Engineering Diversity

Guillermo A. Ameer Elected a Biomaterials Science and Engineering Fellow
Guillermo Ameer | December 7, 2023

With his election, Ameer joins a group of fewer than 500 biomaterials scientists worldwide

Northwestern Engineering’s Guillermo A. Ameer has been elected a Fellow of Biomaterials Science and Engineering (FBSE) by the International Union of Societies for Biomaterials Science and Engineering (IUSBSE), the highest honor the global biomaterials community can bestow on outstanding scientists. With his election, Ameer joins a group of fewer than 500 biomaterials scientists worldwide who have been named a FBSE.

Ameer will be formally inducted May 27 at the World Biomaterials Congress in Daegu, South Korea. Fellowships recognize those who have gained a status of excellent professional standing and high achievements in the field of biomaterials science and engineering.

Low-dose CT screening can catch lung cancer early – but most people overlook it
Denise Aberle | November 8, 2023

CT was shown to be the first and most effective way of reducing lung cancer mortality,’ says UCLA Health’s Dr. Denise Aberle.

Most people at greatest risk of lung cancer are overlooking a non-invasive screening that can detect cases early, when treatment can best save lives.

November marks Lung Cancer Awareness Month and UCLA Health lung cancer experts are working to spread the word about the importance of low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) of the chest. The annual scan is recommended for people with a long-term history of smoking, as well as other criteria, including age.

The screening is designed to find asymptomatic cancers when they are most treatable with surgery or radiation. It also allows doctors to monitor any suspicious findings over time.

Anesthesia technology precisely controls unconsciousness in animal tests
Emery Brown | November 7, 2023

An advanced closed-loop anesthesia delivery system that monitors brain state to tailor propofol dose and achieve exactly the desired level of unconsciousness could reduce post-op side effects.

If anesthesiologists had a rigorous means to manage dosing, they could deliver less medicine, maintaining exactly the right depth of unconsciousness while reducing postoperative cognitive side effects in vulnerable groups like the elderly. But with myriad responsibilities for keeping anesthetized patients alive and stable as well as maintaining their profoundly unconscious state, anesthesiologists don’t have the time without the technology.

To solve the problem, researchers at The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) have invented a closed-loop system based on brain state monitoring that accurately controls unconsciousness by automating doses of the anesthetic drug propofol every 20 seconds.

Advancing ultrasound microvessel imaging and AI to improve cancer detection
Azra Alizad | October 21, 2023

Ultrasound—a technology that uses sound waves to produce an image—is commonly used to monitor the development of a baby as it grows inside its mother. But ultrasound imaging also can be used to investigate suspicious masses of tissue and nodules that may be cancerous.

Tumors consist not only of cancer cells but also a matrix of small blood vessels, or microvessels, that cannot be seen in the images produced by conventional ultrasound machines. To solve this problem, physician-scientist Azra Alizad, M.D., and biomedical engineering scientist Mostafa Fatemi, Ph.D., teamed up at Mayo Clinic to design and study a tool that may improve the resolution of ultrasound imaging.

Immunotherapy Response in Glioblastoma Induced by mRNA Delivered by Extracellular Vesicles
Betty Kim | October 20, 2023

Investigators at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center has developed a potentially groundbreaking method for enhancing immunotherapy responses in glioblastoma by using extracellular vesicles loaded with messenger RNA (mRNA). This new approach, detailed in Nature Communications, has solved some of the hurdles faced by mRNA-based therapy approaches for cancer and could lead to wider use of these therapies across a range of hard-to-treat tumor types.

The new approach for mRNA delivery builds on research from a team at MD Anderson led by Betty Kim, MD, PhD, and Wen Jiang, MD, PhD, who developed a novel method earlier this year of loading mRNA into extracellular vesicles and demonstrates the anti-tumor potential of this method of therapeutic delivery. Researchers have known for some time the therapeutic potential of mRNA to fight both infectious diseases and cancer. But methods to deliver it accurately to where it is needed has been a challenge, with various other potential delivery method studied previously including via lipid polymeric nanoparticles.

Curbing Lung Cancer Metastasis with Nanoparticle Vaccine
Nicole Steinmetz | October 11, 2023

Scientists at the University of California (UC), San Diego, have developed an experimental vaccine that could curb the spread of metastatic cancers to the lungs. The key ingredients of the vaccine are nanoparticles that have been engineered to target a protein known to play a central role in cancer growth and spread. The vaccine significantly reduced the spread of metastatic breast and skin cancers to the lungs in mice. It also improved the survival rate in mice with metastatic breast cancer after surgical removal of the primary tumor.

