Lipid Nanoparticles That Deliver mRNA to T Cells Hold Promise for Autoimmune Diseases

by Janelle Weaver

Ajay Thatte, Benjamin Nachod, Rohan Palanki, Kelsey Swingle, Alex Hamilton, and Michael Mitchell (Left to Right – Courtesy of the Mitchell Lab) 

Autoimmune disorders are among the most prevalent chronic diseases across the globe, affecting approximately 5-7% of the world’s population. Emerging treatments for autoimmune disorders focus on “adoptive cell therapies,” or those using cells from a patient’s own body to achieve immunosuppression. These therapeutic cells are recognized by the patient’s body as ‘self,’ therefore limiting side effects, and are specifically engineered to localize the intended therapeutic effect.

In treating autoimmune diseases, current adoptive cell therapies have largely centered around the regulatory T cell (Treg), which is defined by the expression of the Forkhead box protein 3, orFoxp3. Although Tregs offer great potential, using them for therapeutic purposes remains a major challenge. In particular, current delivery methods result in inefficient engineering of T cells.

Tregs only compose approximately 5-10% of circulating peripheral blood mononuclear cells. Furthermore, Tregs lack more specific surface markers that differentiate them from other T cell populations. These hurdles make it difficult to harvest, purify and grow Tregs to therapeutically relevant numbers. Although there are additional tissue-resident Tregs in non-lymphoid organs such as in skeletal muscle and visceral adipose tissue, these Tregs are severely inaccessible and low in number.

Now, a research team led by Michael Mitchell, Associate Professor in Bioengineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Pennsylvania, has developed a lipid nanoparticle (LNP) platform to deliver Foxp3 messenger RNA (mRNA) to T cells for applications in autoimmunity. Their findings are published in the journal Nano Letters.

“The major challenges associated with ex vivo (outside the body) cell engineering are efficiency, toxicity, and scale-up: our mRNA lipid nanoparticles (mRNA LNPs) allow us to overcome all of these issues,” says Mitchell. “Our work’s novelty comes from three major components: first, the use of mRNA, which allows for the generation of transient immunosuppressive cells; second, the use of LNPs, which allow for effective delivery of mRNA and efficient cell engineering; and last, the ex vivo engineering of primary human T cells for autoimmune diseases, offering the most direct pipeline for clinical translation of this therapy from bench to bedside.”

“To our knowledge, this is one of the first mRNA LNP platforms that has been used to engineer T cells for autoimmune therapies,” he continues. “Broadly, this platform can be used to engineer adoptive cell therapies for specific autoimmune diseases and can potentially be used to create therapeutic avenues for allergies, organ transplantation and beyond.”

Delivering the Foxp3 protein to T cells has been difficult because proteins do not readily cross the cell membrane. “The mRNA encodes for Foxp3 protein, which is a transcription factor that makes the T cells immunosuppressive rather than active,” explains first author Ajay Thatte, a doctoral student in Bioengineering and NSF Fellow in the Mitchell Lab. “These engineered T cells can suppress effector T cell function, which is important as T cell hyperactivity is a common phenotype in autoimmune diseases.”

Read the full story in Penn Engineering Today.

Innovation and Impact: “RNA: Past, Present and Future”

by Melissa Pappas

(Left to right): Mike Mitchell, Noor Momin, and David Meaney recording the Innovation & Impact podcast.

In the most recent episode of the Penn Engineering podcast Innovation & Impact, titled “RNA: Past, Present and Future,” David F. Meaney, Senior Associate Dean of Penn Engineering and Solomon R. Pollack Professor in Bioengineering, is joined by Mike Mitchell, Associate Professor in Bioengineering, and Noor Momin, who will be joining Penn Engineering as an Assistant Professor in Bioengineering early next year, to discuss the impact that RNA has had on health care and biomedical engineering technologies.

Mitchell outlines his lab’s research that spans drug delivery, new technology in protecting RNA and its applications in treating cancer. Momin details her research, which is focused on optimizing the immune system to protect against illnesses such as cardiovascular diseases and cancer. With Meaney driving the discussion around larger questions, including the possibility of a cancer vaccine, the three discuss what they are excited about now and where the field is going in the future with these emerging, targeted treatments.

Read the full story in Penn Engineering Today.

