Engineering Diversity

Author Archive

Ameer Named Fellow of Materials Research Society
Guillermo Ameer | April 1, 2021

Northwestern Engineering’s Guillermo A. Ameer has been named a fellow of the Materials Research Society for his contributions to regenerative engineering through pioneering work developing antioxidant citrate-based polymers that are useful for musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, dermal, and urological applications, rendering them enabling technologies to improve health.

Ameer is the Daniel Hale Williams Professor of Biomedical Engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and a professor of surgery in Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine. He also is founding director of Northwestern’s Center for Advanced Regenerative Engineering.

Exploiting cancer cells to aid in their own destruction
Melody Swartz | March 24, 2021

Immunotherapy, which recruits the body’s own immune system to attack cancer, has given many cancer patients a new avenue to treat the disease. But many cancer immunotherapy treatments can be expensive, have devastating side effects, and only work in a fraction of patients.

Researchers at the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering at the University of Chicago have developed a new therapeutic vaccine that uses a patient’s own tumor cells to train their immune system to find and kill cancer.

The vaccine, which is injected into the skin just like a traditional vaccine, stopped melanoma tumor growth in mice. It even worked long-term, destroying new tumors long after the initial injection.

Ultrasound outperforms legacy technique at pinpointing heart arrhythmias
Elisa Konofagou | March 22, 2021

A commonly available ultrasound technique proved superior to a long-used approach at spotting abnormal heart rhythms and may help treat patients with this worldwide problem, according to recently published research.

The method—electromechanical wave imaging (EWI)—creates a 3D cardiac map to pinpoint electromechanical activity that causes arrhythmias, investigators with Columbia University in New York reported in Science Translational Medicine. Most care settings have this portable machine handy and can use it during ablation procedures to accurately guide the catheter to the proper area.

Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic Receives AIMBE’s Highest Award
Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic | March 22, 2021

AIMBE is honored to recognize Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic with its Pierre Galletti Award, the Institute’s highest accolade. Including years of contributions to AIMBE and the BME community, Vunjak-Novakovic is recognized for impactful innovations in technologies to generate, understand and utilize functional human tissues, especially in regenerative engineering, studies of development and disease, while inspiring the next generation of practitioners. This award is presented to an individual in recognition of his/her contributions to public awareness of medical and biological engineering, and to the advancement of biomedical public policy in science, engineering, and education.

Researchers identify head impact rates in four major high school sports
Kristy Arbogast | March 17, 2021

As high school athletes return to practice and games for a variety of sports, the threat of concussions remains. A new study from researchers at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) used head impact sensors in four different sports and studied male and female athletes to determine which of these sports put students at the highest risk for head impacts that could lead to concussions. The findings were published online by the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine.

“Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to concussion because they frequently participate in sporting and recreational activities and have slower recovery periods compared to adults,” said Kristy Arbogast, PhD, senior author and co-lead of the Minds Matter Concussion Program at CHOP. “Providing reliable data on head impact exposure and sport-specific mechanisms may help sports organizations identify strategies to reduce impact exposure and lower the risk of acute injury.

Stanford Researchers Find Culprit In Muscle Aging And How To Knock It Down
Helen Blau | March 17, 2021

For well over a decade now, scientists have been experimenting with “couch potato” drugs that could confer the benefits of exercise without having to flex a muscle. The latest candidate is a small molecule inhibitor impeding the degradation of prostaglandin E2 (PGE2), recently shown to act directly on mature muscle fibers to prevent deleterious molecular changes that arise with aging, according to Helen Blau, professor of microbiology and immunology and director of the Baxter Laboratory for Stem Cell Biology at Stanford University School of Medicine.

In gel form, PGE2 is already being used to induce labor and treat respiratory distress in newborns, says Blau. It now appears that restoring PGE2 later in life could be a way to rejuvenate aging muscles and possibly treat conditions such as age-related muscle atrophy (sarcopenia), Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and other myopathies.

Linda Griffith honored for contributions to biological engineering education
Linda Griffith | March 11, 2021

The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) has announced that two MIT professors have been jointly awarded the Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education, the most prestigious engineering education award in the United States.

Linda G. Griffith, the School of Engineering Professor of Teaching Innovation in the Department of Biological Engineering, and Douglas A. Lauffenburger, the Ford Professor of Biological Engineering, Chemical Engineering and Biology, were recognized for their respective contributions to “the establishment of a new biology-based engineering education, producing a new generation of leaders capable of addressing world problems with innovative biological technologies,” according to an NAE statement.

