Category Archives: Engineering the Human-Technology Interface

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.

Summer scholar profile: Anu Gamage

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.

Anu Gamage performs research on her inverted pendulum.

Anu Gamage performs research on her inverted pendulum.

Name: Anu Gamage
Hometown: Colombo, Sri Lanka
Major: Electrical engineering, E18
Faculty mentor: Assistant Professor Usman Khan

Project: An inverted pendulum is exactly what it sounds like: a pendulum stood on its head, with its center of mass above its pivot. It requires a constant application of force to keep it balanced. The human body is an inverted pendulum, Gamage points out, with our muscles constricting to act against gravity and keep us upright. There are inverted pendulums in robotics and in aeronautics. They’re monitored by internal sensors that track the pendulum’s position and apply the proper amount of force to maintain its vertical position. Those internal sensors, however, are potentially vulnerable to software bugs or cyberattacks. Gamage seeks to create an external camera system that would capture a running visual feed of the pendulum’s motion, process those images, and use that data to balance it. “It would be robust against attacks or malfunctions,” says Gamage.

Read more: Defying gravity with an inverted pendulum, and Anu’s blogs for Tufts Admissions

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.

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.

2016 Summer Scholars announced

The Tufts Summer Scholars program has announced the 2016 Summer Scholars. Each year, the 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. The program is administered by the Office of Undergraduate Education.

Congratulations to all our engineering summer scholars! See below for the full list.

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Scheutz Talks Robot Cognition with The Conversation

Professor Matthias Scheutz (CS) wrote about robot cognition and morality in a piece for The Conversation called “Why robots need to be able to say ‘No.’”

“In general, robots should never perform illegal actions, nor should they perform legal actions that are not desirable. Hence, they will need representations of laws, moral norms and even etiquette in order to be able to determine whether the outcomes of an instructed action, or even the action itself, might be in violation of those principles,”  Scheutz writes.

 

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.

New Scientist Interviews Jacob and Yuksel about BACh System

Computer Science Professor Rob Jacob and doctoral student Beste Filiz Yuksel’s BACh System — Brain Automated Chorales – helps beginners learn to play Bach chorales on piano by measuring how hard their brains are working. It only offers a new line of music to learn when the brain isn’t working too hard, avoiding information overload. BACh estimates the brain’s workload using functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS), a technique that measures oxygen levels in the brain. Read more of the story in New Scientist magazine.

Their paper “Learn Piano with BACh“, including co-authors Remco Chang, Kurt Oleson, Lane Harrison, Evan Peck, and Dan Afergan, won the CHI2016 Best Paper Award.

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.

Messner Speaks with Metro About Driverless Trains

Professor Bill Messner

On December 13, 2015, Professor Bill Messner spoke with the the Boston Metro about the possibility of driverless trains in the public transportation system, commenting on the recent “Ghost Train” mishap where a Red Line train left a T station without its driver. “From a technology standpoint, it’s certainly doable. It’s a question of expense, really, and of course public acceptance of autonomous trains.” Messner commented that the MBTA is not a good case for “robotic retrofitting” because it was never designed to be an autonomous system.