A team of recent Penn Bioengineering graduates have been included in list of prominent young Philadelphia innovators as chosen by The Philadelphia Business Journal and PHL Inno.
Gabriella Daltoso, Sophie Ishiwari, Gabriela Cano, Caroline Amanda Magro, and Tifara Eliana Boyce founded Sonura as their Senior Design Project in Bioengineering. The team, who all graduated in 2023, picked up a competitive President’s Innovation Prize for their 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. Now, they have been included in the list of fourteen Inno Under 25 honorees for 2023.
“To determine this year’s list, the Philadelphia Business Journal and PHL Inno sought nominations from the public and considered candidates put forth by our editorial team. To be considered, nominees must be 25 years of age or younger and work for a company based in Greater Philadelphia and/or reside in the region.
Honorees span a wide range of industries, including consumer goods, biotechnology and environmental solutions. Many are products of the region’s colleges and universities, though some studied farther afield before setting up shop locally.”
Three graduate students in Bioengineering have collaborated to craft a list of recommendations to improve science communication during national health emergencies.
Doctoral students Miles J. Arnett, Dimitris Boufidis, and Melanie Hilman are part of the Penn Science Policy and Diplomacy Group (PSPDG), student organization which creates opportunities for students to get hands-on experience in Science Policy, Diplomacy, and Communication.
Their brief reviews the public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic and recommends specific improvements to science policy and communication by national scientific institutions:
“The public health response to the pandemic was dramatically weakened by an uncoordinated communication strategy, inconsistent messaging, and fractured media environments. These shortcomings had a real human cost, with an estimated hundreds of thousands of Americans dying as a consequence of high rates of vaccine hesitancy. Now, in the aftermath of the pandemic, we have a chance to learn from this crisis and develop a more robust science communication infrastructure for future health emergencies.“
Cosette Tomita, a master’s student in Bioengineering, spoke with Penn Engineering Graduate Admissions about her research in cellular therapy and her path to Penn Engineering.
“What were you doing before you came to Penn Engineering?
After college I wanted to get some industry experience before going to graduate school, so I spent a year working for a pharmaceutical company in New Jersey. I learned a lot—but mostly I learned that I wanted to go back into academia. So I was looking for a more research-oriented position to boost my graduate school applications, and I found a position at Penn’s cyclotron facility. Shortly after that, I applied to the master’s program. I’m still working at the cyclotron, so I’m doing the program part time.
How has your experience in the program been so far?
I love the research I’m doing here. I love the collaboration we have and the fact that I’m able to work with whoever I want to. And I can only say good things about my PI, Robert Mach. He’s a very busy man, but he makes time for his people. And he recognizes when somebody has a lot on their plate and he will go to bat for that person.
What’s your research all about?
The focus of my PI’s lab is on neurodegenerative diseases and opiate use, so we’re looking to make imaging agents and antagonists that can help with the opioid crisis.
For my project, I wanted to look at treating neurodegenerative disease from the perspective of cellular therapy. My PI doesn’t have that expertise, so when I came to him with this idea, he said I should talk to Mark Sellmyer in the bioengineering department. He does a lot of cellular therapies, cell engineering, protein engineering and things of that nature. So his lab is more biological.
I don’t have a grant for my research, so my advisors are supporting it out of their own pockets. They could have said, no, you need to work on this project that’s already going on in the lab. But they gave me the intellectual freedom to do what I wanted to do.”
In a recent CNN feature, César de la Fuente, Presidential Assistant Professor in Bioengineering, Psychiatry, Microbiology, and in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering commented on a study about a new type of antibiotic that was discovered with artificial intelligence:
“I think AI, as we’ve seen, can be applied successfully in many domains, and I think drug discovery is sort of the next frontier.”
The de la Fuente lab uses machine learning and biology to help prevent, detect, and treat infectious diseases, and is pioneering the research and discovery of new antibiotics.