Olin President Gilda Barabino Named AAAS President-Elect
Gilda Barabino | March 3, 2021

Gilda A. Barabino, Ph.D., President of Olin College of Engineering, has been selected as president-elect of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Barabino was elected as an AAAS Fellow in 2010 and has been a member of the organization since 1987. She began her term on Feb. 24. After serving for one year as president-elect, Barabino will serve one year as AAAS president and then one year as chair of the AAAS Board of Directors.

Purigen Simplifies Simultaneous Extraction and Purification of DNA and RNA from Challenging FFPE Samples
Juan Santiago | March 2, 2021

Purigen Biosystems, Inc., a leading provider of next-generation technologies for extracting and purifying nucleic acids from biological samples, today announced the launch of the Ionic® FFPE Complete Purification Kit. Scientists are now able to consistently recover both DNA and RNA (mRNA and miRNA) simultaneously from formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded (FFPE) tissue samples in a single workflow. Purigen is showcasing the advantages of the new kit during the virtual Advances in Genome Biology and Technology (AGBT) 2021 annual meeting.

Tissue-engineered implants provide new hope for vocal injuries
Sherry Harbin | February 23, 2021

New technology from Purdue University and Indiana University School of Medicine innovators may one day help patients who suffer devastating vocal injuries from surgery on the larynx.

A collaborative team consisting of Purdue biomedical engineers and clinicians from IU has tissue-engineered component tissue replacements that support reconstruction of the larynx. The team’s work is published in The Laryngoscope.

A*Star scientist Jackie Ying elected to prestigious US engineering academy based on work in Singapore
Jackie Y. Ying | February 11, 2021

Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) senior fellow and head of NanoBio Lab Jackie Y. Ying has become the first scientist to be elected as a member to the prestigious United States National Academy of Engineering (NAE) based on her research in Singapore.

Recognised for her contributions in nanotechnology, Professor Ying, an American, is one of only two – among the 106 new American members elected – who are based outside the US, A*Star said in a statement on Thursday (Feb 11).

Wonder Fungi
Michelle O’Malley | February 1, 2021

Michelle O’Malley has long been inspired by gut microbes. Since she began studying the herbivore digestive tract, the UC Santa Barbara chemical engineering professor has guided several students to their doctoral degrees, won early and mid-career awards (including a recognition from President Obama), attained tenure and advanced to the position of full professor. She even had three children along the way. A constant through it all: goat poop.

Algorithms Designed to Study Language Can Predict Immune “Escape” Mutations for HIV, Influenza, and SARS-CoV-2
Bonnie Berger | January 15, 2021

By bridging the conceptual divide between human language and viral evolution, MIT researchers have developed a powerful new computational tool for predicting the mutations that allow viruses to “escape” human immunity or vaccines. Its use could negate the need for high-throughput experimental techniques that are currently employed to identify potential mutations that could allow a virus to escape recognition. The computational model, based on models that were originally developed to analyze language, can predict which sections of viral surface proteins are more likely to mutate in a way that would enable viral escape, and it can also identify sections that are less likely to mutate, which would represent good targets for new vaccines.

Small molecule restores muscle strength, boosts endurance in old mice, study finds
Helen Blau | December 10, 2020

Blocking the activity of a single protein in old mice for one month restores mass and strength to the animals’ withered muscles and helps them run longer on a treadmill, according to a study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Conversely, increasing the expression of the protein in young mice causes their muscles to atrophy and weaken.

“The improvement is really quite dramatic” said Helen Blau, PhD, professor of microbiology and immunology. “The old mice are about 15% to 20% stronger after one month of treatment, and their muscle fibers look like young muscle. Considering that humans lose about 10% of muscle strength per decade after about age 50, this is quite remarkable.

Medical device using Northwestern-invented biomaterial receives FDA clearance
Guillermo Ameer | October 21, 2020

An innovative orthopedic medical device fabricated from a novel biomaterial pioneered in the laboratory of Northwestern University professor Guillermo A. Ameer has received clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in surgeries to attach soft tissue grafts to bone.

The biomaterial is the first thermoset biodegradable synthetic polymer ever approved for use in an implantable medical device. It’s unique chemical and mechanical properties enable cutting-edge implant designs that protect the soft tissue graft during insertion and optimize graft fixation to bone.

