Pitt | Swanson Engineering

The Department of Bioengineering combines hands-on experience with the solid fundamentals that students need to advance themselves in research, medicine, and industry. The Department has a long-standing and unique relationship with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and other academic departments at the University of Pittsburgh as well as neighboring Carnegie Mellon University. Our faculty are shared with these organizations, offering our graduate and undergraduate students access to state-of-the-art facilities and a wide array of research opportunities. We currently have 190 graduate students who are advised by some 100 different faculty advisers, pursuing graduate research across 17 Departments and five Schools. Our undergraduate class-size of approximately 50 students per year ensures close student-faculty interactions in the classroom and the laboratory.

The main engineering building is located next to the Medical Center in Oakland, an elegant university neighborhood with museums, parks, and great restaurants. Beautiful new facilities have also been built, a short shuttle ride from the main campus, along the Monongahela River, replacing the steel mills that once were there. Our department is growing rapidly, both in numbers of students and faculty, and in the funding and diversity of our research. The Pittsburgh bioengineering community is a vibrant and stimulating alliance of diverse components for which our department forms an essential and central connection.


Pitt chemical engineering researcher Ipsita Banerjee working to mass-produce stem cells

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum

University of Pittsburgh News Release PITTSBURGH- Human stem cells hold great promise for medicine. They can be used therapeutically, they can help model disease, and they can be used to help discover new drugs. But it is very difficult to culture enough cells to meet the demand. Ipsita Banerjee, associate professor of chemical and petroleum engineering and of bioengineering within the University of Pittsburgh's Swanson School of Engineering, recently received a $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to explore an idea she has that would allow the manufacture of human pluripotent stem cells-these are the ones that can become virtually any tissue-on an industrial scale. At present, Banerjee says, culturing stem cells is a delicate proposition, with only a 30 percent chance of survival. Current methods are limited by the low viability of initial cell-seeding populations and a tendency for the cells to be heterogeneous, a problem when uniformity is required. Banerjee and co-investigator Prashant Kumta, professor of bioengineering in the Swanson School, think that by creating a biomimetic hydrogel encapsulation system to mimic the cell-to-cell interaction without which stem cells die, they'll be able to overcome these obstacles. "It's kind of a simple idea, but it hasn't been done," Banerjee says. "I thought someone must have done it, at least with other kinds of cells, but no one has." The capsules she and Kumta plan to create will use an as-yet-unidentified peptide to convince individual cells they're in the company of others, enhancing survival. "[A cell] will think that it is in contact with another cell and will not activate the cell-death pathway," Banerjee says. If they find the right peptide and their theories about stem cell behavior and viability are confirmed, Banerjee and Kumta are hopeful that their method of stem-cell cultivation will allow labs around the world to generate enough stem cells to meet demand. "Our method is cheap and simple," Banerjee concludes. "If we're right, just about anyone in any lab will be able to reproduce it."  (Photo: Dr. Banerjee (right) with PhD Candidate Saik Kia Goh) ###  
Joe Miksch