Subscribe to the Innovation & Impact podcast on Apple Music, Spotify or your favorite listening platforms or find all the episodes on the Penn Engineering YouTube channel.

The Future of Medicine Rises in University City: University of Pennsylvania Opens New Multi-Disciplinary Research Labs in One uCity Square

by Holly Wojcik

One uCity Square

On September 14, Wexford Science & Technology, LLC and the University of Pennsylvania announced that the University has signed a lease for new laboratory space that will usher in a wave of novel vaccine, therapeutics, and engineered diagnostics research to West Philadelphia. Research teams from Penn are poised to move into 115,000 square feet of space at One uCity Square, the 13-story, 400,000 square foot purpose-built lab and office building within the vibrant uCity Square Knowledge Community being developed by Wexford. This is the largest lease in the building, encompassing four floors, and bringing the building to over 90% leased. The building currently includes industry tenants Century Therapeutics (NASDAQ: IPSC), Integral Molecular, Exponent (NASDAQ: EXPO), and Charles River Laboratories (NYSE: CRL).

The new University space will house Penn Medicine’s Institute for RNA Innovation and Penn Engineering’s Center for Precision Engineering for Health, underscoring the University’s commitment to a multi-disciplinary and collaborative approach to research that will attract and retain the best talent and engage partners from across the region. Penn’s decision to locate at One uCity Square reinforces uCity Square’s evolution as a central cluster of academic, clinical, commercial, entrepreneurial, and amenity spaces for the area’s innovation ecosystem, and further cements Philadelphia’s position as a top life sciences market.

Jonathan Epstein, MD, Executive Vice Dean and Chief Scientific Officer of Penn Medicine, shared his anticipation for the opportunities that lie ahead: “Penn Medicine is proud to build on its existing clinical presence in uCity Square and establish an innovative and collaborative research presence at the heart of uCity Square’s multidisciplinary innovation ecosystem. This strategic move underscores our commitment to accelerating advancements in biomedical research, industry collaboration, and equipping our talented teams with the resources they need to shape the future of healthcare.”

Locating the Penn Institute for RNA Innovation in the heart of the uCity Square community brings together researchers across disciplines who are already pursuing new vaccines and treatments, and better ways to deliver them. Their shared work will help to power the next phase of vaccine discovery and development.

Likewise, anchoring the work of Penn Engineering’s Center in the One uCity Square space will allow the School’s multi-disciplinary researchers and their collaborators to advance new clinical and diagnostic methods that will focus on intelligent therapeutics, genome design, diagnostics for discovery of human biology, and engineering the human immune shield.

“Penn Engineering has made a substantial commitment to precision engineering for health, an area that is not only important and relevant to engineering, but also critical to the future of humanity,” said Vijay Kumar, Nemirovsky Family Dean of Penn Engineering. “The space in One uCity Square will add another 30,000 square feet of space for our engineers to develop technologies that will fight future pandemics, cure incurable diseases, and extend healthy life spans around the world.”

Spearheading the Penn Institute for RNA Innovation will be Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the Roberts Family Professor for Vaccine Research, who along with Katalin Karikó, PhD, adjunct professor of Neurosurgery, discovered foundational mRNA technology that enabled the creation of vital vaccine technology, including the FDA-approved mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

In this new space at One uCity Square, Weissman and his research team and collaborators will further pursue their groundbreaking research efforts with a goal to develop new therapeutics and vaccines and initiate clinical trials for other devastating diseases.

In addition, two established researchers will join the Institute at One uCity Square: Harvey Friedman, MD, a professor of Infectious Diseases, who leads a team researching various vaccines. He will be joined by Vladimir Muzykantov, MD, PhD, Founders Professor in Nanoparticle Research, who focuses on several projects related to targeting the delivery of drugs, including mRNA, to create more effective, targeted pathways to deliver drugs to the vascular system, treating a wide range of diseases that impact the brain, lung, heart, and blood.

Dan Hammer, Alfred G. and Meta A. Ennis Professor in the Departments of Bioengineering and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in Penn Engineering and Director of the Center for Precision Engineering for Health, will oversee the Center’s innovations in diagnostics and delivery, cellular and tissue engineering, and the development of new devices that integrate novel materials with human tissues. The Center will bring together scholars from all departments within Penn Engineering and will help to foster increased collaboration with campus colleagues at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine and with industry partners.