The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in an article titled, “Viral nanoparticle vaccines against S100A9 reduce lung tumor seeding and metastasis.”

Restoring nerve-muscle connections boosts strength of aging mice, Stanford Medicine study finds
Helen Blau | October 11, 2023

A drug that boosts strength in injured or aging mice restores connections between nerves and muscle and suggests ways to combat weakness in humans due to aging, injury or disease.

A small molecule previously shown to enhance strength in injured or old laboratory mice does so by restoring lost connections between nerves and muscle fibers, Stanford Medicine researchers have found.

The molecule blocks the activity of an aging-associated enzyme, or gerozyme, called 15-PGDH that naturally increases in muscles as they age. The study showed that levels of the gerozyme increase in muscles after nerve damage and that it is prevalent in muscle fibers of people with neuromuscular diseases.

The research is the first to show that damaged motor neurons — nerves connecting the spinal cord to muscles — can be induced to regenerate in response to a drug treatment and that lost strength and muscle mass can be at least partially regained. It suggests that, if similar results are seen in humans, the drug may one day be used to prevent muscle loss of muscle strength due to aging or disease or to hasten recovery from injury.

Regina Barzilay elected to the National Academy of Medicine for 2023
Regina Barzilay | October 10, 2023

The National Academy of Medicine announced the election of 100 new members to join their esteemed ranks in 2023, among them five MIT faculty members and seven additional affiliates.

MIT professors Daniel Anderson, Regina Barzilay, Guoping Feng, Darrell Irvine, and Morgen Shen were among the new members. Justin Hanes PhD ’96, Said Ibrahim MBA ’16, and Jennifer West ’92, along with three former students in the Harvard-MIT Program in Health Sciences and Technology (HST) — Michael Chiang, Siddhartha Mukherjee, and Robert Vonderheide — were also elected, as was Yi Zhang, an associate member of The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.

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, the academy noted in announcing the election of its new members.

Tumor-destroying sound waves receive FDA approval for liver treatment in humans
Zhen Xu | October 9, 2023

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of sound waves to break down tumors—a technique called histotripsy—in humans for liver treatment.

Pioneered at the University of Michigan, histotripsy offers a promising alternative to cancer treatments such as surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, which often have significant side effects. Today, FDA officials awarded clearance to HistoSonics, a company co-founded in 2009 by U-M engineers and doctors for the use of histotripsy to destroy targeted liver tissue.

A human trial underway since 2021 at the U-M Rogel Cancer Center and other locations has treated patients with primary and metastatic liver tumors via histotripsy, demonstrating the technology’s ability to meet the testing’s primary effectiveness and safety targets.

Dean Jennifer L. West Elected to the National Academy of Medicine
Jennifer West | October 9, 2023

Jennifer L. West, Ph.D., Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Virginia, has been elected to the prestigious NATIONAL ACADEMY OF MEDICINE, one of the highest recognitions in health and medicine. The National Academy of Medicine is one of three institutions that make up the National Academies, operating under an 1863 Congressional charter signed by President Lincoln to assemble experts to advise the nation in science and technology.

“It is my honor to welcome this truly exceptional class of new members to the National Academy of Medicine,” said NAM President Victor J. Dzau. “Their contributions to health and medicine are unparalleled, and their leadership and expertise will be essential to helping the NAM tackle today’s urgent health challenges, inform the future of health care, and ensure health equity for the benefit of all around the globe.

The cactus chemist: Dr. Norma Alcantar
Norma Alcantar | September 5, 2023

Among the typical things you’d expect to find in a chemical engineer’s office — honorary awards, patent plaques, and books like “Environmental Analytical Chemistry” and “Introducing Chemical Engineering Thermodynamics” — Dr. Norma Alcantar’s office at the University of South Florida (USF) also showcases her love of life and teaching with books like “Intentional Integrity,” a coffee mug that reads “the influence of a good teacher can never be erased,” and a decorative plaque that reads “It’s All Gonna Be Fine.”

But hidden between the intellectual and inspirational materials, two sets of objects stand out: a series of cacti and owl collectibles. To the uninitiated, they appear to be whimsical office décor, but to those who know Alcantar, the folklore wisdom of the owl and the hardy, but elegantly designed cacti plant represent the tapestry of her life and career.

