By Christen L Bailey

Upgrading Synthetic Biology’s Toolkit

August 3rd, 2012 in BME News

New Method Could Enable Reprogramming of Mammalian Cells

By Mark Dwortzan

Assistant Professor Ahmad S. Khalil (BME)

Assistant Professor Ahmad S. Khalil (BME)

Through the assembly of genetic components into “circuits” that perform logical operations in living cells, synthetic biologists aim to artificially empower cells to solve critical problems in medicine, energy and the environment. To succeed, however, they’ll need far more reliable genetic components than the small number of “off-the-shelf” bacterial parts now available.

Now a new method developed by Assistant Professor Ahmad S. Khalil (BME), Professor James J. Collins (BME, MSE, SE) and collaborators at Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital and MIT could significantly increase the number of genetic components in synthetic biologists’ toolkit and, as a result, the size and complexity of the genetic circuits they can build. The development could dramatically enhance their efforts not only to understand how biological organisms behave and develop, but also to reprogram them for a variety of practical applications.

Described in the August 2 online edition of Cell, the method offers a new paradigm for constructing and analyzing genetic circuits in eukaryotes—or organisms whose cells contain nuclei, which include everything from yeasts to humans. Instead of constructing these circuits with off-the-shelf parts from bacteria and porting them into eukaryotes, as most synthetic biologists do, Khalil and his collaborators have engineered these circuits using modular, functional parts from the eukaryotes themselves.

With funding from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and other sources, the research team built their synthetic genetic circuit parts from a class of proteins, known as zinc fingers, which can be programmed to bind desired DNA sequences. The modularity of the new parts enables a wide range of functions to be engineered, the construction of much larger and more complex genetic circuits than what’s now possible with bacteria-based parts, and ultimately, the development of much more powerful applications.

“Our research may lead to therapeutic applications, such as the dynamic modification and control of genes and genetic networks that are important in human disease,” said Khalil. Potential medical applications include stem cell therapeutics for a wide variety of injuries and diseases and in-cell devices and circuits for diagnosing early stages of cancer and other diseases. The new method may also equip groups of cells to perform higher-order computational tasks for processing signals in the environment in sensing applications.”

Zaman Receives “Saving Lives at Birth” Grant

July 25th, 2012 in BME News

Funding to Advance Counterfeit and Substandard Drug Detection Device

By Mark Dwortzan

The Saving Lives at Birth event drew hundreds of attendees, including Melinda Gates (center), who appeared at the innovation awards ceremony and visited four posters, including Professor Muhammad Zaman's (BME) (left).

The Saving Lives at Birth event drew hundreds of attendees, including Melinda Gates (center), who appeared at the innovation awards ceremony and visited four posters, including Professor Muhammad Zaman's (BME) (left).

Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development, a program launched in 2011 to stimulate innovative preventative and treatment methods to improve health outcomes for mothers and newborns around the time of delivery, has named Associate Professor Muhammad Zaman (BME) as one of 12 recipients of a two-year, $250,000 innovation seed grant. The grant will enable Zaman to develop his project, PharmaCheck: Counterfeit and Substandard Drug Detector Device for the Developing World, and qualify for an additional $2 million to demonstrate its impact at scale.

The first BU project to be honored by the Saving Lives at Birth program, PharmaCheck was chosen from more than 500 proposals from 60 countries.

Zaman represented the project at the program’s second annual DevelopmentXChange, held at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation headquarters in Seattle in mid-July. Culminating in an awards ceremony, the three-day event provided 65 finalists in the 2012 competition to display their ideas—through interview, poster and elevator pitch sessions—before other development experts, innovators and potential funders.

“I am deeply humbled and honored to have been selected as an awardee for the Saving Lives at Birth grant and grateful to [BME graduate student] Darash Desai for his vision, incredible talent and boundless energy as the main developer of the technology,” said Zaman. “This award allows us to develop our technology further and take it to the field, and to connect and collaborate with leading innovators in maternal and child health.”

The main objective of the PharmaCheck project is to develop a user-friendly, low-cost, high-throughput, accurate device that local health authorities can use to screen for substandard anti-malarials and antibiotics, thereby improving adverse maternal and neonatal health outcomes with respect to malaria and sepsis. The need for such a device is particularly acute in the developing world, where the prevalence of these diseases is high and counterfeit and substandard drugs are commonplace.

“Counterfeit, substandard and inactive drugs are among one of the biggest challenges in global health, and our inability to detect these drugs in the field seriously hampers our ability to provide effective care to the most vulnerable mothers and babies,” said Zaman. “Pharmacheck will provide a comprehensive, affordable and context-specific solution that will help save countless lives in resource-limited settings.”

The 12 award-winning innovation projects addressed medical concerns such as treatment for newborn jaundice and low-cost, high-quality postnatal services; funded organizations ranged from a chain of maternity health clinics in Kenya to Oxford University.