Melody Swartz elected to the National Academy of Medicine
Melody Swartz | October 19, 2020

Today it was announced that Melody Swartz, William B. Ogden Professor of Molecular Engineering at the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) at the University of Chicago, has been elected to membership in the National Academy of Medicine.

Swartz holds a joint appointment in the Ben May Department for Cancer Research and serves as deputy dean for faculty affairs at Pritzker Molecular Engineering. She is also a co-founder of the Chicago Immunoengineering Innovation Center (CIIC). Her research interests include lymphatic physiology, cancer research, and immunotherapy.

Susan Margulies Elected to National Academy of Medicine
Susan Margulies | October 19, 2020

The National Academy of Medicine (NAM) has elected Georgia Tech Professor Susan Margulies to its prestigious 2020 class. Election to NAM is considered one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine and recognizes individuals who have demonstrated outstanding professional achievement and commitment to service. She is only the second person from Georgia Tech to receive the honor. The late Bob Nerem, founding director of the Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience, is the other.

Margulies is the Wallace H. Coulter Professor and Chair in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME) at Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University, a shared department between the two schools. She is also a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Injury Biomechanics. Her research interests center around traumatic brain injury in children and ventilator-induced lung injury with a focus in these areas on prevention, intervention and treatments.

Gilda Barabino Elected to National Academy of Medicine
Gilda Barabino | October 19, 2020

Olin College President Gilda A. Barabino has been elected to the National Academy of Medicine, the academy announced on Monday, October 19 at its annual meeting. Election to the Academy is considered one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine and recognizes individuals who have demonstrated outstanding professional achievement and commitment to service.

Barabino’s election honors her leadership and contributions in shaping and transforming the face of biomedical engineering through the integration of scientific discovery, engineering applications, and the preparation of a diverse biomedical workforce to improve human health, and for her seminal discoveries in sickle cell research.

Purigen Launches New Extraction and Purification Kit that Enables Scientists to Maximize Usable DNA from Limited Biological Samples
Juan Santiago | October 14, 2020

Purigen Biosystems, Inc., a leading provider of next-generation technologies for extracting and purifying nucleic acids from biological samples, today announced the launch of the Ionic® Cells to Pure DNA Low Input Kit for researchers working with limited biological samples. The simplified and automated 60-minute workflow delivers high-quality DNA for the rapid investigation of genetic abnormalities or examination of disease treatment effects.

The Ionic Cells to Pure DNA Low Input Kit offers consistent recovery of DNA with yields near the theoretical maximum for as many as 100,000 down to as few as 10 cultured or sorted cells. Compared to leading column-based products, the new kit delivers up to twice the amount of DNA with a significantly higher proportion greater than 20 kb in length. Regardless of the input amount, the workflow is the same and does not require carrier RNA. The prepared DNA is ready for analysis by downstream techniques such as next-generation sequencing (NGS) or qPCR.

Researchers Use Lab-grown Tissue Grafts for Personalized Joint Replacement
Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic | October 14, 2020

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ), which forms the back portion of the lower jaw and connects your jaw to your skull, is an anatomically complex and highly loaded structure consisting of cartilage and bone. About 10 million people in the United States alone suffer from TMJ dysfunction due to birth defects, trauma, or disease. Current treatments range from steroid injections that provide only a temporary pain relief, to surgical reconstructions using either prosthetic devices or donor tissue, and often fail to provide long-lasting repair. Researchers have sought a better way to treat TMJ, including investigating biological TMJ grafts grown in the lab that could integrate with the native tissues, remodel the joint over time, and provide life-long function for the patient.

Skin-care product based on U of T Engineering research donated to health-care workers fighting COVID-19
Milica Radisic | October 13, 2020

A U of T Engineering spinoff company has donated its entire stock of skin-care product to health-care workers fighting the global pandemic.

Several years ago, Professor Milica Radisic (BME, ChemE) and her team developed a peptide-hydrogel biomaterial that prompts skin cells to “crawl” toward one another. The material was initially designed to help close the chronic, non-healing wounds often associated with diabetes, such as bed sores and foot ulcers.

UChicago researchers find way to improve multiple sclerosis treatment
Melody Swartz | October 12, 2020

Multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system that affects millions worldwide, can cause debilitating symptoms for those who suffer from it.

Though treatments exist, researchers are still searching for therapies that could more effectively treat the disease, or even prevent it altogether.

