Strella Biotechnology tackles food waste by ‘hacking the fruit’

Last spring, we congratulated Penn Bioengineering graduating BE senior Malika Shukurova (BSE ’19) and her co-founder Katherine Sizov (Biology ’19) on their President’s Innovation Prize for their start-up Strella Biotechnology. Katherine began the work for what became Strella as a sophomore in the Penn Bioengineering George H. Stephenson Foundation Educational Laboratory & Bio-MakerSpace. For more info on their company, check out the article and video below.

by Eric K. Brockmeier

On the second floor of the Pennovation Center, Strella Biotechnology is hard at work turning their student-led startup into a full-fledged company that’s ready to make a major impact in the agricultural sector.

May graduates Katherine Sizov and Malika Shukurova, respectively the CEO and head of R&D at Strella, share a 2019 President’s Innovation Prize, which includes $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. The alumnae and their company are now poised to take on the challenge of $1 trillion worth of food waste.

Strella’s biosensors are designed to give packers real-time data on how ripe their fruits are while being stored between harvesting and selling. Using bio-inspired sensors that measure the ethylene gas produced by fruits as they ripen, Strella successfully “hacked the fruit” to create their patent-pending biosensors. Now, only six months after graduation, Strella has six paying customers and is aiming for $100,000 in sales by the end of the season.

Beyond the work needed to deploy their first paid product, Strella also has a clear view of what needs to be done for future progress of the company. This means running experiments in the lab to refine their current sensors while conducting other experiments that will help the company be able to monitor other types of fresh foods. It’s a job that Shukurova says involves a lot of multitasking and requires an “all-hands” approach to problem solving.

“We set up experiments that run for several days, and during that period we work on different tasks. I prepare for the next set of experiments, Jacob [Jordan] and Katherine travel to our customers to deploy sensors, and Zuyang [Liu]]works on IoT [Internet of Things]. At the end of the day we all come together to discuss results and future plans,” says Shukurova about their company’s work flow.

Continue reading at Penn Today.

Rebound Liberia Kicks Into a New Phase

Last spring, we congratulated Penn Bioengineering graduating senior Oladunni Alomaja (BSE ’19) and her partners at Rebound Liberia on their President’s Engagement Prize. Check out the article and video below on their exciting project.

By Brandon Baker

Fueled by the encouragement and support they received this spring and summer, the three Penn alumni behind Rebound Liberia are now laser-focused on carrying their mission of promoting education and empowerment straight to the basket.

The Rebound Liberia team is led by Princess Aghayere, Oladunni Alomaja, and Summer Kollie, all May Penn graduates who received the President’s Engagement Prize — a $100,000 project prize and $50,000 living stipend per team member, awarded for post-graduation projects that make a positive, lasting difference in the world. The trio, each of whom has connections to West Africa and strives to give back, proposed an NGO that would bridge the literacy gap in post-conflict Liberia between male and female youth through workshops and a basketball program for women.

On Sept. 4, after months of preparation, the team relocated to Monrovia, Liberia, and is settling in.

“I think there’s some cultural shock,” says Aghayere, musing about the adjustment. “But Penn is a great place to travel and a lot of us took advantage of opportunities to travel. I’m not surprised, because this is not my first time on the continent, but there are things unique about Liberia. Getting used to the accents, the weather, the currency — but it’s fun.”

Aghayere and Alomaja were born in Nigeria, while Kollie is from Liberia.

Their days so far, they explain, have been consistently jam-packed with meetings. At present, they’re planning an inter-school basketball tournament to introduce their program to Liberia; in recent weeks, they’ve made connections with school administrators, found their footing in the community, and worked through the logistics of organizing a tournament — which, they note, they had some practice with in 2018, creating a summer basketball clinic in Monrovia, Liberia, for girls that was hosted twice a week.

