Friday, 27 of November of 2015

Category » Engineering for Health

Biopsies Without Knives

Irene Georgakoudi

Irene Georgakoudi, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Tufts University is researching methods “to diagnose cancer at a cellular level, well before it grows into a visible lesion or tumor.”, shares TuftsNow“Although her techniques aren’t yet ready for clinical use, Georgakoudi is hopeful they could make a dramatic impact on the way cancers are identified—turning a dreaded disease into something that can be managed and treated before it spirals out of control.”

Xu Wins NSF Award to Find New Ways to Deliver Drugs Directly into Cells


Qiaobing Xu

Qiaobing Xu

Qiaobing Xu, Ph.D., an assistant professor of biomedical engineering in Tufts University School of Engineering, has received a $498,899 Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to fund research into a new way to deliver protein-based cancer-fighting drugs and other therapeutics into cells.

Such an approach would enable drugs to destroy cancerous growth more effectively than existing treatments and target other diseases traditionally considered “undruggable.”

Chemotherapy drugs attack all actively dividing cells—healthy and diseased alike—often causing significant side effects in the patients. New protein-based therapy, such as cytokines, monoclonal antibodies and growth factors, allow for highly targeted treatment. The problem is that, unlike compounds used in chemotherapy, proteins are too large to easily cross the cell membrane to penetrate into the cell cytoplasm. Instead, most of these protein therapies work by targeting specific receptors on the outside surface of diseased cells.

The NSF program supports junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research.

Xu is developing a method way to transport the protein inside the cell safely and efficiently by binding it with a nanoparticle that can cross the cell membrane and, when safely inside, release the protein. In his approach, the protein is first chemically altered to give it a negative charge and then bound to a positively charged nanoparticle composed of lipids. The lipids then pass through the cell membrane, which is naturally negatively charged.

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Miller and Saibaba Featured on Cover of Inverse Problems

Eric Miller

Eric Miller

The research of Professor and Chair Eric Miller (ECE) and postdoc Arvind Saibaba is featured on the cover of the January issue of the journal Inverse Problems. The work, in collaboration with Professor Peter Kitanidis at Stanford University, develops computationally efficient methods for estimating the state of large-scale, noisy, and dynamical systems, opening up possibilities for real-time monitoring and control of processes in fields ranging from medicine and biology to subsurface remediation, carbon sequestration, and numerical weather prediction.



Fig. 8 Variance of the computed solution at time 30 h after injection computed on the grid of size.

Silk-Based Surgical Implants an Orthopedic Innovation

silkscrewThe latest silk-inspired innovation from the lab of biomedical engineering Professor David Kaplan is receiving media attention: silk-protein surgical screws that could transform the way we heal broken bones. Researchers from Kaplan’s lab and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center published their findings in the journal Nature Communications this March.

Surgical screws and plates, or “fixation devices” are used to repair fractured bones and are often made of metal alloys or synthetic polymers. However, metal implants place undue stress on the bone, are prone to infection, and must be surgically removed from the body once a fracture has healed. Synthetic screws are designed to be absorbed by the body, but they can be difficult to set and may cause inflammation.

The research team manufactured plates and screws from the silk protein produced by the Bombyx mori (B. mori) silkworm cocoons. A silk solution was cured into molds that produced easily machinable plates and screws. The silk screws are self-tapping, an improvement from conventional resorbable screws that require careful drilling of a screw hole before insertion of the hardware. In vivo tests showed the screws remain fixed in the bone at four and eight weeks with notable improvements in the healing and resorbtion process.

Professor Kaplan told BBC News: “The future is very exciting. We envision a whole set of orthopaedic devices for repair based on this – from plates and screws to almost any kind of device you can think of where you don’t want hardware left in the body.”