Joining the Center researchers in One uCity Square are Noor Momin, Sherry Gao, and Michael Mitchell. Noor Momin, who will join Penn Engineering in early 2024 as an assistant professor in Bioengineering, will leverage her lab’s expertise in cardiovascular immunology, protein engineering and pharmacokinetic modeling to develop next-generation treatments and diagnostics for cardiovascular diseases.

Read the full story in Penn Engineering Today.

Jonathan Epstein and Vladimir Muzykantov are members of the Penn Bioengineering Graduate Group.

Michael Mitchell is an Associate Professor in Bioengineering.

Bioengineering Faculty Member Named ‘Young Innovator’ for Creation of Multiple Myeloma Therapy

by Abbey Porter

Michael Mitchell

Michael J. Mitchell, Associate Professor in Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering and Applied Science, has been named a “Young Innovator of Cellular and Molecular Bioengineering” by Cellular and Molecular Bioengineering, the journal of the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES).

The award recognizes faculty who are conducting some of the most innovative and impactful studies in the field of biomedical engineering. Recipients will present their research and be officially recognized at the BMES Annual Meeting in October.

Mitchell is being honored for creating an RNA nanoparticle therapy that stops the spread of the deadly bone marrow cancer multiple myeloma and helps to eliminate it altogether. Known for being difficult to treat, the disease kills over 100,000 people every year.

“We urgently need innovative, effective therapies against this cancer,” Mitchell says. “The nanotechnology we developed can potentially serve as a platform to treat multiple myeloma and other bone marrow-based malignancies.”

Mitchell, along with Christian Figuerora-Espada, a doctoral student in Bioengineering, previously published a study in PNAS describing how their RNA nanoparticle therapy stops multiple myeloma from moving through the blood vessels and mutating. In their current paper in Cellular and Molecular Bioengineering, which expands upon this RNA nanoparticle platform, they show that inhibition of both multiple myeloma migration and adhesion to bone marrow blood vessels, combined with an FDA-approved multiple myeloma therapeutic, extends survival in a mouse model of multiple myeloma.

Read more in Penn Engineering Today.

A Suit of Armor for Cancer-fighting Cells

by Nathi Magubane

Chimeric antigen receptor T cell (CAR T) therapy has delivered promising results, transforming the fight against various forms of cancer, but for many, the therapy comes with severe and potentially lethal side effects. Now, a research team led by Michael Mitchell of the School of Engineering and Applied Science has found a solution that could help CAR T therapies reach their full potential while minimizing severe side effects. (Image: iStock / Meletios Verras)

In recent years, cancer researchers have hailed the arrival of chimeric antigen receptor T cell (CAR T) therapy, which has delivered promising results, transforming the fight against various forms of cancer. The process involves modifying patients’ T-cells to target cancer cells, resulting in remarkable success rates for previously intractable forms of cancer.

Six CAR T cell therapies have secured FDA approval, and several more are in the pipeline. However, these therapies come with severe and potentially lethal side effects, namely cytokine release syndrome (CRS) and neurotoxicity. These drawbacks manifest as a range of symptoms—from high fever and vomiting to multiple organ failure and patient death—posing significant challenges to broader clinical application.

Now, a research team led by Michael Mitchell, associate professor in the School of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Pennsylvania, has found a solution that could help CAR T therapies reach their full potential while minimizing severe side effects. Their findings are published in the journal Nature Materials.

“Addressing CRS and neurotoxicity without compromising the therapeutic effectiveness of CAR T cells has been a complex challenge,” says Mitchell.

He says that unwanted interactions between CAR T and immune cells called macrophages drive the overactivation of macrophages, which in turn result in the release of toxic cytokines that lead to CRS and neurotoxicity.

“Controlling CAR T-macrophage interactions in vivo is difficult,” Mitchell says. “So, our study introduces a materials engineering-based strategy that involves incorporating a sugar molecule onto the surface of CAR T cells. These sugars are then used as a reactive handle to create a biomaterial coating around these cells directly in the body, which acts as a ‘suit of armor,’ preventing dangerous interactions with macrophages.”

