Engineering Diversity

Author Archive

Leading Tissue Regeneration Expert to Chair UVA’s Department of Biomedical Engineering
Shayn Peirce-Cottler | September 9, 2022

Shayn Peirce-Cottler, PhD, an international leader in biomedical engineering and a University of Virginia faculty member since 2004, has been named chair of UVA’s Department of Biomedical Engineering. She succeeds Frederick H. Epstein, PhD, who has served as chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering – a joint program of UVA’s School of Medicine and School of Engineering and Applied Science – since 2011. Epstein was named the School of Engineering’s associate dean for research earlier this year.

“With her long tenure at UVA, Dr. Peirce-Cottler has a deep understanding and appreciation for our talented, accomplished team in the Department of Biomedical Engineering,” said Melina R. Kibbe, MD, the dean of the School of Medicine and chief health affairs officer for UVA Health. “She is a nationally recognized outstanding scientist and educator and has been a shining leader within the department. I look forward to seeing how she builds on the department’s 55 years of innovation.” 

Discovery points to new drug targets that could prevent cancer spread
Sylvia Plevritis | August 22, 2022

Any cancer cell migrating from a tumor to set up shop elsewhere in the body will face a brutal attack from an immune system programmed to seek and destroy abnormal cells. But two recent studies from Stanford Medicine show that the hearty few that manage to infiltrate nearby lymph nodes carry out a stunning biological coup — convincing the body’s defense system to accept them as part of its own tissues. This savvy rebranding gives tumor cells a free pass to easily metastasize to any site in the body and significantly worsen cancer prognoses.

The studies, conducted in laboratory mice, human cells and human tissue samples from cancer patients, upend the idea that lymph nodes — often the first site of metastasis — are simply passive downstream harbors for circulating cancer cells that have broken loose from nearby tumors.

New strategy for delivery of therapeutic proteins could help treat degenerative eye diseases
Molly Shoichet | August 18, 2022

A U of T Engineering research team has created a new platform that delivers multiple therapeutic proteins to the body, each at its own independently controlled rate. The innovation could help treat degenerative diseases such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of vision loss for people over 50.

Unlike traditional drugs made of small molecules, therapeutic proteins are synthetic versions of larger biomolecules naturally present in the body. One example is the synthetic insulin used to treat diabetes. There are other proteins that can modulate the body’s own repair processes in ways that small-molecule drugs cannot.

Professor Laurencin Publishes Breakthrough Report on Rotator Cuff Regeneration Treatment
Cato Laurencin | August 12, 2022

A new way to regenerate muscle could help repair the damaged shoulders of millions of people every year. The technique uses advanced materials to encourage muscle growth in rotator cuff muscles. Dr. Cato Laurencin and his team reported the findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) August 8th issue.

Tears of the major tendons in the shoulder joint, commonly called the rotator cuff, are common injuries in adults. Advances in surgery have made ever better rotator cuff repairs possible. But failure rates with surgery can be high. Now, a team of researchers from the UConn School of Medicine led by Laurencin, a surgeon, engineer and scientist, reports that a graphene/polymer matrix embedded into shoulder muscle can prevent re-tear injuries.

Scaling up cell imaging
Anne Carpenter | August 3, 2022

Scientists have learned a lot about human biology by looking at cells under a microscope, but they might not notice tiny differences between cells or even know what they’re looking for. Researchers at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, in the laboratories of Anne Carpenter and Stuart Schreiber, first started developing cell painting 13 years ago to take cell imaging to the next level. The method, further advanced by Carpenter, now senior director of the Broad’s Imaging Platform and senior group leader Shantanu Singh, and colleagues, uses six colored dyes to stain eight different cell organelles. Machine learning models recognize subtle differences in the images—changes in cell morphology that might indicate disease or a drug or genetic perturbation—which allows researchers to predict the effects of a drug or mutation.

The Broad team has recently made strides in scaling up the method. They have spent the last several years building a consortium of drugmakers and academic institutions to create the world’s largest public cell painting database, which drug developers hope will help accelerate their search for promising drug candidates.

Advances in Pesticide Screening Techniques
Shalini Prasad | July 29, 2022

Pesticides have become an integral part of the modern farming process due to their usefulness in preventing crop losses to pests, weeds and disease. With the United Nations “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” goals placing a renewed emphasis on sustainable farming technologies and environmental safety, demand is increasing for screening techniques that can detect and monitor the presence of excess pesticide residues in the environment.