Pitt bioengineer receives NIH grant to study regeneration of diseased aortas


PITTSBURGH (October 1, 2015) … Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA), caused by the loss of elastin, a critical protein for blood vessel function, is responsible for approximately 10,000 American deaths every year. Through a grant from the National Institutes of Health, vascular bioengineering researchers at the University of Pittsburgh's Swanson School of Engineering are proposing a new strategy for delivering therapeutic cells to the diseased cells into order to restore elastin levels and regenerate the aorta. Funded through the NIH's competitive Exploratory/Developmental Research Grant Award (R21) program, the research is being led by David A. Vorp,Associate Dean for Research at the Swanson School and the William Kepler Whiteford Professor of Bioengineering. The proposal, "Outside-In Regenerative Therapy for Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm," will receive $439,220 in direct and indirect funding through April 2017, and is a collaborative effort with Dr. John Curci, a vascular surgeon at Vanderbilt University. "Elastin is a highly elastic protein that allows soft tissues in our body - including blood vessels - to stretch and contract, but it is susceptible to the effects of aging, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking," Dr. Vorp explained. "Therefore, abdominal aortic aneurysms greatly impact the elderly, especially men, and, if left untreated, can ultimately result in structural failure or rupture of the aortic wall and, many times, death." According to Dr. Vorp, the research will focus on development and delivery of mesenchymal stem cells to the outside of the aneurysm and will be tested in an established rodent model of the disease. Following treatment, the researchers will study whether the stem cells slow, halt or even reverse the structural degeneration of the AAA. The results could eventually lead to an effective treatment for humans using a pateint's own stem cells. "Few diseases present greater potential for regenerative cellular therapy than AAA, and the possibility of reconstitution and strengthening of the aorta is very exciting," Dr. Vorp said. "By delivering stem cells to restore elastin, we can effectively treat a life-threatening disease without complex invasive surgery." About David Vorp In addition to his roles at the Swanson School, Dr. Vorp also holds secondary appointments in Pitt's departments of Cardiothoracic Surgery, Surgery, and the Clinical & Translational Sciences Institute. He serves as a Director of the Center for Vascular Remodeling and Regeneration, a Co-Director of the Center for Medical Innovation, as well as the Director of the Vascular Bioengineering Laboratory. The research in Dr. Vorp's lab focuses on the biomechanics, "mechanopathobiology," regenerative medicine, and tissue engineering of tubular tissues and organs, predominantly the vasculature. He is currently studying the biomechanical progression of aortic aneurysms by modeling the mechanical forces that act on the degenerating vessel wall, and is also designing a small diameter tissue engineered vascular graft to treat cardiovascular diseases. Dr. Vorp has published more than 105 peer-reviewed research manuscripts and has been awarded over $7 million in research funding from the National Institutes of Health, American Heart Association, Whitaker Foundation, Pittsburgh Foundation, and other sources. He has several patents in the field of vascular bioengineering and is a co-founder of the start-up Neograft Technologies, Inc., a company that applies technology developed in Dr. Vorp's laboratory relating to biodegradable support for arterial vein grafts. Dr. Vorp is an elected Fellow of the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES), American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. He has held leadership positions in BMES (Board of Directors and Secretary of the Society), ASME (Chair of the Bioengineering Division's Executive Committee ), and is currently the President of the International Society for Applied Cardiovascular Biology. Dr. Vorp is also a member of several other prestigious organizations, such as the American Heart Association and the North American Vascular Biology Organization. His most recent honors include the 2013 Carnegie Science Award in the category of Life Sciences, and being elected to the 50-member World Council of Biomechanics for 12 years (2014-2026). ###


International engineering society ASME establishes new award and medal in honor of Pitt’s Savio L-Y.Woo

