Learning How to Learn: You Do Belong in Science Podcast #3

learning how to learn

Many students arrive in college under-prepared for success, and professors have the responsibility– and opportunity — to help them gain skills to enable their success and find belonging in STEM. However, few professors are trained to help students develop these skills, so Double Shelix’s guest, Sherri Messersmith, incorporates them into her series of developmental math textbooks! On this episode, Sherri shares her journey in math, from besting elementary school bullies on every math test, to high school math teacher, to college math professor, and now author of 15 college math textbooks. Kayla and Sally discuss with Sherri how staying true to your passions outside your main focus area — like writing, cooking, and travel, for Sherri — can make you better at your job, and even open the door to new opportunities — like textbook authorship! Sherri tells Sally and Kayla what departments can do to engage with students in introductory courses and how to build students’ confidence in difficult material. As Sherri says, life is not linear, so follow your passions, work hard, and be ready if fortune strikes with an amazing opportunity! Sherri is an experienced educator and speaker on the topic of enabling student success, and Double Shelix was honored to have her.

Also on this episode, Sally and Kayla hear from a listener who was told by professors that they didn’t belong in their grad program because they went to a small liberal arts college, not a big research institution — what?! We discuss how students take these kinds of comments from faculty really harshly, and how faculty can do better. Also, the importance of peer support in making it through trying times when you’re singled out or are the “only one.”

Resources:
*Road Trip Nation, the book that inspired Sherri’s career leap to textbook authorship: www.roadtripnation.com
*Sherri’s textbooks: https://amzn.to/2JRcHct
*Follow Sally and Kayla on Twitter @sallywinkler and @Kayla_J_Wolf
*Follow DS on Twitter @doubleshelixpod

Upcoming #YouDoBelongInScience episodes will feature your stories! Fill out this form or call Double Shelix’s voicemail, 415-895-0850, to share your story of (dis)belonging in STEM. Sally and Kayla are hoping to share a diverse set of experiences from our listeners, but they need your help to make that happen!

Week in BioE (April 17, 2018)

Mosquito Bites Inspire Brain Implants

mosquitoesWe’ve talked before at this site about the difficulty involved in implanting devices in the brain. One chief problem is that any implant to record brain signals causes small amounts of damage that causes signal quality to deteriorate over time. One approach to overcoming this problem uses flexible materials that can move with brain tissue movement, rather than resisting the movement to cause damage.

One of the more recent designs was inspired by an NPR report on mosquitoes. Dr. Andrew Shoffstall, a postdoc in the lab of Jeffrey Capadona, PhD, Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU), saw the report and used the mechanism that mosquitoes use when biting people to design a new device, which the CWRU team describes in an article in Scientific Reports.

The authors studied the buckling force when mosquitoes puncture the skin, using this design to invent new microneedles for brain implant recordings. The group fashioned a 3D-printed plastic device to mimic the process used by the mosquito. They tested the device, first mechanically and then in rat brains, finding that the device could successfully implant a microelectrode in 8 out of 8 trials. Certainly the device will require much more rigorous testing, but if successful, it could change the way implants are inserted into human patients.

Big News About Small Things

Speaking of implants, they continue to decrease in size.  Scientists at Stanford University created a wireless device that is the size of a rice grain. Reporting in IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Circuits and Systems, the scientists, led by Amin Arbabian, PhD, Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering at Stanford, and including Dr. Felicity Gore, a postdoc in the Department of Bioengineering, describe the design and fabrication of this implant. The implant was designed to stimulate peripheral nerves using either platinum electrodes connected directly to the nerve or light from a blue LED to stimulate optogenetic channels expressed in the neurons. The group conducted an in vivo experiment, using the device to stimulate the sciatic nerve of a frog, and they showed the device’s feasibility. Powered by ultrasound transmitted through the skin, the device has no external wire connections. The size of the implant, combined with its ability to target single nerves, could revolutionize how pain is treated, among other applications. 

Meanwhile, here at Penn, the creation of very small things is getting a very big boost. In a new collaboration among schools and centers, the university’s Center for Targeted Therapeutics and Translational Nanomedicine has established the Chemical and Nanoparticle Synthesis Core (CNSC). The director, Andrew Tsourkas, PhD, is a Professor in the Department of Bioengineering and the Undergraduate Chair. The mission of the CNSC is to provide a concierge level service for Penn faculty interested in synthesizing new molecules for therapy development, as well as new nanoparticles for advanced diagnostics.

A Leap Forward With Stem Cells

Over the last decade, stem cell research has resulted in significant contributions to medical science. One application is the modeling of organs and organ systems for studies before in vivo investigations. However, stem cell projects involving the heart have been limited by the inability to get these cells to a mature state.