Some added benefits to the silk technology over metal fixation devices include decreased sensitivity to the cold and zero interference with X-ray technology or metal detectors. “One of the other big advantages of silk is that it can stabilize and deliver bioactive components, so that plates and screws made of silk could actually deliver antibiotics to prevent infection, pharmaceuticals to enhance bone regrowth and other therapeutics to support healing,” says Kaplan.

This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health (EB002520).

More coverage on this story: TuftsNow, New Scientist, The Telegraph, and Popular Science

Tufts University Alumni Association 2014 Senior Award Honorees

Each year, the Tufts University Alumni Association (TUAA) recognizes members of the senior class for academic achievement, participation in campus and community activities, and leadership. Twelve students are chosen from a pool of nominees for the TUAA Senior Award. This year’s cohort of Senior Award Honorees includes two engineering students: Briana Bouchard and Laura Burns.

Briana BouchardBriana Bouchard will graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering. Bouchard served as Corporate Relations Chair and Publicity Chair for Tufts Society for Women Engineers, Tufts Admissions Tour Guide and Engineering Panelist, Senior Representative and Academic Chair for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Residential Assistant for Tufts University Office of Residential Life. As a researcher, she designed a medical device to assist in the insertion of IV catheters in babies and children, was part of a team that designed an award winning audio speaker, and has researched the use of silk for breast implants for women who have had mastectomies.

Laura BurnsLaura Burns will graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in biomedical engineering. At Tufts, Burns was a Stern Family Scholar, was on the Dean’s List all semesters, a member of Tau Beta Pi (Engineering National Honor Society), President and Board Member of the Tufts University Engineering Student Council, Secretary and Board Member for Tufts University Society for Women Engineers, Captain of the Varsity Swim Team, and a volunteer at Tufts University Admissions Office. Burns was a research assistant in Assistant Professor Lauren Black’s Lab, where she worked with tissue engineering of cardiac tissue and design of an optical device to measure the thickness of delicate tissues.

Faculty Receive NSF Major Research Instrumentation Grants


Advanced semiconductor made in the Vandervelde REAP lab.

John A. and Dorothy M. Adams Faculty Development Professor Tom Vandervelde received a $1M grant for equipment crucial in the development of solar cells, infrared cameras, high-speed (100+GHz) circuits, lasers, and LED lighting. He received a Major Research Instrumentation award from the National Science Foundation to build a multi-chamber molecular beam epitaxy system, which enables the creation of novel semiconductor materials and devices.

Associate Professor and Chair Kyongbum Lee and colleagues in the Department of Biomedical Engineering received a $338K grant for the acquisitions of a state-of-the-art mass spectrometry (MS) system for a range of metabolomics and proteomics applications. Mass spectrometry has emerged as the technology of choice for workflows seeking to identify, detect, and/or quantify metabolites and other small molecules as well as proteins and peptides in complex biological samples.

Aldridge Wins NIH New Innovator Award

Bree Aldridge

Bree Aldridge, Assistant Professor of Molecular Biology & Microbiology

Assistant Professor Bree Aldridge has received a 2013 National Institutes of Health Director’s New Innovator Award. Aldridge is an assistant professor in molecular biology and microbiology at Tufts University School of Medicine, a member of the Molecular Microbiology and Immunology program faculties at the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences at Tufts, and adjunct assistant professor in biomedical engineering. She has been awarded a five-year, $1.5 million grant for her research focused on improving drug treatments for tuberculosis.

Aldridge’s research addresses a major obstacle in controlling tuberculosis, which is the lengthy multi-drug therapy currently required to effectively cure the disease. Due to the prolonged treatment, adherence to the drug therapy can be difficult. In addition, when these drugs are misused or mismanaged, multi-drug resistance can develop. To improve health outcomes for patients, and reduce the emergence of drug-resistant strains of the disease, she hopes to shorten and simplify treatments for tuberculosis. The Aldridge lab includes a multidisciplinary team of researchers who combine molecular approaches with mathematical modeling to study the bacterium that causes tuberculosis.

