Category: BME News
By Mark Dwortzan
Recognizing senior and junior faculty for major contributions to their fields and to society at large, the College of Engineering has bestowed its annual Distinguished Scholar Award on ProfessorChristos Cassandras (ECE, SE), and its annual Early Career Excellence Award on Assistant Professor Xue Han (BME).
The Distinguished Scholar Award honors senior faculty members who have helped move their field and society forward through outstanding, high-impact research, and provides the recipient with a public forum to discuss his or her work before the Boston University academic community. The Early Career Research Excellence Award celebrates the significant, recent, high-impact research achievements of exemplary tenure-track faculty who are within 10 years of receiving their PhD.
In conjunction with his award, Cassandras will deliver a public lecture, “Complexity Made Simple (at a Small Price),” on March 19 at 4 p.m. in the Photonics Center Auditorium (room 206). Cassandras plans to highlight methods he’s developed to solve difficult problems by exploiting their specific structure, asking the “right” questions and challenging some conventional engineering approaches—and show how these methods have resulted in energy savings, enhanced security and other benefits.
Distinguished Scholar Award
The Distinguished Scholar Award recognizes Cassandras as “one of the pioneers of an emerging field, discrete event dynamical systems, that is used extensively in the modeling, analysis and design of dynamical systems in diverse applications such as manufacturing systems, communications, transportation networks and cyber-physical systems,” said Electrical and Computer Engineering Chair and Professor David Castañón.
“I am honored to be selected as the 2014 College of Engineering Distinguished Lecturer,” said Cassandras, who also specializes in hybrid systems, stochastic optimization and computer simulation. “I have always enjoyed research which involves new, relatively unexplored areas and unusual ways to tackle ‘real world’ problems, from contributing to the establishment of the field of discrete event dynamic systems to envisioning new ways to design and manage complex systems such as ‘smart cities.’”
A member of the BU faculty since 1996, head of the College’s Division of Systems Engineering and cofounder of BU’s Center for Information and Systems Engineering (CISE), Cassandras has published five books and more than 300 refereed papers. He was editor-in-chief of the IEEE Transactions on Automatic Control from 1998 through 2009, and the 2012 president of the IEEE Control Systems Society (CSS). He has chaired several technical conferences and served as plenary speaker at various international conferences, including the American Control Conference in 2001 and the IEEE Conference on Decision and Control in 2002, and Distinguished Lecturer for the CSS.
Cassandras’s numerous awards include a 2012 Kern Fellowship, a 2011 prize for the IBM/IEEE Smarter Planet Challenge competition, the 2011 IEEE Control Systems Technology Award, the Distinguished Member Award of the IEEE Control Systems Society (2006), the 1999 Harold Chestnut Prize (International Federation of Automatic Control (IFAC) Best Control Engineering Textbook) for Discrete Event Systems: Modeling and Performance Analysis, and a 1991 Lilly Fellowship. He is also a Fellow of the IEEE and IFAC.
Early Career Research Excellence Award
A member of the BU faculty since 2010, Han develops and applies high-precision genetic, molecular, optical and electrical tools and other nanotechnologies to study neural circuits in the brain. By using these novel neurotechnologies to control and monitor a selected population of brain cells, she and her research team seek to identify connections between neural circuit dynamics and behavioral pathologies. Establishing such connections could improve our understanding of neurological and psychiatric diseases, and lead to new treatments.
In recognition of her innovative research on developing novel neurotechnologies using light sensitive nanoparticles to sense neurons’ cellular environment and to deliver drugs directly to the brain, Han was named by President Obama in January as one of 102 recipients of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the US government on science and engineering researchers in the early stages of their careers. Han has also received a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director’s New Innovator Award and recognition as a Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences, Sloan Research Fellow and Peter Paul Fellow.
“We are delighted that the College of Engineering has chosen to celebrate Xue’s remarkable achievements with this award, and I can think of no one more deserving,” said Professor Sol Eisenberg, who heads the BME Department.
The Grinstaff Group taps several disciplines to solve medical problems
By Leslie Friday, BU Today. Photos by Cydney Scott
Mark Grinstaff flips quickly through his lecture slides, some showing honeycomb-like molecular structures, others equations and tables describing the properties of various compounds. Welcome to biomaterials class, a two-hour-long sally into the scholarly mysteries of chemistry and biomedical engineering, but one that is brought back to earth in purposeful discussions about the real-world applications of the science displayed on the screen.
Grinstaff, with a long graying ponytail and wire-framed glasses, moves through his material quickly, yet without hurry. He’s relaxed. He’s teaching, which is one of the two things he does best, up there with finding real-world solutions to seemingly insoluble medical problems.
Grinstaff tells his class about a current medical device, a polymer film that is placed over interior incisions and wounds to prevent growth of fibrous tissue that hampers healing. The only problem, he says, is that the filmy biodegradable barriers move around and don’t cover wounds evenly.
“If you could figure out how to prevent all adhesions after surgery, it would be great,” says Grinstaff, a College of Arts & Sciences professor of chemistry, a College of Engineering professor of biomedical engineering, and a member of the ENG Division of Materials Science and Engineering. “I’d love to figure out how to do it.”