Engineered Proteins Take On Cancer’s Epigenome
Karmella Haynes | August 24, 2023

In addition to characterizing the genetic basis for different cancers, scientists are increasingly interested in the role of the epigenome in tumor development, and possible therapies that can target genes repressed by chemically modifying chromatin in cancer.

Part of what makes the epigenome an attractive target is the possibility of hitting a system of proteins involved in gene expression programming rather than a single target, according to Karmella Haynes, PhD, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Emory University. She and a team of scientists from Emory University and Georgia Institute of Technology have developed another potential approach for reactivating repressed tumor suppressor genes that could ultimately have implications for how solid tumors like triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) are treated.

Ameer Wins 2023 Excellence in Biomaterials Science Award
Guillermo Ameer | August 23, 2023

The award recognizes an individual who has made significant contributions to the science of biomaterials

Northwestern Engineering’s Guillermo A. Ameer has been elected the winner of the 2023 Excellence in Biomaterials Science Award, an honor given by the Surfaces in Biomaterials Foundation (SIBF).

The award, the highest given by the foundation, recognizes an individual who has made significant contributions to the biomaterials science field. Previous winners include Moderna cofounder Robert Langer (2020) and the late Northwestern professor Richard Van Duyne (1991).

Transforming flies into degradable plastics
Karen Wooley | August 14, 2023

Imagine using insects as a source of chemicals to make plastics that can biodegrade later — with the help of that very same type of bug. That concept is closer to reality than you might expect. Today, researchers will describe their progress to date, including isolation and purification of insect-derived chemicals and their conversion into functional bioplastics.

The researchers will present their results at the fall meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS). ACS Fall 2023 is a hybrid meeting being held virtually and in-person Aug. 13–17, and features about 12,000 presentations on a wide range of science topics.

“For 20 years, my group has been developing methods to transform natural products — such as glucose obtained from sugar cane or trees — into degradable, digestible polymers that don’t persist in the environment,” said Karen Wooley, PhD, the project’s principal investigator.

Deep learning unlocks personalised cancer therapy
Rachel Karchin | August 14, 2023

Engineers and cancer researchers have harnessed the power of machine learning technology to predict immune-boosting proteins.

Machine learning technology developed by a team of Johns Hopkins engineers and cancer researchers can accurately predict cancer-related protein fragments that may trigger an immune system response.

If validated in clinical trials, the technology could help scientists overcome a major hurdle to developing personalised immunotherapies and vaccines.

In a new study, investigators from Johns Hopkins Biomedical Engineering, the Johns Hopkins Institute for Computational Medicine, the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center and the Bloomberg~Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy show that their deep learning method, called BigMHC, can identify protein fragments on cancer cells that elicit a tumour cell-killing immune response, an essential step in understanding response to immunotherapy and in developing personalised cancer therapies.

New DNA Identification Approach Could Improve Monitoring for Chronic Diseases
Shana Kelley | July 26, 2023

Investigators led by Shana Kelley, PhD, the Neena B. Schwartz Professor of Chemistry, Biomedical Engineering, and of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics, have developed a novel approach for identifying sequences of artificial DNA with differing levels of binding to other small molecules.

The approach, detailed in a study published in Nature Chemistry, could help improve the efficiency of diagnostic monitoring for patients with chronic diseases.

Aptamers are sequences of artificial DNA that selectively bind to other small molecules such as peptides, carbohydrates and foreign pathogens. Aptamers can be used for therapeutic purposes in the same way as monoclonal antibodies, and have been used for pathogen and cancer recognition as well as stem cell markers.

Study optimizes patient-specific stem cell-based therapy for Parkinson’s disease
Jeanne Loring | July 19, 2023

The discovery by scientists from Scripps Research and Cardiff University paves the way for clinical trials that use patients’ own cells to treat Parkinson’s disease

Scientists from Scripps Research and Cardiff University made key discoveries in support of a new stem cell-based therapy for Parkinson’s disease. The approach, called an autologous therapy, uses induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs)—made from a patient’s own skin or blood cells—to replace the neurons in the brain that are lost in Parkinson’s. Transplants of a person’s own cells eliminates the need for immunosuppression.

In a new study, the researchers used iPSCs made from the skin cells of two people with Parkinson’s disease to make young neurons that were successfully transplanted into a rat model with the disease. They used the animal model to pinpoint exactly at what stage of development the iPSC-derived neurons should be transplanted to become mature neurons that can reverse signs of disease in the rat brain.