Researchers at the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) at the University of Chicago have designed a new therapy for multiple sclerosis (MS) by fusing a cytokine to a blood protein. In mice, this combination prevented destructive immune cells from infiltrating the central nervous system and decreased the number of cells that play a role in MS development, leading to fewer symptoms and even disease prevention.

NAE announces winners of 2020 Simon Ramo Founders and Arthur M. Bueche Awards
Frances Ligler | October 2, 2020

On Sunday, Oct. 4, during the 2020 annual meeting, the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) will present two awards for extraordinary impact on the engineering profession. The Simon Ramo Founders Award will be presented to Frances S. Ligler for her research contributions and leadership in engineering. The Arthur M. Bueche Award will be given to Arden L. Bement Jr. for his contributions to technology research, policy, and national and international cooperation.

Frances S. Ligler is the Ross Lampe Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Engineering in the Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering in the College of Engineering at North Carolina State University and the School of Medicine and College of Arts and Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Ligler is being recognized with the Simon Ramo Founders Award “for the invention and development of portable optical biosensors, service to the nation and profession, and educating the next, more diverse generation of engineers.” The award acknowledges outstanding professional, educational, and personal achievements to the benefit of society and includes a commemorative medal.

Karen Moxon Leads $36M Effort to Improve Recovery From Spinal Cord Injuries
Karen Moxon | September 30, 2020

Engineers at the University of California, Davis, will lead a consortium of universities, biomedical startups and nonprofit organizations to develop interventions for spinal cord injuries that can be applied within days of injury to improve long-term outcomes.

Karen Moxon, professor of biomedical engineering at UC Davis, will lead the five-year, $36 million contract as part of the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, or DARPA, Bridging the Gap Plus Program. A primary goal is to develop technologies to stabilize a patient’s hemodynamic response, which includes blood flow and blood pressure, within days of injury.

Vannevar Bush Award Given to Roderic Pettigrew, Innovator in Biomedicine and Technology
Roderic Pettigrew | September 28, 2020

On September 28, 2020, the National Science Board (NSB) announced that Roderic Pettigrew will receive its prestigious Vannevar Bush Award. The award honors science and technology leaders who have made substantial contributions to the welfare of the nation through public service in science, technology and public policy.

“Roderic Pettigrew’s passion and creativity have spurred innovation in biomedicine,” said Victor McCrary, Vice Chair of the National Science Board and Chair of the 2020 NSB Honorary Awards Subcommittee. “His reimagining of healthcare solutions is helping converge science fields, narrowing gaps between disciplines in a way that really impacts society. Pettigrew is helping us to see what might be, what could be, and what is possible.”

COVID test site differences, a fourth option in the works
Rebecca Richards-Kortum | September 24, 2020

Rice’s Crisis Management Team plans to add a fourth and more rapid COVID-19 testing option on the Rice campus. Currently there are three sites that provide daily testing for asymptomatic students, staff and faculty who spend time on campus.

All three of these current sites (Abercrombie Engineering Laboratory, East Gym in the Tudor Fieldhouse and The Roost at Reckling Park) offer polymerase chain reaction testing. Bioengineering professor Rebecca Richards-Kortum said that her lab is working with the MD Anderson Cancer Center to develop a nucleic acid test for the fourth testing option.

Lucila Ohno-Machado | September 17, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, there is an urgent need to determine who is at greatest risk for severe disease, better understand how the disease and treatments evolve, and predict the need for resources. But to get there, researchers and clinicians need more data about what patients have experienced so far, and what factors are associated with different patient outcomes.

To provide this information, a new research consortium invites clinicians, researchers, patients and the general public to submit questions that could be answered by COVID-19 patient record data from more than 200 participating hospitals. Questions are submitted and answers are provided via a new web portal:

Bone Cancer Treatment Potentially Improved by Soy
Susmita Bose | September 16, 2020

Soy is widely studied for its estrogenic and anti-estrogenic effects on the body. It has been linked to a reduced risk of breast cancer and recurrence, improved heart and bone health, as well as the reduced risk of other cancers. Now researchers at Washington State University (WSU) see the potential of soy when it comes to improving post-operative treatment of bone cancer. They demonstrated the slow release of soy-based chemical compounds from a 3D-printed bone-like scaffold resulted in a reduction in bone cancer cells while building up healthy cells and reducing harmful inflammation.

Their findings, “Controlled release of soy isoflavones from multifunctional 3D printed bone tissue engineering scaffolds,” are published in the journal Acta Biomaterialia and led by graduate student Naboneeta Sarkar and Susmita Bose, PhD, professor at WSU’s School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering.