The comment is equal parts self-deprecation and inspiration. Above all else, Grinstaff is a puzzle-solver. The professor, who also has an appointment in the School of Medicine pharmacology and experimental therapeutics program, likes nothing better than a difficult medical challenge.
For 11 years, his Grinstaff Group, a lab with more than 20 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, has been combining members’ expertise in chemistry, pharmacology, and biomedical and mechanical engineering to tackle complicated medical challenges. Three of the group’s projects have moved from basic scientific exploration to biomedical devices or materials that students—with Grinstaff’s guidance—have commercialized. At least four privately held biotech companies have spun off from research started under his watch: HyperBranch Medical Technology, which develops biodegradable surgical sealants for wound closure; Affinergy, which makes coatings that facilitate cell growth on metal surfaces; Flex Biomedical, whose lubricants are aimed at treating orthopedic diseases; and AcuityBio, which makes flexible films to treat early-stage lung cancer.
HyperBranch Medical Technology’s sealants are already being used by surgeons worldwide; the other three companies’ products are still being tested in large animal studies—the research step before clinical trials and potential US Food and Drug Administration approval.
Reflecting Grinstaff’s multiple interests and range of expertise, his group never focuses on one problem at a time. Among the more advanced projects, two are developing novel methods to deliver drugs directly to tumor cells of particularly pernicious cancers. In the early-stage lung cancer group, students have designed a variety of flexible polymer films that can be stapled along lung tissue where a tumor has been removed. A chemotherapy drug, like paclitaxel, embedded within the film releases slowly over time to attack new generations of remaining cancer cells. Other students are creating nanoparticles that are absorbed by late-stage mesothelioma tumor cells, then expand, and like microscopic Trojan horses, release chemotherapy. A third group hopes to find better ways to diagnose and treat damaged cartilage tissue.
Students are also developing bandages that gently and painlessly wash off, with an eye toward reducing the misery of wound care for second-degree burns. Others are building a diagnostic tool that would size single strands of DNA—an essential step in identifying pathogens that cause menacing bacterial diseases, such as staphylcoccal infection and meningitis, with Amit Meller, an ENG associate professor of biomedical engineering. And another group is building a lithium ion battery that can be used for oil and gas exploration.
Grinstaff’s problem has never been coming up with an idea; it’s narrowing the list of ideas to those that are most promising. “If I find the idea sticks around for several months, I decide it must be a good idea,” he says. “And if we could investigate a topic and understand something new, and at the same time address an unmet clinical need, I feel we’re getting a two-for-one. We get to do the basic research, and hopefully what we do will contribute to society in a positive way.”
And, he says, “if you can go to the literature and find something someone’s done that’s like this, I don’t want to do it. I’d much rather take a bigger risk and try to answer a more challenging or more risky question.”
Fortitude and a little gumption
Grinstaff recruits students carefully, looking for intelligence and a few other things. His students must be motivated, independent, and share his passion for tackling hard problems—which means they need the stamina for a seven-day workweek.
“Not every day is a good day in the lab,” Grinstaff says. “You need to be able to get up every morning, have a smile on your face, come to lab, have it be a difficult day, and do the same thing the next day.” Some of his students have toiled for three years without progress. “One must have some fortitude and a little gumption to be able to pull that off.”
And that gets to the heart of his mentoring mantra: he doesn’t train technicians—he trains scientists and engineers. “It’s my job to provide an environment for them to work in, stimulate them, and get them excited,” he says, “but also to give them some freedom to learn, develop, and become very good researchers and leaders. I feel it’s my role to pose the questions and then help them with solutions.”
“He never limits us; he always pushes us to explore,” says chemistry graduate student Marlena Konieczynska (GRS’16). She appreciates that when Grinstaff returns from a conference, he shares what he’s learned. “He treats everyone with respect, and he’s always polite.”
When students enter his group, Grinstaff tries to match them with a project suiting their particular interests, keeping in mind the proper balance of expertise among students. More senior members act as mentors for newbies as projects pass from one generation to the next. By graduation, they must know how to design and complete an experiment, publish their work, present it at conferences, and break it down in everyday language.
“They need to be able to communicate to me as well as to my mom, who doesn’t know any science or engineering,” Grinstaff says.
On a Friday afternoon, he sits at one end of his desk, an orderly space where a tennis ball perches next to a molecular model kit. Posters of Picasso’s Guernica and the Côte d’Azur adorn the walls. A calendar by the window is open to two months from now.
Next to him sits Stacy Chin (GRS’17), a second-year chemistry graduate student, who is here for her monthly mentoring session. She’s been working on polysaccharides that could serve as delivery vehicles for substances like nucleic acids. The idea is that cancerous cells could use these building blocks to reprogram rogue genes, rendering them harmless.
A no-brainer for engineers
A Grinstaff Group project will often start on the chemistry end. Once a new polymer or compound has been perfected, it’s passed along to engineering students to design novel applications. As one chemistry graduate student puts it, “The goal for chemists is to make something reliable, reproducible, and a no-brainer for engineers.”
“So, what’s going on?” Grinstaff asks casually as he leans over Chin’s research summary.