Despite such demand, it is still relatively rare for pesticide testing to occur on-site during farming. For pesticide residues on crops and foodstuffs, it is most common for samples to be sent away to analytical laboratories for testing. This may give accurate results, but it is a time-consuming process that can become quite impractical for routine screening. At the other end of the scale, environmental soil and soil runoff samples are rarely tested at all.

Controlling glaucoma: Eye drop therapy reaches posterior ocular tissues
Laura Ensign | July 22, 2022

A novel eye drop under development may provide neuroprotection to the retinal ganglion cells (RGCs). An added plus is that only once-weekly dosing is required, according to Laura Ensign, PhD, who headed up the research.

Ensign holds the Marcella E. Woll Professorship in Ophthalmology and is an associate professor of ophthalmology and vice chair for research at the Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland. This work is being conducted in collaboration with Justin Hanes, PhD, who is the Lewis J. Ort Professor of Ophthalmology and director of the Center for Nanomedicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and Donald Zack, MD, PhD, the Guerrieri Professor of Genetic Engineering and Molecular Ophthalmology and codirector of the Center for Stem Cells and Ocular Regenerative Medicine at the Wilmer Eye Institute.

Antiglaucoma eye drops are the mainstay of treatment for the disease, and they successfully and significantly lower the IOP. However, despite achieving a reduction of the IOP, glaucoma can continue to progress and threaten vision in many patients diagnosed with the disease. A therapy that protects the RGCs from damage was just a dream until recently. This new therapy developed by the Wilmer Eye Institute team is in the process of becoming a reality.

Scientists find molecular clues behind acute and chronic phases of traumatic brain injury
Sarah Stabenfeldt | July 22, 2022

New research led by scientists at Arizona State University has revealed some of the first detailed molecular clues associated with one of the leading causes of death and disability, a condition known as traumatic brain injury (TBI).

TBI is a growing public health concern, affecting more than 1.7 million Americans at an estimated annual cost of $76.5 billion dollars. It is a leading cause of death and disability for children and young adults in industrialized countries, and people who experience TBI are more likely to develop severe, long-term cognitive and behavioral deficits.

How different cancer cells respond to drug-delivering nanoparticles
Paula Hammond | July 21, 2022

The findings of a large-scale screen could help researchers design nanoparticles that target specific types of cancer.

Using nanoparticles to deliver cancer drugs offers a way to hit tumors with large doses of drugs while avoiding the harmful side effects that often come with chemotherapy. However, so far, only a handful of nanoparticle-based cancer drugs have been FDA-approved.

A new study from MIT and Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard researchers may help to overcome some of the obstacles to the development of nanoparticle-based drugs. The team’s analysis of the interactions between 35 different types of nanoparticles and nearly 500 types of cancer cells revealed thousands of biological traits that influence whether those cells take up different types of nanoparticles.

Suffocating from Medical Bias
Gilda Barabino & Harriet Nembhard | July 15, 2022

The United States is in the midst of a public health crisis, reeling from two serious pandemics: COVID-19 and systemic racism. Everyone is familiar with the impact of the virus. The categorization of racism as a pandemic may seem less obvious, but when viewed through the lens of systems engineering, racism in the American health care system can be seen to contain tightly linked problems of medicine, technology, design, leadership, and ethics. The intersections are myriad, bound in racial disparities that pervade all aspects of life, including such basic functions as the ability to breathe.

For Black people and other racially minoritized groups, the health care system—which should provide equitable treatment and care—is tainted by disparate access, poor quality of care, unequal outcomes, and distrust between individuals and health care providers. The extent to which racial biases lead to health care disparities is influenced by demographics; environmental, social, and economic conditions; and policies and practices that pervade all aspects of life.

Ameer Wins 2022 Innovation Commercialization Award
Guillermo Ameer | July 13, 2022

The award recognizes the application of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine that benefits patients

Northwestern Engineering’s Guillermo A. Ameer was honored with the 2022 Innovation/Commercialization Award by the Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine International Society-Americas (TERMIS-AM).

The award recognizes the application of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine in the production of a product or technology that ultimately will benefit patients. The award can be presented for an existing product or for a newly developed product that has been launched in the last five years, or for a technology launched in the last five years that can facilitate commercialization of a product.