Systemic equity in education
Gilda Barabino | September 11, 2020

Too often in higher education, the legacy of laws, policies, and practices that have systematically denied educational opportunities to Blacks is ignored, thereby perpetuating racial inequities. In the United States, higher education is a key route to career success and upward socioeconomic mobility. Unfortunately, this path is increasingly becoming most accessible to privileged communities. As the new president of Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts, and as a woman of color, I am in a position to help unburden higher education from systemic racism and promote positive change that extends beyond academic boundaries.

First Demonstration of Neuro Therapeutic Tropane Alkaloids Produced in Yeast
Christina Smolke | September 3, 2020

Researchers report the first successful microbial biosynthesis of the tropane alkaloids hyoscyamine and scopolamine, a class of neuromuscular blockers naturally found in plants in the nightshade family.

Describing a first-in-class fermentation-based approach for producing complex molecules, the paper lays the foundation for a controlled, flexible, cell-based manufacturing platform for essential medicines that currently rely on crop farming, according to research leader Christina Smolke, PhD, professor of bioengineering at Stanford University and CEO and co-founder of Antheia, a synthetic biology company making next-generation plant-inspired medicines.

U of T Engineering researchers develop cell injection technique that could help reverse vision loss
Molly Shoichet | August 13, 2020

U of T Engineering researchers have developed a new method of injecting healthy cells into damaged eyes. The technique could point the way toward new treatments with the potential to reverse forms of vision loss that are currently incurable.

Around the world, millions of people live with vision loss due to conditions such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) or retinitis pigmentosa. Both are caused by the death of cells in the retina, at the back of the eye.

UChicago awarded $20 million to host COVID-19 medical imaging center
Maryellen Giger | August 7, 2020

A new center hosted at the University of Chicago—co-led by the largest medical imaging professional organizations in the country—will help tackle the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic by curating a massive database of medical images to help better understand and treat the disease.

Led by Prof. Maryellen Giger of UChicago Medicine, the Medical Imaging and Data Resource Center (MIDRC) will create an open-source database with medical images from thousands of COVID-19 patients. The center will be funded by a two-year, $20 million contract from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Study Results from the UCSF Ci2 Suggest Deep Learning Methods Can Help Grade ACL Injuries
Sharmila Majumdar | July 29, 2020

Injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) are very common, and ACL injuries increase the risk of developing post-traumatic knee osteoarthritis and total knee replacement (TKR). At present, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is the most effective imaging modality for distinguishing structural properties of the ACL in relation to adjacent musculoskeletal structures. Several multi-grading scoring systems have been developed to standardize reporting of knee joint abnormalities using MRI including the Whole-Organ Magnetic Resonance Imaging Scale (WORMS) and the Anterior Cruciate Ligament OsteoArthritis Score (ACLOAS). However, both of these grading metrics are susceptible to inter-rater variability.

Deep learning methods have recently shown potential to serve as an aid for clinicians with limited time or experience in osteoarthritis grading of the knee menisci and cartilage. Recently a team of scientists from the UCSF Center for Intelligent Imaging (ci2) evaluated the diagnostic utility of two convolutional neural networks (CNNs) for severity staging of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries. “Previous studies have developed binary classifiers to distinguish fully torn ACLs from intact ACLs,” said Nikan Namiri, medical student at UCSF School of Medicine and corresponding author. “And our study is the first to take deep learning a step further to help classify a broader spectrum of injury, which may be more useful in the clinical setting.

Rena Bizios to receive BioMedSA Award for health care, bioscience
Rena Bizios | July 29, 2020

BioMedSA, the nonprofit corporation founded in 2005 to promote and grow San Antonio’s leading industry—health care and bioscience—will present its 2020 BioMedSA Award for Innovation in Healthcare and Bioscience to Rena Bizios, the Lutcher Brown Endowed Chair in UTSA’s Department of Biomedical Engineering.

Bizios is a globally recognized educator and researcher who has made pioneering contributions to biomedical engineering curricula as well as groundbreaking contributions to the understanding of cell-material interactions at the tissue/implant interface with applications in implant biomaterials, tissue engineering and tissue regeneration.