The upcoming tournament, which will include 120 female players on Nov. 22–24, represents a first step toward their larger intention to build a basketball court and program, and marry that with literacy resources. They aim to serve approximately 60 girls in their program.

“We didn’t think it would be wise to move in September and not have an event until the next June or so, so we thought [of] the tournament,” says Aghayere, explaining the origins of the tournament. “At first, we were thinking we’d have a team and foster the game amongst girls here in Monrovia, and we wanted to include a lot more girls and create this sort of league of our own while introducing ourselves as this new social enterprise in Liberia. We thought a tournament would be a launch of Rebound Liberia and introduce us to the community here.”

Continue reading at Penn Today.

Scholarship donors, students celebrate at ‘electric’ event

Nearly four years ago, when Angelica Du was a freshman, she recalled being completely “awestruck” upon walking into her first Scholarship Celebration.

“It’s just really warm,” the now-senior noted at this year’s event, which took place Wednesday, Nov. 20. “My donors have always been so warm with me.”

Seniors Angelica Du and Hayley Boote pose for a photo with Penn President Amy Gutmann at the Scholarship Celebration.

Du—with a smile that’s constant, as well as contagious—scanned the red-and-blue draped walls of the John R. Rockwell Gymnasium, completely transformed for the yearly event on campus, and eyed the appetizers being passed. She glanced at her proud mom, a few folks over. Hosted by the Undergraduate Named Scholarship Program, the Celebration is one that has grown to attract hundreds of scholarship donors and their recipients and families, for an evening of networking and good-old-fashioned catching up.

“[Angelica] tells me that she’s proud,” said Jerry Riesenbach, a Wharton School alumnus who helped support Du’s cost of education through the Class of 1960 scholarship fund. “And I said to her, she makes us proud. Being able to provide funds is one thing, but seeing the benefit that goes to these young people, who have such tremendous aspirations and are so grateful, is another.”

At Penn, Du, who will graduate with her bachelor’s in bioengineering in May and her master’s in December 2020, designs robots and conducts neurobiology research. She teaches thermodynamics and critical writing to her peers. She sings for a Disney-themed a cappella group, serves her community in a Christian union, celebrates her culture in the Penn Philippine Association, and advocates within several honor societies. This past summer, she worked at Thermo Fisher Scientific, running experiments for a next-generation sequencer that will take a patient’s DNA, sequence it, and diagnose it within 24 hours.

Read the full story at Penn Today.  Media contact Lauren Hertzler.

Student Spotlight: Katie Falcone

Master’s student Katie Falcone

Next up in our student spotlight series is graduate student Katie Falcone, a second-year Master’s student Bioengineering. Originally from the Philadelphia suburbs, Katie did her undergraduate degree at Drexel University’s Biomedical Engineering program and has been living in the University City area for almost nine years.

 

 

 

What drew you to the field of Bioengineering?

What originally drew me to this field was a “Women in Engineering Day” I attended at a local college while in high school. I had the opportunity to hear incredible women speak about their research regarding biomaterials and tissue engineering. This event showed me the impact this field can have on the world. This drove me to pursue an undergraduate degree in Biomedical Engineering, which only strengthened my passion. As I furthered my studies and began working full-time at a biotechnology company, I learned more about bioengineering. With encouragement from my coworkers and family, I decided to pursue my Master’s in Bioengineering and am delighted to have the opportunity to study at Penn.

What kind of research do you conduct, and what do you hope to focus on for your thesis?

I am actually a part-time student, who works full-time at a drug packaging and medical device company out in Exton, PA. Though I am not doing research on campus, my coursework has tied into previous research projects I have participated in at my job. My latest project entailed understanding different material properties used in container closure systems for mAb-based biologics and how they interact. This work was done to support an understanding of how to pick appropriate vial/syringe systems for various drug products in development.

What’s your favorite thing to do on Penn’s campus or in Philly?

My favorite thing to do is trying all the new restaurants and incredible foods this city has to offer. I think Philadelphia is so unique and has such rich cultural influences. With so many different neighborhoods and restaurant options you really can’t go wrong.