Chin quickly reviews various stages of her recent experiments, but when she pivots to her future plans, Grinstaff interrupts. He wants more detail about everything she’s said. They turn to her National Science Foundation fellowship application, which he reads silently while Chin fidgets in her chair. Then he suggests a few ways to beef up her research narrative to pique reviewers’ interest.
“The good news is it’s only got to be five sentences,” he says. “But it’s got to be a good five sentences.”
Aaron Colby (ENG’09,’14) passes by Grinstaff’s office and delivers an invitation from collaborators who have asked them to talk about the mesothelioma project, mentioning that there’ll be plenty of New Zealand wine that will need tending.
“That’s a subtle bribe,” Grinstaff says. “‘Mark, please come drink wine with us.’” Without missing a beat, he spins around his chair to pull up a desktop calendar full of colored blocks indicating other commitments. He finds a space and adds the talk to the lineup.
Julia Wang (ENG’17), a first-year graduate student in biomedical engineering working on the early-stage lung cancer project, says no one falls through the cracks in the Grinstaff Group: “There are 20 people in our lab, and Mark manages to be on top of all their projects.”
Grinstaff lives by an open-door policy, and his students appreciate that access. They drop by his office to troubleshoot problems they’ve encountered in the lab, and he joins them for lunch in the students’ shared office space. They meet with him monthly for mentoring sessions. And they all gather on Friday mornings for coffee- and bagel-fueled research presentations, the students grilling each other as much as or more than their leader does. There’s a whiff of competition among group members, but it always remains friendly.
“We do push ourselves,” Wang says. “We have that mentality, ‘I see you working hard, and so I’m going to work hard too.’”
Outside the lab, the group has gone on ski trips and shared marathon dinners after a long day of conferences. For Halloween, they even dressed up as Mark, jauntily wrapping around their necks copies of his signature orange scarf.
“I tell my students that when they’re here they should work hard, and when they’re not here, they should play hard,” Grinstaff says.
While he has high expectations, his approach is more godparent than Godfather. “He is understanding that we are people that have lives and sometimes unexpected things come up,” Colby says. “Sometimes people need a break if they just had a crazy last three months.”
Colby’s first exposure to Grinstaff’s lab was as an undergraduate working on his senior thesis; now he’s writing his dissertation as one of the most senior members of the group. He remembers spending much of his first year popping into the professor’s office with quick questions. In time he learned how to address the “nitty-gritty” elements of his research, only occasionally consulting his mentor.
“I am so much more comfortable now just designing experiments, planning them, executing them, and interpreting them,” he says. “That whole package, I think, is very much what graduate school is about.”
PART 2 - Drug-packed Nanoparticles KO Mesothelioma: Nanoparticles deliver chemotherapy drugs directly to tumor cells of this lethal form of abdominal cancer. Read More
PART 3 – High-Tech Mesh Delivers Chemo to Patients with Early-Stage Lung Cancer: Drug-loaded mesh that can be stapled along an incision in the lung for later release of its payload to early-stage tumor cells. Read More
PART 4 – A Better Way to Find and Treat Osteoarthritis: New technologies for diagnosing and treating osteoarthritis. Read More
By Mark Dwortzan
Assistant Professor Ahmad (“Mo”) Khalil (BME) was named as one of 20 of the most promising early-career genomics researchers around the world by GenomeWeb, a leading publication in the field. Nominated by prominent biomedical researchers, individuals on GenomeWeb’s eighth annual Young Investigators list were recognized for original work in developing and applying genomic methods—such as DNA sequencing, assembly and analysis—to improving our understanding of everything from cell communication to plant growth to cancer formation.
Khalil, an expert in synthetic biology, was selected based on his outstanding research in advancing genomics methods to analyze the behavior of cells and to re-engineer them to perform useful tasks.
“Mo is one of the young stars in synthetic biology,” said Professor James J. Collins (BME, MSE, SE), director of the College’s new Center of Synthetic Biology (CoSBi), who recommended Khalil for the honor. “His work represents a significant conceptual and technical advance for the field, providing a new, reliable and expanded toolkit of genetic components with which to program novel behaviors in living cells.”
“I am thrilled to have been selected as a Young Investigator in genomics research, and strongly believe in the power of new approaches, like synthetic biology, in elucidating the design logic of complex cellular systems,” said Khalil, associate director of CoSBi.
Khalil, who became interested as a PhD student at MIT in applying engineering methods to elucidate how cells behave, and in re-engineering biological systems to fashion new materials and devices, now pursues both interests in his lab at Boston University.
Khalil is developing engineering techniques and microfluidic devices to systematically explore how cells respond to a wide range of environmental stimuli. Informed by this newfound knowledge, he is advancingnew synthetic biology methods to assemble genetic components into “circuits” that perform logical operations in living cells, with the long-term goal of empowering cells to solve critical problems in healthcare, energy and the environment.
By Mark Dwortzan
Assistant Professor Xue Han (BME) was named by President Obama as one of 102 recipients of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the US government on science and engineering researchers in the early stages of their careers. Selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service, awardees receive a research grant lasting up to five years and an invitation to attend a White House ceremony with the President.
