Tag Archive | "college of engineering"


Organs on Chips: Researcher Creates Human Organs that Mimic Real Ones

By Bárbara Gutiérrez
UM News

Agarwal 2

Using traditional engineering materials, stem cells harvested from rodents and humans, and 3-D printing, Ashutosh Agarwal is creating artificial human organs that mimic the real things, providing researchers with a new way to study organ function and underlying disease pathways.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (November 24, 2015) – Imagine a heart beating outside of the human body. Imagine that the organ acts just like the real thing but can be handled and studied like any other object. What possibilities would that create for physicians, scientists, pharmaceutical researchers, and other scholars?

Ashutosh Agarwal, assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Miami, is ready to answer those questions. He is creating “Human Organs on Chips.”

In a revolutionary new approach, he combines traditional engineering structures such as metal or plastic with stem cells from rodents and humans to create a heart, pancreas, and lungs that mimic the real organ—including normal functioning and diseased organs. The chips, about the size of a USB stick or credit card, are created through 3-D printing and 3-D milling with intricate, precise measurements.

UM News spoke to Agarwal about his research. Here are some of his observations:

What excites you about this research?

Recreating human organ-level complexity in a dish, in both health and in disease, opens up several important applications. We can now test drug molecules before running clinical trials, dive deep into disease mechanisms, and create better stem cells for therapy.

What is the most important aspect of this approach?

Nobel Prize-winning American physicist and visionary Richard Feynman famously said: “What I cannot create, I do not understand.” By building models of human disease on a dish, we will enhance the understanding of the underlying disease pathways. Current projects include type 1 diabetes, stage IV lung cancer, cardiac diseases, and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

What kind of response has there been to your research in the past?

The significance of this research endeavor has been well recognized by federal funding agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, and regulatory agencies such as the FDA, and received recent interest from pharmaceutical companies. The lab has received major grant funding from the NIH. I have served on “Placenta on a Chip” workshop organized by Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, “Wait What” conference organized by DARPA, as well as given a lecture at the “Futures of Cardiovascular Medicine” symposium by the American College of Cardiology (a primarily clinical conference).

Describe the process from being an idea to practicality.

We follow the engineering iterative process of Design –> Build –> Test.

Once we get interested in a disease model (typically through a clinical collaboration/announcement of a new funding initiative), we start with a physiology textbook. We study the template of how the body builds that organ and use that as a design template for our efforts in the lab.

In addition to mimicking the organ level structure, our devices allow evaluation of organ level function. We then populate these devices with cellular material sourced from human patients or stem cells. Based on the behavior of engineered tissues, we modify and optimize our devices. The last crucial step is validation by comparing our lab discoveries with clinical outputs.

Why is research in this area important (or relevant) for the average person?

Our tools will enable cheaper and faster drug development, discovery of therapies for some of the most intractable human diseases (such as type 1 diabetes, heart failure, lung cancer, and pulmonary fibrosis), and help make stem cell therapy a reality. Right now drug testing is first done on animals before it is approved for use on humans. That process is not always successful, and it is very expensive. We think we can make animal testing irrelevant.

What happens next?

The tools we are building in the lab need validation from two sources: clinicians, who are trying to understand and cure diseases, and pharmaceutical companies, who are developing new drugs. Validation from these two final ‘customers’ is the next step.

What’s the coolest thing about this development or something unexpected about it?

The interdisciplinary nature of the work. Currently, I am managing a group of folks with very different backgrounds and expertise. My postdoc has a Ph.D. in space propulsion, one of my technicians has a medical degree, and the other is a stem cell expert.

My master’s student is a chemical engineer with expertise in fluid transport physics. The three Ph.D. students are working on creating a Heart on a Chip, Diabetes on a Chip, and Pulmonary Fibrosis on a Chip. It’s a rich collaborative environment, and we learn from each other all the time!

