Safe and Sound: Sonura Supports Newborn Development by Sequestering Disruptive Noise

by Nathi Magubane

Recipients of the 2023 President’s Innovation Prize, team Sonura, five bioengineering graduates from the School of Engineering and Applied Science, have created a device that filters out disruptive environmental noises for infants in neonatal intensive care units. Their beanie offers protection and fosters parental connection to newborns while also supporting their development.

Machines beeping and whirring in a rhythmic chorus, the droning hum of medical equipment, and the bustles of busy health care providers are the familiar sounds of an extended stay at a hospital. This cacophony can create a sense of urgency for medical professionals as they move about with focused determination, closely monitoring their patients, but for infants in neonatal intensive care units (NICU) this constant noise can be overwhelming and developmentally detrimental.

Enter Tifara Boyce, from New York City; Gabriela Cano, from Lawrenceville, New Jersey; Gabriella Daltoso, from Boise, Idaho; Sophie Ishiwari, from Chicago, and Caroline Magro, from Alexandria, Virginia, bioengineering graduates from the School of Engineering and Applied Science, who have created the Sonura Beanie. Their device filters out harmful noises for NICU infants while supporting cognitive and socioemotional development by allowing parents to send voice messages to their newborns.

The Sonura team members are recipients of the 2023 President’s Innovation Prize, which includes an award of $100,000 and an additional $50,000 living stipend per team member. The recent graduates will spend the year developing their product.

“The Penn engineers behind Sonura are determined to make a difference in the world,” says President Liz Magill. “They identified a substantial medical challenge that affects many parents and their newborn children. With the guidance of their mentors, they are taking key steps to address it and in doing so are improving the developmental prospects for children in the NICU. I am proud the University is able to support their important work.”

The Sonura Beanie’s creation began in the Stephenson Foundation Educational Laboratory and Bio-MakerSpace as a part of the Bioengineering Senior Design class project.

Prototype of the Sonura Beanie. (Image: Courtesy of the Sonura team)

She was particularly struck by the noisiness of the environment and considered the neurodevelopmental outcomes that may arise following long-term exposure to the harsh sounds at a critical developmental stage for infants. This concern prompted Magro to consult her team about potential solutions.

“I was really eager to tackle this problem because it bears some personal significance to me,” says Cano, who works on the device’s mobile application. “My sister was a NICU baby who was two months premature, so, when Caroline and I started talking about the issues a disruptive environment could cause, it seemed like the pieces of a puzzle started to come together.”

Read the full story in Penn Today.

Penn Medicine and Independence Blue Cross Eliminate Preapprovals for Imaging Tests

Brian Litt, MD

Brian Litt, Professor in Bioengineering in Penn Engineering and in Neurology in the Perelman School of Medicine, spoke to Neurology Today about the advances in technology for detecting and forecasting seizures.

The Litt Lab for Translational Neuroengineering translates neuroengineering research directly into patient care, focusing on epilepsy and a variety of research initiatives and clinical applications.

“Dr. Litt’s group is working with one of a number of startups developing ‘dry’ electrode headsets for home EEG monitoring. ‘They are still experimental, but they’re getting better, and I’m really optimistic about the possibilities there.'”

Read “How Detecting, Identifying and Forecasting Seizures Has Evolved” in Neurology Today.

Read more stories featuring Litt in the BE Blog.

2023 Senior Design Project Competition Winners Announced

Each year, Penn Engineering’s seniors present their Senior Design projects, a year-long effort that challenges them to test and develop solutions to real-world problems, to their individual departments. The top three projects from each department go on to compete in the annual Senior Design Competition, sponsored by the Engineering Alumni Society, which involves pitching projects to a panel of judges who evaluate their potential in the market.

We are proud that two of the four awards went to Penn Bioengineering teams!

This year’s panel included over forty judges, and each winning team received a $2,000 prize, generously sponsored by Penn Engineering alumnus Kerry Wisnosky.

Congratulations to all of the 2023 participants and winners!

Technology & Innovation Award

This award recognized the team whose project represents the highest and best use of technology and innovation to leverage engineering principles.

