Category Archives: Faculty

Rising costs for infections linked to bacteria in water supply

articleBacteriaWaterSupply2016A team led by Tufts researchers has found that healthcare costs are rising for infections linked to bacteria in water supply systems. The costs may now exceed $2 billion for 80,000 cases per year, and antibiotic resistance may be contributing to the trend.

“Premise plumbing pathogens can be found in drinking water, showers, hot tubs, medical instruments, kitchens, swimming pools—almost any premise where people use public water. The observed upward trend in associated infections is likely to continue, and aging water distribution systems might soon be an additional reservoir of costly multidrug resistance,” says lead author Elena Naumova.

The Tufts team included Naumova, professor at the Friedman School and Director of the Initiative for the Forecasting and Modeling of Infectious Disease at Tufts University, and Jeffrey Griffiths, professor of public health and community medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine. Both Naumova and Griffiths have a secondary appointment in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE).

CEE postdoctoral fellow Alexander Liss was also an author on the paper, alongside Irmgard Behlau, research assistant professor in the Department of Molecular Biology and Microbiology at Tufts University School of Medicine, and Jyotsna Jagai of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Read the press release and the full paper in the Journal of Public Health Policy.

New technique for generating human neural stem cells

Neuromuscular tissue engineering: hiNSCs (red) grown in co-culture with skeletal muscle (green), with cell nuclei visualized by blue DAPI staining. Credit: Dana M. Cairns, Tufts University.

Neuromuscular tissue engineering: hiNSCs (red) grown in co-culture with skeletal muscle (green), with cell nuclei visualized by blue DAPI staining. Credit: Dana M. Cairns, Tufts University.

A new technique, discovered by Tufts researchers, generates rapidly-differentiating human neural stem cells for use in a variety of tissue engineering applications. The researchers are not the first to generate these stem cells, but their process appears to be simpler, faster, and more reliable than existing protocols. They converted human fibroblasts and adipose-derived stem cells into stable, human induced neural stem cell (hiNSC) lines that acquire the features of active neurons within as few as four days, compared to the typical four weeks.

The work could pave the way for experiments that engineer other innervated tissues, such as the skin and cornea, and for the development of human brain models with diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.

Dana Cairns, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, was first author on the paper published in Stem Cell Reports. Paper authors also include corresponding author Professor David Kaplan; Karolina Chwalek, former postdoctoral researcher in biomedical engineering; Rosalyn Abbott, postdoctoral scholar in biomedical engineering; and Professor Stephen Moss, Yvonne Moore, and Matthew Kelley from the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences.

Read the full paper in Stem Cell Reports.

Aeron invited to participate in symposium

Assistant Professor Shuchin Aeron

Shuchin Aeron, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, has been invited to participate in the fourth Arab-American Frontiers of Science, Engineering, and Medicine symposium, hosted by the Masdar Institute of Science Technology on its campus in Abu Dhabi. The symposium is held in partnership with Masdar Institute, New York University Abu Dhabi, Khalifa University and Petroleum Institute. It is also made possible due to the support of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and NASA. Only a small fraction of applicants are invited to participate.

The Arab-American Frontiers symposium brings together researchers from different disciplines. Sessions of the meeting are designed to explore the frontiers of research in the fields of nanotechnology, water and solar energy, space technologies, neuroscience and oil and gas exploration. The days are designed around scientific oral presentations, poster sessions, professional development and informal networking time over breaks with colleagues from the United States and the Arab region.

Decreasing algal blooms in freshwater

Professor Steven Chapra, Louis Berger Chair of Civil and Environmental Engineering

A team of American and Canadian researchers, including Professor Steven Chapra, has demonstrated that reducing phosphorous decreases algae blooms in freshwater. In the past ten years, some scientists have argued that controlling phosphorous alone was not enough, and that nitrogen inputs must also be reduced. The research team found that reducing nitrogen won’t actually help the problem of eutrophication (the proliferation of algal blooms and related changes in lakes), which is one of the leading causes of freshwater pollution and costs an estimated $2.2 billion a year in the U.S. alone.