In concert with the Office of Science and Technology Policy, 13 federal departments and agencies join together annually to nominate the most meritorious scientists and engineers whose early accomplishments show the greatest promise for assuring U.S. preeminence in science and engineering and contributing to the awarding agencies’ missions. One of 23 Department of Health and Human Services-sponsored researchers to receive the prestigious award, Han was recognized for her innovative research on developing novel neurotechnologies using light sensitive nanoparticles to sense neurons’ cellular environment and to deliver drugs directly to the brain.
“The PECASE adds another prestigious award to Dr. Han’s already glowing CV, and is a clear indication that her research continues to be recognized at the highest levels,” said Professor Sol Eisenberg (BME), who heads the BME Department. “Her work holds the promise of significant medical breakthroughs in the treatment of neurological diseases.”
“I am thrilled to have been selected to receive this award, which will accelerate our efforts on neurotechnology development to better understand and treat brain disorders,” said Han, who in recent years has garnered several honors for her research, including a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director’s New Innovator Award and recognition as a Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences, Sloan Research Fellow and Peter Paul Fellow.
Han develops and applies high-precision genetic, molecular, optical and electrical tools and other nanotechnologies to study neural circuits in the brain. By using these novel neurotechnologies to control and monitor a selected population of brain cells, she and her research team seek to identify connections between neural circuit dynamics and behavioral pathologies. Establishing such connections could improve our understanding of neurological and psychiatric diseases, and lead to new treatments.
Han is one of a select group of Boston University faculty members to receive the PECASE award since its inception in 1996. Other recipients include former Associate Professor Hatice Altug (ECE, MSE, 2010), Associate Professor Venkatesh Saligrama (ECE, SE, 2004) and former Assistant Professors Paul Barber (Biology, 2005) and Joan Walker (Geography & Environment, 2007).
Reversible Hydrogel Seals Wounds
By Mark Dwortzan
Researchers at Professor Mark Grinstaff’s (BME, Chemistry, MSE) lab and Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) have developed a highly absorbent hydrogel that not only seals wounds, but can later be dissolved and gently removed. Intended for wounds that must be quickly closed to stem blood loss and prevent infection, but later reopened for more extensive treatment, the biocompatible gel is particularly suitable for injuries sustained in combat or remote areas, and may well end up in the toolkits of first responders and emergency room medical personnel.
Grinstaff and his collaborators reported their first findings in Angewandte Chemie, Europe’s leading chemistry journal.
Reopening a wound can cause damage to injured tissue, particularly when blood-clotting agents or dressings were initially applied. The BU-BIDMC team’s wound closure system is the first that not only stops bleeding for several hours, adheres to the wound site and is easy to apply, but also is easy to remove in a controlled manner before surgery or other procedures.
“Today’s trauma wound closure materials, once applied, must later be cut out,” said Grinstaff. “We’ve introduced a mild process for removing a hydrogel sealant from a wound where there’s no cutting or scraping involved.”
The sealant is administered via double-barreled syringe, with each barrel containing a different compound. Once the two compounds are pushed out of the syringe onto a surface, they combine within seconds to form a honeycomb-like network of cross-linked chemical bonds. The resulting hydrogel absorbs fluid on the surface, has the consistency of gelatin and sticks like an adhesive, remaining intact for several days. Adding a solution of cysteine methyl ester, a derivative of a natural amino acid, to the hydrogel causes the gel’s cross-linked bonds to break apart and the gel to dissolve within 30 minutes.
The idea for a wound-sealing reversible hydrogel emerged about 18 months ago when Grinstaff, who has long nurtured an interest in developing hydrogels and other materials that possess reversible properties, met with BIDMC/Harvard Medical School Assistant Professors of Orthopaedic Surgery Edward K. Rodriguez and Ara Nazarian (also an adjunct assistant professor of biomedical engineering at BU) to explore how they treat wounds and what could be improved.
Since then Grinstaff, postdoctoral fellow Cynthia Ghobril, BME graduate student Kristie Charoen, and the two BIDMC colleagues, with support from the National Institutes of Health, designed and developed the hydrogel, and performed tests on living and extracted tissue to ensure that the material is safe, non-toxic and sufficiently strong. Over the next six months, with funding from the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation, the team plans to evaluate the hydrogel for the treatment of burns.
By Mark Dwortzan
Three College of Engineering alumni and a professor emeritus have committed large gifts to continue to build the strength of the faculty. Presented by longtime friends and leaders of the College, these four gifts are expected to greatly benefit research and teaching programs by supporting the recruitment, retention and development of exceptional faculty.
David E. Hollowell (ENG’69, ‘72, GSM’74) and Professor Emeritus Charles Cantor (BME, MED) have committed planned gifts that will establish professorships in their names. Peter Levine (ENG’83) and Roger Dorf (MS, MFG’70) have made major gifts that will establish a career development professorship fund and a distinguished faculty fellow award, respectively.
“The College’s future will depend on the strength of its faculty and these four very generous individuals are helping to ensure that we will be able to attract and retain excellent faculty for many years to come,” said Dean Kenneth R. Lutchen. “These gifts from people who know the College well represent a strong commitment its future and its ability to impact society.”