Study finds tracking brain waves could reduce post-op complications
Emery Brown | July 17, 2023

Distinctive EEG patterns indicate when a patient’s state of unconsciousness under general anesthesia is more profound than necessary.

When patients undergo general anesthesia, their brain activity often slows down as they sink into unconsciousness. Higher doses of anesthetic drugs can induce an even deeper state of unconsciousness known as burst suppression, which is associated with cognitive impairments after the patient wakes up.

A new study from MIT, in which the researchers analyzed the EEG patterns of patients under anesthesia, has revealed brain wave signatures that could help anesthesiologists determine when patients are transitioning into that deeper state of unconsciousness. This could enable them to prevent patients from falling into that state, reducing the risk of postoperative brain dysfunction.

Promising new approach finds cancer, delivers therapy all at once
Julie Sutcliffe | June 28, 2023

New research is offering some hope in the fight against pancreatic cancer.

The answer is nuclear medicine. And the power to find cancer and deliver therapy all at the same time. Theranostics, combining therapy and diagnostics, is a promising approach to cancer treatment.

While some people fear the idea of using radioactive isotopes as a therapy in the body, Julie Sutcliffe PhD. knows the power for good.

“You have a molecule, same molecule with a different piece of radioactivity on it, so one is for imaging for diagnostics, one is for therapy for treatment,” she said. “So theranostics combine the two words together.”

DNA test could broaden access to cervical cancer screening
Rebecca Richards-Kortum | June 21, 2023

Rice engineers show low-cost, point-of-care platform is effective for HPV testing

Rice University bioengineers have demonstrated a low-cost, point-of-care DNA test for HPV infections that could make cervical cancer screening more accessible in low- and middle-income countries where the disease kills more than 300,000 women each year.

HPV, a family of viruses, infects nearly everyone at some point in their lives, often without symptoms. But more than a dozen types of HPV can cause persistent infections that result in cervical cancer, which is preventable and curable if it is detected early and managed effectively.

Nine engineers from the laboratory of Rice Professor Rebecca Richards-Kortum spent more than two years developing a DNA testing platform that combines two technologies, isothermal DNA amplification and lateral flow detection, in a way that greatly simplifies the equipment needs and procedures for testing.

Designing Surfaces to Improve Bone Grafts
Guillermo Ameer | June 12, 2023

The field of bone implants has taken incredible strides thanks to technological innovations that allow for stronger grafts that are easier to install.

Yet even with these advances, there are still risks involved in such procedures. Implants can be loosened following operations, for example, which can lead to costly surgical revisions that lengthen the recovery process for patients.

New research from an interdisciplinary team from Northwestern Engineering’s Center for Advanced Regenerative Engineering (CARE) and Center for Physical Genomics and Engineering (CPGE) could reduce the likelihood of these painful, expensive complications.

How the combination of advanced ultrasound and AI could upgrade cancer diagnostics
Azra Alizad | June 5, 2023

Researchers have shown that an automated cancer diagnostic method, which pairs cutting-edge ultrasound techniques with artificial intelligence, can accurately diagnose thyroid cancer, of which there are more than 40,000 new cases every year.

The method—deemed high-definition microvasculature imaging, or HDMI—noninvasively captures images of the tiny vessels within tumors and, based on the vessel features, automatically classifies the masses. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science, who developed the technique, tested it on 92 patients with thyroid tumors, finding that the method could distinguish if the growths were cancerous with 89% accuracy. In a study published in the journal Cancers, the authors suggest that HDMI could potentially resolve a long-standing diagnostic challenge of assessing thyroid tumors in the clinic.

Healing Big Broken Bones With a Small Molecule
Cato Laurencin | May 24, 2023

Repairing severely damaged bones is a challenge—especially the long bones of the arms and legs. Now, UConn Health scientists describe a new method in the 22 May issue of PNAS that can promote regrowth of long bones more affordably and with fewer side effects than other techniques.

Cleanly broken bones often heal without problems. But bones with smashed or missing sections are much more difficult to regenerate. Grafting across the gaps using bone from elsewhere is one way to fix them, and about 500,000 bone grafts are done in the US every year. But bone grafts alone don’t always work, and they’re quite costly. Recently, orthopedic surgeons have begun treating difficult breaks with specific human proteins that encourage bone growth, both alone and paired with grafts or scaffolds. They are used to encourage bone regrowth in spinal fusion surgeries, for example.