What did you study for your undergraduate degree, how does it pair with the work you’re doing now, and what advice would you give to your undergraduate self?

My undergraduate degree was in Biomedical Engineering. It has supported my graduate coursework very well and has given me a great opportunity to dive deeper into certain parts of my studies.

My advice to my younger self would be to take your time! It took me a little while to evaluate different graduate programs and choose which was right for me. Though it took some time, I ultimately decided what was best for me and couldn’t be happier with my choices.

What are you thinking about doing after graduate school?

Currently, I work full-time as an Associate Packaging Engineer at West Pharmaceutical Services in Exton, PA. I hope to take my degree to further my career and to help support my future aspirations at this company.

Student Spotlight: Raveen Kariyawasam

Raveen Kariyawasam (BSE & BS ’21)

The first in our new student spotlight series is junior Raveen Kariyawasam. Raveen (BSE & BS ’21) is a dual degree student in the School of Engineering and Applied Science and Wharton, studying Bioengineering, Finance, and Management.

 

 

 

 

What drew you to the field of Bioengineering?

Growing up in Sri Lanka and being surrounded by relatives who were doctors, I have been fascinated by both modern and traditional medicine. However, during physician shadowing in high school, I came to the realization that I was far more fascinated with the technology doctors use rather than practicing medicine. Therefore, I made the decision to turn down studying medicine in the U.K. and come to Penn to study Bioengineering in the hopes of being more hands-on with medical technology.

Have you done research with a professor on campus? What did you like, and what didn’t you like about it?

I currently work in the Interventional Radiology Lab at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP) under Assistant Professor of Radiology Chamith Rajapakse. The best thing about research here is that I get to be hands-on with some of the most cutting edge technology in the world and help pioneer medical diagnostic techniques that aren’t traditionally being used anywhere else. The only downside is that the learning curve can be a little too steep.

What have been some of your favorite courses and/or projects in Bioengineering so far?

Without a doubt, my favorite BE class has to be BE 309 (Bioengineering Modeling, Analysis and Design Laboratory I) and especially the Computer-Cockroach Interface we have to develop for this lab.

What advice would you give to your freshman self?

There are way too many things happening at a given time at Penn. Take it easy and plan it out so you can do everything you want to! It’s totally possible. Who says you can’t work hard and play hard?!

What do you hope to pursue after obtaining your undergraduate degree?

My hope is to head my own health-tech startup and create technologies that will aid developing countries, starting out with my humble island of Sri Lanka first.

BE Senior Design Team Wins Berkman Prize

Senior Design Group MeVR

We would like to congratulate Penn Bioengineering Senior Design team MeVR on winning a Berkman Prize. MeVR consists of current BE seniors Nicole Chiou, Gabriel DeSantis, Ben Habermeyer, and Vera Lee. Awarded by the Penn Engineering Entrepreneurship Program, the Berkman Opportunity Fund provides grants to support students with innovative ideas that might turn into products and companies.

Bioengineering Seniors Ben Habermeyer (top left), Nicole Chiou (top right), Gabriel DeSantis (bottom right), and Vera Lee (bottom left)

MeVR is a bioresponsive virtual reality platform for administering biofeedback therapy. Biofeedback is the process of gaining greater awareness of involuntary physiological functions using sensors that provide information on the activity of those bodily systems, with the goal of gaining voluntary control over functions such as heart rate, muscle tension, and pain perception. This therapy is used to treat a variety of conditions such as chronic pain, stress, anxiety, and PTSD. These treatments cost on the order of hundreds to thousands of dollars, require the presence of a therapist to set up and deliver the therapy session, and are generally not interactive or immersive. MeVR is a platform to reduce these limitations of biofeedback therapy through an individualized, immersive, and portable device which guides users through biofeedback therapy using wearable sensors and a virtual reality environment which responds in real-time to biological feedback from the user’s body.