The research is supported by the following: UM College of Engineering, Dr. John T Macdonald Foundation Biomedical Nanotechnology Institute at UM (BioNIUM); National Institutes of Health (Diabetes on a Chip); BioNIUM Research Award (Lung Cancer on a Chip), and UM-FIU Nanotechnology Award (Heart on a Chip).

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UCLA’s Ali H. Sayed Delivers Eliahu I. and Joyce Jury Seminar on ‘Learning and Inference over Networks’ on December 4

Ali H. Sayed, distinguished professor and former chairman of the Department of Electrical Engineering at the University of California at Los Angeles, will deliver the 2015 Eliahu I. and Joyce Jury Seminar on Learning and Inference over Networks” at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, December 4 in the McArthur Engineering Annex, room 202.

Sayed has received numerous honors and awards over his career, including the Papoulis Award of the European Association for Signal Processing, the Meritorious Service Award, the Technical Achievement Award, the Distinguished Lecturer Award of the IEEE Signal Processing Society, the Terman Award of the ASEE, the Kuwait Prize, IEEE Donald G. Fink Prize, and several Best Paper Awards from the IEEE. He has served as editor in chief of the IEEE Transactions on Signal Processing and has been elected to serve as president-elect (2016-17) and president (2018-19) of the IEEE Signal Processing Society.

He is also a fellow of IEEE and the AAAS. For more information, contact Kamal Premaratne at kamal@miami.edu or 305-284-4051.

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Global Citizen Natasha Koermer Receives Statewide Service Awards

UM News

Surrounding Natasha Koermer, third from left, are the Butler Center's Lindsey Woods, Samantha BonenClark, and  Andrew Wiemer.

Celebrating Natasha Koermer, third from left, at the gala are the Butler Center’s Lindsey Woods, Samantha BonenClark, and
Andrew Wiemer.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (November 18, 2015)—Senior Natasha Koermer, a biomedical engineering major who has created sustainable solutions to global engineering and health issues, received the Student Excellence in Service Award and was honored as a Newman Civic Fellow at Florida Campus Compact’s annual gala this month.

Both awards were presented during Florida Campus Compact’s annual conference, held at Lynn University in Boca Raton, where Koermer was invited to speak on a student panel that highlighted civic engagement. It is a subject with which the triathlete, recent inductee into Iron Arrow, and self-described global citizen is well-versed.

Also minoring in Spanish and public health, Koermer has initiated a number of community projects, including a local urban sustainable gardening initiative, a STEM outreach program for high school students, the on-campus Take Back the Tap campaign, and a 5K Run/Walk for Water to raise funds for Engineers Without Borders’ Ecuador Project.

As past president of the University’s student chapter of Engineers Without Borders USA, she helped implement a $30,000 sewage system in Las Mercedes, Ecuador. She also assisted research projects in the School of Nursing and Health Studies on Intimate Partner Violence and adolescent health in Nicaragua. And this past summer, she worked in Limpopo, South Africa, on a performance and acceptance evaluation of a novel water treatment technology.

“As a triathlete and global citizen, I am really motivated by pursuit of ‘better,’’’ Koermer said. “I know that I can always work harder, train harder, and run faster. That same dedication to improvement applies to my perspective on international development and health. Health outcomes have increased significantly around the world in the past decades, but there are still communities with basic unmet needs that students with skills and passion can help solve.”

UM’s Butler Center for Volunteer Service and Leadership Development, along with the Office of Civic and Community Engagement, nominated Koermer for both awards, with the support of Patricia A. Whitely, vice president for student affairs, and former UM President Donna Shalala, who presented Koermer with Newman Civic Fellows Award earlier this year. The award recognizes the next generation of public problem solvers and civic leaders.

“She is an incredibly bright, civically engaged student and will no doubt continue to bridge the gap between cutting-edge research and its practical application in solving real-world issues,” Robin Bachin, assistant provost for civic and community engagement, said of Koermer.