However, in a letter published in Nature, researchers at Columbia University and the University of Minho in Portugal describe how they used electrical and mechanical stimulation of human induced pluripotent stem cells to create more mature cells. The authors, led by Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, PhD, University Professor and Mikati Foundation Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Medical Sciences at Columbia, describe how, after four weeks of culturing under the described conditions, the cells displayed multiple characteristics of maturity, although some electromechanical properties of mature cells remained lacking. These findings show that engineering the physical environment that surrounds cells during development is a key factor for the engineering design of replacement tissue.

Individualizing First Aid

Personalized medicine has begun to affect the way that doctors treat several diseases with genetic bases, notably cancer. However, first aid has lagged a bit behind in personalization, in part because the urgency of first aid care emphasizes fast, practical solutions that work for everyone. However, in a presentation at Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute last month, Jonathan Gerstenhaber, PhD, Assistant Professor of Instruction in the Department of Bioengineering at Temple University, demonstrated a prototype device that uses 3D printing technology to produce personalized bandages when they are needed.

Dr. Gersternhaber created a 3D printer that will print bandages directly onto the skin of the patient. Customizing the fit of the bandage with the printing technology would make them last longer, and the ‘on demand’ production of the bandage provides a chance to individualize the bandage design even in the urgent care setting. The device uses electrospinning technology to create bandages from soy protein, which, as a natural substance, can actually speed healing. Having completed the prototype, Dr. Gerstenhaber has moved onto portable models, as well as a larger device that can make bandages across a larger surface area.

Solving Two Problems in Glaucoma Care 

Glaucoma is one of the earliest medical uses for cannabis, commonly known as marijuana. The cannabinoids in the cannabis plan have the effect of lowering intraocular pressure, which is the primary mechanism underlying glaucoma. However, the intoxicating effects of cannabis pose a problem for many patients. Thus, most patients still rely on eyedrops containing other drugs. Getting the dosage correct with eyedrops is tricky, however, because of the continual blinking and tearing of the eye.

Now, in a new article published in Drug Delivery and Translational Research, a team of researchers led by Vikramaditya G. Yadav, PhD, Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering at the University of British Columbia, describes how they developed a nanoparticle hydrogel medication to deliver a cannabinoid. The authors tested the gel in situ, with good results. The authors imagine that such a gel could be used by patients at bedtime, and during the night, the drug would be dispensed by the gel and be gone by morning.

Jason Burdick Wins Two Research Awards

Burdick
Jason Burdick, PhD

It was a big week’s for Penn Bioengineering‘s Jason Burdick, PhD. This week Dr. Burdick, who is Professor of Bioengineering, received the George H. Heilmeier Faculty Award for Excellence in Research and the Clemson Award from the Society for Biomaterials. Receiving the Heilmeier Award on Tuesday, April 10, Dr. Burdick presented a lecture entitled “”Engineering Hydrogels for Applications in Drug Delivery and Tissue Repair.” Two days later at the annual meeting of the Society for Biomaterials in Atlanta, he received the Clemson and lectured as well.

The Heilmeier Award is  named for George H. Heilmeier, PhD, an alumnus in electrical engineering from Penn and Princeton and executive at RCA, Texas Instruments, DARPA, and other organizations who died in 2014. Dr. Burdick is the sixth BE faculty member (including secondary faculty) to win the award since its institution in 2002. The Clemson awards are given yearly in three areas: basic research; applied research; and contributions to the literature. Dr. Burdick is the first-ever Clemson recipient from Penn. In addition, his PhD student Leo Wang won the Student Award for Outstanding Research by a PhD candidate.

“I am very honored to receive these two awards,” Dr. Burdick said, “which are really reflections of the great lab members that I have had over my years at Penn, as well as the support of fantastic colleagues and collaborators.”

STEM Outreach: You Do Belong in Science Podcast #2

STEM outreach

The real value of STEM outreach is the positive youth development and mentorship that students receive. Being inspired to pursue a STEM career? That’s just a welcome bonus, says guest Noni Williams, a math graduate student and data scientist . Noni joins Kayla and Sally of the Double Shelix podcast to discuss effective strategies for STEM and professional development outreach to kids and teens and her extensive experience leading initiatives from robotics and digital art festivals to AP Computer Science and slam poetry. Also, allyship correspondent Jon Muncie checks in for a discussion on how we can all work to distribute the burden of emotional labor equitably in our workplaces and beyond.

