100,000 and a $50,000 living stipend per team member.

The winning projects include Sonura, the winner of the President’s Innovation Prize (PIP), who are working to improve infant development by reducing harsh noise exposure in neonatal intensive care units. To accomplish this, they’ve developed a noise-shielding beanie that can also relay audio messages from parents.

Sonura, a bioengineering quintet, developed a beanie that shields newborns from the harsh noise environments present in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs)—a known threat to infant wellbeing—and also supports cognitive development by relaying audio messages from their parents.

Since graduating from the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the team of Tifara Boyce, Gabriela Cano, Gabriella Daltoso, Sophie Ishiwari, and Caroline Magro, has collaborated with more than 50 NICU teams nationwide. They have been helped by the Intensive Care Nursery (ICN) at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP), which shares Sonura’s goal of reducing NICU noise. “Infant development is at the center of all activities within the HUP ICN,” note Daltoso and Ishiwari. “Even at the most granular level, like how each trash can has a sign urging you to shut it quietly, commitment to care is evident, a core tenet we strive to embody as we continue to grow.” 

An initial challenge for the team was the inability to access the NICU, crucial for understanding how the beanie integrates with existing workflows. Collaboration with the HUP clinical team was key, as feedback from a range of NICU professionals has helped them refine their prototype.

In the past year, the team has participated in the University of Toronto’s Creative Destruction Lab and the Venture Initiation Program at Penn’s Venture Lab, and received funding from the Pennsylvania Pediatric Device Consortium. “These experiences have greatly expanded our perspective,” Cano says.

With regular communication with mentors from Penn Engineering and physicians from HUP, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and other institutes, Sonura is looking ahead as they approach the milestone of completing the FDA’s regulatory clearance process within the year. They will begin piloting their beanie with the backing of NICU teams, further contributing to neonatal care.

Read the full story and watch a video about Sonura’s progress in Penn Today.

Read more stories featuring Sonura in the BE Blog.

Penn Bioengineering Student Kaitlin Mrksich Named 2024 Goldwater Scholar

by Louisa Shepard

Four University of Pennsylvania undergraduates have received 2024 Goldwater Scholarships, awarded to second- or third-year students planning research careers in mathematics, the natural sciences, or engineering.

Penn’s 2024 Goldwater Scholars are third-years Hayle Kim, Eric Myzelev, and Eric Tao in the College of Arts and Sciences, and Kaitlin Mrksich in the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

They are among the 438 students named 2024 Goldwater Scholars from 1,353 undergraduates students nominated by 446 academic institutions in the United States, according to the Barry Goldwater Scholarship & Excellence in Education Foundation. Each scholarship provides as much as $7,500 each year for as many as two years of undergraduate study.

The students applied for the Goldwater Scholarship with assistance from Penn’s Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships. Penn has had 63 Goldwater Scholars named since Congress established the scholarship in 1986 to honor U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater.

Mrksich, from Hinsdale, Illinois, is majoring in bioengineering. She is interested in developing drug delivery systems that can serve as novel therapeutics for a variety of diseases. Mrksich works in the lab of Michael J. Mitchell where she investigates the ionizable lipid component of lipid nanoparticles for mRNA delivery. At Penn, Mrksich is the president of the Biomedical Engineering Society, where she plans community building and professional development events for bioengineering majors. She is a member of the Kite and Key Society, where she organizes virtual programming to introduce prospective students to Penn. She is a member of Tau Beta Pi engineering honor society, and the Sigma Kappa sorority. She also teaches chemistry to high schoolers as a volunteer in the West Philadelphia Tutoring Project through the Civic House. After graduating, Mrksich plans to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. in bioengineering.

Read the full announcement in Penn Today.

Mrksich was awarded a Student Award for Outstanding Research (Undergraduate) by the Society for Biomaterials earlier this year. Read the story in the BE Blog.

Jenny Jiang Wins CZI Grant to Investigate the Potential Trigger for Neurodegenerative Diseases

Jenny Jiang, Ph.D.

TDP-43 may be one of the most dangerous proteins in the human body, implicated in neurodegenerative conditions like ALS and Alzheimer’s disease. But the protein remains mysterious: how TDP-43 interacts with the immune system, for instance, is still unclear. 

Now, Ning Jenny Jiang, J. Peter and Geri Skirkanich Associate Professor of Innovation in Bioengineering, has been selected for the Collaborative Pairs Pilot Project Awards, sponsored by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), to investigate the relationship between TDP-43 and the immune system. 

Launched in 2018, the Collaborative Pairs Pilot Project Awards support pairs of investigators to explore “innovative, interdisciplinary approaches to address critical challenges in the fields of neurodegenerative disease and fundamental neuroscience.” Professor Jiang will partner with Pietro Fratta, MRC Senior Clinical Fellow and MNDA Lady Edith Wolfson Fellow at the University College London Queen Square Institute of Neurology.

The TDP-43 protein is associated with neurodegenerative diseases affecting the central nervous system, including ALS and Alzehimer’s disease. While the loss of neurons and muscle degeneration cause the progressive symptoms, the diseases themselves may be a previously unidentified trigger for abnormal immune system activity. 

One possible link is the intracellular mislocalization of TDP-43 (known as TDP-43 proteinopathy), when the protein winds up in the wrong location, which the Jiang and Fratta Labs will investigate. Successfully proving this link could result in potentially game-changing new therapies for these neurodegenerative diseases. 

The Jiang Lab at Penn Engineering specializes in systems immunology, using high-throughput sequencing and single-cell and quantitative analysis to understand how the immune system develops and ages, as well as the molecular signatures of immune related diseases. Jiang joined Penn Bioengineering in 2021. 

Since arriving on campus, Jiang has teamed with the recently formed Penn Anti-Cancer Engineering Center (PACE), which seeks to understand the forces that determine how cancer grows and spreads, and Engineers in the Center for Precision Engineering (CPE4H), which focuses on innovations in diagnostics and delivery in the development of customizable biomaterials and implantable devices for individualized care. 

Jiang was elected a member of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE) College of Fellows in 2021, and has previously won multiple prestigious awards including the NSF CAREER, a Cancer Research Institute Lloyd J. Old STAR Award, and a CZI Neurodegeneration Challenge Network Ben Barres Early Career Acceleration Award.

Jiang is a leader in high-throughput and high-dimensional analysis of T cells, a type of white blood cell crucial to the functioning of a healthy immune system. A recent study in Nature Immunology described the Jiang Lab’s TetTCR-SeqHD technology, the first approach to provide a multifaceted analysis of antigen-specific T cells in a high-throughput manner.

The CZI Collaborative Pairs Pilot Project Awards will provide $200,000 of funding over 18 months with a chance to advance to the second phase of $3.2 million in funding over a four-year period. 

Read the full list of grantees on the CZI’s Neurodegeneration Challenge Network (NDCN) Projects website here.