First author Ningqiang Gong, a postdoctoral researcher in the Mitchell Lab, elaborates on the technique, “We attached this sugar molecule to the CAR T cells using metabolic labeling. This modification enables the CAR T cells to attack cancer cells without any hindrance.”

“When symptoms of CRS begin to manifest, we introduce another molecule—polyethylene glycol (PEG)—to create the suit of armor, which effectively blocks dangerous interactions between these engineered T cells, macrophages, and the tumor cells themselves,” Gong says.

Read the full story in Penn Today.

An Improved Delivery System for mRNA Vaccines Provides More Powerful Protection

by Devorah Fischler

(From left to right) Xuexiang Han, Michael Mitchell and Mohamad-Gabriel Alameh

The COVID-19 vaccine swiftly undercut the worst of the pandemic for hundreds of millions around the world. Available sooner than almost anyone expected, these vaccines were a triumph of resourcefulness and skill.

Messenger RNA vaccines, like the ones manufactured by Moderna or Pfizer/BioNTech, owed their speed and success to decades of research reinforcing the safety and effectiveness of their unique immune-instructive technology.

Now, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Perelman School of Medicine are refining the COVID-19 vaccine, creating an innovative delivery system for even more robust protection against the virus.

In addition to outlining a more flexible and effective COVID-19 vaccine, this work has potential to increase the scope of mRNA vaccines writ large, contributing to prevention and treatment for a range of different illnesses.

Michael Mitchell, associate professor in Penn Engineering’s Department of Bioengineering, Xuexiang Han, postdoctoral fellow in Mitchell’s lab, and Mohamad-Gabriel Alameh, postdoctoral fellow in Drew Weissman’s lab at Penn Medicine and incoming assistant professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine, recently published their findings in Nature Nanotechnology.

mRNA, or messenger ribonucleic acid, is the body’s natural go-between. mRNA contains the instructions our cells need to produce proteins that play important roles in our bodies’ health, including mounting immune responses.

The COVID-19 vaccines follow suit, sending a single strand of RNA to teach our cells how to recognize and fight the virus.

Read the full story in Penn Engineering Today.

SCALAR: A Microchip Designed to Transform the Production of mRNA Therapeutics and Vaccines

Led by Michael Mitchell and David Issadore of the School of Engineering and Applied Science, a team of researchers has developed a platform that could rapidly accelerate the development of mRNA-based lipid nanoparticle vaccines and therapeutics at both the small and large scale, SCALAR. (Image: iStock / Anatoly Morozov)

Following the global COVID-19 pandemic, the development and rapid deployment of mRNA vaccines highlighted the critical role of lipid nanoparticles (LNPs) in the context of pharmaceuticals. Used as the essential delivery vehicles for fragile RNA-based therapies and vaccines, LNPs protect the RNA from degradation and ensure effective delivery within the body.

Despite their critical importance, the large-scale manufacturing of these LNPs saw numerous bottlenecks during the pandemic, underscoring the need for scalable production techniques that could keep pace with global demand.

Now, in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania describe how the Silicon Scalable Lipid Nanoparticle Generation platform (SCALAR), a reusable silicon- and glass-based platform designed to transform the production landscape of LNPs for RNA therapeutics and vaccines, offers a scalable and efficient solution to the challenges exposed during the COVID-19 crisis.

“We’re excited to create a piece of technology platform that bridges the gap between small-scale discovery and large-scale manufacturing in the realm of RNA lipid nanoparticle vaccines and therapeutics,” says co-author Michael Mitchell, associate professor of bioengineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Science at Penn. “By doing so, we’ve effectively leapfrogged the clunky, time-consuming, and costly barriers that slow down the production ramp-up of promising new RNA medicines and vaccines.”

The intricacies of RNA-based therapies require the RNA to be encased in a delivery system capable of navigating the body’s biological obstacles. LNPs fulfill this role, allowing the RNA to reach the intended cells for maximum therapeutic impact. SCALAR aims to take this a step further, allowing for an unprecedented three orders of magnitude scalability in LNP production rates, addressing the speed and consistency bottlenecks that hinder existing methods.

Sarah Shepherd, the first author of the paper and a recent Ph.D. graduate who worked in the Mitchell Lab, says, “With SCALAR, we’re not just reacting to today’s challenges but proactively preparing for tomorrow’s opportunities and crises. This technology is flexible, uses mixing architectures well-documented in microfluidics, and is scalable enough to meet future demands in real time. That’s an enormous leap forward for the field.”