Saving Lives at Birth is a partnership among USAID, the Government of Norway, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development.

Xue Han Named Pew Scholar

June 19th, 2012 in BME News

Brain researcher builds tools with pulses of light

By David Gianatasio, BU Today

Assistant Professor Xue Han (BME) was named a Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences by the Pew Charitable Trusts for her research into developing tools to study cognitive functions. (Photo by Cydney Scott)

Assistant Professor Xue Han (BME) was named a Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences by the Pew Charitable Trusts for her research into developing tools to study cognitive functions. (Photo by Cydney Scott)

A notoriously shrinking nationwide research funding market is making it increasingly difficult to secure grants for innovative research. But for the third time in two years, the efforts of a College of Engineering assistant professor of biomedical engineering to make better tools to study the brain have been rewarded.

In March 2011, Xue Han won a 2011 Sloan Research Fellowship, which provides $50,000 in research support over two years. In August 2011, she was chosen for one of three Peter Paul Fellowships, which give promising BU junior faculty members $40,000 annually for three years to pursue their research.

And on June 15, 2012, Han, who uses pulses of light to control brain cells and discern their influence on attention, memory and decision-making, was named a Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences by the Pew Charitable Trusts. The award brings $240,000 over four years and will help Han expand her work.

Kenneth R. Lutchen, dean of ENG and a professor of biomedical engineering, said it is gratifying to see Han recognized with such an important award.

“Her research is impressive,” said Lutchen. “It represents important advances in understanding and correcting brain disorders through a very creative synthesis of emergent biological and engineering technologies. She is one of several of the College of Engineering’s newest faculty whose early career success has been recognized nationally in recent years, a development that bodes well for the College’s future.”

Han’s research uses light to activate or silence individual brain cells for a matter of milliseconds, enabling her and her team to identify connections between those cells and specific behaviors. The researchers hope to learn, for example, which cells in the prefrontal cortex trigger successful actions and which spark dysfunctional behavior. Understanding disorders at the neural circuit level could yield new drugs and other therapeutic approaches to a wide spectrum of ailments, including attention deficit disorders, depression, Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia. At this stage, however, Han’s goal is developing tools to study cognitive functions.

The latest award will help her “develop better technology to interpret the brain with more precision,” she said. “The brain is very complicated. There are many angles to studying it. At this point, our research is basic, and treatments that might use it are far away.”

Biomedical Engineering Department Chair/Professor Solomon R. Eisenberg said Han’s work “represents an exciting new frontier” that “helps add to the cache of neuroscience and neuroengineering within the biomedical engineering department and among the interdisciplinary neuro-based initiatives at BU.”

In fact, both the early stage and the potential payoff of Han’s research worked in her favor during Pew’s selection process.

“We encourage high-risk, high-reward projects,” said Anita Pepper, manager of the Pew Scholars program. “To us, it’s not about seeing results tomorrow. It’s about what she’s done for the field and where that might lead 15 years down the line.”

Han’s postdoctoral advisor Robert Desimone, director of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, predicted that her work “will result in new treatments, certainly in our lifetime, and likely in the next 10 years.”

The Pew prize recognizes promising young scientists who have served no more than three years at the assistant professor level and are involved in cutting-edge research. Han is one of 22 recipients of the award this year, selected from 134 nominations. Winners had to go through three rounds of reviews conducted by 16 top scientists, among them two Nobel laureates.

Han is BU’s second Pew Biomedical Scholar, joining Mark Grinstaff, an ENG professor of biomedical engineering and a College of Arts & Sciences professor of chemistry, who was honored in 1999.

Born in China, Han earned a BS in biophysics from Beijing University and a PhD in physiology from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She’s been a member of ENG’s biomedical engineering faculty since July 2010.

Systems Science: Shaping Society’s Future

June 4th, 2012 in BME News

CISE Symposium Celebrates Organization’s First Ten Years

By Mark Dwortzan

Dimitris Bertsimas, Boeing Professor of Operations Research and co-director of the Operations Research Center at MIT, and Professor Michael Caramanis (ME, SE) at the CISE Symposium poster session.

Dimitris Bertsimas, Boeing Professor of Operations Research and co-director of the Operations Research Center at MIT, and Professor Michael Caramanis (ME, SE) at the CISE Symposium poster session.

For the past 10 years, the Boston University Center for Information and Systems Engineering (CISE) has served as an interdisciplinary research and education center advancing leading-edge concepts and practical applications involving the modeling, design, analysis, and management of complex systems. During that period, CISE has seen its faculty—drawn from the College of Engineering, the College of Arts & Sciences, and the School of Management—grow from five to 35 and its annual external research funding rise to $5 million, resulting in major advances in robotics, automation and control; communications and networking; computational biology and medicine; information sciences; and production, service and energy systems.

