Category Archives: Engineering for Health

Summer scholar profile: Jenny Skerker

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’ll be profiling three engineering students as they work on their projects.

skerker.JPGName: Jenny Skerker
Hometown: Lexington, MA
Major: Environmental engineering, E17
Faculty mentor: Associate Professor John Durant

Project: Over the last several years, you might have seen a Tufts RV driving around Boston. That RV, operated by Tufts CEE graduate students and equipped with fast-response air pollution monitoring equipment, was collecting data on air quality throughout the city. Skerker will bring some of that data into an analysis program called AERMOD to model air dispersal patterns from the northbound and southbound Central Artery Tunnel exits beneath downtown Boston  a particular focus that hasn’t been studied before. “My question that I’ll be trying to answer,” Skerker says, “is: where is this pollution going [when it exits the tunnel]? Does it affect neighboring communities? What’s the downwind direction?”

More information: Big road blues

Tufts engineers invent “smart” thread

Illustration demonstrating how the thread collects data and transmits it to a flexible wireless transmitter atop the skin.

Engineers at Tufts invented a thread that wirelessly collects real-time diagnostic data when sutured into tissue. The thread-based diagnostic platform could be an effective substrate for a new generation of implantable diagnostic devices and smart wearable systems. The research was published in the journal Microsystems & Nanoengineering and has been featured in a number of media outlets, including The Economist, WBUR, IEEE Spectrum, and STAT.

Authors included Tufts alumni Pooria Mostafal and Kyle Alberti, who were PhD students at the time of the research; Assistant Professor Qiaobing Xu of the Department of Biomedical Engineering; and Associate Professor Sameer Sonkusale of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, alongside colleagues from Harvard Medical School’s Biomaterials Innovation Research Center, the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Science and Technology, and Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.

Koomson awarded NSF early-concept grant

Valencia Joyner Koomson, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, has received a National Science Foundation early-concept grant for exploratory research (EAGER) to develop a 3D optical imaging device to report data on the real-time electrical activity of multi-cellular systems.

The research, conducted in collaboration with postdoctoral scholar Nurdan Ozkucur, will have broader applications for disease pathways, drug development, and bioengineering.

Tufts team uses silk to stabilize blood samples

stabilizingbloodPNASMay2016

Encapsulating blood samples in silk protein extracted from silk worm cocoons protected biomarkers effectively, even at high temperatures. (Courtesy Tufts Silk Lab)

A team of Tufts University researchers, including Professors David Kaplan and Fiorenzo Omenetto, have stabilized blood samples without refrigeration, by using air-dried silk protein to encapsulate the samples. The technique has implications for clinical care and research that require analysis of biofluids like blood, and could open up new testing options for currently underserved populations.

The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. In addition to Kaplan and Omenetto, authors include co-first author Jonathan Kluge, Ph.D., former postdoctoral associate in the Kaplan lab; Adrian B. Li, Ph.D., scientist at Vaxess Laboratories and a former doctoral student in Tufts’ Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering; Brooke Kahn, B.S., research associate at Cocoon Biotech and former intern in the Kaplan laboratory; and Dominique S. Michaud, Sc.D., Tufts University School of Medicine.

Kemmerling Talks 3D Modeling and Mechanics in The Conversation

Assistant Professor Erica Kemmerling, Mechanical Engineering

Assistant Professor Erica Kemmerling, Mechanical Engineering

Assistant Professor Erica Kemmerling writes for The Conversation about fabricating physical models to study how cardiovascular devices affect blood flow. Now 3D printing technology is advanced enough to build realistic models of human blood vessels, and pulsatile-flow pumps can drive flow through these vessels to mimic the heart’s pumping. Since the vessel models are synthetic, there are no ethical issues associated with damaging them to take flow measurements.

Xu’s PNAS Paper Demonstrates Efficient Delivery of Genome-Editing Proteins Using Lipid Nanoparticles

Qiaobing Xu, Biomedical Engineering

A central challenge to the development of protein-based therapeutics is the inefficiency of delivering proteins across the cell membrane. Assistant Professor Qiaobing Xu is the co-author on a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that demonstrated delivery of genome-editing proteins into cultured human cells with 70% efficacy comparable with or exceeding other commercially available systems. Xu and Ming Wang, postdoctoral scholar and first author, and collaborators also demonstrated that these lipids are effective for functional protein delivery for murine gene recombination in vivo. Xu’s lab will now pursue studies to better assess toxicity.

Lantagne Comments on PLoS Cholera Outbreak Study

Daniele Lantagne, Assistant Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering

Assistant Professor Daniele Lantagne comments on a new PLoS study by Yale researchers that suggests if United Nations peacekeeping troops had taken a $1 antibiotic pill before they were deployed to Haiti, it may well have prevented the 2010 cholera outbreak. “Based on DNA evidence, this outbreak was probably started by one or very few infected, asymptomatic individuals,” says Lantagne.

Griffiths Speaks with NPR about Toxic Taps in America

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths, a professor Tufts University School of Medicine, adjunct professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and former chair of the EPA’s Drinking Water Committee, Science Advisory Board, says we don’t have a strong understanding of the health impacts of low-level exposure to chemicals in water.

“The truth is there is no such thing as a safe amount of lead in water; there’s no such thing as a safe amount of arsenic in water, but the removal of those is costly, so therefore we have standards which allow trace amounts of those,” Griffiths says.

Listen to NPR’s interview with Dr. Griffiths.

Pennell and Collaborators Receive NIH/NIMH Grant to Study Environmental Exposures in Autism Spectral Disorders

Kurt Pennell, Chair of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Kurt Pennell, Chair of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Professor and Chair Kurt Pennell and collaborators received an NIH/NIMH grant for an environment-wide association study in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) using novel bioinformatics methods and metabolomics via mass spectrometry. ASD is influenced by both genetic and environmental risk factors. The research team, including Dr. Sek Won Kong at Boston Children’s Hospital and Professor Dean Jones at Emory University, includes experts in pediatrics, environmental epidemiology/chemistry, toxicology, metabolomics and bioinformatics to address environmental contributions to ASD.

Hassoun Wins Ideas Competition Award

Professor Soha Hassoun, department chair of Computer Science

Professor and Chair Soha Hassoun was one of three recipients of an 2015 Ideas Competition award. The Ideas Competition, hosted by Tufts Gordon Institute, is designed for early-stage business ideas. Hassoun’s project “TRAG: At-Home Diagnostics System and App for Tracking the Gut Microbiota” seeks to allow individuals to easily and frequently track and assess the impact of diet, including prebiotics and probiotics, on the gut microbiota. “The global market for prebiotics and probiotics is expected to grow steadily in the next 5 years,” says Hassoun. “There is currently no sure way of predicting and tracking the benefits of these products.”
Learn more about the Ideas Competition and enter the Tufts $100K New Ventures Competition.