Shepherd says that SCALAR builds on prior work from the Mitchell lab and is based on a microfluidic chip platform. Akin to a computer chip, wherein a computer’s electrically integrated circuit has numerous little transistors transporting signals as ones or zeroes to produce an output, the SCALAR microchip precisely controls their two key reagents, lipids and RNA, to generate LNPs.

Read the full story in Penn Today.

Penn and CHOP Researchers Show Gene Editing Tools Can be Delivered to Perinatal Brain

Genetic diseases that involve the central nervous system (CNS) often impact children before birth, meaning that once a child is born, irreversible damage has already been done. Given that many of these conditions result from a mutation in a single gene, there has been growing interest in using gene editing tools to correct these mutations before birth.

However, identifying the appropriate vehicle to deliver these gene editing tools to the CNS and brain has been a challenge. Viral vectors used to deliver gene therapies have some potential drawbacks, including pre-existing viral immunity and vector-related adverse events, and other options like lipid nanoparticles (LNPs) have not been investigated extensively in the perinatal brain.

Now, researchers in the Center for Fetal Research at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and Penn Engineering have identified an ionizable LNP that can deliver mRNA base editing tools to the brain and have shown it can mitigate CNS disease in perinatal mouse models. The findings, published in ACS Nano, open the door to mRNA therapies that could be delivered pre- or postnatally to treat genetic CNS diseases.

The research team began by screening a library of ionizable LNPs – microscopic fat bubbles that have a positive charge at low pH but neutral charge at physiological conditions in the body. After identifying which LNPs were best able to penetrate the blood-brain barrier in fetal and newborn mice, they optimized their top-performing LNP to be able to deliver base editing tools. The LNPs were then used to deliver mRNA for an adenine base editor, which would correct a disease-causing mutation in the lysosomal storage disease, MPSI, by changing the errant adenine to guanine.

The researchers showed that their LNP was able to improve the symptoms of the lysosomal storage disease in the neonatal mouse brain, as well as deliver mRNA base editing tools to the brain of other animal models. They also showed the LNP was stable in human cerebrospinal fluid and could deliver mRNA base editing tools to patient-derived brain tissue.

“This proof-of-concept study – co-led by Rohan Palanki, an MD/PhD student in my lab, and Michael Mitchell’s lab at Penn Bioengineering – supports the safety and efficacy of LNPs for the delivery of mRNA-based therapies to the central nervous system,” said co-senior author William H. Peranteau, MD, an attending surgeon in the Division of General, Thoracic and Fetal Surgery at CHOP and the Adzick-McCausland Distinguished Chair in Fetal and Pediatric Surgery. “Taken together, these experiments provide the foundation for additional translational studies and demonstrate base editing facilitated by a nonviral delivery carrier in the NHP fetal brain and primary human brain tissue.”

This story was written by Dana Bate. It originally appeared on CHOP’s website.

Balancing Dentistry and Engineering to Bring New Innovations to the Clinic

by Liana F. Wait

Kyle Vining, who is jointly appointed in the School of Dental Medicine and the School of Engineering and Applied Science, hopes that his research will help to push forward the state of clinical dentistry.

When trying to choose between two career paths—dentistry and engineering—Kyle Vining decided ‘Why not both?’ Vining joined Penn in July 2022 and is jointly appointed in the School of Dental Medicine and the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

“During my training, I saw that there was overlap where I could do clinical work and science at the same time, and so that’s what I’ve been doing ever since,” Vining says. “As far back as middle school, I always wanted to be a biomedical engineer, and then the clinical side became interesting to me because I didn’t want to only do the theoretical or research side of things. I also wanted the hands-on, practical interaction of a skilled profession.”

The benefits of a dual career: Variety and opportunities to give back

Vining finds that wearing two hats offers the best of both worlds: opportunities to help both individual patients and to contribute to scientific and clinical progress.

“On the dentistry side, what I enjoy is getting to see patients, solving clinical problems, and trying to perform the best treatment I can; it has this rapid pace, which is kind of exciting and keeps you motivated,” Vining says. “And then research allows me to explore my interests and think about making an impact more broadly, not just in dentistry, but in medicine or in the world in general.”