To celebrate faculty and student achievements over the past decade and explore upcoming challenges and opportunities in the field, CISE organized a daylong symposium, “Systems Science: Shaping Society’s Future,” on May 10.

Held in the Photonics Center Colloquium Room, the symposium featured presentations and a panel discussion by information and systems engineering leaders from across the country, and a poster session showcasing CISE graduate student research. Attendees discussed recent advances in systems science that support improved decision-making and could lead to more highly organized, controlled and optimized “smarter” systems for transportation and civil infrastructure in urban areas, energy and power systems and healthcare systems.

“In the next 30 or 40 years, there will be another three billion people on the planet,” said Dean Kenneth R. Lutchen, “and the great majority will drive two major challenges to the economy and create two major economic opportunities for innovation: (1) they will cluster around urban centers, and (2) they will create a huge explosion in healthcare needs for society, and meeting both of these challenges will require information and systems engineering innovations. This symposium is a perfect reflection of how CISE will bridge the basic sciences to applications so that society benefits.”

CISE co-director Professor Ioannis Paschalidis (ECE, SE) introducing the panel discussion, which featured Tamer Basar, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; Y.C. Ho, professor emeritus of systems engineering and applied mathematics at Harvard University; Jeffrey Katz, chief technology officer for the Energy and Utilities industry at IBM; P.R. Kumar, professor and department chair in computer engineering at Texas A&M University; and Robert Tenney, vice president of Programs at BAE Systems' Advanced Information Technology Division. Paschalidis and CISE co-director Professor David Castanon (ECE, SE), Professor Michael Caramanis (ME, SE), SE Division Head/Professor Christos Cassandras, and Professor John Baillieul (ME,SE) organized the CISE Symposium. (Photos by BU Photo Services)

CISE co-director Professor Ioannis Paschalidis (ECE, SE) introducing the panel discussion, which featured Tamer Basar, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; Y.C. Ho, professor emeritus of systems engineering and applied mathematics at Harvard University; Jeffrey Katz, chief technology officer for the Energy and Utilities industry at IBM; P.R. Kumar, professor and department chair in computer engineering at Texas A&M University; and Robert Tenney, vice president of Programs at BAE Systems' Advanced Information Technology Division. Paschalidis and CISE co-director Professor David Castanon (ECE, SE), Professor Michael Caramanis (ME, SE), SE Division Head/Professor Christos Cassandras, and Professor John Baillieul (ME,SE) organized the CISE Symposium. (Photos by BU Photo Services)

Smart Cities: Transportation and Urban Infrastructure

To illustrate how systems science is shaping the future of transportation and city life, Pravin Varaiya, professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences at the University of California, Berkeley, described a wireless sensor platform for vehicle detection cities could use to reduce traffic congestion and accidents; Professor Venkatesh Saligrama (ECE, SE) discussed a video surveillance method that he developed that uses statistical analysis of pixel-level features to efficiently monitor suspicious objects in cluttered urban environments; and Systems Engineering Division Head/Professor Christos Cassandras (ECE) described a “smart parking” wireless sensor network system that he and Yanfeng Geng (SE, PhD’13) designed to enable drivers to electronically reserve parking spots.

“From the point of view of a city, parking space utilization increases, the city can make more money and congestion will go down,” said Cassandras. “In a nutshell, the idea is to change the mindset from letting the driver make decisions to providing a system that makes good optimal decisions for you.”

Healthcare Systems

To show how systems science is leading to better healthcare systems, Dimitris Bertsimas, Boeing Professor of Operations Research and co-director of the Operations Research Center at MIT, outlined his efforts to develop a data-driven approach for designing chemotherapy clinical trials that could extend patients’ lives; Professor James J. Collins (BME, MSE, SE) described how systems biology has altered our understanding of how antibiotics work and provided a viable means of boosting their effectiveness; and Associate Professor Edward Damiano (BME) showcased a software-controlled, artificial pancreas he has advanced to automatically and continuously regulate blood glucose levels in people with diabetes.

“At the current state of the art, we’re basically maintaining people’s blood sugar in an open-loop mode,” said Damiano. “The notion of automating that process with closed-loop systems is very much a part of modern efforts to push forward the standard of care in diabetes.”

Energy and Power Systems

Demonstrating how systems science is shaping the next generation of energy and power systems, Yoni Ben-Meshulam, a data scientist at Opower, explored how his company is transforming energy usage data from more than 50 million homes into actionable information enabling more efficient energy consumption; Eugene Litvinov, senior director of Business Architecture and Technology at the ISO New England, highlighted his vision of a more flexible, reliable and resilient electric power grid; and Professor Michael Caramanis (ME, SE) set forth an economically viable, algorithm-driven scheme by which the smart grid could exploit synergies between renewable yet highly intermittent sources of electricity such as wind and solar, and electronic devices from smart appliances to plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

“It’s a good idea to think of the smart grid as something that’s holistic, covering everything from centralized generation to transmission to distribution, going all the way to our meters and appliances,” said Caramanis. “Automation and measurement will play a very big role in the evolution of the smart grid, and this provides fertile ground for control and systems science to make a difference.”