Microparticles could be used to deliver “self-boosting” vaccines
Ana Jaklenec | July 13, 2022

With particles that release their payloads at different times, one injection could provide multiple vaccine doses.

Most vaccines, from measles to Covid-19, require a series of multiple shots before the recipient is considered fully vaccinated. To make that easier to achieve, MIT researchers have developed microparticles that can be tuned to deliver their payload at different time points, which could be used to create “self-boosting” vaccines.

In a new study, the researchers describe how these particles degrade over time, and how they can be tuned to release their contents at different time points. The study also offers insights into how the contents can be protected from losing their stability as they wait to be released.

When it comes to darker skin, pulse oximeters fall short
Kimani Toussaint | July 11, 2022

Over the past two years, the pulse oximeter has become a crucial tool for tracking the health of COVID-19 patients.

The small device clips onto a finger and measures the amount of oxygen in a patient’s blood. But a growing body of evidence shows the device can be inaccurate when measuring oxygen levels in people with dark skin tones.

A study published on Monday only adds to this concern.

Researchers analyzing pre-pandemic health data also find those measurements resulted in patients of color receiving less supplemental oxygen than white patients did.

Experts Study Marine Mammals To Learn About Human Hearing
Barbara Shinn-Cunningham | June 30, 2022

Many hearing loss patients have the same complaint: They have trouble following conversations in a noisy space. Carnegie Mellon University’s Barbara Shinn-Cunningham has spent her career conducting research to better understand this problem and how it affects people at cocktail parties, coffee shops and grocery stores.

Now, along with a team of researchers from six universities, Shinn-Cunningham, the director of CMU’s Neuroscience Institute (NI) and the George A. and Helen Dunham Cowan Professor of Auditory Neuroscience, is looking for answers in an unexpected place. The researchers will conduct noninvasive experiments on free-swimming dolphins and sea lions.

Breast Cancer’s Spread Accelerates During Sleep
Sunitha Nagrath | June 28, 2022

Breast cancer metastases spread far more efficiently during sleep, according to a Swiss study.

While it has been assumed that circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are constantly shedding from growing tumors, or as a result of mechanical insults, there’s a “striking and unexpected pattern of CTC generation dynamics in both patients with breast cancer and mouse models, highlighting that most spontaneous CTC intravasation events occur during sleep,” wrote Nicola Aceto, PhD, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, and colleagues.

Furthermore, CTCs are more prone to metastasize during a body’s resting phase, while those generated during a body’s active phase are not, they noted in Nature.

Tissue model reveals key players in liver regeneration
Sangeeta Bhatia | June 27, 2022

By tracing the steps of liver regrowth, MIT engineers hope to harness the liver’s regenerative abilities to help treat chronic disease.

The human liver has amazing regeneration capabilities: Even if up to 70 percent of it is removed, the remaining tissue can regrow a full-sized liver within months.

Taking advantage of this regenerative capability could give doctors many more options for treating chronic liver disease. MIT engineers have now taken a step toward that goal, by creating a new liver tissue model that allows them to trace the steps involved in liver regeneration more precisely than has been possible before.

The new model can yield information that couldn’t be gleaned from studies of mice or other animals, whose biology is not identical to that of humans, says Sangeeta Bhatia, the leader of the research team.

Nanomaterials That Provide Imaging While Delivering Medication
Kytai Nguyen | June 24, 2022

A University of Texas at Arlington bioengineer is leading a project that will develop biodegradable nanomaterials that will take pictures and deliver medicine to combat peripheral arterial disease (PAD).

Kytai Nguyen, a UT Arlington bioengineering professor, is the principal investigator in the four-year, $2.1 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant. She’s collaborating with Jian Yang, a Penn State University bioengineering professor and former UTA faculty member, and Ralph Mason, a professor of radiology at UT Southwestern.

“What’s important in this project is that the technology carries fluorescent and ultrasound imaging capabilities, which will provide patients and doctors with more detailed information,” Nguyen said. “It also gives patients more targeted medicine, making it more efficient.

Dr. Cato T. Laurencin Elected to the European Academy of Sciences
Cato Laurencin | June 16, 2022

The prestigious European Academy of Sciences has recognized UConn’s Dr. Cato T. Laurencin for his visionary and pioneering work in the field of regenerative engineering

In recognition of his pioneering work in the field of regenerative engineering, UConn professor Dr. Cato T. Laurencin has been elected to the prestigious European Academy of Sciences (EURASC).