Johns Hopkins Machine Learning Tool Can Identify Tumor Cell Interactions
Elana Fertig | May 12, 2023

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Convergence Institute and the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center have developed a machine learning (ML) model capable of identifying molecular interactions among the cells in and around tumors.

The tool, known as SpaceMarkers, leverages spatial transcriptomics, a type of technology that helps measure gene expression within a tissue sample using the genes’ locations in cells.

The press release indicates that by understanding both these intercellular interactions in the tumor microenvironment and the molecular profiles of individual cells, researchers can gain insights into tumor progression..

Jennifer Elisseeff elected to National Academy of Sciences
Jennifer Elisseeff | May 5, 2023

Three Johns Hopkins researchers elected to National Academy of Sciences

Neuroscientist Amy Bastian, biomedical engineer Jennifer Elisseeff, astrophysicist Alex Szalay among 120 new members

Three Johns Hopkins University researchers—neuroscientist Amy Bastian, biomedical engineer Jennifer Elisseeff, and astrophysicist and computer scientist Alex Szalay—have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.

Teri Odom Elected to National Academy of Sciences
Teri Odom | May 4, 2023

Joining the company of some of history’s most distinguished scientists, Northwestern Engineering’s Teri W. Odom has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).

Along with fellow Northwestern faculty members Timothy K. Earle and Richard B. Silverman, Odom was recognized for her excellence and notable contributions to their field of science. They are among the 120 new members and 23 new international members selected this year.

Pharmacy Researchers License New NSAIDS-Administering Technology
Diane Burgess | May 4, 2023

Slow-releasing implants are designed to reduce side effects associated with medications for pain relief of rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis

For rheumatologic conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, NSAIDS are often the first line of medications used for pain relief. UConn Pharmacy researchers have discovered a way to minimize the side effects associated with the treatment and bring it to market.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) are widely used to relieve pain, reduce fever, and bring down inflammation. More than 30 billion doses are taken each year — making them among the most popular medications worldwide for general pain relief.

Microneedle Patch Printer Enables On-Demand Vaccine Manufacturing
Ana Jaklenec | April 24, 2023

The portable instrument could increase global access to vaccines by simplifying their storage, distribution, and administration.

Researchers from the lab of Robert Langer, ScD, at the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), say they have developed a printer for microneedle patches smaller than postage stamps that penetrate the skin to deliver vaccines, including the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine.

The research article, “A microneedle vaccine printer for thermostable COVID-19 mRNA vaccines,” was published in Nature Biotechnology.

CRISPR-Cas-amplified urinary biomarkers for multiplexed and portable cancer diagnostics
Sangeeta Bhatia | April 24, 2023

Synthetic biomarkers, bioengineered sensors that generate molecular reporters in diseased microenvironments, represent an emerging paradigm in precision diagnostics. Despite the utility of DNA barcodes as a multiplexing tool, their susceptibility to nucleases in vivo has limited their utility. Here we exploit chemically stabilized nucleic acids to multiplex synthetic biomarkers and produce diagnostic signals in biofluids that can be ‘read out’ via CRISPR nucleases. The strategy relies on microenvironmental endopeptidase to trigger the release of nucleic acid barcodes and polymerase-amplification-free, CRISPR-Cas-mediated barcode detection in unprocessed urine. Our data suggest that DNA-encoded nanosensors can non-invasively detect and differentiate disease states in transplanted and autochthonous murine cancer models. We also demonstrate that CRISPR-Cas amplification can be harnessed to convert the readout to a point-of-care paper diagnostic tool. Finally, we employ a microfluidic platform for densely multiplexed, CRISPR-mediated DNA barcode readout that can potentially evaluate complex human diseases rapidly and guide therapeutic decisions.

Python-based compiler achieves orders-of-magnitude speedups
Bonnie Berger | March 14, 2023

Codon compiles Python code to run more efficiently and effectively while allowing for customization and adaptation to various domains.

In 2018, the Economist published an in-depth piece on the programming language Python. “In the past 12 months,” the article said, “Google users in America have searched for Python more often than for Kim Kardashian.” Reality TV stars, be wary.

The high-level language has earned its popularity, too, with legions of users flocking daily to the language for its ease of use due in part to its simple and easy-to-learn syntax. This led researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and elsewhere to make a tool to help run Python code more efficiently and effectively while allowing for customization and adaptation to different needs and contexts. The compiler, which is a software tool that translates source code into machine code that can be executed by a computer’s processor, lets developers create new domain-specific languages (DSLs) within Python — which is typically orders of magnitude slower than languages like C or C++ — while still getting the performance benefits of those other languages.