Bioengineering, MEMS

NEW YORK/PITTSBURGH (September 30, 2015) … A University of Pittsburgh professor who himself has received numerous national and international accolades - among them an Olympic gold medal - will now have an award medal struck in his honor. Established by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) on the recommendation of its Bioengineering Division, the award celebrates the career and achievements of bioengineering trailblazer Savio L-Y. Woo, Ph.D., a Distinguished University Professor of Bioengineering in the University of Pittsburgh's Swanson School of Engineering and the founder and director of the Musculoskeletal Research Center (MSRC) at Pitt. The ASME Savio L-Y. Woo Translational Biomechanics Medal will be a Society-level award to recognize ASME members who have translated meritorious bioengineering science to clinical practice through research, education, professional development, and service to the bioengineering community. Dr. Woo, an ASME Life Fellow and former chair of the Bioengineering Division, is a pioneer in translational biomechanics who has conducted research in the healing and repair of tissues for more than 40 years. Dr. Woo joined the University of Pittsburgh faculty in 1990 after spending 20 years as professor of surgery and bioengineering at the University of California, San Diego. He and his research teams have authored more than 320 original research papers in refereed journals, as well as 146 book chapters and review articles, and their work has had a significant impact on the management of ligament and tendon injuries. "The medal is really a recognition of the success of many: my prized pupils that I have taught (and they have taught me!); my junior colleagues that I have mentored; my good and kind friends and co-workers that I am fortunate to know and to learn from; and most importantly, my supportive and loving family: Pattie, Kirstin, Jonathan, Adam, Zadie and Arden," Dr. Woo said. Prior to the creation of the Woo Medal, ASME had three awards honoring contributions to the field of bioengineering: the Y.C. Fung Young Investigator Award, the Van C. Mow Medal for mid-career researchers, and the H.R. Lissner Medal for career achievement. Unlike those awards, which focus on research contributions to bioengineering and engineering, the new award is intended to recognize the significant contributions of bioengineers whose work has resulted in the development of a medical device or equipment, contributed to new approaches of disease treatment, or established new injury treatment modalities. "Savio is a world-renowned and respected researcher, academic, mentor and colleague, and is tremendously deserving of this honor," noted Gerald D. Holder, PhD, the Swanson School's U.S. Steel Dean of Engineering. "His research in translational biomechanics and orthopaedics has significantly advanced the entire field, and we are indeed proud to have him as a member of our faculty." "Dr. Woo has been a leader in improving orthopedic surgery and patient outcomes through scientific research and engineering design," said Sara E. Wilson, Ph.D. , director of the Bioengineering Graduate Program and associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Kansas and chair of the ASME Bioengineering Division. "This award recognizes the unique contributions of those that bridge the gap between research and clinical practice." "It was very special for me to take part in establishing this legacy in honor of Dr. Savio L-Y. Woo," added Jennifer S. Wayne, Ph.D. , the former chair of the Bioengineering Division who spearheaded the effort to establish the award. "It forever acknowledges what he has accomplished for the bioengineering field and the ASME Bioengineering Division." The award received the full support of the Bioengineering Division's leadership, with David A. Vorp, PhD, associate dean for research and the William Kepler Whiteford Professor of Bioengineering at Pitt's Swanson School of Engineering; and Matthew J. Gounis, PhD, associate professor of radiology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, both recent chairs of the Bioengineering Division, having crucial parts in the approval process. Candidates for the new award must be active members of the Bioengineering Division. The award consists of $1,000, a bronze medal, a certificate, and a travel expense supplement to attend the award presentation. Nominations for the first Woo Medal are being accepted through Oct. 1. The Bioengineering Division expects to present the first award next summer, during the Summer Biomechanics, Bioengineering and Biotransport (SB3C) Conference in National Harbor, Md. To learn more about the Savio L-Y. Woo Translational Biomechanics Medal, or for information on how to submit a nomination, visit www.asme.org/about-asme/honors-awards/achievement-awards/savio-ly-woo-translational-biomechanics-medal . About ASME ASME helps the global engineering community develop solutions to real world challenges. Founded in 1880 as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, ASME is a not-for-profit professional organization that enables collaboration, knowledge sharing and skill development across all engineering disciplines, while promoting the vital role of the engineer in society. ASME codes and standards, publications, conferences, continuing education and professional development programs provide a foundation for advancing technical knowledge and a safer world. For more information visit www.asme.org. About Dr. Savio L-Y. Woo Dr. Savio L-Y. Woo is a Distinguished University Professor of Bioengineering and the Founder and Director of the Musculoskeletal Research Center (MSRC), a diverse multidisciplinary research and educational center in the Department of Bioengineering, Swanson School of Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh. He arrived at the University of Pittsburgh in 1990 after spending 20 years at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) as a Professor of Surgery and Bioengineering. Dr. Woo is a pioneer in bioengineering and is renowned for his 40+ years of translational research in healing and repair of tissues. Together with his team, they have authored 320 original research papers in refereed journals as well as 146 book chapters and review articles. Their work has significantly impacted the management of ligament and tendon injuries including clinical paradigm shifts that have led to improved patient outcome.   More recently, Dr. Woo's research has focused on two areas: 1) measurement of the properties of ligaments and tendons and joint mechanics and 2) functional tissue engineering (FTE) and regeneration of ligaments and tendons. His laboratories are organized to investigate the cellular and molecular responses to mechanical stimuli to improve the outcome of ligament and tendon healing. Also, he has pioneered the use of robotic technology to study the function of ACL and to improve ACL reconstruction procedures. When combining it with biplanar fluoroscopy, he and his team will be able to better characterize mechanisms of ACL injury and find better ways for its prevention. Currently, Dr. Woo is exploring the use of biodegradable magnesium (Mg) and Mg alloys for ligament regeneration. Dr. Woo has educated over 465 orthopaedic surgeons, post-doctoral fellows and students from all around the globe including, Japan, Germany, Greece, Italy, Taiwan, Turkey, Korea, Canada, England, Norway, India, Thailand, Hong Kong SAR, and China. He has also mentored 37 junior faculty members. Dr. Woo has been a leader in Bioengineering and Orthopaedics. He has served as Chair of ASME's Bioengineering Division, United States National Committee of Biomechanics, and the World Council for Biomechanics as well as President for The Orthopaedic Research Society, American Society of Biomechanics, and International Society for Fracture Repair. He has also founded the International Symposium on Ligaments and Tendons (ISL&T) and World Association for Chinese Biomedical Engineers (WACBE). Dr. Woo has been inducted into the National Academy of Medicine (formerly Institute of Medicine), the National Academy of Engineering, and the Academia Sinica, only one of four persons who have gained all three of these honors. He has also received the highest honors from many professional societies, including the Kappa Delta Award, the Herbert R. Lissner Medal, the O'Donoghue Sports Injury Research Award, the Giovanni Borelli Award, the Muybridge Medal, and the prestigious Diamond Award for Distinguish Achievement from the University of Washington, among others. Most recently, he was given the IEEE Gold Medal for Innovation in Healthcare Technology from the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers. In 1998, Dr. Woo received the Olympic Prize for Sports Science from the International Olympic Committee and the first Olympic gold medal at the Nagano Games in Japan. ###
Paul Kovach