Sally and Kayla also discuss with Noni her experiences being the only woman and/or student from an underrepresented background in her graduate mathematics courses and balancing work as a data scientist at United Way of the Midlands with graduate school. Noni gives advice for others in similar situations. Some of Noni’s keys to success including tracking gratitude, finding peer mentors, and defining clear boundaries around her time. Noni brings her *extensive* experience leading STEM outreach initiatives for kids and teens to this episode.

Upcoming #YouDoBelongInScience episodes will feature your stories! Fill this form or call our voice mail, 415-895-0850, to share your story of (dis)belonging in STEM. Sally and Kayla are hoping to share a diverse set of experiences from our listeners, but they need you to help make that happen!

Get your Double Shelix and You Do Belong in Science stickers here.

Resources

Check out upcoming guests here.

If you liked this episode, listen to a previous Double Shelix episode with mentorship expert Julea Vlassakis -“Next Level Mentorship for Mentees and Mentors

Rate, review, and subscribe to this podcast on iTunes! And please, tell your friends about this podcast!

 

Awards Season for Bioengineering Students

awards seasonIt’s awards season again, and Penn Bioengineering undergraduates and graduate students are among the honorees. Five students received fellowships from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program. Three of our current graduate students — Jason Andrechak, Brendan Murphy, and Wisberty Gordián Vélez — were awarded fellowships. In addition, two of our former undergrads — Elaida Dimwamwa and Ingrid Sheu Lan — won fellowships to attend graduate programs, respectively, at Georgia Tech and Stanford.

Among our Master’s students, Natalie A. Giovino was one of four recipients from the School of Engineering and Applies Science receiving Outstanding Academic Awards. BE undergraduate Jacqueline A. Valeri, who will go on to MIT for her PhD next year, received honorable mention. Finally, at the Rothberg Catalyzer at Penn over the last weekend in March, the first prize (runner-up to grand prize) award of $2,000 went to a team of Penn freshmen including Bioengineering major Jonathan Mairena.

“The successes of our remarkable students continue to be recognized in local and national competitions” says David Meaney, S.R. Pollack Professor and chair of Bioengineering, “and is more evidence of the special environment Penn has for bioengineering.”

Congratulations to all our winners!

Week in BioE (April 10, 2018)

‘Kelp’ Is on the Way!

kelp
Chondrus crispus, a common red algae from which carrageenan is extracted.

Medicine has made tremendous strides since the 1960s, as evidenced by the increased survival rates of combat soldiers since Vietnam. Nevertheless, blood loss remains the most common cause of death of soldiers on the battlefield. Finding a way for medics or soldiers to stop bleeding can significantly cut down on these deaths, but current approaches are either very expensive or not easy to use in combat.

According to a new paper published in Acta Biomaterialia, a solution to this problem could come from seaweed — or more precisely, from kappa-carrageenan, a type of polymeric carbohydrate produced by certain types of edible seaweed.  Akhilesh K. Gaharwar, PhD, Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Texas A&M, led a study team who developed and tested an injectable hydrogel nanoengineered from kappa-carrageenan.

The authors combined kappa-carrageenan with clay-based nanoparticles to yield a hydrogel that can be injected into wounds. When the gel solidifies, it both stanches the flow of blood and helps to generate new tissue. The gel performed well in in vitro experiments. The next step will be to test the gel in animal models of wounds.

A New Understanding of Anatomy

A group of scientists collaborating among Mount Sinai Medical Center, NYU, Weill Cornell Medical Center, and the University of Pennsylvania, including Penn Bioengineering secondary faculty member Rebecca Wells, MD, published a paper in Scientific Reports detailing the heretofore unknown extent of the human interstitium and providing a new understanding of these fluid-filled compartments beneath the skin surface. The study used confocal laser endomicroscopy, which can examine structures at depths of 60-70 µm, to look at human hepatobiliary tissue. They found a reticular pattern of fluid-filled sinuses not detected before, which is connected to the lymph nodes and similar to structures found in other organs and organ systems.

On the basis of their findings, the authors suggest that our current understanding of the anatomy might be revised. Much more research is necessary, but they also believe that the fluid-filled spaces might play important roles in cancer metastasis and a number of other disease processes.

Bringing Bioprinting to the Masses

Three-dimensional printing is one of the great innovations of the last decade, and it has transformed numerous fields inside and outside of science. In the health sciences, the ability to manufacture 3D biomaterials holds enormous promise. Unfortunately, the costs of 3D printing remain prohibitive; the available models range between $10,000 and $200,000 in cost, not including the raw materials, software, etc.  However, engineers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) might have devised a solution. In a paper published in HardwareX, Adam Feinberg, PhD, Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering at CMU, and his coauthors describe their development of a syringe-pump large volume extruder (LVE).