‘Groundbreaking’ Soil Sensors From UT Dallas Bioengineers Could Help Combat Climate Change, Food Insecurity
Shalini Prasad | March 9, 2023

“This is the equivalent of having a wearable health sensor on your body that tells you in real time what’s happening. Think of it as a wearable for the soil,” Dr. Shalini Prasad said.

Soil quality isn’t just a concern for farmers and policymakers—it also matters on a personal level. The health of our soil affects everything from the food we eat to the air we breathe. But thanks to bioengineers at UT Dallas, new soil sensors could help improve soil productivity on a global scale.

Bioengineers at the University of Texas at Dallas have developed sensors that monitor multiple soil parameters, including total soil carbon, to provide farmers with accurate, real-time, continuous data to improve soil health and productivity.

AI Model Provides Insights into Long-Term Traumatic Brain Injury Risk
Ellen Kuhl | March 7, 2023

A new AI model may signal a ‘paradigm shift’ in traumatic brain injury research by more accurately modeling the tissue deformations that lead to brain damage.

Stanford University researchers are leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) to help identify which computational models perform best at modeling mechanical stress on the brain, which may help drive insights into why some traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) lead to long-term brain damage while others do not.

The press release states that the ability to model the mechanical forces causing the compression, stretching, twisting, and other deformations of brain tissue that lead to brain damage is critical to understanding TBI. This modeling could help researchers understand why some TBIs lead to lasting brain damage and some don’t.

First Transient Electronic Bandage Speeds Healing by 30 Percent
Guillermo Ameer | February 22, 2023

Northwestern Engineering researchers have developed a first-of-its-kind small, flexible, stretchable bandage that accelerates healing by delivering electrotherapy directly to the wound site. 

In an animal study, the new bandage healed diabetic ulcers 30 percent faster than in mice without the bandage. 

The bandage also actively monitors the healing process and then harmlessly dissolves — electrodes and all — into the body after it is no longer needed. The new device could provide a powerful tool for patients with diabetes, whose ulcers can lead to various complications, including amputated limbs or even death.

Disrupted flow of brain fluid may underlie neurodevelopmental disorders
Samuel Achilefu | February 9, 2023

The brain floats in a sea of fluid that cushions it against injury, supplies it with nutrients and carries away waste. Disruptions to the normal ebb and flow of the fluid have been linked to neurological conditions including Alzheimer’s disease and hydrocephalus, a disorder involving excess fluid around the brain.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis created a new technique for tracking circulation patterns of fluid through the brain and discovered, in rodents, that it flows to areas critical for normal brain development and function. Further, the scientists found that circulation appears abnormal in young rats with hydrocephalus, a condition associated with cognitive deficits in children.

National Academy of Engineering adds 3 Buckeyes
Judit E. Puskas | February 9, 2023

Election recognizes outstanding contributions to engineering research, practice or education

Two Ohio State University professors and a recently retired faculty member have been elected to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) Class of 2023 in recognition of sustained excellence in innovation and education.

Alan Luo, Judit E. Puskas and Longya Xu are among 124 new NAE members, bringing the total U.S. membership to 2,420 and the number of international members to 319.

Melody Swartz Elected to National Academy of Engineering
Melody Swartz | February 9, 2023

Melody Swartz, William B. Ogden Professor at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME), has been elected to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) for her research into lymphatic transport and immunobiology, informing novel approaches for cancer immunotherapy and vaccination.

Election to the National Academy of Engineering is among the highest professional distinctions for engineers. Academy membership honors those who have made outstanding contributions to engineering research, practice, or education, particularly as it relates to developing fields of technology or advancements in traditional fields of engineering.

NIST Director Laurie Locascio Elected to National Academy of Engineering
Laurie Locascio | February 8, 2023

Laurie E. Locascio, under secretary of commerce for standards and technology and director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), has been elected to the National Academy of Engineering — one of the highest professional distinctions accorded to an engineer. 

Locascio leads NIST’s collaborative efforts with industry, academia and government to unleash U.S. innovation by advancing technology, measurements and standards. A key priority for her is the successful implementation of the CHIPS for America initiative, a $50 billion suite of programs to strengthen and revitalize U.S. leadership in semiconductor research, development and manufacturing. 