Emerging Challenges and Opportunities

The symposium concluded with a panel discussion on emerging challenges and opportunities in the field with academic and industry leaders in systems science. Panelists included P.R. Kumar, professor and department chair in computer engineering at Texas A&M University, who served as moderator; Tamer Başar, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; Y.C. Ho, professor emeritus of systems engineering and applied mathematics at Harvard University; Jeffrey Katz, chief technology officer for the Energy and Utilities industry at IBM; and Robert Tenney, vice president of Programs at BAE Systems’ Advanced Information Technology Division.

To frame the discussion, Başar identified population growth and the decline of natural resources as key challenges facing society, and systems science as the go-to toolkit to use those resources more efficiently.

To apply that toolkit successfully, Tenney advised, “Think about the system you’re building, the infrastructure that supports it and the people who are setting its goals and objectives as one integrated package.”

Jim Collins Elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences

May 25th, 2012 in BME News

Honor followed by grant from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Jim Collins, who has been elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, says his family is very excited about the possibility of meeting Sir Paul McCartney at the October induction ceremony. Photo by Cydney Scott

Jim Collins, who has been elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, says his family is very excited about the possibility of meeting Sir Paul McCartney at the October induction ceremony. Photo by Cydney Scott

By Amy Laskowski

Jim Collins thought at first that the FedEx envelope from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences was another request for a grant review. It wasn’t.

“When I opened the envelope, I read the letter saying that I was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences,” Collins says. “I was thrilled.”

Collins, a William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor and College of Engineering professor of biomedical engineering, was recognized by the academy for his contributions to engineering sciences and technologies, one of eight inductees in the field.

The academy, founded in 1780 by John Adams, John Hancock, and others, is one of America’s most respected honor societies. It recognizes extraordinary work in the areas of academia, public affairs, the arts, business, and the humanities.

“It’s a honor that was unexpected; it means a lot to me because membership is based on selection by peers,” Collins says. “I have many outstanding colleagues who are members of the academy, so to be joining them is a huge honor for me.”

Collins was also awarded a Grand Challenges Explorations grant last week from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to pursue a new approach to cholera prevention. He and two postdoctoral fellows in his lab, Ewen Cameron and Peter Belenky, hope to use synthetic biology to engineer a probiotic yogurt bacterium to detect and kill the cholera bacterium in the human intestine. Initial Grand Challenges Explorations grants of $100,000 are awarded twice a year, and successful projects are eligible for a follow-on grant of up to $1 million.

Collins, a codirector of the Center for BioDynamics, is a pioneer in complexity science. His lab works to create synthetic gene networks, whose many uses include fighting bacterial infections. His research has inspired new devices to treat stroke-induced brain failure and has enhanced doctors’ understanding of how human posture is warped by aging and Parkinson’s disease. He is known among his engineering students for his humor and clarity—in 2000 he won the University’s highest teaching honor, the Metcalf Cup and Prize for Excellence in Teaching.

A Rhodes scholar, Collins won a MacArthur “genius” award in 2003. Two years later, Scientific American named him one of the 50 top leaders in science and technology. In 2008 he became BU’s first Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, a position he holds concurrently with his BU appointment. In 2010, Collins received the Lagrange-CRT Foundation Prize, given by the Institute for Scientific Interchange Foundation in Turin, Italy. In 2011, he was elected to the National Academy of Engineers. He earned a BA from the College of the Holy Cross and a PhD from Oxford University.

As a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he will be invited to contribute to its publications and studies of science and technology policy, energy and global security, social policy and American institutions, the humanities and culture, and education.

In a ceremony in October, Collins will be inducted with 220 other members, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, actor and director Mel Brooks, philanthropist Melinda Gates, actor and director Clint Eastwood, Walt Disney Company CEO and chairman Robert Iger, former Beatle Paul McCartney, and Boston Globe editor Marty Baron.

While he’s looking forward to the induction ceremony, held at the academy’s Cambridge, Mass., headquarters, Collins says, his family is wildly excited.

“This is an honor that my family can relate to—they’re overjoyed,” he says, adding that they are very excited about the possibility of meeting Sir Paul McCartney. “They insisted they attend and we’ll have some fun.”

