In Memoriam: David Geselowitz, 1930-2020

David Geselowitz

Penn Engineering mourns the death of our former colleague Dr. David Geselowitz, who died on August 22, 2020. The Penn Engineering and Penn State communities have lost a brilliant scientist and researcher, and an extraordinary teacher, mentor and friend.

Dr. Geselowitz was born in Philadelphia in 1930, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, where he received his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in Electrical Engineering in 1951, 1954 and 1958, respectively. As the top student in his undergraduate class, he received the Atwater Kent Award.

After receiving his Ph.D., he joined the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania and subsequently founded Penn’s doctoral program in biomedical engineering. In 1971, he moved to Penn State University to implement a graduate program in bioengineering.

Dr. Geselowitz was known for his contributions to the theory of the electrocardiogram (EKG) and the development of the artificial heart. As noted by the late Dr. Herman Schwan, “David was the best man I had met in electrocardiography work. The National Academy of Engineering recognized him for that work. He became a leader in the country in the field.”

For more on the life of Dr. Geselowitz, please see the tribute from his longtime colleagues at Penn State: https://news.engr.psu.edu/2020/geselowitz-david-obituary.aspx

This story originally appeared in Penn Engineering News.

Jennifer Phillips-Cremins Wins CZI Grant to Study 3D Genome’s Role in Neurodegenerative Disease

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s Collaborative Pairs Pilot Project Award is part of its Neurodegeneration Challenge Network

Jennifer Phillips-Cremins, Ph.D.

Read the full story on the Penn Engineering blog.

Postdoctoral Researcher Yogesh Goyal Wins BWF Career Award

Yogesh Goyal, Ph.D.

The Department of Bioengineering at Penn is thrilled to congratulate Yogesh Goyal, PhD on receiving a Burroughs Wellcome Fund (BWF) Career Award at the Scientific Interface (CASI) award for 2020-2025. He is currently a Jane Coffins Child Fellow in the lab of Arjun Raj, Professor of Bioengineering.

The BWF CASI Career Awards provide $500,000 over five years to bridge advanced postdoctoral training and the first three years of faculty service; and to foster the early career development of researchers who have transitioned from physical/mathematical/computational sciences or engineering into the biological sciences, and who are dedicated to pursuing a career in academic research. Goyal is one of just eight recipients of the 2020-2025 CASI award.

Goyal did much of his schooling in Jammu and Kashmir, India, and received his undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar. He received his PhD from Princeton University in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering and the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, under the joint mentorship of Stanislav Shvartsman, PhD, and Gertrud Schüpbach, PhD. After finishing his doctorate, he came to Penn Bioengineering to work in the Raj Lab for Systems Biology.

Goyal’s research work is centered around developing novel mathematical and experimental frameworks to study how a rare subpopulation of cancer cells are able to survive drug therapy and develop resistance, resulting in relapse in patients. In particular, his work will provide a view of different paths that single cancer cells take when becoming resistant, at unprecedented resolution and scale. In turn, this will help devise novel therapeutic strategies to combat the challenge of drug resistance in cancer.

“I am very excited to be a part of the community of the Burroughs Wellcome Fund CASI award past and present recipients, which also includes my postdoctoral adviser Arjun Raj, who received this award in 2008,” Goyal says. “This CASI award will help provide me with the freedom to pursue high risk research directions as I transition to faculty. I feel fortunate to be surrounded by kind and supportive colleagues in the Bioengineering Department at Penn, an environment that has been critical for my interdisciplinary journey as a scientist.”

Penn Launches Region’s First Center for Translational Neuromodulation

Penn’s brainSTIM center will study neuromodulation to repair and enhance human brain function

Penn Medicine has launched a new center to study the brain, one of the most complex systems in the body:

The Penn Brain Science, Translation, Innovation, and Modulation (brainSTIM) Center brings together a team of leading neuroscientists, neurologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, and engineers at Penn using neuromodulation techniques to research, repair, and enhance human brain function—the first translational center of its kind in the region.