Team BAMBI poses with Dean Vijay Kumar.

Winner: Team BAMBI
Department: Bioengineering
Team Members: Ria Dawar, Pallavi Jonnalagadda, Jessica Ling, Grace Qian
Mentor: Erin Anderson
Instructors: Erin Berlew, Sevile Mannickarottu, and David Meaney
Abstract: BAMBI (Biointelligent Apnea Monitor for Bradycardia-Prone Infants) is a tripartite system that leverages machine learning and automated mechanical stimulation to detect and treat apnea of prematurity in the NICU.

Judges’ Choice Award

Team StablEyes poses with Dean Vijay Kumar.This award recognizes the group whose all-around presentation captures the best of the senior design program’s different facets:  ideation, scope of project, team problem-solving, execution and presentation.

Winner: Team StablEyes
Department: Bioengineering
Team Members: Ella Atsavapranee, Jake Becker, Ruoming Fan, Savan Patel
Mentor: Erin Anderson, Dr. Drew Scoles and Dr. Tomas Aleman (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Penn Medicine)
Instructors: Erin Berlew, Sevile Mannickarottu, and David Meaney
Abstract: StablEyes consists of a stabilization mount that provides fine, motorized control of the handheld OCT to improve ease of use for physicians and machine learning-based software to aid in diagnosis from retinal images.

Read the full list of SEAS Senior Design Competition Award winners in Penn Engineering Today.

Read more about all the Class of 2023 Penn Bioengineering Senior Design Teams in the Penn BE Labs website.

Penn Bioengineering Senior Design Expo Featured in Technical.ly Philly

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

Technical.ly Philly journalist Sarah Huffman recently paid another visit to Penn Bioengineering’s George H. Stephenson Foundation Educational Laboratory & Bio-MakerSpace, this time for the 2023 Senior Design Expo. Following the annual Senior Design presentations held in the Singh Center for Nanotechnology, in which graduating fourth-year undergraduates in Bioengineering presented their final capstone projects, the Expo offered an opportunity for the teams to do live demonstrations (or demos) for the department’s internal competition judges and the wider BE community.

“In the course of the day, students presented the challenge they were aiming to solve and the technical details of their solution. After, demonstrations sought to find if the devices really worked.

‘[It’s] looking at the device as a whole, because quite frankly, you can say whatever you want at a presentation, does it really work,’ said [BE Labs Director Sevile] Mannickarottu. ‘You can make it look pretty, “but does it work?” is the big question.'”

Read “At Penn’s Senior Design Expo, students aimed to solve healthcare issues with tech devices” in Technical.ly Philly.

To learn more about the 2023 Senior Design projects, including pitch videos, abstracts, full presentations and awards, visit the Penn BE Labs Website.

Read about Technical.ly’s first visit to the Penn BE Labs here.

Penn Bioengineering Senior Design Team “Sonura” Wins 2023 President’s Innovation Prize

Gabriella Daltoso, Sophie Ishiwari, Gabriela Cano, Caroline Amanda Magro, and Tifara Eliana Boyce pose on College Green.
Sonura

University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill announced on April 21, the recipients of the 2023 President’s Engagement and Innovation Prizes.

Awarded annually, the Prizes empower Penn students to design and undertake post-graduation projects that make a positive, lasting difference in the world. Each Prize-winning project will receive $100,000, as well as a $50,000 living stipend per team member. The Prizes are the largest of their kind in higher education. All Prize recipients collaborate with a Penn faculty mentor.

A team of fourth-year Bioengineering majors, Gabriella Daltoso, Sophie Ishiwari, Gabriela Cano, Caroline Amanda Magro, and Tifara Eliana Boyce, have received the President’s Innovation Prize for their project, Sonura.

“This year’s President’s Engagement and Innovation Prize recipients are fueled by a desire to make a difference—in their community, across the country, and around the world,” Magill said. “Communities for Childbirth, Act First, and Sonura embody an inspiring blend of passion and purpose. They are addressing consequential challenges with compelling solutions, and their dedication and smarts are exemplary. I congratulate them and wish them success as they launch and grow their ventures.”