Collins Nets Gates Foundation Grant for Cholera Prevention Research

May 15th, 2012 in BME News

By Mark Dwortzan

Professor James J. Collins (BME, MSE, SE)

Professor James J. Collins (BME, MSE, SE)

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded Professor James J. Collins (BME, MSE, SE) a Grand Challenges Explorations grant to encourage his lab’s pursuit of a novel approach to cholera prevention.

In their proposed project, Collins and two postdoctoral fellows in his lab, Ewen Cameron and Peter Belenky, seek to use synthetic biology techniques to engineer a probiotic yogurt bacterium, Lactobacillus gasseri, to detect and kill the cholera bacterium, Vibrio cholerae, in the human intestine. The probiotic could be supplied as an inexpensive, freeze-dried powder to endemic populations to prevent cholera, an acute, food or water-borne diarrheal infection leading to more than 100,000 deaths each year.

“We are delighted to be selected for the Gates Foundation program,” said Collins. “This funding will enable us to explore using innovative synthetic biology approaches to detect and treat cholera infections, a major health problem facing many poor communities in the world, including those in Haiti that were devastated by the 2010 earthquake.”

The Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges Explorations program funds promising early-stage projects offering novel solutions to global health problems. Initial grants of $100,000 are awarded two times a year, and successful projects are eligible for a follow-on grant of up to $1 million. Collins’ project is one of 15 to be funded by an eighth-round Grand Challenges Explorations grant to apply synthetic biology techniques to health challenges impacting the developing world. Researchers are increasingly using these techniques to design and assemble new biological components (such as enzymes, genetic circuits, metabolic networks and the like) and systems or redesign natural biological systems to perform specific tasks aimed at diagnosing, managing and treating disease.

The Grand Challenges Explorations grants are funded by the Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative, which supports researchers pursuing bold and unconventional scientific and technological solutions to major health problems in the developing world. Launched in 2008, more than 700 Grand Challenge Explorations grants have been awarded to innovative, early-stage projects in 45 countries. The Gates Foundation has committed $100 million to encourage scientists and engineers worldwide to expand the pipeline of ideas to fight our greatest health challenges.

Another Boston University recipient of a Gates Grand Challenges Explorations grant, BU School of Medicine Assistant Professor of Medicine and Microbiology Lisa Ganley-Leal, will collaborate with Pauline Mwinzi of Epsilon Therapeutics, Inc. to test a new business model for selling vaccines through medicine shops in emerging markets.

Technology Entrepreneurship Night Spotlights Potential Startups

May 15th, 2012 in BME News

By Mark Dwortzan

The K Competition winning team GreenWake's Alex Migel, Price Williams and Adam Taylor (all GSM'13); K judges Vinit Nijhawan, managing director of the BU Office of Technology Development, Peter Russo, ITEC director of Entrepreneurship Programs, and Gregg Adkin (ENG'86), Engineering Leadership Advisory Board Member and senior director of Business Development at EMC, Inc; and TEC officers Mikhail Gurevich (EE'07, GSM'12), Ghassan Kara (BME'13) and Stefano Tasso (EE'13).

The $15K Competition winning team GreenWake's Alex Migel, Price Williams and Adam Taylor (all GSM'13); $15K judges Vinit Nijhawan, managing director of the BU Office of Technology Development, Peter Russo, ITEC director of Entrepreneurship Programs, and Gregg Adkin (ENG'86), Engineering Leadership Advisory Board Member and senior director of Business Development at EMC, Inc; and TEC officers Mikhail Gurevich (EE'07, GSM'12), Ghassan Kara (BME'13) and Stefano Tasso (EE'13).

Gathered in the Photonics Center Colloquium Room on April 20, three teams comprised primarily of graduate students and alumni from the College of Engineering (ENG) and Graduate School of Management (GSM) vied for top honors in the $15K Business Plan Competition, the main attraction at the ninth annual Boston University Technology Entrepreneurship Night. Organized by the Technology Entrepreneurship Club, the evening event drew students from across the campus to explore opportunities to develop businesses that leverage leading-edge technology research at BU.

Sponsored by ENG, GSM’s Institute for Technology Entrepreneurship & Commercialization, the BU Student Association of Graduate Engineers, the intellectual property law firm Sunstein, Kann, Murphy & Timbers LLP, and Dominion Capital, this year’s Technology Entrepreneurship Night featured a panel discussion on life sciences technologies presented by entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, attorneys and other professionals with firsthand expertise on how to develop products and apply technology to target specific needs. The panel discussion was followed by final round presentations of the $15K competition and a networking dinner.

Selected earlier from 109 teams representing every BU school and college, as well as some entrants from MIT and Northeastern University, the three $15K finalists were judged on the quality and feasibility of their engineering designs, marketing plans and teamwork.

The winning team, GreenWake, aims to help firms in the trucking industry to save money on fuel expenses through a rear attachment that promises to significantly improve fuel consumption. GreenWake’s founders, Price Williams, Alex Migel and Adam Taylor—all first-year GSM students with engineering backgrounds—plan to incorporate their company, raise additional funds and grow the idea into a real and profitable business.