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UM Opens the Fate Bridge Across Lake Osceola

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UM Opens the Fate Bridge Across Lake Osceola

210-foot-long pedestrian overpass will increase campus mobility, providing direct access to the Student Center Complex

By Robert C. Jones Jr.
UM News

From left, UM President Julio Frenk, UM senior Hannah Weese and her mom, Elizabeth Grass Weese, and Sergio M. Gonzalez, senior vice president for University Advancement and External Affairs, dedicate UM's new Fate Bridge in classic style—throwing up the U after a ceremonial first crossing of the 210-foot-long pedestrian overpass.

From left, UM President Julio Frenk, Hannah Weese and her mom, Elizabeth Grass Weese, and Sergio M. Gonzalez, senior vice president for University Advancement and External Affairs, dedicate UM’s new Fate Bridge in classic style—throwing up the U after a ceremonial first crossing of the 210-foot-long pedestrian overpass.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (October 28, 2015) – Over the past three years, Elizabeth Grass Weese has received her fair share of text messages from her daughter, Hannah. But none quite like the one that flashed across her smartphone screen eight months ago.

“Hey, mom. Want to build a bridge?” it read.

Weese was puzzled. So rather than respond via text, she phoned her daughter, a student at the University of Miami, to find out just what she meant. UM, Weese learned, wanted to build a pedestrian bridge across its iconic Lake Osceola, and Hannah wanted to know if Weese would fund the project. She agreed, and now the 210-foot-long, 13-foot-wide Fate Bridge spans the eastern portion of Lake Osceola. Read the full story

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Biomedical Engineer Receives $2.26M New Innovator Award


Biomedical Engineer Receives $2.26M New Innovator Award

By Marie Guma-Diaz
UM News

University of Miami Department of Biomedical Engineering 2015 Graduation Reception

Abhishek Prasad

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (October 22, 2015) — Abhishek Prasad, assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, is a recipient of the 2015 New Innovator Award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for his proposal involving spinal cord neural interface for neuroprosthetics. The award, providing $2.257 million over 5 years, will fund the study of the spinal cord motor circuits involved in limb movements and their viability for prosthetic control.

“The award will help us understand the information processing in the spinal cord and how this information can be exploited to provide more effective control of a neuroprostheses,” Prasad said. “The goal is to restore upper limb function in spinal cord injury (SCI) individuals and create a spinal cord-based test bed for evaluating new neural devices.”

The study provides an opportunity to deliver a unique neural interface—a communication channel between the nervous system and an external device—that can lead to the development of an assistive system for people with motor paralysis and promote development of a new neuroprosthetic design. The long-term goal of Prasad’s lab is to build brain and spinal cord machine interfaces to restore communication and control in paralyzed individuals.

The NIH New Innovator Award supports exceptionally creative new investigators who propose highly innovative projects that have the potential for unusually high impact. The award is part of the NIH Common Fund High-Risk, High-Reward Research program.

“This program has consistently produced research that revolutionized scientific fields by giving investigators the freedom to take risks and explore potentially groundbreaking concepts,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins. “We look forward to the remarkable advances in biomedical research the 2015 awardees will make.”

College of Engineering Dean Jean-Pierre Bardet concurs that Prasad’s research is in an area of extreme importance within the biomedical engineering field (namely, neural engineering) and one of the robust research areas within the College.

“Prasad’s grant recognizes both this project’s critical importance and the extraordinary progress in his research career,” Bardet said.

“This is well-deserved recognition of the exceptional work being done by Prasad,” said John L. Bixby, professor of pharmacology and neurological surgery at the Miller School of Medicine and vice provost for research at UM.

Prasad envisions the development of future hybrid therapies that combine a spinal cord neural interface with brain machine interfaces, functional electrical stimulation, rehabilitation, cell-based, and tissue-engineered approaches that can lead to improvements in motor performance and greater independence in individuals with spinal cord injury.

In addition to the current award, Prasad also received a grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to build intelligent software for brain machine interfaces in 2013, the UM Provost Research Award in 2014, and the Department of Defense Discovery Award in 2015.


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