The 2023 Prize recipients—selected from an applicant pool of 76—will spend the next year implementing the projects:

Gabriella Daltoso, Sophie Ishiwari, Gabriela Cano, Caroline Amanda Magro, and Tifara Eliana Boyce for Sonura: Daltoso, from Boise, Idaho; Ishiwari, from Chicago; Cano, from Lawrenceville, New Jersey; Magro, from Alexandria, Virginia; and Boyce, from Jamaica, Queens, New York, are bioengineering majors in the School of Engineering and Applied Science. Their startup, Sonura, is developing a beanie that promotes the cognitive and socioemotional development of newborns in the NICU by protecting them from the auditory hazards of their environments while fostering parental connection. The Sonura Beanie is composed of a frequency-dependent filter and a mobile application. The Sonura team is mentored by Brian Halak, a lecturer in the Engineering Entrepreneurship program. Sonura was developed in Penn’s Stephenson Foundation Bio-MakerSpace and was part of their Bioengineering Senior Design class.

To learn more about the 2023 President’s Engagement and Innovation Prizes, visit Penn Today.

2023 Undergraduate Awards for Bioengineering Students

Congratulations to the Bioengineering student recipients of undergraduate awards from the School of Engineering and Applied Science  for the 2022-2023 academic year. These  awards are given annually by the school and the department in recognition of outstanding scholarship and service. Read the full list of Bioengineering undergraduate award winners below.

The Wolf-Hallac Award: Sofia Mouchtaris. 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.

The Management and Technology Scholarship Award: Savan Patel. This prize is awarded by the SEAS faculty to that member of the senior class in the Jerome Fisher Management and Technology Program who has created an innovative system and attained high scholastic achievement.

The Hugo Otto Wolf Memorial Prize: Joshua Freedman & Le He. 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: Laila Norford. This department award honors a graduating senior who demonstrates the “highest standards of scholarship and academic achievement.”

Exceptional Service Awards recognize students for their outstanding service to the University and their larger communities: Dylan Hurok, Julia Lottman, Caroline Magro & Grace Qian.

The Student Leadership Award: Moses Zeidan. 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 Ella Atsavapranee, Jake Becker, Ruoming Fan & Savan Patel, aka Team StablEyes.

The awardees above were recognized at the annual Penn Engineering Awards Ceremony held Wednesday, March 29, 2023 in the Harrison Auditorium, Penn Museum.

Three Bioengineering Senior Design teams were chosen for recognition in the Bioengineering Senior Design Competition:

Team BAMBI: Ria Dawar, Pallavi Jonnalagadda, Jessica Ling, & Grace Qian. BAMBI (Biointelligent Apnea Monitor for Bradycardia-Prone Infants) is a tripartite system that leverages machine learning and automated mechanical stimulation to detect and treat apnea of prematurity in the NICU.

Team StablEyes: Ella Atsavapranee, Jake Becker, Ruoming Fan, & Savan Patel. StablEyes consists of a stabilization mount that provides fine, motorized control of the handheld OCT to improve ease of use for physicians and machine learning-based software to aid in diagnosis from retinal images.

Team inSPIRE: Jackson Dooley, Joshua Freedman,Yi-An Hsieh, Isabella Mirro, & Parth Mody. inSPIRE is the first smart incentive spirometer, used post-operatively to improve patient outcomes and reduce costs associated with complications and readmissions.

These teams will compete in the Penn Engineering Senior Design Competition on Friday, April 28, 2023.

Research for these projects was conducted in the George H. Stephenson Foundation Education Laboratory & Bio-Maker Space. Learn about all the 2023 Senior Design projects and view their final presentations on the Stephenson Bio-MakerSpace website here.

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

Senior Design Team “StablEyes” Uses 3D Printing to Simplify Retinal Imaging

A team of Penn Bioengineering Senior Design students was featured as the 3D print of the week by the Penn Biomedical Library’s Biomeditations blog.

The StablEyes team. From left to right, Jake Becker (BE ’23), Ruoming Fan (BE ’23), Ella Atsavapranee (BE ’23), and Savan Patel (M&T ’23).