Neil Sheppard, Adjunct Associate Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine in the Perelman School of Medicine, and David Mai, a Bioengineering graduate student in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, explained the findings of their recent study, which offered a potential strategy to improve T cell therapy in solid tumors, to the European biotech news website Labiotech.
Two heads are better than one. The ethos behind the scientific research project Folding@home is that same idea, multiplied: 50,000 computers are better than one.
Folding@home is a distributed computing project which is used to simulate protein folding, or how protein molecules assemble themselves into 3-D shapes. Research into protein folding allows scientists to better understand how these molecules function or malfunction inside the human body. Often, mutations in proteins influence the progression of many diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and even COVID-19.
Penn is home to both the computer brains and human minds behind the Folding@home project which, with its network, forms the largest supercomputer in the world. All of that computing power continually works together to answer scientific questions such as what areas of specific protein implicated in Parkinson’s disease may be susceptible to medication or other treatment.
Using the network hub at Penn, Bowman and his team assign experiments to each individual computer which communicates with other computers and feeds info back to Philly. To date, the network is comprised of more than 50,000 computers spread across the world.
“What we do is like drawing a map,” said Bowman, explaining how the networked computers work together in a type of system that experts call Markov state models. “Each computer is like a driver visiting different places and reporting back info on those locations so we can get a sense of the landscape.”
Individuals can participate by signing up and then installing software to their standard personal desktop or laptop. Participants can direct the software to run in the background and limit it to a certain percentage of processing power or have the software run only when the computer is idle.
When the software is at work, it’s conducting unique experiments designed and assigned by Bowman and his team back at Penn. Users can play scientist and watch the results of simulations and monitor the data in real time, or they can simply let their computer do the work while they go about their lives.
“Through their collaborative research, they are aiming to develop next-generation treatments for dental caries (tooth-decay) using lipid nanoparticles, the same delivery vehicles employed in the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine technology.
‘This project shows the type of innovative ideas and collaborations that we are kickstarting through the IDEA prize,’ says Dr. Michel Koo, co-director of the CiPD and Professor at Penn Dental Medicine. ‘This is a great example of synergistic interaction at the interface of engineering and oral health’ adds Dr. Kate Stebe, co-director of the CiPD and Professor at Penn Engineering.”
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.
“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.'”
Brain development does not occur uniformly across the brain, but follows a newly identified developmental sequence, according to a new Penn Medicine study. Brain regions that support cognitive, social, and emotional functions appear to remain malleable—or capable of changing, adapting, and remodeling—longer than other brain regions, rendering youth sensitive to socioeconomic environments through adolescence. The findings are published in Nature Neuroscience.
Researchers charted how developmental processes unfold across the human brain from the ages of 8 to 23 years old through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The findings indicate a new approach to understanding the order in which individual brain regions show reductions in plasticity during development.
Brain plasticity refers to the capacity for neural circuits—connections and pathways in the brain for thought, emotion, and movement—to change or reorganize in response to internal biological signals or the external environment. While it is generally understood that children have higher brain plasticity than adults, this study provides new insights into where and when reductions in plasticity occur in the brain throughout childhood and adolescence.
The findings reveal that reductions in brain plasticity occur earliest in “sensory-motor” regions, such as visual and auditory regions, and occur later in “associative” regions, such as those involved in higher-order thinking (problem solving and social learning). As a result, brain regions that support executive, social, and emotional functions appear to be particularly malleable and responsive to the environment during early adolescence, as plasticity occurs later in development.
“Studying brain development in the living human brain is challenging. A lot of neuroscientists’ understanding about brain plasticity during development actually comes from studies conducted with rodents. But rodent brains do not have many of what we refer to as the association regions of the human brain, so we know less about how these important areas develop,” says corresponding author Theodore D. Satterthwaite,the McLure Associate Professor of Psychiatry in the Perelman School of Medicine, and director of the Penn Lifespan Informatics and Neuroimaging Center (PennLINC).
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.'”