“It’s very gratifying that a number of different parts of the world consider the work we are doing to be breakthrough,” Laurencin says. “The world is embracing the concepts behind regenerative engineering and has come to realize the importance of this field.”

Lydia Contreras Named New Vice Provost for Faculty Diversity
Lydia Contreras | June 15, 2022

The University of Texas at Austin has named Lydia Contreras as its new vice provost for faculty diversity, equity and inclusivity, effective immediately. Contreras, who currently holds the Jim and Barbara Miller Endowed Faculty Fellowship in Chemical Engineering, has served for the past two years as the managing director of diversity in the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost.

She succeeds Edmund T. Gordon, who will serve as the inaugural executive director for the university’s Contextualization and Commemoration Initiative.

Contreras’ primary responsibility will be to lead the advancement of the Strategic Plan for Faculty Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity in alignment with UT’s new plan for an equitable and inclusive campus, You Belong Here.

Nanoparticle sensor can distinguish between viral and bacterial pneumonia
Sangeeta Bhatia | June 13, 2022

Many different types of bacteria and viruses can cause pneumonia, but there is no easy way to determine which microbe is causing a particular patient’s illness. This uncertainty makes it harder for doctors to choose effective treatments because the antibiotics commonly used to treat bacterial pneumonia won’t help patients with viral pneumonia. In addition, limiting the use of antibiotics is an important step toward curbing antibiotic resistance.

MIT researchers have now designed a sensor that can distinguish between viral and bacterial pneumonia infections, which they hope will help doctors to choose the appropriate treatment.

Engineers develop nanoparticles that cross the blood-brain barrier
Paula Hammond | June 1, 2022

There are currently few good treatment options for glioblastoma, an aggressive type of brain cancer with a high fatality rate. One reason that the disease is so difficult to treat is that most chemotherapy drugs can’t penetrate the blood vessels that surround the brain.

A team of MIT researchers is now developing drug-carrying nanoparticles that appear to get into the brain more efficiently than drugs given on their own. Using a human tissue model they designed, which accurately replicates the blood-brain barrier, the researchers showed that the particles could get into tumors and kill glioblastoma cells.

Western Engineering researcher and alumnus honoured with Ontario Professional Engineers Award
Kibret Mequanint | May 24, 2022

The Ontario Society of Professional Engineers (OSPE) and Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO) recently announced its 2022 Ontario Professional Engineers Awards (OPEA) recipients, recognizing industry innovators and business leaders for their excellence and achievement in engineering.

Western Engineering researcher, Kibret Mequanint, a professor in the department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering was awarded the Engineering Medal for Research and Development for developing applications that extend engineering or natural sciences. Alumnus and president of Neegan Burnside Ltd., Cory Jones, P.Eng., BESc’97, earned the Engineering Excellence Medal, recognizing overall excellence in the practice of engineering.

Both recipients will be honoured at the OPEA’s Award Gala on November 18, 2022.

New Western innovation gels engineering with medicine
Kibret Mequanint | May 20, 2022

Game-changing ‘bio-glue’ could mean end to surgical sutures, staples

Western biomaterials expert Kibret Mequanint – in partnership with Malcolm Xing from University of Manitoba – has developed the first-ever hydrophobic (water-hating) fluid, which displaces body fluids surrounding an injury allowing for near-instantaneous gelling, sealing and healing of injured tissue.

“Tissue adhesives that can perform in the presence of blood, water and other proteins in the body are the holy grail for instant wound closure and hemostasis, especially when time is critical in rescue operations and emergency responses,” said Mequanint, a Western chemical and biochemical engineering professor.

Ameer Wins 2022 Bioactive Materials Lifetime Achievement Award
Guillermo Ameer | May 16, 2022

Northwestern Engineering’s Guillermo A. Ameer has been named the 2022 Bioactive Materials Lifetime Achievement Award winner by the Bioactive Materials academic journal.

Established in 2021, the annual Bioactive Materials Lifetime Achievement Award recognizes excellence in research and development in the field of bioactive materials. The award is presented to a person judged to have demonstrated excellence and leadership in bioactive materials, including basic science and translation to practice.

Study estimates effectiveness of 2-dose and 3-dose mRNA vaccination against Omicron
Delphine Dean | May 12, 2022

In a recent study posted to the medRxiv* preprint server, researchers estimated the efficacy of two-dose and three-dose regimens of two messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) vaccines: Moderna’s mRNA-1273 and Pfizer-BioNTech’s BNT162b2 against coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused due to the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) Omicron variant.