Fourth-year undergraduate students Ella Atsavapranee, Jake Becker, Ruoming Fan, and Savan Patel created StablEyes, “a stabilization mount that provides fine, motorized control of the handheld OCT to improve ease of use for physicians and machine learning-based software to aid in diagnosis from retinal images.” The team made use of 3D printing services, laboratory space, and expertise across Penn’s campus to create their innovative design, including the Bollinger Digital Fabrication Lab in the Holman Biotech Commons, the Fisher Fine Arts Library, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), and the George H. Stephenson Foundation Educational Laboratory & Bio-MakerSpace (aka the Penn BE Labs).

Read “Featured 3D Print: Simplifying Retinal Imaging with StablEyes” by Lexi Voss in Biomeditations.

Novel Tools for the Treatment and Diagnosis of Epilepsy

by Nathi Magubane

A neurologist examines an encephalogram of a patient’s brain.
Throughout his career, Brian Litt has fabricated tools that support international collaboration, produced findings that have led to significant breakthroughs, and mentored the next generation of researchers tackling neurological disorders. (Image: iStock Photo/Alona Siniehina)

When Brian Litt of the Perelman School of Medicine and School of Engineering and Applied Science began treating patients as a neurologist, he found that the therapies and treatments for epilepsy were mostly reliant on traditional pharmacological interventions, which had limited success in changing the course of the disease.

People with epilepsy are often prescribed anti-seizure medications, and, while they are effective for many, about 30% of patients still continue to experience seizures. Litt sought new ways to offer patients better treatment options by investigating a class of devices that electronically stimulate cells in the brain to modulate activity known as neurostimulation devices.

Litt’s research on implantable neurostimulation devices has led to significant breakthroughs in the technology and has broadened scientists’ understanding of the brain. This work started not long after he came to Penn in 2002 with licensing algorithms to help drive a groundbreaking device by NeuroPace, the first closed-loop, responsive neurostimulator to treat epilepsy.

Building on this work, Litt noted in 2011 how the implantable neurostimulation devices being used at the time had rigid wires that didn’t conform to the brain’s surface, and he received support from CURE Epilepsy to accelerate the development of newer, flexible wires to monitor and stimulate the brain.

“CURE is one of the epilepsy community’s most influential funding organizations,” Litt says. “Their support for my lab has been incredibly helpful in enabling the cutting-edge research that we hope will change epilepsy care for our patients.”

Read the full story in Penn Today.

Brian Litt is a Professor in Bioengineering and Neurology.

Flavia Vitale is an Assistant Professor in Neurology with a secondary appointment in Bioengineering.

Jonathan Viventi is an Assistant Professor in Biomedical Engineering at Duke University.

The Penn Center for Precision Engineering for Health Announces First Round of Seed Funding

by Melissa Pappas

CPE4H is one of the focal points of Penn Engineering signature initiative on Engineering Health.

The Penn Center for Precision Engineering for Health (CPE4H) was established late last year to accelerate engineering solutions to significant problems in healthcare. The center is one of the signature initiatives for Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Science and is supported by a $100 million commitment to hire faculty and support new research on innovative approaches to those problems.

Acting on that commitment, CPE4H solicited proposals during the spring of 2022 for seed grants of $80K per year for two years for research projects that address healthcare challenges in several key areas of strategic importance to Penn: synthetic biology and tissue engineering, diagnosis and drug delivery, and the development of innovative devices. While the primary investigators (PIs) for the proposed projects were required to have a primary faculty appointment within Penn Engineering, teams involving co-PIs and collaborators from other schools were eligible for support. The seed program is expected to continue for the next four years.

“It was a delight to read so many novel and creative proposals,” says Daniel A. Hammer, Alfred G. and Meta A. Ennis Professor in Bioengineering and the Inaugural Director of CPE4H. “It was very hard to make the final selection from a pool of such promising projects.”

Judged on technical innovation, potential to attract future resources, and ability to address a significant medical problem, the following research projects were selected to receive funding.

