Joseph Lance Casila, a doctoral student and Fontaine Fellow in Bioengineering, was profiled by his alma mater, the University of Guam (UOG. Casila was the first person in his family to graduate from a U.S.-accredited university and is now studying tissue engineering and regenerative medicine in the Bioengineering and Biomaterials Laboratory of Riccardo Gottardi, Assistant Professor in Bioengineering in Penn Engineering and Pediatrics in Penn Medicine and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). His research in the Gottardi lab employs “tissue engineering and drug delivery for biomedical problems relating to knees, ears, nose, and throat but specifically to pediatric airway disorders.” The article discusses Casila’s journey from valedictorian of his high school, to a first-generation undergraduate interested bioengineering, and now a graduate student studying at Penn on a full scholarship. After completing his degree, Casila hopes to bring what he’s learned back home to advance health care in Guam.
“My mentors, and especially my friends, helped me make the most of what UOG had to offer, and it paid off rewardingly,” he said. “You get what you put in.”
Endotracheal tubes are a mainstay of hospital care, as they ensure a patient’s airway is clear when they can’t breathe on their own. However, keeping a foreign object inserted in this highly sensitive part of the anatomy comes is not without risk, such as the possibility of infection, inflammation and a condition known as subglottic stenosis, in which scar tissue narrows the airway.
Broad-spectrum antibiotics are one way to mitigate these risks, but come with risks of their own, including harming beneficial bacteria and contributing to antibiotic resistance.
With this conundrum in mind, Riccardo Gottardi, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and of Bioengineering at Penn Engineering, along with Bioengineering graduate students and lab members Matthew Aronson and Paul Gehret, are developing endotracheal tubes that can provide a more targeted antimicrobial defense.
In a proof-of-concept study published in the journal The Laryngoscope, the team showed how a different type of antimicrobial agent could be incorporated into the tubes’ polymer coating, as well as preliminary results suggesting these devices would better preserve a patient’s microbiome.
Instead, the investigators explored the use of antimicrobial peptides (AMPs), which are small proteins that destabilize bacterial membranes, causing bacterial cells to fall apart and die. This mechanism of action allows them to target specific bacteria and makes them unlikely to promote antimicrobial resistance. Prior studies have shown that it is possible to coat endotracheal tubes with conventional antibiotics, so the research team investigated the possibility of incorporating AMPs into polymer-coated tubes to inhibit bacterial growth and modulate the upper-airway microbiome.
The researchers, led by Matthew Aronson, a graduate student in Penn Engineering’s Department of Bioengineering, tested their theory by creating a polymer coating that would release Lasioglossin-III, an AMP with broad-spectrum antibacterial activity. They found that Lasio released from coated endotracheal tubes, reached the expected effective concentration rapidly and continued to release at the same concentration for a week, which is the typical timeframe that an endotracheal is used before being changed. The investigators also tested their drug-eluting tube against airway microbes, including S. epidermidis, S. pneumoniae, and human microbiome samples and observed significant antibacterial activity, as well as prevention of bacterial adherence to the tube.
Read “CHOP Researchers Develop Coating for Endotracheal Tubes that Releases Antimicrobial Peptides” at CHOP News.
We are very pleased to announce that ten current and future graduate students in the Department of Bioengineering have received 2021 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. Further information about the program can be found on the NSF website. BE is thrilled to congratulate our excellent students on these well-deserved accolades! Continue reading below for a list of 2021 recipients and descriptions of their research.
Puneeth Guruprasad is a Ph.D. student in the lab of Marco Ruella, Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology/Oncology and the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies at the Perelman School of Medicine. His work applies next generation sequencing methods to characterize tumors and study the genetic basis of resistance to cancer immunotherapy, namely chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy.
Gabrielle (Gabby) Ho is a Ph.D. student in the lab of Brian Chow, Associate Professor in Bioengineering. She works on design strategies for engineering near-infrared fluorescent proteins and tools.
Abbas Idris is a Master’s student in the lab of Lukasz Bugaj, Assistant Professor in Bioengineering. His work focuses on using optogenetic tools to develop controllable protein assemblies for the study of cell signaling behaviors.
Additionally, seven NSF GRFP honorees from other institutions will be joining our department as Ph.D. students in the fall of 2021. We congratulate them as well and look forward to welcoming them to Penn:
Manuela Teresa Raimondi was appointed Visiting Professor in Bioengineering in the Associated Faculty of the School of Engineering and Applied Science for the 2020-2021 academic year. Raimondi received her Ph.D. in Bioengineering in 2000 from Politecnico di Milano, Italy. She is currently a Full Professor of Bioengineering at Politecnico di Milano in the Department of Chemistry, Materials and Chemical Engineering “G. Natta”, where she teaches the course “Technologies for Regenerative Medicine” in the Biomedical Engineering graduate program.
Raimondi is the founder and Director of the Mechanobiology Lab and of the Interdepartmental Live Cell Imaging lab. She has pioneered the development of cutting edge tools for cell modelling, ranging from micro-engineered stem cell niches, to miniaturized windows for in vivo intravital imaging, to microfluidic culture systems to engineer tissue-equivalents and organoids for cell modelling and drug discovery. Her platforms are currently commercialized by her start-up, MOAB srl. Her research is funded by the European Research Council (ERC), by The National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs), by the European Commission, and by the European Space Agency.
“Getting to Penn was quite the challenge with the various travel restrictions and the pandemic, but I am used to overcoming adverse odds and I am really excited to be here now,” says Dr. Raimondi. “In this challenging time, when many new barriers are coming up, I think building bridges and new scientific collaborations is even more important. I very much look forward to being part of the Penn research community.”
During her sabbatical at Penn, Raimondi is investigating her hypothesis that stem cells pluripotency reprogramming can be guided by mechanical cues. Over the past five years, she has cultured many different stem cell types in the “Nichoids,” the synthetic stem cell niche she developed, and gathered robust evidence on how physical constraints at the microscale level upregulate pluripotency. Raimondi is hosted in the Bioengineering and Biomaterials Lab of Riccardo Gottardi, Assistant Professor in Bioengineering and in Pediatrics at the Perelman School of Medicine, where she is helping to refine human stem cell sources that could be minimally manipulated for translational tissue engineering for a safe and effective use in regenerative therapies, as a key issue for clinical translation is the maintenance or enhancement of multipotency during cell expansion without exogenous agents or genetic modification.
“Dr. Raimondi is a trailblazer in Italy in regenerative medicine who has introduced many new concepts in a sometimes musty academic environment and has shattered a number of glass ceilings,” says Dr. Gottardi. “I think her sabbatical at Penn is a great opportunity for her and for the Penn community to build new and exciting trans-Atlantic collaborations.”