Omicron (B.1.1529) has demonstrated higher infectivity compared to other SARS-CoV-2 variants. In addition, studies have reported lower Omicron neutralization by the existing COVID-19 vaccines. Despite this, it is not clear just how much protection the COVID-19 vaccine confers against Omicron infections.

Expanding the Oval and Opening Doors: The Inauguration of Olin President Gilda Barabino
Gilda Barabino | May 9, 2022

On May 5, 2022, Olin College celebrated a milestone event two years in the making—the long-awaited and much celebrated inauguration of its second president and first Black woman president, Dr. Gilda A. Barabino.

Joined by delegates, trustees, students, staff, faculty, alumni, parents and guests from far and wide, the Olin Community gathered on a perfect New England spring day to hear personal stories and words of wisdom from honored guests, and to witness to President Barabino’s formal investiture ceremony.

New Vice Dean for Research and Graduate Education
Shelly Sakiyama-Elbert | May 6, 2022

On July 1, Shelly Sakiyama-Elbert, PhD, will join UW Medicine as the new vice dean for Research and Graduate Education. She succeeds John Slattery, PhD, who is retiring after holding the position since 2005. Her husband, Don Elbert, PhD, will also join UW Medicine as an associate professor in the Department of Neurology.

“I am delighted that Shelly Sakiyama-Elbert has accepted the position of vice dean for Research and Graduate Education,” says Paul Ramsey, MD, CEO of UW Medicine. “She was selected after a national search for her outstanding skills in leading interdisciplinary and translational research and supporting the career development of faculty, staff, trainees and students. I also want to thank John Slattery for his long service and great success in building an internationally renowned research community at UW Medicine to advance biomedical science.”

Alyssa Panitch Chosen as Chair of Coulter BME
Alyssa Panitch | May 3, 2022

Alyssa Panitch, Edward Teller Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of California, Davis, has been selected as the new chair of the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University.

Panitch currently serves as executive associate dean of academic personnel and planning in the College of Engineering at UC Davis. The position oversees the merit and promotion process and all matters related to faculty and academic affairs, including faculty and academic personnel hiring.

Sweat Sensor Makes Big Strides in Detecting Infection Indicators
Shalini Prasad | April 29, 2022

University of Texas at Dallas bioengineers in collaboration with EnLiSense LLC have designed a wearable sensor that can detect two key biomarkers of infection in human sweat, a significant step toward making it possible for users to receive early warnings of infections such as COVID-19 and influenza.

The Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science researchers’ study, published online March 3 in Advanced Materials Technologies, demonstrates that the sweat sensor can identify the biomarkers interferon-gamma-inducible protein (IP-10) and tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL). Elevated levels of IP-10 and TRAIL indicate what is known as a cytokine storm, a surge of pro-inflammatory immune proteins generated in the most serious infections.

Raphael C. Lee elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2022
Raphael Lee | April 29, 2022

Seven members of the University of Chicago faculty have been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious honorary societies.

They include Profs. Christopher R. Berry, Raphael C. Lee, Peter B. Littlewood, Richard Neer, Sianne Ngai and Esteban Rossi-Hansberg, and Prof. Emerita Wadad Kadi.

These scholars have made breakthroughs in fields ranging from condensed matter physics to biomedical engineering and the aesthetics of capitalism. They join the 2022 class of 261 individuals, announced April 28, which includes artists, scholars, scientists, and leaders in the public, nonprofit and private sectors.

In addition to Rossi-Hansberg, AM’98, PhD’02, 13 UChicago alumni were also elected as part of this year’s class.

Plug-and-play organ-on-a-chip can be customized to the patient
Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic | April 27, 2022

Engineered tissues have become a critical component for modeling diseases and testing the efficacy and safety of drugs in a human context. A major challenge for researchers has been how to model body functions and systemic diseases with multiple engineered tissues that can physiologically communicate — just like they do in the body. However, it is essential to provide each engineered tissue with its own environment so that the specific tissue phenotypes can be maintained for weeks to months, as required for biological and biomedical studies. Making the challenge even more complex is the necessity of linking the tissue modules together to facilitate their physiological communication, which is required for modeling conditions that involve more than one organ system, without sacrificing the individual engineered tissue environments.