Among the key faculty involved in this new center is J. Peter Skirkanich Professor of Bioengineering Danielle Bassett. Bassett’s Complex Systems Lab studies biological, physical, and social systems by using and developing tools from network science and complex systems theory. Bassett, along with Assistant Professor of Psychiatry Desmond Oathes, will work to:

understand how TMS [i.e. transcranial magnetic stimulation] might improve working memory in healthy adults and those with ADHD by combining network control theory (a set of concepts and principles employed in engineering), magnetic stimulation of the brain, and functional brain imaging.

Read more at Penn Medicine News.

Penn Alumnus Peter Huwe Appointed Assistant Professor at Mercer University

Peter Huwe, Ph.D.

Peter Huwe, a University of Pennsylvania alumnus and graduate of the Radhakrishnan lab, was appointed Assistant Professor of Biomedical Sciences at the Mercer University School of Medicine beginning this summer 2020 semester.

Huwe earned dual B.S. degrees in Biology and Chemistry in 2009 from Mississippi College, where he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. At Mississippi College, Huwe had his first exposure to computational research in the laboratory of David Magers, Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry. He went on to earn his Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics in 2014 in the laboratory of Ravi Radhakrishnan, Chair of the Bioengineering Department at Penn. As an NSF Graduate Research Fellow in Radhakrishnan’s lab, Huwe focused his research on using computational molecular modeling and simulations to elucidate the functional consequences of protein mutations associated with human diseases. Dr. Huwe then joined the structural bioinformatics laboratory Roland Dunbrack, Jr., Professor at the Fox Chase Cancer Center as a T32 post-doctoral trainee. During his post-doctoral training, Huwe held adjunct teaching appointments at Thomas Jefferson University and at the University of Pennsylvania. In 2017, Huwe became an Assistant Professor of Biology at Temple University, where he taught medical biochemistry, medical genetics, cancer biology, and several other subjects.

During each of his appointments, Huwe became increasingly more passionate about teaching, and he decided to dedicate his career to medical education. Huwe is very excited to be joining Mercer University School of Medicine as an Assistant Professor of Biomedical Sciences this summer. There, he will serve in a medical educator track, primarily teaching first and second year medical students.

“Without Ravi Radhakrishnan and Philip Rea, Professor of Biology in Penn’s School of Arts & Sciences, giving me my first teaching opportunities as a graduate guest lecturer at Penn, I may never have discovered how much I love teaching,” says Huwe. “And without the support and guidance of each of my P.I.’s [Dr.’s Magers, Radhakrishnan, and Dunbrack], I certainly would not be where I am, doing what I love.  I am incredibly thankful for all of the people who helped me in my journey to find my dream job.”

Congratulations and best of luck from everyone in Penn Bioengineering, Dr. Huwe!

President’s Innovation Prize Winner Strella Biotechnology Raises $3.3 Million in Seed Funding

Alumni Malika Shukurova (left) and Katherine Sizov, Strella Biotechnology

Last year, Katherine Sizov (BIO ’19) and Malika Shukurova (BE ’19) earned the 2019 President’s Innovation Prize for their plan to use Internet-of-Things technology to monitor fruit ripeness and reduce waste in produce supply chains. Their company, Strella Biotechnology, received $100,000 of financial support, a $50,000 living stipend for both awardees, and a year of dedicated co-working and lab space at the Pennovation Center.

Now, it has $3.3 million on hand as it attempts to take its technology into retail stores.

As reported in Technically Philly and the Philadelphia Business Journal, the “fruit hacking” company’s seed round funding comes from several venture capital firms, including Pennovation’s Red & Blue Ventures, as well as celebrity investor Mark Cuban.

Strella’s ethylene sensors are already being used by fruit packers in order to more precisely time shipments as their produce ripens. The Penn start-up company thinks retailers could similarly benefit when it comes to deciding when to put their stock out for sale.

Read more at Technically Philly and the Philadelphia Business Journal.

Originally posted on the Penn Engineering Blog.

NB: The initial work for Strella Biotechnology was done by Sizov in Penn Bioengineering’s  George H. Stephenson Foundation Educational Laboratory and Bio-MakerSpace. Read more about how BE’s Bio-MakerSpace has become a hub for start-ups here.