Vining says dental school was demanding, yet a good time to explore his varied interests. He says he’d encourage others to pursue dentistry with an interdisciplinary approach. “Having exposure to different fields or different knowledge while you’re a student is really good for students and the profession in general,” he says.

The path towards a dual career

Vining first delved into research as a biomedical engineering undergraduate at Northwestern University. “I had the opportunity to work in a materials science lab studying the chemistry of surfaces. We would use molecules to modify the properties and surfaces that environments or cells could interact with,” he says.

Then, as a student at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry, Vining realized that this same materials science research had many applications in dentistry. While in dental school, Vining conducted independent research in a materials science lab and also took the opportunity to do a yearlong fellowship in a cell and developmental biology lab at the National Institutes of Health.

Vining credits this fellowship with launching him towards a Ph.D., which he completed in bioengineering at Harvard in 2020. After earning his Ph.D., Vining conducted research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute prior to joining Penn.

Using biomaterials to understand how cells and tissues interact

Vining’s research at Penn aims to understand how the biophysical properties of materials impact cellular processes such as inflammation and fibrosis.

“Fibrosis is a physical change in tissues that produces a scar-like matrix that can inhibit healing, impair cancer treatment, and in general is not compatible with tissues regeneration,” Vining says. “There’s been a lot of effort on antifibrotic drugs, but we’re trying to look at fibrosis a little bit differently. Instead of directly inhibiting fibrosis, we’re trying to understand its consequences for the immune system because the immune system can be hijacked and become detrimental for your tissues.”

Through a better understanding the feedback loop between fibrotic tissue and the immune system, Vining hopes to design interventions to facilitate wound healing and tissue remodeling during restorative dental procedures and for treating diseases including head and neck cancer.

He’s also investigating how biomaterials like the resin used in tooth fillings interact with dental tissues. “Dental fillings rely on decades-old technologies that have been grandfathered in and contain toxic monomers that are not safe for biological systems,” Vining says. “We found a biocompatible resin chemistry that supports cells in vitro, and we’re trying to apply this to new types of dental fillings that promote repair or generation of dental tissues.”

Fostering interdisciplinary collaborations at Penn

Vining was recruited to be part of the Center for Innovation & Precision Dentistry (CiPD), the joint center of Penn Dental Medicine and Penn Engineering.

“Dr. Vining is an ideal fit for the vision and mission of the CiPD,” says Penn Dental’s Hyun (Michel) Koo, co-founder and co-director of the CiPD. “With a secondary appointment in the School of Engineering, he will be instrumental in continuing to strengthen our engineering collaborations and teaching our students to work across disciplines to advance research, training, and entrepreneurship in this realm.”

Ultimately, Vining says it was Penn’s scientific community and the opportunities for interdisciplinary collaborations that drew him here.

“It was very apparent that there were a lot of potential research paths to pursue here and a lot of opportunities for collaborations,” Vining says. “One of the most exciting things for me so far has been meeting with faculty, whether it’s at Penn Medicine, the School of Engineering, Wharton, Penn Dental, or the Veterinary School. These meetings have already opened up new projects and collaborations.”

One such collaboration is with Michael Mitchell, associate professor of bioengineering. The pair were awarded the second annual IDEA (Innovation in Dental Medicine and Engineering to Advance Oral Health) Prize in May 2023 to kickstart a project exploring the potential for using lipid nanoparticles to treat dental decay.

The collaboration sparked when Vining saw Mitchell present on a new technology that uses lipid nanoparticles to bind and target bone marrow cells at the 2022 CiPD first annual symposium. “It got me thinking because the dentin inside of teeth is a mineralized tissue very similar to bone, and the pulp inside the dentin is analogous to bone marrow tissue,” Vining says.

Read the full story in Penn Today.

Vining and Koo are members of the Penn Bioengineering Graduate Group.

2023 Graduate Research Fellowships for Bioengineering Students

Congratulations to the fourteen Bioengineering students to receive 2023  National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF GRFP) fellowships. The prestigious NSF GRFP program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported fields. The recipients honorees were selected from a highly-competitive, nationwide pool. Further information about the program can be found on the NSF website.