The other two finalists were NexGen Arrays (ENG postdocs Carlos Lopez (PhD’07), David Freedman (PhD’10) and Philip Spuhler (PhD’12); and 2013 ENG PhD candidates Sunmin Ahn, Margo Monroe, Alex Reddington and George Daaboul), which is developing protein microarrays to boost the efficiency of clinical diagnostic devices; and TR Aeronautics (Ryan Hunter (CSE’11), Northeastern University alum Brent Sarcone, Dante Leone (SMG’11), Dane Sarcone (Aero’11) and Gozde Guckaya (MS, EE’13)), which plans to develop a “vertical axis” wind turbine that boosts power generation and operates in a wide range of wind conditions.

“The idea behind the $15K Competition and Technology and Entrepreneurship Night is to not only give students an opportunity to get funding and advice to get their idea off the ground, but more importantly to create a framework where they can learn how do it from industry experts and other entrepreneurs,”said Mikhail Gurvich (EE’07, GSM’12), vice president of fundraising for the Technology Entrepreneurship Club (TEC) and the $15K Competition. Founder and CIO of ClickFact Inc., a web security and analytics firm, and co-founder of ZepInvest.com, one of the largest aggregators of paid financial content, Gurvich organized the event with TEC and $15K Competition co-presidents Ghassan Kara (BME ’13) and Stefano Tasso (EE ’13).

“For students passionate about advancing an engineering idea into the commercial marketplace, the resources here at BU, from the Singh Imagineering Lab to ITEC, are plentiful,” Gurvich added.

NIH Grant to Fund Quantitative Biology and Physiology Training Program

May 2nd, 2012 in BME News

By Mark Dwortzan

Professor Irving Bigio (BME) (center) directs the NIH-funded Quantitative Biology and Physiology program at BU.

Professor Irving Bigio (BME) (center) directs the NIH-funded Quantitative Biology and Physiology program at BU.

By studying dynamic processes involved in the death of cells at the molecular level, Professor Irving Bigio’s (BME) BioMedical Optics Lab aims to learn more about diagnosing and monitoring cancer at the patient level. By observing how arterial cells coalesce at the tissue level, Associate Professor Joyce Wong’s (BME, MSE) Biomimetic Materials Engineering Lab is working to engineer artificial arteries for cardiovascular patients.

Key to the success of both groups is the knowledge and skills to investigate and analyze biological phenomenon at multiple length scales—from the molecular to the whole patient.

Recognizing the critical value of this capability, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a five-year training grant in Quantitative Biology and Physiology (QBP) to the Biomedical Engineering Department that will fund seven new doctoral students per year starting in the fall 2012 semester. The award marks the third time that the BME Department has received this highly competitive grant since 2000, and boosts the number of incoming BME PhD students funded by the NIH to 11. (The NIH funds a separate BME training grant in Translational Research in Biomaterials.)

The QBP program provides first- and second-year BME graduate students with the rare opportunity to study biological and physiological phenomena from a wide range of vantage points and to analyze them with state-of-the-art quantitative methods, said Professor Irving Bigio (BME), director of the program.

“Through a combination of coursework and four lab rotations, the QBP program emphasizes knowledge and experience at multiple scale lengths of biology and physiology, from molecular to cellular to tissue to organ to whole body, and involves a substantial amount of quantitative measurement,” he noted. “As the program moves forward, students will also gain increased exposure to ethical research practices and issues involved in the translation of research into clinical applications.”

In addition to courses and lab research, QBP students participate in a journal club in which they critique recently published peer-reviewed articles, an annual symposium where they present their own research, and monthly dinners and other social events. Although they are supported after their NIH-funded year by faculty advisors’ research grants, they remain involved in program activities throughout their time as BME PhD students.

Carrying single or multiple appointments in biomedical engineering, electrical and computer engineering, mechanical engineering, physics and medicine, about two dozen QBP faculty members embody the spirit of the program and host QBP students for lab rotations. They engage in quantitative research that covers more than one length scale, and in many cases collaborate with medical researchers and clinicians. QBP students will conduct their doctoral research in one of these labs.

The program is well suited to the BME Department’s emphasis on quantitative science, said Bigio, noting that nearly all BME graduate courses incorporate a significant amount of mathematics and physical science.

“We’re one of the most quantitative BME departments in the country,” Bigio maintained.

Bringing Engineering Home

May 2nd, 2012 in BME News

Technology Innovation Scholars Inspire K-12 Students across the Nation

By Mark Dwortzan

During her winter break, Technology Innovation Scholar Evelyn Orozco (BME'12) visited 200 sixth and eighth graders at the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering middle school near Hartford. According to the organizer of the visit, her former physics high school teacher Jake Mendelssohn, Orozco exuded confidence and excitement in her fast-paced PowerPoint presentation, and served as an inspirational, hardworking role model to students just beginning to consider their own potential career paths and high school plans.