A Message to the Penn Bioengineering Community

A message to the Penn Bioengineering community from BE leadership:

Dear BE Nation,

We wanted you to know that we in BE fully stand behind and reiterate the message from President Gutmann in full support of our Black students, postdocs, staff, colleagues, and friends.

As noted by President Gutmann, we all are feeling outrage, anger, grief, and myriad other emotions. We are at a loss to comprehend and to process the magnitude and implications of the brutality, oppression, and injustice that have come to light once again following the horrific event of George Floyd’s murder.

Several students and colleagues have reached out expressing their desires to contribute actively to effect a positive and progressive change. Our President Gutmann and Provost Pritchett have summarized some of the Penn initiatives towards our local communities in their message linked above. Numerous others are proactively contributing large and small. While we may not agree on many things, we can all agree that a lot remains to be done, and it will take time and sustained effort and commitment on our part. We are committed to the cause: to effect continual and progressive change for nurturing equality and cultural sensitivity as we build a diverse academic ecosystem, and this includes BE, Penn, and our surrounding community. It is our commitment to our Black friends and colleagues.

We take this opportunity to share this article sent by Denise Lay: Answering the Question, ‘What Can I Do?’ and this document compiled by BE Ph.D. student Lasya Sreepada created to share resources and opportunities for members of the University of Pennsylvania community to help their local communities.

Also, here are a  few resources to help cope:

Racial Justice and Equity (from Bucketlisters): A listing of resources, organizations and actions, including Philadelphia specific organizations.

Coping with Racial Trauma (recommended by Penn’s Counseling and Psychological Services [CAPS]): A mental, emotional, physical and spiritual toolkit for coping with racial trauma which provides a window into the personal cost of systemic racism, discrimination and inequality.

Mostly and immediately, we write this note to reiterate that we stand with and support our Black students, postdocs, staff, colleagues, and friends in this difficult period.

Sincerely yours,

Undergraduate Chair Andrew Tsourkas
Graduate Chair Yale Cohen
Department Chair Ravi Radhakrishnan

Penn Postdoctoral Researcher David Lydon-Staley Appointed Assistant Professor in Annenberg School for Communication

by Sophie Burkholder

A Penn Bioengineer will soon join the Annenberg School for Communication as an Assistant Professor of Communication. David Lydon-Staley, Ph.D., recently completed two years as a Postdoctoral Researcher in Penn’s Complex Systems Lab, led by Danielle Bassett, Ph.D., the J. Peter Skirkanich Professor of Bioengineering and Electrical and Systems Engineering.

David Lydon-Staley, Ph.D.

Lydon-Staley started out studying English and Psychology in his undergraduate education, going on to pursue a Ph.D. from Penn State University in Human Development and Family Studies. What brought him to Bassett’s lab was his interest in using cognitive neuroscience to understand the brain patterns and behaviors behind substance abuse and addiction. There, Lydon-Staley examined networks of nicotine withdrawal behaviors, how those behaviors impact each other, and what information they might hold about how to help smokers in their quit attempts. “David’s breadth of interest is only rivalled by his expansive expertise and bottomless enthusiasm,” says Bassett. “I feel incredibly lucky to have had the chance to work with him.”

In his new role at Annenberg, Lydon-Staley will launch the Addiction, Health, and Adolescence Lab, or “AHA!” for short. “My recent work examines engagement with new media during the course of daily life, and how the information sought and encountered relates to both curiosity and substance use,” he says. Lydon-Staley’s new lab will use methods like experience-sampling and functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging to understand brain and behavior, while drawing on theories and tools from  communication, psychology, cognitive neuroscience, network science, and more.

Even though Lydon-Staley will be working out of a new school at Penn, he still has plans to continue collaborating with the Bassett Lab. One ongoing project he has with the lab involves studying how curiosity works in everyday life, and another looks at moment-to-moment patterns of cigarette withdrawal in daily smokers. “Working in the Bassett Lab gave me the confidence and ability to stretch my wings, chase ideas across traditional disciplinary lines, learn new skills, and collaborate with creative and capable scientists every day,” says Lydon-Staley. Those are opportunities he hopes to keep chasing and fostering in his new position.