Novel plug-and-play multi-organ chip, customized to the patient

Up to now, no one has been able to meet both conditions. Today, a team of researchers from Columbia Engineering and Columbia University Irving Medical Center reports that they have developed a model of human physiology in the form of a multi-organ chip consisting of engineered human heart, bone, liver, and skin that are linked by vascular flow with circulating immune cells, to allow recapitulation of interdependent organ functions. The researchers have essentially created a plug-and-play multi-organ chip, which is the size of a microscope slide, that can be customized to the patient. Because disease progression and responses to treatment vary greatly from one person to another, such a chip will eventually enable personalized optimization of therapy for each patient. The study is the cover story of the April 2022 issue of Nature Biomedical Engineering.

Can a blood test help diagnose skin cancer?
Sunitha Nagrath | April 20, 2022

New research in Advanced NanoBiomed Research indicates that testing an individual’s blood can reveal the presence of circulating melanoma cells. Such tests may allow patients to forego invasive skin biopsies to determine whether they have skin cancer.

The test uses what’s called the Melanoma-specific OncoBean platform conjugated with melanoma-specific antibodies. Investigators at the University of Michigan showed that the test can be used not only to diagnose melanoma but also to evaluate whether all cancer cells have been successfully removed after skin cancer surgery.

Tumors partially destroyed with sound don’t come back
Zhen Xu | April 18, 2022

Noninvasive sound technology developed at the University of Michigan breaks down liver tumors in rats, kills cancer cells and spurs the immune system to prevent further spread—an advance that could lead to improved cancer outcomes in humans.

By destroying only 50% to 75% of liver tumor volume, the rats’ immune systems were able to clear away the rest, with no evidence of recurrence or metastases in more than 80% of animals.

“Even if we don’t target the entire tumor, we can still cause the tumor to regress and also reduce the risk of future metastasis,” said Zhen Xu, professor of biomedical engineering at U-M and corresponding author of the study in Cancers.

Innovative Therapy that “Tricks” and Destroys Cancer Cells Advances to Clinical Trial
Kathleen Schmainda | April 8, 2022

A novel therapy studied at the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) Cancer Center has led to a clinical trial for the treatment of glioblastoma, a rare and aggressive form of brain cancer, yet the most common primary brain tumor in adults.

Despite decades of research globally, only incremental gains have been made to extend or enhance quality of life for patients with glioblastoma. Treatment options are limited and typically include a combination of surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Now, a new clinical study open at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin will evaluate an alternative treatment that is administered orally.

Study reveals the dynamics of human milk production
Bonnie Berger | April 5, 2022

For the first time, MIT researchers have performed a large-scale, high-resolution study of the cells in breast milk, allowing them to track how these cells change over time in nursing mothers.

By analyzing human breast milk produced between three days and nearly two years after childbirth, the researchers were able to identify a variety of changes in gene expression in mammary gland cells. Some of these changes were linked to factors such as hormone levels, illness of the mother or baby, the mother starting birth control, and the baby starting daycare.

“We were able to take this really long view of lactation that other studies haven’t really done, and we showed that milk does change over the entire course of lactation, even after years of milk production,” says Brittany Goods, a former MIT postdoc who is now an assistant professor of engineering at Dartmouth College, and one of the senior authors of the study.

Human Factors Drive Radiology Error Rates
Elizabeth Krupinski | March 25, 2022

In 1949, radiologist Leo Henry Garland, MD, former RSNA president, published his first of several articles on errors in radiology. Among his findings, Dr. Garland discovered that experienced radiologists would miss important findings in approximately 30% of chest radiographs positive for radiologic evidence of disease. The ensuing decades saw the development of contrast agents, the introduction of CT and MRI, and other major advances.

But despite these technological advances, along with vast gains in knowledge about human biology and disease processes, error rates in radiology have remained largely unchanged from Dr. Garland’s time, according to Michael A. Bruno, MD, vice chair for quality and safety, and chief of emergency radiology at Penn State University.

Injectable electrodes could prevent deadly heart arrhythmias
Elizabeth Cosgriff-Hernandez | March 25, 2022

Heart attacks and strokes triggered by electrical misfiring in the heart are among the biggest killers on the planet. Now, researchers have created a “liquid wire” that, when injected into pig hearts, can guide the organs to a normal rhythm.