During her winter break, Technology Innovation Scholar Evelyn Orozco (BME'12) visited 200 sixth and eighth graders at the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering middle school near Hartford. According to the organizer of the visit, her former physics high school teacher Jake Mendelssohn, Orozco exuded confidence and excitement in her fast-paced PowerPoint presentation, and served as an inspirational, hardworking role model to students just beginning to consider their own potential career paths and high school plans.

In her presentation to the Utica Center for Math, Science and Technology, a magnet public high school in Sterling Heights, Michigan, Nicole Black (BME’14) highlighted the prominent roles that engineers have in society, from medicine to energy to transportation, drawing on examples from her courses and research at Boston University.

“Most of the students were considering careers in math and science, but coming from the metropolitan Detroit area, many did not know that engineering exists outside of the auto industry,” said Black. “At the beginning of the presentation, only a few kids raised their hands when I asked who was interested in pursuing a career in engineering, but when I asked this question at the end, over half raised their hands.”

Black is one of 30 Technology Innovation Scholars, a select group of high-performing College of Engineering sophomores, juniors and seniors charged to share their passion for innovation and engineering with elementary, middle and high school students in Greater Boston and in their hometowns. Since the program’s founding in January 2011, Technology Innovation Scholars—collectively known as the College’s “Inspiration Ambassadors”—have introduced more than 2,000 K-12 students across the country to the excitement and societal impact of engineering, guiding interactive presentations and design challenges and serving as mentors to Boston-area FIRST robotics teams.

On April 13, several Technology Innovation Scholars visited Pioneer Charter School of Science (PCSS) in Everett, Mass., transforming the middle and high school's traditional "Mad Science Day" into "Mad Engineering Day." The Scholars gave presentations on the societal impact of engineering, answered questions about the field and led demonstrations to illustrate how engineers solve critical problems in clean energy, global health and nanomedicine. On an evaluation form handed out at the end of the day, one of the 340 PCSS students in attendance observed, "Engineering is exciting because it is used to help change the world for the better."

On April 13, several Technology Innovation Scholars visited Pioneer Charter School of Science (PCSS) in Everett, Mass., transforming the middle and high school's traditional "Mad Science Day" into "Mad Engineering Day." The Scholars gave presentations on the societal impact of engineering, answered questions about the field and led demonstrations to illustrate how engineers solve critical problems in clean energy, global health and nanomedicine. On an evaluation form handed out at the end of the day, one of the 340 PCSS students in attendance observed, "Engineering is exciting because it is used to help change the world for the better."

Hometown Visits

The program’s first visits to hometown schools took place during this year’s winter and spring breaks, when 17 Technology Innovation Scholars met with K-12 students in California, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Texas and Pennsylvania. Incorporating information about their own engineering education and aspirations, they delivered presentations showcasing engineering’s substantial contribution to the quality of life and exciting career opportunities in the field.

Cassidy Blundell (BME’12) and Oliver Kempf (Aero’12) returned to Red Hook High School in upstate New York to share their journeys to and through the College of Engineering and field questions from a group of 60 ninth and 12th graders. Several students asked about how to overcome self-doubt and survive and thrive in a highly competitive, rigorous undergraduate engineering program. The two Technology Innovation Scholars emphasized how a love for problem-solving and a willingness to work hard and tolerate occasional failure had propelled their class through four rewarding years.

“Their theme of perseverance and being passionate for what you love to do was most evident,” said Nick Ascienzo, Blundell’s and Kempf’s high school math teacher, who hosted the visit. “I was struck by their poise, knowledge base and honesty in promoting the field of engineering and themselves as exemplary role models.”

While visiting her former public high school in South Portland, Maine, Dorothea Crowley (BME’12) gave a presentation to more than 80 students in five different classrooms on what it means to be an engineer, covering educational and research opportunities and a variety of engineering’s Grand Challenges.

“I think the students were amazed at all the cool stuff that is going on and my proximity to it as an engineering student,” she said. “I also think the fact that I was once a student in exactly each of their places encouraged them to believe that becoming an engineer was not beyond their reach.”

“These presentations not only illustrate how pervasive technology is in K-12 students’ lives and how dependent they are on it, but also provide a roadmap of how they can become part of the next generation of engineers,” said Gretchen Fougere, the College of Engineering’s assistant dean for Outreach and Diversity. “To have someone who attended their same school and went on to thrive in college return and show what’s possible for them in engineering sends a powerful message.”