Syringe pump extruders, which inject raw material into 3D printers, are already used to print biomaterials. However, achieving cheap, fast, and precise printing of 3D materials is a major technical challenge. The LVE, which is based on open-source hardware and software, significantly increases the size of the extruder without compromising speed, and it can print at sizes as small as 100 µm. The authors estimate that the materials necessary to build their bioprinter would cost less than $500 — orders of magnitude less than current models that are slower and unable to print using large volumes. Their source materials are online here.

People and Places

Missouri dominates this week’s news, with a new program at one institution and a symposium at another. At the University of Missouri, the College of Engineering has announced that it will begin offering an undergraduate program in biomedical engineering in the fall. Ninety miles away at Missouri University of Science and Technology,  a symposium will be held this week — the first to be convened on the topic of biomedical humanities. The event is a collaboration between Missouri S&T’s Center for Science, Technology, and Society and the Center for Biomedical Research.

Colorado State University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering is celebrating its 10th anniversary. In that time, the department has added more than 20 faculty members to its original cohort of 29.
 
Finally, we offer our congratulations to Jelena Kovačević, PhD, who has been named the new dean at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering. A graduate of Columbia and the University of Belgrade, Dr. Kovačević, who is an electrical engineer with broad interest in biomedical applications, moves to NYU from CMU and is the first-ever female dean of Tandon. Congratulations Jelena!

Nanoparticle Synthesis Facility Established

nanoparticle

Nanotechnology is enabling new materials and devices that work at sizes so small that individual atoms and molecules make a difference in their behavior. The field is moving so fast, however, that scientists from other disciplines can have a hard time using the fruits of this research without becoming nanotechnologists themselves.

With that kind of technology transfer in mind, the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Targeted Therapeutics and Translational Nanomedicine has established the Chemical and Nanoparticle Synthesis Core.

Supported by the Perelman School of Medicine and its Institute for Translational Medicine and Therapeutics, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and the School of Arts & Sciences’ Department of Chemistry, this core facility aims to help Penn researchers design and synthesize custom molecules and nanoscale particles that would be otherwise hard to come by.

“Based on a short survey we conducted, we found that many faculty members want to synthesize unique chemical compounds, such as imaging agents, drugs or nanoparticles, but they don’t have the expertise to produce these compounds themselves,” says Andrew Tsourkas, professor in Penn Engineering’s Department of Bioengineering and Director of the Chemical and Nanoparticle Synthesis Core. “As a result, these projects are often abandoned.”

Read more at the Penn One Health website.

Week in BioE (April 2, 2018)

Beer Gets a Hand From Bioengineering

beerBeer is among the oldest beverages known to humankind. While we don’t know what the beer that the ancient Egyptians drank tasted like, there’s little question that the trend toward craft brewing over the past generation has resulted in a proliferation of brews with a range of colors and flavors. Beers with a strong flavor of hops are currently popular, resulting in high demand for the plant that bears them. Like many plants, however, the hop plant requires significant water and energy to produce, adding to the burden of global climate change.

Bioengineers from the University of California, Berkeley, might have found a solution to this problem. In an article recently published in Nature Communications, the Berkeley scientists, led by Jay D. Keasling, Ph.D., from the Department of Bioengineering, described how they engineered brewer’s yeast cells using DNA from mint, basil, and yeast to produce the terpenoid that produces the taste of hops. Taste testers found the beer made from the engineered yeast to be hoppier in flavor than two commercial beers.

The authors of the study acknowledge that a true hop flavor is likely subtler than the register of tastes they used to engineer their brewers yeast. That said, they believe their research could serve as a basis for the genetic engineering of plant products for a range of uses. In addition, the amount of saved money could be enormous — currently, the cost of growing an acre of hop plants is nearly $7,000, which is approximately 10 times that of corn.

Wearables Monitor Digestion

We may be getting a much closer look at certain aspects of digestion thanks to two wearable devices developed by engineers on two sides of the country. On the West Coast, bioengineers at the University of California, San Diego, led by Todd P. Coleman, PhD, professor in UCSD’s Department of Bioengineering,  developed a device to monitor the electrical activity of the stomach over a 24-hour period. Unlike other technologies, this approach doesn’t require the user to drink a barium solution or ingest a tiny camera. The device, which they describe in an article in Scientific Reports, consists of a series of wearable sensors based on EKG technology and an event-logging app for computers or mobile devices. In testing, the new device performed comparably to gastric manometry, a ‘gold standard’ in clinical care that requires insertion of a nasogastric tube. The authors believe their device could have use in gastric motility disorders.