The results, presented here this week at a meeting of the American Chemical Society, are “impressive and really cool,” says Thomas Mansell, a biomolecular engineer at Iowa State University who was not involved with the work. “It’s an exciting study,” agrees Usha Tedrow, a cardiac electrophysiologist at Harvard Medical School, also not involved in the work. If the findings translate to people, she says, it could save thousands of lives each year.

In animal study, implant churns out CAR-T cells to combat cancer
Frances Ligler | March 24, 2022

Researchers from North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have developed an implantable biotechnology that produces and releases CAR-T cells for attacking cancerous tumors. In a proof-of-concept study involving lymphoma in mice, the researchers found that treatment with the implants was faster and more effective than conventional CAR-T cell cancer treatment.

T cells are part of the immune system, tasked with identifying and destroying cells in the body that have become infected with an invading pathogen. CAR-T cells are T cells that have been engineered to identify cancer cells and destroy them. CAR-T cells are already in clinical use for treating lymphomas, and there are many clinical trials under way focused on using CAR-T cell treatments against other forms of cancer.

Nanotechnology helps soybean growers and the environment
Cristina Sabliov | March 4, 2022

Louisiana farmers rely on herbicides, pesticides and fungicides to protect their crops against weeds, insects and diseases. Even though most farmers try to be good stewards of the environment, some of those chemicals inevitably end up in waterways, or elsewhere, instead of benefiting the plants. To address this problem, LSU Professor Cristina Sabliov is working on technologies for more targeted delivery of agrochemicals to crops, to prevent waste—a cost issue for farmers—while protecting plants, yields and the environment.

Sabliov develops nanoparticles that are smaller than the eye can see—about a thousand times smaller than the thickness of a human hair. These tiny delivery systems can attach to specific parts of a plant, such as the root or the leaves, and deposit a small but significant payload to be released either immediately or over time.

‘Tuning’ gel-forming protein molecules to boost their versatility for biomedical applications
Jin Kim Montclare | February 16, 2022

Self-assembling protein molecules are versatile materials for medical applications because their ability to form gels can be accelerated or retarded by variations in pH, as well as changes in temperature or ionic strength. These biomaterials, responsive to physiological conditions, can therefore be easily adapted for applications where their effectiveness depends on gelation kinetics, such as how quickly and under what stimuli they form gels.

Understanding gelation kinetics for protein hydrogels is important for assessing their utility in medical applications and in the future of biomaterials. For example, fast-gelling systems are clinically useful for in situ gelation for the delivery of drugs or genetic material to target cells or anatomic regions, while slower-gelling systems are applicable for tissue engineering because of their ability to maintain cell viability and their propensity to maintain homogeneity.

Size matters in particle treatments of traumatic injuries
Paula Hammond | February 16, 2022

Traumatic injuries are the leading cause of death in the U.S. among people 45 and under, and such injuries account for more than 3 million deaths per year worldwide. To reduce the death toll of such injuries, many researchers are working on injectable nanoparticles that can home in on the site of an internal injury and attract cells that help to stop the bleeding until the patient can reach a hospital for further treatment.

While some of these particles have shown promise in animal studies, none have been tested in human patients yet. One reason for that is a lack of information regarding the mechanism of action and potential safety of such particles. To shed more light on those factors, MIT chemical engineers have now performed the first systematic study of how different-sized polymer nanoparticles circulate in the body and interact with platelets, the cells that promote blood clotting.

Nola Hylton, PhD Inducted into the National Academy of Engineering
Nola Hylton | February 14, 2022

The UC San Francisco Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging is pleased to announce that Nola Hylton, PhD has been inducted into the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), Class of 2022. Election to the NAE is among the highest professional distinctions accorded to an engineer.

Dr. Hylton is a professor in residence at UCSF Radiology and director of the Breast Imaging Research Group. Dr. Hylton’s impressive accomplishments include being an internationally known leader and recognized authority in the field of breast MRI for over 20 years. Election of new NAE members is the culmination of a yearlong process. A ballot is set in December with the final vote for membership during January. Dr. Hylton was elected to the NAE based on the following.

Rena Bizios elected to National Academy of Engineering
Rena Bizios | February 14, 2022

Rena Bizios, Lutcher Brown Endowed Chair Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, was recently elected to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) as part of the 2022 induction class.