Label-Free Autofluorescence Imaging Method Differentiates Between Active, and Off-Duty T Cells
Melissa Skala | July 28, 2020

Researchers headed by a team at the University of Wisconsin (UW)-Madison, and the Morgridge Institute for Research, have developed a novel label-free imaging technique that exploits autofluorescence in cells to differentiate between active and off-duty T cells, at the single cell level. They suggest the technology, known as autofluorescence lifetime imaging, could be used to help evaluate T cell involvement in immunotherapies for cancer treatment or autoimmune diseases. “It’s super novel,” said the Morgridge Institute’s Melissa Skala, PhD, who is also an associate professor of biomedical engineering at UW-Madison. “Most people aren’t using these techniques—you don’t see a lot of autofluorescence studies in immunology.”

Reporting on development and tests with the technology in Nature Biomedical Engineering, the researchers commented, “Autofluorescence lifetime imaging can be used to characterize T cells in vivo in preclinical models, in clinical applications including small blood samples (such as pediatric samples) in which antibody labeling is limited, or in cultured T cells, such as those used in biomanufactured T-cell therapies.” Their paper is titled, “Classification of T-cell activation via autofluorescence lifetime imaging.

Engineering Better Medicine for Public Health Crises and the Future
Roderic Pettigrew | July 27, 2020

When my brother told me he had been diagnosed with COVID-19, I was scared. My memory immediately jumped to visions of his childhood struggles with asthma, which he described as having an ever-tightening chain around his chest. I thought of intubated COVID-19 patients at so many hospitals across the nation, and all of the patients who did not leave the hospitals alive. As we now know, African-American men like my brother are several times more likely to die from COVID-19 than someone who is white.

In my home state of Georgia, for example, 80 percent of all patients hospitalized due to COVID-19 in March 2020 were Black people. Nationally through June, American Indians, Native Alaskans, and Black people have had a hospitalization rate that is five times more than whites. For Hispanic people it is four times higher [2]. The compounding factors of increased rates of comorbidities, reduced access to care, limited resources inclusive of health guidance information, and even trust in mainstream medicine no doubt make these populations more vulnerable to a raging viral illness.

Humanity binds us
Rod Pettigrew | July 24, 2020

Many were appalled by the Central Park incident where a woman used the ethnicity of a peaceful visitor and a 911 call in a failed effort to subjugate him based on his color. However, this incident was actually a service to the nation since it unveiled just how pervasive racism is in our society. As a majority person, she knew that this core racism is so systemic, and its actuation so predictable, that she could easily weaponize it. She knew there is an imbalance of power based purely on a trivial difference in skin tone. If ever there was a question about this attitude and behavior existing broadly in our society, the Central Park incident answered it. It exists, it is real, and it has resulted in multiple shocking deaths that the world has now witnessed in anguish.

When the death of Houstonian George Floyd was observed, his torture at the knee of a purveyor of this naked truth was just too much to bear. When George took his last breath, so did the national tolerance for the societal ill that took his life and the lives before him.

Why Where You Live Can Impact Lung Health
Lydia Contreras | July 23, 2020

It’s well known that poor air quality can lead to health problems. But research from Texas ChE faculty members Lydia Contreras and Lea Hildebrandt Ruiz uncovers new information about how air quality issues can affect important processes in the body and details how people who live in polluted areas could be at greater risk for lung disease and other illnesses.

The research, published this week in Communications Biology, examines how pollution disrupts cells’ ability to regulate themselves. The team found that when cells are exposed to a combination of pollutants typically present in congested urban areas, genetic mechanisms that lead to cholesterol production are disrupted and cells are damaged in ways not captured by traditional markers. That deregulation of cells transforms how they interact with each other, and those interactions are key to keeping cells healthy.

Dee Providing Insight to New Biomedical Engineering Education Journal
Kay Dee | July 21, 2020

Kay C Dee, associate dean of learning and technology and professor of biomedical engineering, is lending her expertise in cell and tissue engineering, biomaterials, and engineering education as an associate editor of the Biomedical Engineering Society’s new Biomedical Engineering Education journal.

This international journal presents articles on the practice and scholarship of education in bioengineering, biomedical engineering, and allied fields. It documents and shares advances in the field as educators support student learning. The journal also passes along valuable insight into research, teaching, novel course content, laboratory experiments and demonstrations, educational outreach, and advising and professional development.