Across the country at Tufts, Fiorenzo Omenetto, PhD, Frank C. Doble Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, led a team of scientists in developing a tooth-mounted sensor that can monitor food intake. The device, which measures 4 square millimeters, is described in an article in Advanced Materials. The sensor could replace the much bulkier mouthguards used for such research in the past.

Painless Lupus Testing

Despite being among the more common autoimmune disorders, lupus is difficult to diagnose. Blood tests often do not provide conclusive results. Ultimately, a kidney biopsy is often necessary to confirm the diagnosis, an invasive procedure that can be problematic with sick patients.

Now, a research team at the University of Houston has developed a saliva test that might eliminate the need for kidney biopsy. Chandra Mohan, MD, PhD, Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen Endowed Professor of Biomedical Engineering at UH, received an NIH grant to develop a new technology which identifies proteins in the saliva as biomarkers of lupus. An important aspect of the assay is that it can be used to monitor the disease, as well as diagnose it, so the efficacy of medication to treat the disease can be followed without having to obtain multiple kidney biopsies.

Fluid Shear Stress Affects Ovarian Cells

Like most cancers, survival rates for ovarian cancer have gone up in past decades. As with most cancers, early detection remains a key step to extending survival, but a large proportion of ovarian cancers are not diagnosed until they have metastasized to other organs. Therefore, understanding the process by which normal ovarian cells become cancerous and the mechanism underlying their metastasis could improve our ability to predict these cancers and perhaps detect them earlier.

In response to this issue, researchers at Virginia Tech have uncovered part of the mechanism by which ovarian cancer cells metastasize. Led in part by  Rafael V. Davalos, PhD, L. Preston Wade Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics, the researchers report in PLOS One that fluid-induced shear stress plays a key role. Ovarian cancer causes the accumulation of fluid in the abdomen, called ascites. Using a mouse model, the study authors found that benign ovarian cells actually became malignant, and malignant cells were more likely to metastasize under this stress. This knowledge could go a long way toward developing more effective treatments for ovarian cancer.

People and Places

Two universities have announced they will begin offering degree programs in biomedical sciences. Among three programs added by Loma Linda University in California is one with an emphasis on neuroscience, systems biology, and bioengineering. Enrollment begins in the fall. In Huntington, W.V., Marshall University has added a bachelor’s degree program in BME, also beginning in the fall.

The University of North Texas, near Dallas, broke ground on a new BME building. The college anticipates the building will open for the Fall 2019 semester.

Finally, we are very proud to report that Elsie Effah Kaufmann, PhD, who earned bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees from Penn Bioengineering, was honored last week at the 44th annual meeting of the National Society of Black Engineers in Pittsburgh, where she received the 2018 Golden Torch Award for International Academic Leadership. Congratulations!

Julea Vlassakis: Podcast Interview

VlassakisIn the latest podcast from Double Shelix and produced by Penn Bioengineering, Julea Vlassakis, mentorship expert and Bioengineering PhD Candidate, joins Kayla and Sally to talk mentoring in academia and beyond. Learn how to establish productive mentor/mentee relationships and cultivate the next generation of scientists — yourself included! Beginning mentees and seasoned mentors alike will learn something new from Julea’s wisdom. Discover strategies for breaking out of the cycle of mediocre mentorship, how to deal with underperforming mentees, tips for cultivating a community of mentors within your field, and how to get a mentor to step up for your career goals. Stay tuned to the end for Julea’s list of mentor and mentee responsibilities — supported by peer-reviewed literature, of course! This is next-level mentorship.

Spoiler alert: Mentor/Mentee Responsibility Number Zero is “Establish clear goals and expectations!”

Resources:
Julea’s work in the Herr Lab at UC Berkeley
Profile of Julea’s research in honor of her winning Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening graduate fellowship
Getting Mentored in Graduate School, recommended book by Johnson and Huwe
Connect with Double Shelix on Twitter: @doubleshelixpod
Who should they interview next? Other thoughts? doubleshelixpodcast@gmail.com

Future of Technology Is Focus of Teach-in

futureAs new technologies emerge, whether related to health care, artificial intelligence, or other aspects of society, they bring with them new ethical challenges.

The topic of the future of technology was front and center on day three of the Penn Teach-in March 18-22. The series of free public events convened by the faculty senate aims to bring the academic community together with the broader community to engage in wide-ranging discussions on topics of social importance.

Among the offerings on Tuesday were two panels featuring faculty from the School of Engineering and Applied Science. The first, “The Future of Technology: Engineering Human Health,” was moderated by Kathleen Stebe and included Jennifer Phillips-CreminsDavid Issadore, and David Meaney – three faculty members in the Department of Bioengineering.

Continue reading at Penn News Today