BME Briefs

Welcome to BME Briefs, a place to find quick notes and posts from the faculty, students, staff and alumni of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Virginia.

    NIH Awards Caliari Lab Research Project Grant for Approach to Treating Muscle Loss Injuries

    April 26, 2021

    University of Virginia assistant professor Steven R. Caliari has received a Research Project Grant (R01) to address an understudied aspect of tissue engineering solutions for muscle loss due to traumatic injury. The award of more than $2 million from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases proposes an approach to integrating the connective and nervous tissues surrounding the injured muscle. The aim is to improve the functionality of the repaired tissues.

    The project, “Aligned and electrically conductive collagen scaffolds for guiding innervated muscle-tendon junction repair of volumetric muscle loss injuries,” will apply a 3D collagen scaffold that mimics the muscle fibers where they join tendons and other connective tissue, known as the musculotendinous junction (MTJ).

    Caliari is an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering with a secondary appointment in biomedical engineering. He is collaborating on the project with George J. Christ, professor of biomedical engineering and orthopaedic surgery, and Shawn Russell, assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery and mechanical and aerospace engineering. The work builds on previous research recently published in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Biomaterials Science, led by Ivan Basurto, a Ph.D. candidate in Caliari’s lab, with third-year chemical engineering student Gregg Gardner, biomedical engineering alumnus Mark Mora and Christ.

    Springbok Analytics' New Round of Funding

    April 09, 2021

    Exciting funding news from Springbok Analytics, the company founded to advance the imaging research of professors of biomedical engineering Silvia Blemker and Craig Meyer and professor of education Joe Hart. The team has linked up with TitletownTech on a round of funding to enable Springbok to grow the world’s most extensive muscle database for large-scale analytics to address a wide variety of significant muscle conditions and impairments. Read the press release HERE.

    REU Alum Wins Journal's First Rising Black Scientist Award

    March 01, 2021

    SysBioREU Alum Olufolakemi “Fola” Olusanya is the winner of the journal Cell's first Rising Black Scientist Award for an undergraduate scholar. For this award, the journal asked emerging Black scientists to tell them about the experiences that sparked their journey in the life sciences. This is Fola's story: "Still we Rise."

    A fourth year at Howard University, Fola will earn her B.S. Microbiological sciences and immunology this Spring.  Her REU project was "Genome-scale Metabolic Modeling Allows for greater Understanding of Gene Function in Cryptosporidium parvum" with advisor Maureen Carey, PhD.

    iGEM 2020 Wins Gold!

    February 04, 2021

    In iGEM's first ever Virtual Giant Jamboree in November 2020, Virginia iGEM was awarded a Gold Medal for their innovative project in metabolic engineering: Manifold. Competing against almost 250 teams from around the world, the Virginia iGEM team had to find ways to complete their research and project development almost completely online, but managed to come out with a comprehensive design, labratory plan, outreach components, and extensive math modeling work. This was the 14th consecutive year UVA has participated in the worldwide competition, but the 1st year that was done remotely, as well as the 1st opportunity to start a 2-year track project in the iGEM Competition. The 2021 Virginia iGEM Team has plans to continue developing Manifold, both in refining the design and completing the lab work that was planned by the 2020 Team. The hope is to create a prototype of the Manifold device, test it, and gather data to compare to the math modeling work before the competition this year. 

    Representing UVA were Julia Ball, Collin Marino, Jacob Polzin, Sophia Link, Veronica Guttierez, Dev Patel, Aparna Kola, Colin Haws, Eddie Micklovic, Pietro Revelli, and Apekchha Pradhan. The Virginia iGEM advisors are Profs. Keith Kozminski (Biology) and Jason Papin (Biomedical Engineering).

    Elizabeth Wins International Poster Award

    January 29, 2021

    "Enhanced visualization of ultrasound contrast agents using normalized singular spectrum area and singular value thresholding"

    Elizabeth Herbst has won a poster award at the annual European Symposium on Ultrasound Contrast Imaging, a top level inernational meeting in the field of ultrasound contrast. Her presentation for was chosen among a group of 16 presenters in ultrasound contrast imaging. Co-authors on the work include Dr. John Hossack, Dr. F. William Mauldin, and Dr. Alexander Klibanov.

    Elizabeth’s project in ultrasound molecular imaging utilizes singular value decomposition-based signal processing techniques to automatically segment and identify ultrasound contrast agent signals based on their unique spatiotemporal signatures. This innovative filtering technique has the potential to improve the visualization of cancer and other vascular diseases in future clinical settings.

    Movie showing filtering Technique (.avi)

    Ramped up Remote NMCF Instrument Training Makes the News

    November 09, 2020

    University of Virginia School of Engineering students, faculty and professional research staff now have an agile and safe way to train on sophisticated instruments housed within the Nanoscale Materials Characterization Facility.

    Lab manager Richard White created specialized instrument training videos featuring facility instrument scientists. Then, White and information technology specialist Ig Jakovac developed Zoom remote-training methodology and “driver’s tests” that allow users to complete required training and certification while following COVID-19 protection protocols.  

    Remote training on seven instruments in the Nanoscale Materials Characterization Facility began the first week of September. By the end of October, 12 students and post-doctoral researchers passed their driver’s tests and are now at work; remote training can now be completed on all the instruments.

    Cole Love-Baker, a Ph.D. student of mechanical and aerospace engineering, completed training on the Quanta 650 scanning electron microscope. Love-Baker works on the fabrication of carbon fibers, advised by Rolls-Royce Commonwealth Professor Xiaodong (Chris) Li in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

    Carbon fibers are a light-weight but expensive material used in the automotive industry; Love-Baker focuses on designing low-cost precursor materials such as polymers, which could make carbon fibers more attractive for military, aircraft and aerospace applications. Love-Baker’s research involves a lot of experimental work, including synthesis, mechanical testing, spectroscopy and microscopy.