COVID-19 vaccine development and a potential nanomaterial path forward
Nicole Steinmetz | July 15, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has infected millions of people with no clear signs of abatement owing to the high prevalence, long incubation period and lack of established treatments or vaccines. Vaccines are the most promising solution to mitigate new viral strains. The genome sequence and protein structure of the 2019-novel coronavirus (nCoV or SARS-CoV-2) were made available in record time, allowing the development of inactivated or attenuated viral vaccines along with subunit vaccines for prophylaxis and treatment. Nanotechnology benefits modern vaccine design since nanomaterials are ideal for antigen delivery, as adjuvants, and as mimics of viral structures. In fact, the first vaccine candidate launched into clinical trials is an mRNA vaccine delivered via lipid nanoparticles. To eradicate pandemics, present and future, a successful vaccine platform must enable rapid discovery, scalable manufacturing and global distribution. Here, we review current approaches to COVID-19 vaccine development and highlight the role of nanotechnology and advanced manufacturing.

Connecting donated human lungs to pigs repaired damage to the organs, scientists report
Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic | July 13, 2020

For people who need a lung transplant, the wait is often prolonged by the frustrating fact that most donor organs have to be discarded: Only 20% of donated lungs meet medical criteria for transplantation, translating into far fewer organs than people on waiting lists. Now, a team of researchers has shown they might be able to salvage more of these lungs by borrowing a pig’s circulatory system.

Delicate lungs recovered from donors are typically connected to perfusion machines that keep oxygen and nutrients flowing to maintain viability, but that works for only about six hours, not long enough for often-injured lung tissue to recover before the organ fails.

A urine test for lung cancer? Nanosensors make it possible
Sangeeta Bhatia | July 10, 2020

Harvard and MIT researchers teamed up to develop a novel screening test that could identify lung cancer a lot earlier and easier than current methods. The test detects lung cancer using nanoprobes, which send out reporter molecules that are picked up on urine analysis. This breakthrough, which is more sensitive than CT and delivers on a proof-of-concept experiment originally proposed in 2017, was recently detailed in a study published in Science Translational Medicine.

“What if you had a detector that was so small that it could circulate in your body, find the tumor all by itself, and send a signal to the outside world?” asked lead author Sangeeta Bhatia, MD, PhD, at a 2016 TED Talk. “It sounds a little like science fiction. But actually, nanotechnology allows us to do just that.

Dr. Cato T. Laurencin’s COVID-19 Mask Solution Coming to Market
Cato Laurencin | July 2, 2020

Within six weeks of announcing a successful method to fabricate custom-fit mask frames to optimize protection from the spread of COVID-19, UConn has a licensing deal with a Connecticut manufacturer to produce them.

Connecticut Biotech, a startup company headquartered in South Windsor, aims to start marketing, manufacturing, and distributing 3D-printed mask frames under the brand Secure Fit this month.

“This is an important technology that can help a lot of people by providing a specific way to make regular surgical masks more protective,” says Dr. Cato T. Laurencin, CEO of the Connecticut Convergence Institute for Translation in Regenerative Engineering. “It’s wonderful to see technology that started here in the state of Connecticut being developed by a Connecticut company.

Human element shouldn’t be neglected with AI
Elizabeth Krupinski | June 25, 2020

Sure, artificial intelligence (AI) in radiology is cool. But it’s not enough to show results in a lab; the technology’s real-world impact on efficacy and efficiency also needs to be evaluated, according to a June 25 talk at the virtual annual meeting of the Society for Imaging Informatics in Medicine (SIIM).

It’s also crucial to ascertain how radiology AI affects radiologists’ perception, cognition, human factors, and workflow, according to Elizabeth Krupinski, PhD, of Emory University.

Calcium helps build strong cells
Kris Dahl | June 19, 2020

Every time you flex your bicep or stretch your calf muscle, you put your cells under stress. Every move we make throughout the day causes our cells to stretch and deform. But this cellular deformation can be dangerous, and could potentially lead to permanent damage to the DNA in our cells, and even cancer. So how is it that we’re able to keep our bodies moving without constantly destroying our cells? Thanks to a new study by Carnegie Mellon University Chemical Engineering (ChemE) Professor Kris Noel Dahl, and Associate Professor Sara Wickström of the University of Helsinki, we now know that the answer lies in a humble mineral we consume every day.

“Basically, every time we flex a muscle, we’re risking DNA damage that could lead to cancer,” says Dahl. “Or we would be, that is, if it weren’t for the calcium in our cells.”

Their recent paper published in Cell marks the first time that researchers have definitively shown how cells maintain their structural integrity despite the strain of mechanical forces.