In many ways, Chapra and colleagues say, this is good news—controlling inputs of phosphorous is much less costly than controlling nitrogen. “It is obvious in retrospect that the reduction of nitrogen would have been largely futile and wastefully expensive,” said Chapra.

The team detailed their research in a recent feature article in Environmental Science & Technology.

Communicating health risks with visualizations

Associate Professor Remco Chang creates visualizations to help communicate health risks to patients.

Associate Professor Remco Chang creates visualizations to help communicate health risks to patients.

Associate Professor Remco Chang, students, and collaborators at Maine Medical Center (MMC) created a project to investigate how older men with prostate cancer use visualizations to better understand their own health risk information. Chang, master’s student Anzu Hakone, E16, recent graduate Nate Winters, E16, doctoral recipient Alvitta Ottley, EG16, postdoctoral researcher Lane Harrison, and MCC collaborators Dr. Paul Han and Caitlin Gutheil have a paper entitled “PROACT: Iterative Design of a Patient-Centered Visualization for Effective Prostate Cancer Health Risk Communication” appearing at the 2016 IEEE InfoVis conference. The web-based visualization prototype, PROACT, supports patients to learn about their cancer risk and the possible side effects of different treatment options.

Combining cloud and internet to support VR

Doctoral student Osama Haq and Assistant Professor Fahad Dogar work on improving virtual reality applications.

Doctoral student Osama Haq and Assistant Professor Fahad Dogar work on improving virtual reality applications.

Assistant Professor Fahad Dogar and doctoral student Osama Haq are working on providing a suitable network support for emerging real-time applications (e.g., virtual reality). They are exploring how the highly reliable, but expensive, cloud network infrastructure could be combined with the best-effort, but cheaper, Internet paths. The goal is to provide guaranteed bandwidth and low-latency for such applications. The preliminary idea and feasibility of this work appeared in ACM HotNets 2015. The ongoing research in this project also involves collaborators from Boston University’s Department of Computer Science.

Lantagne writes on the need for wastewater treatment innovation

With water quality in Rio de Janeiro in the news, Assistant Professor Daniele Lantagne wrote for The Conversation on the failure to adequately treat and dispose of wastewater. The conversation about Rio, Lantagne says, is often missing a key contextual detail: this is a common problem across the globe, requiring innovation and alternative approaches.

Lantagne also recently spoke to the New York Times on recent audits of UN mission sites’ sanitation practices.

Tufts named academic partner in Massachusetts offshore wind funding

Professor Dan Kuchma

Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Dan Kuchma (pictured) and collaborators such as Professor of the Practice Eric Hines are part of the Tufts University team named by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center as one of six academic and research institutions that will receive $300,000 in funding to explore offshore wind. The Massachusetts Research Partnership for Offshore Wind — including Northeastern University, University of Massachusetts Amherst, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, University of Massachusetts Lowell and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution — will develop a multidisciplinary framework for offshore wind research, focusing on increasing innovation within projects and reducing costs by examining risks, finances and regulations associated with the industry.

“Tufts has made transformative impacts on our understanding of natural hazards, climate change, energy and infrastructure. As we contemplate the infrastructure challenge of developing 21st century energy resources, we are excited to work closely with our partners across engineering, policy and industry to advance a systems level approach to this important undertaking,” said Kuchma.

Messner writes on autonomous cars

Bill Messner, John R. Beaver professor of mechanical engineering, recently wrote about advancements in autonomous car technology and about the future of these self-driving vehicles. Messner opined that “the prospect of greatly reducing accidents, injuries and deaths due to reckless driving, drunk driving, distracted driving, impaired driving, speeding and road rage means that increasingly automated cars will be a fact of life in the years ahead.”

Read the full article in The Conversation and the Boston Business Journal.

Vandervelde elevated to IEEE senior member

Associate Professor Tom Vandervelde has been elected to the rank of IEEE senior member.

The IEEE is the world’s largest association of technical professionals, with the objectives of the educational and technical advancement of electrical and electronic engineering, telecommunications, computer engineering, and allied disciplines. Of the IEEE’s more than 415,000 members, fewer than eight percent hold this honor.