Carlos Armando Aguila, Ph.D. student in Bioengineering, is a member of the Center of Neuroengineering and Therapeutics, advised by Erin Conrad, Assistant Professor in Neurology, and Brian Litt, Professor in Bioengineering and Neurology. His research focuses on analyzing electroencephalogram (EEG) signals to better understand epilepsy.

Joseph Lance Victoria Casila is a Ph.D. student in Bioengineering in the lab of Riccardo Gottardi, Assistant Professor in Pediatrics and Bioengineering. His research focuses on probing environmental factors that influence stem cell differentiation towards chondrogenesis for cartilage engineering and regeneration.

Trevor Chan is a Ph.D. student in Bioengineering in the lab of Felix Wehrli, Professor of Radiologic Science. His research is in developing computational methods for medical image refinement and analysis. Two ongoing projects are: self-supervised methods for CT super-resolution and assessment of osteoporosis, and semi-supervised segmentation of 3D and 4D echocardiograms for surgical correction of congenital heart-valve defects.

Rakan El-Mayta is an incoming Ph.D. student in the lab of Drew Weissman, Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research. Rakan studies messenger RNA-lipid nanoparticle vaccines for the treatment and prevention of infectious diseases. Prior to starting in the Bioengineering graduate program, he worked as a Research Assistant in Weissman lab and in the lab of Michael Mitchell, Associate Professor in Bioengineering.

Austin Jenk is a Ph.D. student in the lab of Robert Mauck, Mary Black Ralston Professor in Orthopaedic Surgery and Bioengineering. Austin aims to develop early intervention, intra-articular therapeutics to combat the onset of post-traumatic osteoarthritis following acute joint injuries. His work focuses on developing a therapeutic that can be employed not only in conventional healthcare settings, but also emergency and battlefield medicine.

Jiageng Liu is a Ph.D. student in the lab of Alex Hughes, Assistant Professor in Bioengineering. His work aims to precisely control the bio-physical/chemical properties of iPSC-derived organoids with advanced synthetic biology approaches to create functional replacement renal tissues.

Alexandra Neeser is a Ph.D. student in the lab of Leyuan Ma, Assistant Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. Her research focuses on solid tumor microenvironment delivery of therapeutics.

 

William Karl Selboe Ojemann, a Ph.D. Student in Bioengineering, is a member of the Center for Neuroengineering and Therapeutics directed by Brian Litt, Professor in Bioengineering and Neurology. His research is focused on developing improved neurostimulation therapies for epilepsy and other neurological disorders.

Savan Patel (BSE Class of 2023) conducted research in the lab of Michael Mitchell, Associate Professor in Bioengineering, where he worked to develop lipid nanoparticle formulations for immunotherapy and extrahepatic delivery of mRNA. He will be joining the Harvard-MIT HST MEMP Ph.D. program in the fall of 2023.

David E. Reynolds, a Ph.D. student in Bioengineering, is a member of the lab of Jina Ko, Assistant Professor in Bioengineering and Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. His research focuses on developing novel and translatable technologies to address currently intractable diagnostic challenges for precision medicine.

Andre Roots is a Ph.D. student in the lab of Christopher Madl, Assistant Professor in Materials Science and Engineering. His research focuses on the use of protein engineering techniques and an optimized 3D human skeletal muscle microtissue platform to study the effects of biophysical material properties on cells.

Emily Sharp, a second year Ph.D. student in Bioengineering, is a member of the lab of Robert Mauck, Mary Black Ralston Professor in Orthopaedic Surgery and Bioengineering, part of the McKay Orthopaedic Research Laboratories. Her research focuses on designing multi-functional biomaterials to enhance tissue repair, specifically intervertebral disc repair following herniation and discectomy.

Nat Thurlow is a Ph.D. student in the lab of Louis J. Soslowsky, Fairhill Professor in Orthopedic Surgery and Bioengineering. Their current work focuses on delineating the roles of collagens V and XI in tendon mechanics, fibril structure, and gene expression during tendon development and healing.

Maggie Wagner, Ph.D. student in Bioengineering, is a member in the labs of Josh Baxter, Assistant Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, and Flavia Vitale, Assistant Professor in Neurology and Bioengineering. Her research focuses on the development of novel sensors to record and monitor muscle neuromechanics.