NSF RAPID grant supports COVID-19 ‘computational pipeline’
Lydia Kavraki | June 16, 2020

Lydia Kavraki, the Noah Harding Professor of Computer Science at Rice, has received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Rapid Response Research grant to implement a computational pipeline to help identify fragments of SARS-CoV-2 viral proteins that could be used as targets for vaccine development.

“Efforts are already underway to produce new drug inhibitors, repurpose existing drugs and devise combination treatments for COVID-19,” said Kavraki, who is also a professor of bioengineering, electrical and computer engineering and mechanical engineering.

What Can We Do to Combat Anti-Black Racism in the Biomedical Research Enterprise?

The recent deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, in addition to the disproportionate burden of COVID-19 on African Americans, are wrenching reminders of the many harms that societal racism, inequality, and injustice inflict on the Black community. These injustices are rooted in centuries of oppression—including slavery and Jim Crow, redlining, school segregation, and mass incarceration—that continue to influence American life, including the biomedical research enterprise. Despite leading an NIH Institute whose mission includes building a diverse scientific workforce, at NIGMS we’ve struggled with what an adequate response to this moment would be, knowing that the systems that mediate the distinct and disparate burdens Black students, postdocs, and scientists face are complex and often aren’t easily moved with the urgency that they demand. With that in mind, below we share thoughts on what each of us who is in the majority or in a position of power can do to help break the cycles of racial disparities that are woven into the fabric of the biomedical research enterprise and that limit opportunities Link to external web site for Black scientists Link to external web site.

Institutional structures, policies, and cultures Link to external web site, including those in the biomedical research enterprise, all contribute to racial inequality and injustice. This fact was laid bare for us by the responses to the request for information (RFI) we issued in 2018 on strategies to enhance successful postdoctoral career transitions to promote faculty diversity. Respondents cited bias and discrimination—including racism—most frequently as a key barrier to postdoctoral researchers attaining independent faculty positions.

Combating sexual harassment

Sexual harassment, including gender harassment, presents an unacceptable barrier that prevents women from achieving their rightful place in science, and robs society and the scientific enterprise of diverse and critical talent. As the largest single funder of biomedical research in the world, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) bears a responsibility to take action to put an end to this behavior. In 2019, the NIH began to bolster its policies and practices to address and prevent sexual harassment. This included new communication channels to inform the agency of instances of sexual harassment related to NIH-funded research. This week, the NIH announces a change that will hold grantee institutions and investigators accountable for this misconduct, to further foster a culture whereby sexual harassment and other inappropriate behaviors are not tolerated in the research and training environment.

Last year, an Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) of the NIH presented a report and recommendations to end sexual harassment. A major theme of this report was the need for increased transparency and accountability in the reporting of professional misconduct, especially sexual harassment. The cases of sexual harassment that surfaced in the wake of the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) 2018 report highlighted a substantial gap in the NIH’s oversight of the research enterprise: There was no straightforward mechanism for the agency to learn of sexual harassment or other misconduct taking place at grantee institutions in the context of NIH-funded research. It was not uncommon for the NIH to discover such cases through the media, amid rightful public outcry. Holding institutions and investigators accountable for this behavior was challenging.

White Academia: Do Better.

Over the past couple of weeks, our nation has been confronted with ugly truths and hard history revealing how systemic racism rears its head in almost every space. Since the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down our typical lifestyles, people seem to be listening.

This moment feels very different from other situations when we had to address human rights in the context of race relations in the United States. With that comes a host of emotions that White people have rarely had to deal with because of their racial privilege, and this includes White people working in academia.

Like many Black faculty, and Black people in general, I have received messages and texts from White colleagues apologizing, expressing their guilt and remorse, and asking what they can do to support their Black colleagues and friends.

Guidelines for Diversity & Inclusion in Crisis
Juan E. Gilbert, PhD

I am writing these guidelines in response to the recent events that have impacted the Black community, specifically, the Black computing community. As the Department Chair of the Computer & Information Science & Engineering (CISE) Department at the University of Florida, I lead, one of, if not, the nation’s most diverse computing sciences (CS) department. We have the nation’s most Black CS faculty and PhD students. We are one of the top CS departments for the number of female faculty. As a researcher, I have had the honor of producing the nation’s most Black/African-American CS PhDs. I have also had the honor of hiring and promoting the most Black faculty in CS. My experiences span more than 20 years and those experiences are the foundation for these guidelines.