Beyond continuing his prior research from a communication-based angle, Lydon-Staley is also excited to develop new classes in the Annenberg School. “Annenberg is a very special place. It is an active school, with frequent seminars and many vibrant research centers,” he says. Informed and inspired by the breadth of research from Annenberg scholars, Lydon-Staley hopes that he can create classes that focus on the psychology of time and timing in everyday life—topics that he spends a lot of time thinking about himself.

Above all, Lydon-Staley is excited by the opportunity to stay at Penn and continue the kind of versatile and multi-faceted studies that have been the bedrock of his research so far. He hopes to continue expanding his previous work with not only the Engineering School, but the School of Medicine and the Graduate School of Education as well. “The opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration at Penn are unrivaled, and I am constantly in awe of the quality of students here.”

Bioengineering News Round-Up (April 2020)

by Sophie Burkholder

How to Heal Chronic Wounds with “Smart” Bandages

Some medical conditions, like diabetes or limb amputation, have the potential to result in wounds that never heal, affecting patients for the rest of their lives. Though normal wound-healing processes are relatively understood by medical professionals, the complications that can lead to chronic non-healing wounds are often varied and complex, creating a gap in successful treatments. But biomedical engineering faculty from the University of Connecticut want to change that.

Ali Tamayol, Ph.D., an Associate Professor in UConn’s Biomedical Engineering Department, developed what he’s calling a “smart” bandage in collaboration with researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Harvard Medical School. The bandage, paired with a smartphone platform, has the ability to deliver medications to the wound via wirelessly controlled mini needles. The minimally invasive device thus allows doctors to control medication dosages for wounds without the patient even having to come in for an appointment. Early tests of the device on mice showed success in wound-healing processes, and Tamayol hopes that soon, the technology will be able to do the same for humans.

A New Patch Could Fix Broken Hearts

Heart disease is by far one of the most common medical conditions in the world, and has a high risk of morbidity. While some efforts in tissue engineering have sought to resolve cardiac tissue damage, they often require the use of existing heart cells, which can introduce a variety of complications to its integration into the human body. So, a group of bioengineers at Trinity College in Dublin sought to eliminate the need for cells by creating a patch that mimics both the mechanical and electrical properties of cardiac tissue.

Using thermoelastic polymers, the engineers, led by Ussher Assistant Professor in Biomedical Engineering Michael Monaghan, Ph.D., created a patch that could withstand multiple rounds of stretching and exhibited elasticity: two of the biggest challenges in designing synthetic cardiac tissues. With the desired mechanical properties working, the team then coated the patches with an electroconductive polymer that would allow for the necessary electrical signaling of cardiac tissue without decreasing cell compatibility in the patch. So far, the patch has demonstrated success in both mechanical and electrical behaviors in ex vivo models, suggesting promise that it might be able to work in the human body, too.

3-D Printing a New Tissue Engineering Scaffold

While successful tissue engineering innovations often hold tremendous promise for advances in personalized medicine and regeneration, creating the right scaffold for cells to grow on either before or after implantation into the body can be tricky. One common approach is to use 3-D printers to extrude scaffolds into customizable shapes. But the problem is that not all scaffold materials that are best for the body will hold up their structure in the 3-D printing process.

A team of biomedical engineers at Rutgers University led by Chair of Biomedical Engineering David I. Schreiber, Ph.D., hopes to apply the use of hyaluronic acid — a common natural molecule throughout the human body — in conjunction with polyethylene glycol to create a gel-like scaffold. The hope is that the polyethylene glycol will improve the scaffold’s durability, as using hyaluronic acid alone creates a substance that is often too weak for tissue engineering use. Envisioning this gel-like scaffold as a sort of ink cartridge, the engineers hope that they can create a platform that’s customizable for a variety of different cells that require different mechanical properties to survive. Notably, this new approach can specifically control both the stiffness and the ligands of the scaffold, tailoring it to a number of tissue engineering applications.