As part of the two-semester Senior Design course (BE 495 & BE 496), MeVR and the rest of the Bioengineering B.S.E. seniors will continue to develop their projects throughout the remainder of the academic year in George H. Stephenson Foundation Educational Laboratory & Bio-MakerSpace, culminating in their final presentations and the annual SEAS Senior Design Project Competition at the end of the spring 2020 semester.

 

Blinking Eye-on-a-Chip is One of NSF’s ‘4 Awesome Discoveries’

Each week, the National Science Foundation highlights “4 Awesome Discoveries You Probably Didn’t Hear About” — a kid-friendly YouTube series that highlights particularly eye-popping NSF-supported research.

This week, one of those stories was literally about an eye, or rather, a synthetic model of one.

Dan Huh, associate professor in the Department of Bioengineering, and graduate student Jeongyun Seo, recently published a paper that outlined their new blinking eye-on-a-chip. Containing human cells and mechanical parts designed to mimic natural biological functions, including a motorized eyelid, the device was developed as platform for modeling dry eye disease and testing drugs to treat it.

See more of the series at the NSF’s Science360 site, and read more about Huh’s blinking-eye-on-a-chip research here.

Originally posted on the Penn Engineering Medium blog.

APOC in Ghana 2019: May 23rd

In this series of posts, University of Pennsylvania students who took the spring 2019 APOC (Appropriate Point of Care Diagnostics) course write about their experience traveling to Ghana in May-June 2019.

by Aime Bienfait Igiraneza (Computer Science, ’20)

The morning was fantastic! Several group members were having a slightly enhanced digestion, which turned out not so great. It did not help that we also saw at least three guys peeing on the street, a serious public health issue that should be looked into. Nonetheless, we were excited for the day and we were not disappointed. We were about to visit one of the regional hospitals. If I were to summarize the day, there were two main takeaways: First, the hospital has an amazing system that works. Second, the potential of the system in place is not fully explored.

We started by meeting the medical director of the hospital along with another doctor specializing in tuberculosis. The main methods used to diagnose TB are microscopy and GeneXpert when the patient can produce sputum. Otherwise, the use of X-rays test is the remaining option. Although patients with TB can be diagnosed within two hours, it is still challenging to catch all cases due to stigma and the fact that testing is only ever done in the morning. Even the detected cases are more likely to be very advanced as people tend to first try other medicines when they encounter symptoms such as coughing, thinking that it will simply go away. However, an interesting program to collect sputum from pharmacies has been initiated which allows professionals to catch those who simply buy cough medicines from drug stores. After being diagnosed, patients are prescribed TB pills and these patients are re-checked after six months, which unfortunately is not always followed up on. When possible, patients are also followed up on at home by special health workers who ensure that pills are taken as prescribed. Even better, injectables are administered once in four months, thus reducing the burden of taking pills every day.

A few technical challenges were mentioned. The first one is that medical records for every patient are still saved in books, which pile up over time making it difficult to manage. A software called Health Administration Management System (HAMS) is used to save patients’ identifications and registration book numbers. When this book is updated, so is the HAMS account corresponding to the particular patient. All this is done in real time. Then, at the end of the day, staff from the Health and Information office use a software called District Health Management System (DHMS) to collect the information about the types of patients seen that day. This information is drawn from HAMS as well as record books. Thus, the challenge is how to automate the uploading of data from HAMS to DHMS in real time without waiting until the end of the day to manually do it. This has not been possible in part because HAMS does not contain all the necessary details.

Overall, it’s impressive how well everything works, given the current structure and workflow. At least, we learned about a few challenges, which by the way, were not always revealed to us. As usual, a ridiculously delicious lunch was provided. We also passed by the mall and bought a few fabrics. When we came back from the hospital, we picked up some KFC chickens for dinner and kept enjoying the incredible Ghanaian hospitality until we called it a day.