Barzilay elected to National Academy of Engineering
Regina Barzilay | February 7, 2023

On February 7th, the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) elected Delta Electronics Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT and CSAIL member Regina Barzilay as a new member. The NAE recognized Barzilay for her work on machine learning models that understand structures in text, molecules, and medical images, choosing members who are “pioneering new and developing fields of technology, making major advancements in traditional fields of engineering, or developing/implementing innovative approaches to engineering education.”

Her election caps off a remarkable decade of work. After being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, Barzilay shifted much of her efforts toward cancer research. Three years later, she developed a machine learning model that could have diagnosed her cancer earlier. In 2018, she helped launch the Jameel Clinic, which has since initiated machine learning efforts on COVID-19, different forms of cancer, Parkinson’s, and other diseases.

Michael J. Barber elected to National Academy of Engineering
Michael J. Barber | February 7, 2023

The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) has elected 106 new members and 18 international members, announced NAE President John L. Anderson today. This brings the total U.S. membership to 2,420 and the number of international members to 319.

Election to the National Academy of Engineering is among the highest professional distinctions accorded to an engineer. Academy membership honors those who have made outstanding contributions to “engineering research, practice, or education, including, where appropriate, 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.

How sound waves trigger immune responses to cancer in mice
Zhen Xu | January 31, 2023

When noninvasive sound waves break apart tumors, they trigger an immune response in mice. By breaking down the cell wall “cloak,” the treatment exposes cancer cell markers that had previously been hidden from the body’s defenses, researchers at the University of Michigan have shown.

The technique developed at Michigan, known as histotripsy, offers a two-prong approach to attacking cancers: the physical destruction of tumors via sound waves and the kickstarting of the body’s immune response. It could potentially offer medical professionals a treatment option for patients without the harmful side effects of radiation and chemotherapy.

How to make hydrogels more injectable
Jennifer Lewis | January 31, 2023

Gel-like materials that can be injected into the body hold great potential to heal injured tissues or manufacture entirely new tissues. Many researchers are working to develop these hydrogels for biomedical uses, but so far very few have made it into the clinic.

To help guide in the development of such materials, which are made from microscale building blocks akin to squishy LEGOs, MIT and Harvard University researchers have created a set of computational models to predict the material’s structure, mechanical properties, and functional performance outcomes. The researchers hope that their new framework could make it easier to design materials that can be injected for different types of applications, which until now has been mainly a trial-and-error process.

Accurate integrated imaging and projection system for oral cancer diagnosis
Rebecca Richards-Kortum | January 19, 2023

Oral cancer is a globally prevalent disease with an astonishingly low five-year survival rate of less than 50%. A key factor for its poor prognosis is delayed diagnosis resulting in more late-stage oral cancers. At these later stages, treatment becomes less effective and harsher on the body. Hence, many scientists aim to develop and improve diagnostic techniques for the early detection of oral cancer. At present, the gold standard for the diagnosis of most oral cancers is biopsy of suspicious oral lesions and pathologic analysis of the extracted small amounts of tissue. However, it is extremely important that clinicians biopsy the areas within the abnormal lesion with the worst disease. Currently, the decision whether or not to perform a biopsy, and the optimal biopsy site, are based on clinical examination, which greatly depends upon the experience of the examining clinician. To help identify high-risk regions, clinicians can also use commercially available imaging techniques based on autofluorescence to detect abnormal tissue at the macroscopic level, although current autofluorescence technologies suffer from low specificity for neoplastic disease.

University of Toronto scientists use machine learning to fast-track drug formulation development
Christine Allen | January 10, 2023

Scientists at the University of Toronto have successfully tested the use of machine learning models to guide the design of long-acting injectable drug formulations. The potential for machine learning algorithms to accelerate drug formulation could reduce the time and cost associated with drug development, making promising new medicines available faster.

The study was published today in Nature Communications and is one of the first to apply machine learning techniques to the design of polymeric long-acting injectable drug formulations.

Mechanism Behind Osteoarthritis Could Lead to New Treatments
Fabrisia Ambrosio | January 10, 2023

Researchers in the United States and Japan have discovered a new mechanism that links age-related cartilage tissue stiffening with the repression of a key protein associated with longevity. These findings enhance the understanding of mechanisms that lead to the deterioration of joints that causes osteoarthritis, according to the authors of a new study, published January 10th in Nature Communications.

In the study, researchers showed that increased stiffening of the extracellular matrix – a network of proteins and other molecules that surround and support tissues in the body – led to a decrease in a so-called “longevity protein” called Klotho (α-Klotho) in knee cartilage brought about by epigenetic changes. This Klotho decrease then damaged the cells in healthy cartilage called chondrocytes. Conversely, exposing aged chondrocytes to a softer extracellular matrix restored the knee cartilage to a more youthful state.

