Category Archives: Research News

Chapra invited to speak in Peru and China

Professor Chapra addresses the Second Conference of Global Chinese Scholars on Hydrodynamics.

Professor Chapra addresses the Second Conference of Global Chinese Scholars on Hydrodynamics.

Steve Chapra, Professor and Berger Chair in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, was recently invited to China and Peru to present three plenary lectures on his specialty: water quality modeling and management. On November 10, he addressed the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Science in Beijing on “The role of water quality models in environmental management and control.”

Chapra then travelled to Wuxi to speak at the Second Conference of Global Chinese Scholars on Hydrodynamics, on “The roots, evolution, and future of water-quality modeling with emphasis on the impact of physics on aquatic biochemistry.” On December 1, he visited Arequipa, Peru to address the Seminario Internacional en Modelamiento de la Calidad de Agua en Presas, on an “Overview of management-oriented impoundment water quality models.”

Both trips reflect the growing commitment on the parts of China and Peru to attack their serious water quality problems. Chapra was invited due to his 45-year experience in applying water quality models to develop sustainable management strategies for remediating natural bodies of water such as the Great Lakes.

Mitochondria expose tumors’ misbehavior

Mitochondria cancer researchMitochondria are able to change function and shape, according to the needs of the cell. When these mitochondrial dynamics go wrong, though, they can contribute to a number of human diseases. Early detection of these abnormalities can lead to faster diagnosis and treatment. A team of researchers, including engineers from the Tufts Department of Biomedical Engineering, has shown that these signs of mitochondrial dysfunction can be seen in living human skin by monitoring the mitochondrial metabolic coenzyme NADH. This represents a significant step from current techniques, which rely on mitochondria-specific dyes or are invasive.

With this new technique allowing for near real-time assessments of mitochondrial organization, researchers were able to differentiate healthy skin from melonoma and basal cell carcinoma.

Read the full paper in Science Translational Medicine.

Authors included Dimitra Pouli, Carlo Alonzo, Zhiyi Liu, Kyle Quinn, and Associate Professor Irene Georgakoudi from the Tufts Department of Biomedical Engineering, working alongside colleagues from the University of Malaga and the University of California, Irvine.

Tissue healing after a heart attack

Tufts University engineers have developed new, non-destructive techniques to evaluate tissue healing following a heart attack. These techniques, described in a paper recently published in Nature Scientific Reports, could be used to evaluate current treatments for aiding cardiac repair and to provide a basis for evaluating heart disease progression.

Every year, about 735,000 Americans have a heart attack. Of these cases, 525,000 are a first heart attack.* After a heart attack, or myocardial infarction, the body quickly attempts to replace damaged cardiac tissue with new collagen scaffolding to provide support to withstand the forces associated with a normal heartbeat. The body can sometimes overbuild this scaffolding, or extracellular matrix (ECM), or expand the remodeled ECM into heart tissue not initially adversely affected by the heart attack. The altered heart tissue resulting from ECM remodeling is often responsible for functional deterioration, leading to heart failure.

Though scientists have studied some elements of how remodeled tissue structure affects function following heart attack, little is understood about the relationship between ECM composition of the scar tissue and its mechanical properties in the earliest stages of remodeling. By using a process called decellularization—the removal of cells from the heart tissue structure—and pairing this with 3D multi-photon microscopy, the tissue’s mechanical properties and structure remains intact and can be studied. As a result, the Tufts biomedical engineering team has uniquely identified structure-function relationships specific to the myocardial ECM. Specifically they have found that the ECM that is newly remodeled/deposited, following infarction, is weaker than healthy tissues, most likely due to alterations in the chemical connections within and between fibers called“crosslinks.” This weaker ECM may be contributing to the expanding scar by adversely signaling cells in the remodeling tissue to continue to make more ECM.

The team of Tufts researchers included Kyle Quinn, Kelly Sullivan, Zhiyi Liu, Zachary Ballard, Christos Siokatas, Associate Professor Irene Georgakoudi, and Associate Professor Lauren Black.

Read the full paper in Nature Scientific Reports.

* Source: http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/early/2014/12/18/CIR.0000000000000152

Mechanical engineers receive best poster award

Xiao and Barlow pose with their winning poster.

Xiao and Barlow pose with their winning poster.

On October 29, mechanical engineering major Stan Barlow, E17, and Ph.D. candidate Xiao Xiao attended the American Society for Gravitational and Space Research Conference in Cleveland, Ohio. They received the Best Poster – Young Investigator Award from the NASA Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS).

Xiao and Barlow won the award for their poster titled “Density Measurement for Industrial Turbine Blade Superalloys,” which they worked on with Associate Professor Douglas Matson and Ph.D. candidate Justin Rodriguez.