Innovations in a Box

The current crop of Technology Innovation Scholars has also developed, tested and facilitated several new “Innovations in a Box” design challenges that demonstrate emerging technologies and highlight College of Engineering research in global health, nanotechnology, robotics, Smart Lighting, synthetic biology and clean energy—and its potential impact on how we live. Working in teams, they created hands-on activities and a story to place those activities in a broader, societal context and to reinforce science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) concepts.

For example, Black helped produce an Innovation in a Box involving the design of a prosthetic limb. K-12 students will receive materials such as yardsticks, tape, cups, paper, string and scissors to construct a functioning arm or leg.

“This is one example of a biomedical application of engineering which most middle and high school students are not exposed to in the typical classroom,” Black observed. “I believe that the students really enjoy learning about engineering in a hands-on way because it allows them to experience firsthand the thrill of engineering and seeing their designs in action.”

Technology Innovation Scholars facilitated another Innovation in the Box on Smart Lighting to Cambridge Rindge & Latin School, where high school students worked in teams to explore circuits with incandescent and LED bulbs and measure their power and brightness. The students evaluated the bulbs’ performance in terms of energy efficiency, environmental impact and quality of light.

“The Technology Innovation Scholars not only introduced LED technology to the students but also engaged them in a conversation about what it means to be a Societal Engineer and balance the effect of technology choices on energy, the economy and environment,” Fougere stressed.

Conveying the Excitement and Impact of Engineering

Another role for the Scholars is to mentor FIRST® robotics teams which compete annually in the Boston regional competition at BU’s Agganis Arena. This year 17 Scholars met weekly with eight teams in Quincy, Dorchester, Boston, Brighton, Roxbury and Cambridge, and three of the teams won awards at the competition. BU Academy was a finalist and won the Chairman’s Award, Brighton High School won the Judge’s Award for the second straight year and both teams were invited to the World Championship. A rookie team from Boston College High School won the Xerox Creativity Award and finished fourth in a field of 54 international teams.

“One relatable role-model, engaging presentation, design challenge and mentoring relationship at a time, Technology Innovation Scholars show younger students that engineering is cool and enhances all our lives, from developing new technologies to give access to clean water to discovering new ways to diagnose and treat disease across the world,” said Fougere. “Becoming an engineer opens a world of opportunities to transform your own life and change the world at the same time.”

Supported by the Kern Family Foundation and alumni contributions to the ENG Annual Fund, Technology Innovation Scholars receive a $1,200 stipend and ongoing training sessions.

Collins Elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences

April 20th, 2012 in BME News

By Mark Dwortzan

Professor James J. Collins (BME, MSE, SE)

Professor James J. Collins (BME, MSE, SE)

Professor James J. Collins (BME, MSE, SE) has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, an honor that places him among the world’s most accomplished leaders in academia, business, public affairs, the humanities and the arts. Collins was recognized for his contributions to engineering sciences and technologies, and has been invited to attend an induction ceremony on October 6 at the Academy’s Cambridge headquarters.

One of the nation’s most prestigious honor societies, the Academy has elected leading “thinkers and doers” from each generation since its founding in 1780, including George Washington and Benjamin Franklin in the 18th century, Daniel Webster and Ralph Waldo Emerson in the 19th and Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill in the 20th. The current membership includes more than 250 Nobel laureates and more than 60 Pulitzer Prize winners.

“I was surprised by the news, but thrilled to be elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences,” said Collins. “It is a great honor to become affiliated with a prestigious organization created by the founding fathers.”

A pioneer in both synthetic and systems biology, Collins is developing innovative ways to design and reprogram gene networks within bacteria and other organisms to perform desired tasks that could bring about cheaper drugs, more effective treatments of antibiotic-resistant infections, and clean energy solutions. Also a trailblazer in efforts to improve function of physiological and biological systems, he has spearheaded several new medical devices such as vibrating insoles to improve balance in elderly people and a device to treat stroke-induced brain failure.

In addition to serving BU as William F. Warren Distinguished Professor, University Professor, and co-director of the Center for BioDynamics, Collins is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and founding core faculty member at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. His many honors include membership in the National Academy of Engineering, a MacArthur “Genius Award,”  a World Technology Award for Biotechnology, a National Institutes of Health Director’s Pioneer Award, the Lagrange-CRT Foundation Prize, the Metcalf Cup and Prize (BU’s highest teaching honor) and being named on the Scientific American list of top 50 outstanding leaders in science and technology. Collins serves on the scientific advisory board of several biotechnology companies.

As a member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences, he will be invited to contribute to AAAS publications and studies of science and technology policy, energy and global security, social policy and American institutions, the humanities and culture, and education.

“Election to the Academy is both an honor for extraordinary accomplishment and a call to serve,” said Academy President Leslie C. Berlowitz. “We look forward to drawing on the knowledge and expertise of these distinguished men and women to advance solutions to the pressing policy challenges of the day.”