Election to the NAE is one of the foremost professional accomplishments in the field and is reserved for those who demonstrate significant contributions to the engineering literature and to “the pioneering of new and developing fields of technology, making major advancements in traditional fields of engineering, or developing/implementing innovative approaches to engineering education”. Professor Bizios was recognized for her “contributions to the theory and applications of cellular tissue engineering, cell/biomaterial interactions, and surface modification biomaterials.

Research advances technology of AI assistance for anesthesiologists
Emery Brown | February 14, 2022

A new study by researchers at MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) suggests the day may be approaching when advanced artificial intelligence systems could assist anesthesiologists in the operating room.

In a special edition of Artificial Intelligence in Medicine, the team of neuroscientists, engineers, and physicians demonstrated a machine learning algorithm for continuously automating dosing of the anesthetic drug propofol. Using an application of deep reinforcement learning, in which the software’s neural networks simultaneously learned how its dosing choices maintain unconsciousness and how to critique the efficacy of its own actions, the algorithm outperformed more traditional software in sophisticated, physiology-based simulations of patients. It also closely matched the performance of real anesthesiologists when showing what it would do to maintain unconsciousness given recorded data from nine real surgeries.

New tool harnesses immune cells from tumors to effectively fight cancer
Shana Kelley | January 28, 2022

Northwestern scientists have developed a new tool to harness immune cells from tumors to fight cancer rapidly and effectively, published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.

Their findings showed a dramatic shrinkage in tumors in mice compared to traditional cell therapy methods. With a novel microfluidic device that could be 3D printed, the team multiplied, sorted through and harvested hundreds of millions of cells, recovering 400 percent more of the tumor-eating cells than current approaches.

Achilefu recruited to lead new Department of Biomedical Engineering
Sam Achilefu | January 26, 2022

Molecular imaging expert Samuel Achilefu, Ph.D., will join UT Southwestern Feb. 1 as the first Chair of a new Department of Biomedical Engineering. Dr. Achilefu was recruited to UTSW from the Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

He worked at Washington University for more than 20 years, most recently as a Professor of Radiology, Medicine, Biomedical Engineering, and Biochemistry & Molecular Biophysics. He also served as Chief of the Optical Radiology Laboratory, Vice Chair for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology, and co-leader of the Oncologic Imaging Program of the Siteman Cancer Center. Recently, Dr. Achilefu was elected to the National Academy of Medicine, considered one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine.

Researchers pilot ‘itty bitty’ device for earlier ovarian cancer detection
Jennifer Barton | January 18, 2022

Due to a lack of effective screening and diagnostic tools, more than three-fourths of ovarian cancer cases are not found until the cancer is in an advanced stage. As a result, fewer than half of all women with ovarian cancer survive more than five years after diagnosis.

Jennifer Barton, director of the University of Arizona BIO5 Institute and Thomas R. Brown Distinguished Chair in Biomedical Engineering, has spent years developing a device small enough to image the fallopian tubes – narrow ducts connecting the uterus to the ovaries – and search for signs of early-stage cancer. Dr. John Heusinkveld has now used the new imaging device in study participants for the first time, as part of a pilot human trial.

Nanotherapy offers new hope for the treatment of Type 1 diabetes
Guillermo Ameer | January 17, 2022

Individuals living with Type 1 diabetes must carefully follow prescribed insulin regimens every day, receiving injections of the hormone via syringe, insulin pump or some other device. And without viable long-term treatments, this course of treatment is a lifelong sentence.

Pancreatic islets control insulin production when blood sugar levels change, and in Type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system attacks and destroys such insulin-producing cells. Islet transplantation has emerged over the past few decades as a potential cure for Type 1 diabetes. With healthy transplanted islets, Type 1 diabetes patients may no longer need insulin injections, but transplantation efforts have faced setbacks as the immune system continues to eventually reject new islets. Current immunosuppressive drugs offer inadequate protection for transplanted cells and tissues and are plagued by undesirable side effects.

Accomplished biomedical engineer, academic leader named Brown School of Engineering dean
Tejal Desai | January 12, 2022

Tejal Desai, an accomplished biomedical engineer and academic leader who earned a bachelor’s degree with Brown’s Class of 1994, has been appointed the next dean of Brown University’s School of Engineering.

An expert in applying micro- and nanoscale technologies to create new ways to deliver medicine to targeted sites in the human body, Desai is a professor and a former longtime chair of the Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences at the University of California San Francisco, and inaugural director of UCSF’s Health Innovations Via Engineering (HIVE) initiative.