David E. Hollowell Professorship of Engineering
David E. Hollowell (ENG’69,’72, GSM’74), an expert in higher education finance, administrative management and executive leadership, has established, through Boston University’s Planned Giving Office, a charitable remainder trust that will eventually create the David E. Hollowell Professorship of Engineering.
“Endowed professorships are a very powerful mechanism for attracting and recognizing the most outstanding teacher-scholars,” said Hollowell. “I hope that this endowment will assist the College in its continuing quest for excellence in teaching and research.”
Hollowell is a member of Boston University’s Board of Overseers; co-chair of the BU Annual Fund with his wife, Kathleen (GRS’71, SED’77); a member of the College of Engineering’s Campaign Steering Committee; past president of the BU Alumni Association; and past president and member of the ENG alumni board from 1971 to 1987.
He served as senior vice president and subsequently as executive vice president and treasurer at the University of Delaware from 1988 to 2008, where he took a leading role in streamlining administrative procedures and oversaw a significant campus renewal and expansion program. Previously, Hollowell worked for BU from 1969 to 1987, overseeing a wide range of university operations in his ultimate role as vice president for administration. His work in expanding the BU and UD campuses earned him honorary membership in the American Institute of Architects. He is a past president of the Society for College and University Planning and served as a director of WSFS Financial Corporation for 13 years.
The recipient of many honors from professional and community organizations recognizing his service, Hollowell earned a bachelor’s degree in Information Engineering, a master’s in Manufacturing Engineering and an MBA, all at BU.
Charles Cantor Professorship of Engineering
Professor Emeritus Charles Cantor (BME, MED), a pioneer in systems and synthetic biology who is a member of the National Academy of Science, once directed the Human Genome Project and was recently named a Charter Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI), has included in his estate plan the Charles Cantor Professorship of Engineering in cell or molecular bio-engineering.
“Endowed professorships are essential if universities are to remain effective in attracting and retaining world class academic talent,” said Cantor, who chaired the Biomedical Engineering Department in the 1990s, “and I am happy to be able to help BU achieve these aims.”
In a career spanning more than five decades, he has co-authored a seminal three-volume textbook on biophysical chemistry and the first genomics textbook; published more than 450 peer reviewed articles; generated 54 US patents; developed several biotech companies; and received many prestigious awards and honors, from membership in the National Academy of Sciences to induction as a Guggenheim Fellow and as an American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering Fellow. Prior to joining the BU faculty in 1992, he held positions at Columbia University and the University of California, Berkeley.
Cantor’s research is focused on identifying biological problems that are resistant to conventional analytical approaches and then developing new methodologies or techniques for solving these problems.
As director of the Center for Advanced Biotechnology at Boston University, Cantor has developed methods for separating large DNA molecules, for studying structural relationships in complex assemblies of proteins and nucleic acids, and for sensitive detection of proteins and nucleic acids in a variety of settings. His current interests include the development of improved methods for noninvasive prenatal diagnostics, cancer diagnostics, early noninvasive detection of other clinical conditions, mass spectrometry of nucleic acids, improvement of methods for detection of specific RNA sequences in living cells and organisms, methods for protection of organisms and materials from oxidative damage, and new uses for nucleic acid analysis including DNA-based array detectors.
Peter J. Levine Career Development Professorship Fund
Peter Levine (ENG’83) has pledged $300,000 to establish the Peter J. Levine Career Development Professorship Fund, which will attract and support promising junior faculty to the College of Engineering.
The fund will support two consecutive faculty members over a six-year period. They will receive support for their first three years as newly recruited members of the Engineering faculty.
“I am proud to support Dean Lutchen in his efforts to attract, recruit and develop top-notch junior faculty who will not only advance their fields but also impacting the world beyond the lab,” said Levine.
A newly appointed member of the Boston University Board of Trustees and ENG Dean’s Leadership Advisory Board, Levine is a general partner at Andreesen Horowitz, a leading Silicon Valley high tech venture capital firm.
Levine has more than 20 years of experience in the software industry, working in engineering, sales, marketing and executive management in startup and corporate environments. He has served in many executive positions at software companies, including Citrix Systems, Inc., Xensource Inc., and Veritas Software Corp. In addition to earning his bachelor’s degree in engineering at BU, Levine attended MIT’s Sloan School of Management. He is a management lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and a former entrepreneurship lecturer at the Sloan School.
Dorf-Ebner Distinguished Faculty Fellow Award
Roger Dorf (MS, MFG’70) has pledged $500,000 to establish the Dorf-Ebner Distinguished Faculty Fellow Award, which will support a mid-career College of Engineering faculty member who has demonstrated exceptional excellence, innovation and impact in both research and teaching, and who is clearly on track to become a senior leader in his or her area field.
Named in memory of Professor Merrill Ebner (MFG), Dorf’s mentor and pioneer of the field of manufacturing engineering, the award will provide each recipient with funding for five years for discretionary initiatives in research and/or education. The first recipient will be named by the end of the 2013-2014 academic year.