 

Islam wins international prize for water research

Professor Shafiqul Islam

Professor Shafiqul Islam

Professor Shafiqul Islam of Tufts School of Engineering’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and professor of water diplomacy at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, was awarded the Creativity Award for the Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz International Prize for Water (PSIPW). The award, given to Islam and his team member Rita Colwell, University of Maryland at College Park, was presented at a ceremony held November 2, 2016 at the United Nations headquarters in New York. It was hosted by the U.N. Friends of Water and presided over by the U.N. General Secretary H.E. Mr. Ban Ki-moon, and by PSIPW Chairman H.R.H. Prince Khaled Bin Sultan Bin Abdualziz.

Islam and Colwell received the Creativity Award for developing and testing a model that uses chlorophyll information from satellite data to predict cholera outbreaks at least three to six months in advance. Colwell and her team were the first to use remote satellite data to develop a predictive model for cholera outbreaks in East Asia. Islam applied Colwell’s findings to relate chlorophyll information obtained from NASA satellites and cholera outbreaks in the Bay of Bengal. The team is currently working on testing the satellite-based model with ground-based observations.

Islam, who directs the Water Diplomacy program, received his Sc.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is also the director of the Boston Water Group, a diverse group of researchers and practitioners from academia, industry, and civil-society, who are based in the Greater Boston region but who work across the United States and around the world to address problems that involve water.

Tufts team wins international computational biology competition

A team of Tufts computer scientists and mathematicians won top prize in the Disease Module Identification DREAM Challenge, which is an “open community effort to: (1) Systematically assess module identification methods on a panel of state-of-the-art genomic networks, and (2) discover novel network modules/pathways underlying complex diseases.” The competition is driven by the interconnected nature of multiple genes interacting within molecular pathways to drive physiological and disease processes.

Out of 42 teams from across the globe, Team Tusk won first place with its response, “A Double Spectral Approach to DREAM 11 Subchallenge.” Team members included, from the Department of Computer Science, Professor Lenore Cowen, Professor Donna Slonim, Assistant Professor Ben Hescott, and master’s student Jake Crawford; and, from the Department of Mathematics, Assistant Professor Xiaozhe Hu and Ph.D. student Joanne Lin.

Researchers receive $1 million ONR grant

Sameer Sonkusale, professor of electrical and computer engineering

Engineering faculty Professor Sameer Sonkusale and Associate Professor Qiaobing Xu, working with Assistant Professor Jimmy Crott from the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, have received a $1 million grant from the Office of Naval Research to build biomedical microdevices to investigate the gut microbiome.

Qiaobing Xu, associate professor of biomedical engineering

Current studies of the gut microbiome rely on the metabolic and genomic analysis of fecal matter. That analysis fails to identify which areas of the large or small intestine are colonized by bacterial species, and how those bacterial species interact with one another and with the host. This research project seeks to sample the microbiome at different locations in the gut to obtain a spatial distribution profile. Sonkusale, Xu, and Crott have proposed the use of a biocompatible lab-on-a-pill with integrated sensor, energy source, and electronics, to carry out that sampling.

Nair honored with NIH New Innovator Award

Assistant Professor Nikhil Nair of the Tufts Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering

Nikhil Nair, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, received an NIH Director’s New Innovator Award for his research on engineering bacteria to treat inborn errors of metabolism (IEMs). These rare genetic disorders, like Phenylketonuria and Maple Syrup Urine Disorder, are disorders in which the body converts nutrients from food into harmful toxins. If not treated at birth, IEMs can impede intellectual or physical development and may even lead to death.

Nair and members of his synthetic biology laboratory are modifying lactobacillus bacteria that could produce enzymes that intercept and detoxify amino acids before they can be improperly metabolized to harm patients with IEMs.

The NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, established in 2007, supports early career investigators within 10 years of their terminal degree or clinical residency and is part of the NIH Common Fund’s High-Risk, High-Reward Research program.

Read more about Nair’s research and the award.

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.

Summer scholar profile: Grace Aro

Each year, the Summer Scholars Program awards funding to a select group of rising juniors and seniors from across Tufts academic disciplines, to carry out ten-week independent research projects. This summer, we profiled three engineering students as they worked on their projects.

Grace Aro working in the lab at SciTech. (Alonso Nichols/Tufts University)

Grace Aro working in the lab at SciTech. (Alonso Nichols/Tufts University)

Name: Grace Aro
Hometown: Denver, CO
Major: Chemical engineering, E18
Faculty mentor: Assistant Professor Ayse Asatekin

Project: There are “a lot of people in the world who don’t have access to clean drinking water,” says Aro, “and that’s a big issue.” Her project investigates an interesting potential solution: a co-polymer membrane that could filter organic materials out of surface water, while resisting getting clogged. The membranes that she made and tested in the lab are zwitterionic, meaning that they were created with zwitterions — ions that have positive charges on one end and negative on the other.  So far, Aro’s research suggests that the zwitterionic membranes seem to have equal the filtering capabilities of commercially-sold membranes, while clogging less. She’s also experimenting with whether the membranes can remove lead from a solution.

Read more: Filtering cleaner drinking water, and Water purification at the molecular level