A New Portable Chip Can Track Wide Ranges of Brain Activity

Understanding the workings of the human brain is no small feat, and neuroscience still has a long way to go. While recent technology in brain probes and imaging allows for better understanding of the organ than ever before, that technology often requires immense amounts of wires and stationary attachments, limiting the scope of brain activity that can be studied. The answer to this problem? Figure out a way to implant a portable probe into the brain to monitor its everyday signaling pathways.

That’s exactly what researchers from the University of Arizona, George Washington University, and Northwestern University set out to do. Together, they created a small, wireless, and battery-free device that can monitor brain activity by using light. The light-sensing works by first tinting some neurons with a dye that can change its brightness according to neuronal activity levels. Instead of using a battery, the device relies on energy from oscillating magnetic fields that it can pick up with a miniature antenna. Led in part by the University of Arizona’s Gutruf Lab, the new device holds promise for better understanding how complex brain conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s might work, as well as what the mechanisms of some mental health conditions look like, too.

People & Places

Each year, the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) elects new members in what is considered one of the highest professional honors in engineering. This year, NAE elected 87 new members and 18 international members, including a former Penn faculty member and alumna Susan S. Margulies, Ph.D. Now a professor of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University, Margulies was recognized by the NAE for her contributions to “elaborating the traumatic injury thresholds of brain and lung in terms of structure-function mechanisms.” Congratulations, Dr. Margulies!

Nimmi Ramanujam, Ph.D., a Distinguished Professor of Bioengineering at Duke University, was recently announced as having one of the highest-scoring proposals for the MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change competition for her proposal “Women-Inspired Strategies for Health (WISH): A Revolution Against Cervical Cancer.” Dr. Ramanujam’s proposal, which will enter the next round of competition for the grant, focuses on closing the cervical cancer inequity gap by creating a new model of women-centered healthcare.

Penn Bioengineering Former Postdoc Whelton Miller Appointed Assistant Professor Loyola University

 

Whelton Miller, Ph.D.

The Department of Bioengineering is proud to congratulate Whelton Miller, Ph.D., a former BE Postdoctoral Fellow, on his appointment as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Medicine in the Health Sciences Division at Loyola University. Miller’s appointment began in January 2020.

Miller received his B.S. in Biochemistry in 2001 from the University of Delaware where he worked under the supervision of Dr. Douglass F. Taber. After graduation, he worked in industry as a synthetic organic chemist for a pharmaceutical company. After three years of industry experience, he returned to academia to complete a Ph.D. in Theoretical/Computational Chemistry from the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia in 2012.

After graduate school, he was given a unique opportunity through Penn’s Postdoctoral Opportunities in Research and Teaching (PennPORT) program, an NIH-sponsored, Institutional Research and Academic Career Development Award (IRACDA) postdoctoral fellowship. In addition to Miller’s responsibilities through the PennPORT program, he served on the Biomedical Postdoctoral Council (BPC), as well as chair of the Engineering PostDoc Association (EpoD). He has worked closely with the Physician Scientist Training Program (PSTP) as a mentor to a high school student, as well as a program guest speaker. This allowed Miller to be a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Bioengineering at Penn in the Radhakrishnan Lab – led by BE Department Chair Ravi Radhakrishnan – which focuses on the interface between chemical physics and molecular biology.

Miller has also gained experience in various affiliated appointments, serving as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Physics at Lincoln University (2015-2019), and is currently an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (CBE) at Penn and an Adjunct Professor in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Ghana in Accra.

Miller joined Loyola University in Chicago, IL in the summer of 2019. Now in his new faculty position, Miller continues to work on collaborative research projects and include colleagues at Instituto Tecnológico de Santo Domingo, the University of Pennsylvania, Lincoln University, University of Ghana, and the University of the Sciences. His current research involves using computational chemistry techniques for theoretical design and study of organometallic and inorganic compounds, protein ligand interactions, and structural electronic effects. His goal is to employ several computational techniques to understand, as well as predict, molecular interactions, such as protein-ligand interactions and protein-protein interactions. Miller says he is always looking forward to more opportunities for minority student development and enrichment in the STEM-related disciplines. Congratulations, Dr. Miller!