“Merrill Ebner was a pioneer in manufacturing engineering education, establishing the College of Engineering as a leader in the US in the late ‘60s,” said Dorf. “ENG has continued to show great foresight and leadership over the years in establishing meaningful and timely programs from the establishment of the Biomedical Engineering Department to the implementation of Societal Engineer initiatives and the Engineering Product Innovation Center. This award is meant to support some of the very talented faculty members who will be key to that continued leadership.”
A member of the College of Engineering Dean’s Leadership Advisory Board, chair of the ENG Campaign Steering Committee, and co-chair of the BU Texas Regional Campaign Committee, Dorf is a recipient of both the ENG and BU Distinguished Alumni Awards. He served for more than 40 years in executive and engineering leadership before retiring from his position as vice president of Cisco Systems in 2009. He previously served as president and CEO of Navini Networks, and in leadership positions at Celite Systems, Nortel Network, Synch Research, AT&T, Cullinet Software and IBM.
Based in Dallas, Texas, Dorf is active in several organizations including the Community Foundation of the Gunnison Valley in Gunnison, Colorado, the US Chamber of Commerce, and Missouri University of Science & Technology.
By Mark Dwortzan
Professor Emeritus Charles Cantor (BME, MED), a pioneer in synthetic biology who once directed theHuman Genome Project and chaired the College’s Biomedical Engineering Department, has been named a Charter Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI). This high professional distinction recognizes academic innovators who have created or facilitated outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on society.
Cantor is among 143 innovators to receive the honor this year, representing 94 universities, government institutions and nonprofit research organizations and more than 5,600 US patents. The new Fellows include nine Nobel Laureates, 69 members of the National Academies, five inductees of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, six recipients of the US National Medal of Technology and Innovation, two recipients of the US National Medal of Science and 26 presidents and senior leadership of research universities and nonprofit research institutes, among other major awards and distinctions.
“I have always considered innovation to be the most exciting part of my career,” said Cantor, who is currently developing biotechnology companies including Sequenom, Inc. and Retrotope. “It is thrilling that an institution has been established to honor inventive scientists and engineers, and I am very pleased to be among the first people to be elected to the NAI.”
Cantor joins Professors James J. Collins (BME, MSE, SE), Mark Grinstaff (BME, Chemistry, MSE) andTheodore Moustakas (ECE, MSE), who were inducted as NAI Fellows in 2012, the inaugural year of the Fellowship.
In a career spanning more than five decades, he has coauthored a seminal three-volume textbook on biophysical chemistry and the first genomics textbook, published more than 450 peer reviewed articles, generated 54 US patents, and received many prestigious awards and honors, from membership in the National Academy of Sciences to induction as a Guggenheim Fellow and American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering Fellow. Prior to joining the BU faculty in 1992, he held positions at Columbia University and the University of California, Berkeley.
Cantor’s research is focused on identifying biological problems that are resistant to conventional analytical approaches and then developing new methodologies or techniques for solving these problems.
As director of the Center for Advanced Biotechnology at Boston University, Cantor has developed methods for separating large DNA molecules, for studying structural relationships in complex assemblies of proteins and nucleic acids, and for sensitive detection of proteins and nucleic acids in a variety of settings. His current interests include the development of improved methods for noninvasive prenatal diagnostics, cancer diagnostics, early noninvasive detection of other clinical conditions (Sequenom), mass spectrometry of nucleic acids (Sequenom), improvement of methods for detection of specific RNA sequences in living cells and organisms, methods for protection of organisms and materials from oxidative damage (Retrotope), and new uses for nucleic acid analysis including DNA-based array detectors.
Cantor will be inducted by Deputy US Commissioner for Patents Andy Faile during the third Annual Conference of the National Academy of Inventors on Mar. 7, 2014, in Alexandria, Virginia, at the headquarters of the US Patent and Trademark Office, where they will receive a special trophy and a rosette pin. The NAI Fellows will also be recognized in a full page advertisement in The Chronicle of Higher Education and in a future issue of Technology and Innovation – Proceedings of the National Academy of Inventors.
The NAI Fellows Selection Committee is comprised of 13 members including NAI Charter Fellows, recipients of US National Medals, National Inventors Hall of Fame inductees, members of the National Academies and senior officials from the US Patent and Trademark Office, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Association of University Technology Managers, and the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
The mission of the NAI is to honor academic invention; recognize and encourage inventors; enhance the visibility of university and non-profit research institute technology and innovation; encourage the disclosure of intellectual property; educate and mentor innovative students; and translate the inventions of its members to benefit society.
New ENG Prof Expert on Tissue Engineering
By Amy Laskowski, BU Today
It’s estimated that 18 Americans die every day waiting for an organ donation. More than 120,000 are currently on a waiting list. And even if a patient receives that desperately needed kidney or liver, there is still a 10 percent to 20 percent chance that the new organ will fail. So researchers in the areas of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine are actively pursuing ways to use a patient’s own cells to grow an organ, which would eliminate the need for donors and the risk of organ rejection.
Enter Christopher Chen, a new College of Engineering professor of biomedical engineering, who is one of the world’s leading experts on regenerative medicine. Chen studies tissue engineering and mechanobiology, which combines engineering and biology to study how physical forces and changes in cell or tissue mechanics affect development, physiology, and disease.