Evolving and Engineering Thermal Control of Mammalian Cells

Led by Lukasz Bugaj, Assistant Professor in Bioengineering, this project will engineer molecular switches that can be toggled on and off inside mammalian cells at near-physiological temperatures. Successful development of these switches will provide new ways to communicate with cells, an advance that could be used to make safer and more effective cellular therapies.  The project will use directed evolution to generate and find candidate molecular tools with the desired properties. Separately, the research will also develop new technology for manipulating cellular temperature in a rapid and programmable way. Such devices will enhance the speed and sophistication of studies of biological temperature regulation.

A Quantum Sensing Platform for Rapid and Accurate Point-of-Care Detection of Respiratory Viral Infections

Combining microfluidics and quantum photonics, PI Liang Feng, Professor in Materials Science and Engineering and Electrical and Systems Engineering, Ritesh Agarwal, Professor in Materials Science Engineering, and Shu Yang, Joseph Bordogna Professor in Materials Science and Engineering and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, are teaming up with Ping Wang, Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine in Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine, to design, build and test an ultrasensitive point-of-care detector for respiratory pathogens. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, a generalizable platform for rapid and accurate detection of viral pathogenesis would be extremely important and timely.

Versatile Coacervating Peptides as Carriers and Synthetic Organelles for Cell Engineering

PI Amish Patel, Associate Professor in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and Matthew C. Good, Associate Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology in the Perelman School of Medicine and in Bioengineering, will design and create small proteins that self-assemble into droplet-like structures known as coacervates, which can then pass through the membranes of biological cells. Upon cellular entry, these protein coacervates can disassemble to deliver cargo that modulates cell behavior or be maintained as synthetic membraneless organelles. The team will design new chemistries that will facilitate passage across cell membranes, and molecular switches to sequester and release protein therapeutics. If successful, this approach could be used to deliver a wide range of macromolecule drugs to cells.

Towards an Artificial Muscle Replacement for Facial Reanimation

Cynthia Sung, Gabel Family Term Assistant Professor in Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics and Computer Information Science, will lead a research team including Flavia Vitale, Assistant Professor of Neurology and Bioengineering, and Niv Milbar, Assistant Instructor in Surgery in the Perelman School of Medicine. The team will develop and validate an electrically driven actuator to restore basic muscle responses in patients with partial facial paralysis, which can occur after a stroke or injury. The research will combine elements of robotics and biology, and aims to produce a device that can be clinically tested.

“These novel ideas are a great way to kick off the activities of the center,” says Hammer. “We look forward to soliciting other exciting seed proposals over the next several years.”

This article originally appeared in Penn Engineering Today.

Penn Health-Tech After Five Years: An Interview with Executive Director Katie Reuther

Penn Health-Tech director Katie Reuther (center) with Glory Durham, director of operations, Penn Health-Tech (at left), and Courtney Houtsma, program manager, Penn Health-Tech (at right), at a recent symposium.

A new interview in Penn Medicine News examines Penn Health-Tech (PHT) five years after its founding. PHT began as an experimental collaborative effort between the Perelman School of Medicine, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and the Office of the Vice Provost for Research to provide funding, advising, and resources to empower innovators to develop transformative devices and technologies in the Penn community. Specifically, PHT specializes in connecting innovators from across Penn’s campus and schools to connect and to develop technology and medical devices to answer some of the most pressing needs in healthcare. Katherine (Katie) Reuther, Practice Associate Professor in Bioengineering, was appointed Executive Director of PHT in 2021 and is leading this venture into the next phase of its growth. Reuther, an alumna of Penn Bioengineering, followed up her doctoral studies with a M.B.A. from Columbia University and subsequently stayed at Columbia as Senior Lecturer in Design, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. As such, her experience and expertise in the fields of both biomedical engineering and entrepreneurship position her well to shepherd PHT into its fullest potential:

“What appealed to me most about the position was a strong foundation, deep resources, and the potential and room to do more, including the opportunity to elevate Penn and Philadelphia as a national hub for health-technology innovation.”

Read the full interview with Reuther in “From ‘Experiment’ to $50 Million in Funding: After 5 Years, Where Penn Health-Tech is Going.”