Harriet Nembhard named president of Harvey Mudd College
Harriet Nembhard | December 6, 2022

Harriet Nembhard, dean of the University of Iowa’s College of Engineering, has been named president of Harvey Mudd College, a liberal arts college specializing in science, engineering, and mathematics located in Claremont, California.

Nembhard, who joined Iowa in June 2020, will begin her new position July 1. The UI will conduct a national search for Nembhard’s replacement.

“I congratulate Dean Nembhard and wish her the best of luck in her new role,” says Executive Vice President and Provost Kevin Kregel. “Under her leadership, the College of Engineering has continued to build upon its exceptional research reputation while advancing equity and inclusion in STEM education. She leaves the college in a strong position moving forward.

LaShanda Korley Appointed U.S. Science Envoy
LaShanda Korley | December 6, 2022

Esteemed engineer to travel the world to advance science and technology cooperation with U.S.

LaShanda Korley, Distinguished Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Delaware, has been appointed a U.S. Science Envoy for 2023. The announcement was made by the U.S. Department of State on Tuesday, Dec. 6.

Through the Science Envoy Program, eminent U.S. scientists and engineers leverage their expertise and networks to forge connections and identify opportunities for sustained international cooperation, championing innovation and demonstrating America’s scientific leadership and technical ingenuity.

Finding the “Sweet Spot” for Indoor Humidity May Help to Reduce COVID-19 Transmission
Lydia Bourouiba | November 18, 2022

As friends and families are beginning to plan holiday gatherings, a new study found that raising the humidity level could be another mitigation method to reduce COVID-19. That sweet spot looks to be between 40% and 60% humidity.

Researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) combined population-based COVID-19 data with meteorologic measurements from 121 countries collected between January and August 2020 (J R Soc Interface 2022;19[196]:20210865). Countries included had reported at least 50 COVID-19–related deaths, indicating at least one outbreak had occurred. The researchers processed the epidemiological data while accounting for bias, and developed a computational workflow to estimate indoor conditions based on outdoor weather data and standard indoor comfort conditions.

Vanderbilt study finds that diabetes may hasten breast cancer tumor growth and stiffness
Cynthia Reinhart-King | November 18, 2022

While diabetes is already associated with an increased risk of developing breast cancer, a new Vanderbilt study published in Science Advances on November 18 indicates that presence of the disease may increase tumor growth and stiffness.

Researchers also found that diabetes treatments could reduce the tumor growth and stiffness to levels comparable with non-diabetic ones. The research was led by Cynthia Reinhart-King, Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of Engineering and University Distinguished Professor. Vanderbilt Ph.D. student Wenjun Wang, a current member of Reinhart-King’s cellular mechanics lab, and Lauren Hapach, PhD’21, a former lab member, were co-authors.

Are Covid-19 “comas” signs of a protective hibernation state?
Emery Brown | November 18, 2022

Scientists hypothesize that, as in a hibernating turtle, the brain under sedation and deprived of oxygen may assume a protective state.

Many Covid-19 patients who have been treated for weeks or months with mechanical ventilation have been slow to regain consciousness even after being taken off sedation. A new article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences offers the hypothesis that this peculiar response could be the effect of a hibernation-like state invoked by the brain to protect cells from injury when oxygen is scarce.

A very similar kind of state, characterized by the same signature change of brain rhythms, is not only observed in cardiac arrest patients treated by chilling their body temperature, a method called “hypothermia,” but also by the painted turtle, which has evolved a form of self-sedation to contend with long periods of oxygen deprivation, or “anoxia,” when it overwinters underwater.

Old mice regain leg strength after antibody treatment, Stanford Medicine researchers find
Helen Blau | November 15, 2022

Muscle stem cells, the cells in muscle fibers that generate new muscle cells after injury or exercise, lose their potency with age. But a study by researchers at Stanford Medicine shows that old mice regain the leg muscle strength of younger animals after receiving an antibody treatment that targets a pathway mediated by a molecule called CD47.

The findings are surprising because CD47, billed as the “don’t eat me” molecule, is better known as a target for cancer immunotherapy than for muscle regeneration. It peppers the surface of many cancer cells, protecting them from immune cells that patrol the body to root out and engulf dysfunctional or abnormal cells. Now it seems old muscle stem cells may use a similar approach to avoid being culled by the immune system.