“Since most diseases involve the loss or damage of one tissue or organ, being able to fix that one thing, for someone who is otherwise healthy, could have a dramatic impact on their quality of life,” says Chen, who came to Boston University from the University of Pennsylvania in August and is still unpacking at his Cummington Street office. “If we can understand the basic mechanisms of how tissues and cells regenerate, it could give us tools to broadly extend people’s lives. Figuring out how to ‘manufacture’ such things is important.”
Chen says he has always been interested in trying to understand why normal cells go awry. As a PhD student at the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, Chen began to wonder about cells’ unfavorable responses, like degeneration, scar formation, and organ rejection. He thought that if he could better understand these responses and why they were occurring, he would be able to more effectively find solutions.
In his new lab at BU, Chen and his team of students are creating artificial environments populated by cells, like miniature vivariums, where they can observe and identify the underlying mechanisms that cause cells to interact with materials and to build tissues. Understanding how cells behave allows researchers to better understand the biology of stem cells, vascularization (the growth of veins in tissue), and cancer, and could ultimately help them to engineer artificial tissues and build hybrid biological-artificial medical devices.
“If we could guide cells to do the types of things we want them to, and if we understand how they make those decisions, then we might be able to artificially turn on and off the switches that make them go down a certain pathway,” Chen says.
“Maybe that’s guiding a stem cell to become a cardiac cell, or preventing a fibroblast to not form a scar.”
Another key aspect of Chen’s research involves using a 3-D “printer” to help create organs using a patient’s own cells. Until recently, a researcher could make a 2-D structure out of various types of tissue, but couldn’t replicate a larger organ’s 3-D dimensions. Why? “When an organ gets beyond a certain size, the cells in the middle can’t get oxygen and so they suffocate and die,” Chen says. “So we are working to use 3-D printers to build blood vessels to feed the cells in the middle, like what happens in our body.”
To build these artificial blood vessel networks, Chen and colleagues at Penn and MIT devised a system using sugar to create a freestanding 3-D network that sits inside a mold. Once the network hardens, the lines of sugar are surrounded with a gel made up of cells from the organ that needs replacing. When the sugar dissolves, it leaves behind a clump of the organ’s cells with a network of hollow channels, which can then be lined with other cells to create blood vessels, allowing the kidney or liver cells to receive nutrients and oxygen in much the same way they would if they were in the body. This past week, Chen’s 3-D printing breakthrough was highlighted in James Woods’ new show, Futurescape, on the Science Channel. (The episode, titled “Living Forever,” is scheduled to air several times this week.) This kind of platform technology, while quick and inexpensive, is years from producing artificial organs on the scale needed for humans.
Chen’s research has already earned him numerous accolades. He is the recipient of a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, an Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award, the Herbert W. Dickerman Award for Outstanding Contribution to Science, and several other honors. He is a fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering and an editor of the Journal of Cell Science. Chen is the founding director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Engineering Cells and Regeneration. He earned a bachelor’s at Harvard, a master’s at MIT, a PhD from the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, and an MD from Harvard Medical School.
“Chris Chen is an extraordinary scientist and will provide senior leadership and mentoring to advance our world-class biomedical engineering department,” says Kenneth R. Lutchen, dean of ENG. “He immediately amplifies and reinforces BU’s leadership position in bioengineering. Moreover, Dr. Chen is highly respected as a person and as an educator. He is one of the most well-liked colleagues in his field.”
Chen says he anticipates that his research involving 3-D printers to create blood vessel networks could be the kind of project to be developed at ENG’s new Engineering Product Innovation Center (EPIC) and that he is eager to share this technique with students. When it opens in January, the 20,000-square-foot teaching and design studio will be equipped with the latest industry technology, such as a computer-aided design studio, demonstration areas, fabrication facilities, materials testing, and 3-D printers.
“I love how students come in with a fresh perspective and are always asking questions,” says Chen. “Sometimes the most basic question can really jolt you into reframing what you’re working on, and open new avenues for research. If you’ve been in your field for a long time, you tend to not notice the things that don’t fit. I think having that fresh look is why the research and educational missions of a university are so synergistic, and of course what keeps us aging professors all young at heart.”
Tomorrow, December 5, Christopher Chen will be one of the speakers at the 17th annual BU Photonics Center Symposium. The event is free and open to the public. Find registration and more information here.
Goldberg, Wong named to coordinate teaching, recruitment
By Susan Seligson, BU Today
It’s a fitting acronym: STEM is the basis for budding careers, for the growing of cutting-edge research, and for increased competence across a range of disciplines. While Boston University has long shown a strong commitment to education in STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—it has recently launched an initiative to improve that commitment by boosting interdisciplinary cooperation, recruiting more students in underrepresented populations, and arming the University with even more of a competitive edge in seeking outside funding.
Jean Morrison, University provost and chief academic officer, recently named two BU faculty members to take STEM to the next level. Bennett Goldberg, a College of Arts & Sciences professor of physics and a College of Engineering professor of electrical and computer engineering, and of biomedical engineering, has been appointed director of BU’s STEM Education Initiatives. Joyce Y. Wong, an ENG professor of biomedical engineering and of materials science and engineering, has been named director of a new University effort to advance women in STEM fields.