Hybrid walking exoskeleton research at Pitt receives funding from two National Science Foundation grants

Bioengineering, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (September 22, 2015) … Outside of sci-fi, the idea of donning a bionic suit, rocketing into the sky, and saving the world hasn't quite gotten off the ground; however, two new grants totaling $500,209 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) will help researchers at the University of Pittsburgh make great strides in helping paraplegics walk while wearing a mechanical exoskeleton.   Nitin Sharma, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and material science at Pitt's Swanson School of Engineering, will lead the research on walking exoskeletons-mechanical frames placed over parts of the human body. They work in unison with the body, like armored insect shells, to facilitate or enhance tasks like walking and lifting heavy objects. Researchers are beginning to find applications for powered and unpowered exoskeletons in a variety of fields, including rehabilitation science, the military, and general consumer technology. Sharma will focus on optimizing the potential of two prevalent technologies used for mechanically assisted walking: functional electrical stimulation (FES), which uses low-level electrical currents to activate leg muscles, and powered exoskeletons, which use electric motors mounted on an external frame to move the wearer's joints. The resulting hybrid aims to capitalize on the best of both systems.  "We are trying to combine electrical stimulation with robotics to design a control system for a hybrid exoskeleton," said Sharma. "It's like a hybrid car switching between a gas engine and an electric motor depending on circumstance. The algorithms we are developing determine when to use power from FES and when to use the power from the motors on the frame." The first grant comes from the General and Age-Related Disabilities Engineering Division of NSF . UNS: Optimal Adaptive Control Methods for a Hybrid Exoskeleton will investigate a new class of control algorithms that adapt to allocate optimized control inputs to FES and electric motors during single joint movements. The Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation Division of the NSF will fund Coordinating Electrical Stimulation and Motor Assist in a Hybrid Neuroprosthesis Using Control Strategies Inspired by Human Motor Control . In this study, Sharma will research control algorithms to determine an optimal synergy between FES-induced multi-joint movements and movements aided by a powered exoskeleton.   Both projects will examine the efficiency of exoskeleton technology for manufacturers hoping to develop new hybrid models that take advantage of FES technology, powered frames, and robotics. "Current exoskeleton research is using devices completely powered by electric motors. They have huge battery packs and can only provide a maximum of about an hour of continuous walking. With FES, you are using a person's own muscles to make that person walk. FES also has been shown clinically to improve cardio-vascular fitness, increase muscle strength, and prevent atrophy," said Sharma. In addition to his role as assistant professor at Pitt, Sharma heads the Neuromuscular Control and Robotics Laboratory (NCRL), where researchers are also developing similar structures for upper limb stimulation. These devices may benefit rehabilitation and therapy services by performing repeated or extended tasks-often consuming several hours-for physical therapists. Researchers may be able to apply an algorithm similar to the one balancing external power and electrical stimulation in walking exoskeletons to devices that help patients recovering from a stroke relearn skills lost to brain damage. Sharma received his PhD in mechanical and aerospace engineering from the University of Florida. He joined the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Material Science at Pitt as an assistant professor in 2012. ###
Paul Kovach