Kaplan’s Team On Board for Continued Regenerative Medicine Research

Today, the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine announced that the second phase of the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine (AFIRM) project will move ahead with involvement from researchers on Stern Family Professor David Kaplan’s biomedical engineering team. The five-year, $75 million federally funded project focuses on applying regenerative medicine to battlefield injuries.

Anthony Atala, M.D., director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, is the lead investigator for AFIRM-II. He will direct a consortium of more than 30 academic institutions, including Tufts School of Engineering, and industry partners.

In the first phase of AFIRM, which began in 2008, Kaplan’s group looked at soft tissue reconstruction and peripheral nerve repair research. During this phase, Kaplan will focus on muscle regeneration.

Engineers Develop Early Warning System for Cholera Epidemics

In two recently published papers, School of Engineering researchers have established new techniques for predicting the severity of seasonal cholera epidemics months before they occur and with a greater degree of accuracy than other methods based on remote satellite imaging. Taken together, findings from these two papers may provide the essential lead time to strengthen intervention efforts before the outbreak of cholera in endemic regions.

Cholera, caused by the bacteria Vibrio cholerae, is rare in the United States and other industrialized nations. However, globally, cholera cases have increased steadily since 2005 and the disease still occurs in many places including Africa, Southeast Asia, and Haiti. According to the World Health Organization, there are an estimated 3–5 million cholera cases every year, more than 100,000 cases are fatal. Image credit:

The team, led by Shafiqul Islam, professor of civil and environmental engineering, used satellite data to measure chlorophyll and algae, organic substances, and flora that also support growth of the cholera bacteria. Using satellite images, the researchers created a “satellite water marker” (SWM) index to estimate the presence of organic matter including chlorophyll and plankton based on wavelength measurements.

In a separate paper published online in the journal Environmental Modeling and Software, ahead of the September 1 print edition, Antarpreet Jutla, EG13, Islam, and Ali Akanda, EG13, showed that air temperature in the Himalayan foothills can also be a factor in predicting spring cholera.

“A Water Marker Monitored by Satellites to Predict Seasonal Endemic Cholera,” Antarpreet Jutla, Ali Shafqat Akanda, Anwar Huq, Abu Syed Golam Faruque, Rita Colwell, and Shafiqul Islam, Remote Sensing Letters, published on line before print June 3, 2013, Vol. 4, No. 8, 822–831.

The research reported in this paper was supported, in part, from National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants 1RCTW008587-01 and 2R01A1039129-11A2.

“A Framework for Predicting Endemic Cholera Using Satellite Derived Environmental Determinants,” Antarpreet S. Jutla, Ali S. Akanda, Shafiqul Islam, Environmental Monitoring and Software, published online before print

The research reported in this paper was supported through NIH funding under award number 1RCTW008587-01. Dr. Jutla acknowledges the support from Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV.

Omenetto’s Research Provides Basis for Bionic Ears

Last year, a research effort led by Michael McAlpine, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton, Naveen Verma, an assistant professor of electrical engineering, and Professor Fiorenzo Omenetto of Tufts University, resulted in the development of a “tattoo” made up of a biological sensor and antenna that can be affixed to the surface of a tooth.

Scientists used 3-D printing to merge tissue and an antenna capable of receiving radio signals. (Credit: Frank Wojciechows

Scientists used 3-D printing to merge tissue and an antenna capable of receiving radio signals. (Credit: Frank Wojciechowski)

A new project, however, is the team’s first effort to create a fully functional organ: one that not only replicates a human ability, but extends it using embedded electronics.

“The design and implementation of bionic organs and devices that enhance human capabilities, known as cybernetics, has been an area of increasing scientific interest,” the researchers wrote in the article which appears in the scholarly journal Nano Letters. “This field has the potential to generate customized replacement parts for the human body, or even create organs containing capabilities beyond what human biology ordinarily provides.

This story appeared as a press release on EurekAlert, May 1, 2013.