    “The SEM is essential to the investigation of our carbon fibers,” Love-Baker said. “With high-precision measurements of a cross-sectional area, we can accurately characterize the fibers’ mechanical properties and make qualitative statements about the fibers’ structure and composition.”

    Love-Baker found a lot to like about the training experience and the training videos especially. He could observe how to operate the instrument without having to stand in close quarters with White or Joe Thompson, specialists in electron microscopy. After he reviewed the training videos, Love-Baker was ready for remote training, culminating in his driver’s test on the scanning electron microscope, evaluated by White and Thompson.

    “Richard and Joe do not go easy on us; we need to demonstrate that we understand both the functional theory and actual operation of the machine,” Love-Baker said.

    White and Thompson asked Love-Baker to lead them through the training session to prove he would use the machine correctly, from system checks upon entry in the lab to staging and imaging as well as trouble-shooting. Monitoring Love-Baker’s actions over Zoom, they could see how he was operating the instrument and the adjustments he was making.

    The driver’s test is also a learning experience. “They let me make mistakes and showed me how that affected image quality and other factors,” Love-Baker said.

    This creative combination of training videos and Zoom allows students to complete instrument training on-demand to meet research group publication deadlines and sponsored research milestones, while keeping their own course work on track.

    “The SEM will be crucial to my success here at UVA,” Love-Baker said.

    UVA Engineering Executive Dean Pamela M. Norris also had good things to say about this innovation. “I am proud of the Nanoscale Materials Characterization Facility and all of our research teams, which have risen to extraordinary challenges this year,” Norris said. “This type of innovation, along with excellent collaboration among our faculty, staff, students and school leadership, has positioned UVA Engineering to be even stronger when we emerge from this pandemic. It is exciting to see the bold ideas that will have a truly positive impact on society.”

    Learn more about UVA Engineering’s bold ideas and research to combat the pandemic by clicking here.

    UVA Chemical Engineering and School of Medicine Researchers Try Different Tack on Cancer Suicide Gene Therapy

    October 15, 2020

    University of Virginia associate professor of chemical engineering Matthew Lazzara and Benjamin Purow, a professor and neurologist at the UVA School of Medicine, recently received an exploratory research grant from the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health for collaborative research.

    The $415,245 award is a multiple principal investigator grant, a category of funding for projects requiring a team science approach. UVA Engineering’s proximity to a world-class medical school and health system facilitates collaborative efforts with clinicians and researchers at UVA and partner institutions.

    The project is titled “Engineering ERK-specificity for cancer suicide gene therapy.” Preliminary data for the proposal was based upon the doctoral thesis work of recent Lazzara lab graduate Evan Day.

    “Suicide gene therapy is an approach to trick cancer cells into killing themselves. The suicide gene product converts an otherwise innocuous prodrug into a toxic substance,” Lazzara said.

    The technique has been tried before and even undergone clinical trials, but the UVA team is onto something new.

    “We designed a way to promote the expression of these suicide genes in cancer cells exhibiting high activity of the ERK pathway, which is a frequent driver of resistance to therapy across many types of cancers,” Lazzara said.

    ERK, short for “extracellular signal-regulated kinase,” is a highly studied signaling protein involved in communicating information from receptors on the cell’s surface to the cell nucleus, where it regulates the transcription of numerous genes. It’s a biochemical pathway that cells use to regulate their proliferation and survival — and cancer cells frequently find ways to activate this pathway as a way to survive treatment.

    “Our approach could be a way to develop more selective and effective suicide gene therapies that will have preferential effects on cancer cells rather than normal tissue. The design also turns a common escape mechanism from therapy — the cell’s ability to turn up ERK signaling — into a lethal vulnerability. In other words, it takes a biochemical escape route that cancer cells like to use and turns that against the cancer cell,” Lazzara said.

    Lazzara, who holds a courtesy appointment in biomedical engineering and is a member of the UVA Cancer Center, is a noted researcher in the areas of cell-signaling and cellular decision-making. Purow is a clinician-scientist whose clinical practice focuses on neuro-oncology and whose research is focused on improved therapeutic approaches for brain cancer.

    Microbubbles, Microfluidics, and Molecular Localization: Our Latest Publications

    October 12, 2020

    Congrats to Yanjun, Feifei and Elizabeth authors of the lab's four most recent publications:

    • Yanjun Xie for "Real-time control of microbubble diameter from a flow-focusing microfluidic device" (a conference paper in IEEE International Ultrasonics Symposium).
    • Yanjun Xie for "Closed-loop feedback control of microbubble diameter from a flow-focusing microfluidic device" (Journal paper in Biomicrofluidics).
    • Feifei Zhao for "A Targeted Molecular Localization Imaging Method Applied to Tumor Microvasculature" (a journal paper in Investigative Radiology). 
    • Elizabeth Herbst for "Enhanced visualization of intratumoral microbubbles using singular value thresholding combined with normalized singular spectrum area" (Conference paper in IEEE IUS).

    Improving Prostate Cancer Diagnosis: New Coulter Award

    October 12, 2020

    Hossack Lab has been awarded $97K from the UVA-Coulter Partnership for "Super resolution molecular imaging for improved prostate cancer diagnostic performance."  Our proposal addresses new methods of ultrasound parameter setting and signal processing to yield approximately five fold improvement in resolution for ultrasound imaging combined with imaging of molecular signature of cancer.