Pitt’s Anne Robertson named one of 100 Inspiring Women in STEM by INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine

Bioengineering, MEMS, Diversity

PITTSBURGH (September 17, 2015) … Anne M. Robertson, PhD, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and William Kepler Whiteford Professor at the University of Pittsburgh's Swanson School of Engineering, was named a recipient of the 100 Women in STEM Award by INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine . According to the magazine, the award is being presented "as a tribute to 100 women whose work and achievements not only encourage others in their individual STEM fields, but also inspire a new generation of young women to consider careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. These remarkable women continue to make a significant difference through mentoring and teaching, research, and other efforts worthy of this national recognition." Dr. Robertson was nominated by Ann E. Thompson, MD, Vice Dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and Professor of Critical Care Medicine and Pediatrics . "Our sincerest congratulations to Dr. Robertson and University of Pittsburgh on receiving this prestigious national honor," noted Lenore Pearlstein, publisher of INSIGHT Into Diversity and owner and president, Potomac Publishing Inc. "She is truly an inspiration to all of us who are working so diligently to make a difference in the lives of all women and other underrepresented individuals." "I am truly honored to be named among these outstanding women leaders, particularly for activities that impact the careers of our talented scientists and engineers, here at Pitt" Dr. Robertson said. "Pitt and the Swanson School have afforded me the opportunity to lead a career that balances my commitment and passion for teaching, research and service, and I thank INSIGHT Into Diversity for the recognition." "Anne is an outstanding mentor to our junior faculty and students, and is a remarkable educator and researcher," said Sylvanus N. Wosu, PhD, the Swanson School's associate dean for diversity affairs, director of NSF S-STEM GEPS Program, and professor of mechanical engineering and materials science. "She has contributed greatly to engineering diversity programs, and is very deserving of this honor." Dr. Robertson was the first woman hired into a tenure-track position in the Swanson School's Department of Mechanical Engineering and served as Director of the Graduate Program in Mechanical Engineering from 2004-2008.  She is currently Director of the newly formed Center for Faculty Excellence in the Swanson School. Dr. Robertson leads a research team that investigates cerebral aneurysms, which are pathological outcroppings of brain arteries that can lead to fatal brain hemorrhages. She is the recipient of two coveted National Institutes of Health R21 grants to study the link between hemodynamics and wall structure in cerebral aneurysms.  The team's long-term objectives are to establish new pharmacological-based treatment methods for cerebral aneurysms and improve clinical treatments that function by altering flow in the aneurysm dome. She is also co-PI on a third R21 developing tissue engineering  blood vessels, in collaboration with the Swanson School's Dr. Yadong Wang and Dr. Paolo Zunino. In 2007, Dr. Robertson was awarded the Beitle-Veltri Memorial Outstanding Teaching Award, given annually to one faculty member in the Swanson School of Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh as well as the Robert O. Agbede Faculty Award for Diversity, in recognition of significant contributions to enhancing and supporting diversity in the School of Engineering. She is also a member of the faculty in the Department of Bioengineering and a research professor at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. She earned her BS in mechanical engineering from Cornell University and her MS and PhD in mechanical engineering from the University of California at Berkeley, where she was also a President's Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Chemical Engineering.   ###
Paul Kovach

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