Goldberg will be responsible for oversight and coordination of efforts to “increase effectiveness of instruction” in STEM subjects, says Morrison in announcing the appointment. “A world-class scientist, innovator, and teacher, who has devoted his career to impactful interdisciplinary scholarship, Professor Goldberg is exceptionally equipped for this responsibility,” she says. The new post includes four major areas of oversight: leading an effort to “articulate the aspirations” of BU faculty for undergraduate STEM education; working with schools and colleges and the Center for Excellence and Innovation in Teaching to advance the “sharing of best practices”; working to boost recruitment of students, including women and minorities, underrepresented in STEM programs; and directing the development, writing, and submission of grants supporting STEM education at the University.
“STEM education at BU has a fair amount of innovation, but we don’t have a really coordinated effort or strategic plan,” says Goldberg. “If you look at what’s happening in higher education in the United States, there are a lot of pressures, and our model for the future must include high-engagement learning—moving away from the traditional talking head at the front of the class.” In STEM education in particular, the talking head model reaches “a very small fraction of our students,” he says.
STEM education at BU is already embracing this move away from the traditional lecture model, but Goldberg will coordinate the establishment of more interactive learning studios, more peer learning, more small seminars like those used in some engineering courses, and more roundtable teaching. “My job is really to figure out what kind of support is necessary and how we can create a collective vision,” he says. “It’s planning, it’s discussing, it’s developing, and it’s implementing.”
Goldberg, who was named BU’s 2013 United Methodist Scholar-Teacher of the Year, has long held an active interest in improving education in math and the sciences. Director of the Center for Nanoscience and Nanobiotechnology since 2004, he earned a bachelor’s from Harvard University and a master’s and a doctorate from Brown University. Of Goldberg’s work cultivating clean energy sources, developing new drug delivery systems, and diagnostic methods, Morrison says that he “has committed himself to breaking boundaries, working across fields of scientific research in a way that pushes the limits of our capabilities.”
Wong is “uniquely positioned to help BU emerge as a leader in addressing the underrepresentation of women” in STEM fields, according to Morrison. She notes that while BU attracts outstanding female students and faculty in these fields, “there is more work to be done both in recruitment and retention and in our endeavors to support their success.” Wong’s undergraduate and doctoral degrees are from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her research focuses on the development of biological materials that could aid in detecting cancer and cardiovascular disease.
“I look forward to engaging all members of the BU community and to reaching out to the many people on campus who are running excellent programs at all levels, precollege, undergraduate, graduate, postdoctoral, and faculty, to advance STEM in an equitable manner,” says Wong.
Students Develop Nanoscale Structures to Probe Neurons
By Mark Dwortzan
In November a group of five undergraduates became the first Boston University team to participate in BIOMOD, an international student biomolecular design competition focused on the systematic assembly of biological molecules into complex nanoscale machines that can perform useful tasks. Having designed and implemented their project over the summer, they presented it to a panel of judges at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard in November at BIOMOD’s annual Jamboree, and emerged as one of 13 gold winners.
Competitors included many top-tier colleges and universities across the globe, from Columbia University to the Tokyo Institute of Technology, advancing biomolecular devices capable of everything from fighting cancer to detecting the presence of pathogens.
The BU team, Terriergami, sought to design a novel approach to fabricate DNA origami, or nanoscale objects made of folded DNA, to reach brain cells in an efficient manner. To achieve their goal, the students systematically folded DNA into barrel-shaped structures, attaching a peptide to the surface of the barrel to improve brain cell targeting capability.
Terriergami’s nanoscale objects could be developed to sense a neuron’s cellular environment or deliver drugs directly to it, and ultimately enable clinicians to diagnose or treat brain disorders.
“To my knowledge, this is one of the first proof-of-principle demonstrations of delivering DNA origami to neurons,” said Assistant Professor Xue Han(BME), who worked with these students in her lab. “The team did a great job presenting their research and representing the College of Engineering and BU.”
Supervised by Han and BME postdoctoral fellow Richie Kohman, the team includes three BME seniors, Prakash Iyer (also majoring in Neuroscience), Aditya Sengupta and Harvin Vallabhaneni; one junior, Steve Man (Computer Science); and one BME sophomore, Sangeeta Satish. The undergraduates joined the team eager to explore DNA origami and its applications, and came away with new skills and insights.
“Over the summer we used DNA as building blocks and self-assembly methods to create tiny delivery ‘cages’ out of the DNA,” said Vallabhaneni. “These were all concepts I studied in introductory courses. Through BIOMOD, I was expected not only to understand these concepts, but also to apply them to solve problems.”
“I was drawn by the idea that we could use the body’s own materials, its DNA, in order to target and possibly treat diseases,” said Man. “There is a large focus in medicine on ensuring that the body’s own immune system doesn’t reject treatments. Disguising these medical compounds underneath the human body’s own biology is an elegant and practical way of overcoming this obstacle.”
Building on their BIOMOD work, the BME seniors on the team will further explore the use of DNA origami in neurons in Han’s lab as part of their senior design project.
The BU team’s project was funded through the College of Engineering, BME Department and BU’s Peter Paul Fellowship.
For more information, please see video.