Bioengineering Undergraduate Research

All Bioengineering undergraduates have an opportunity to become involved with research activities across campus.  Students are free to work in any lab at Penn including those in the schools of Medicine, Arts and Sciences, Veterinary Medicine, Dental Medicine, the Wharton School of Business and at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, in addition to those in Bioengineering. This flexibility has allowed past students to work on a wide variety of research topics ranging from brain-computer interfaces to stem cells to HIV. 

In addition, part of the senior year curriculum includes a year-long Senior Design research project that ensures all of our students learn to utilize fundamental engineering skills to solve complex medical problems. As a result of these experiences, about 20 percent of the undergraduates that graduate with Bioengineering degrees publish their research findings in peer-reviewed journals.

Research Spotlight:

Cervical spine positioning device for MR imaging
Students: Andrea Barberio, Michael Czubakowski, Elizabeth Green
Advisor: Dr. Winkelstein

In certain cases, traditional static imaging cannot identify the underlying cause of pain in patients suffering from cervical spine pathology. Magnetic resonance (MR) imaging of specific measurable positions that are known to cause pain can reveal tissue and nerve alignment abnormalities in the patient that are difficult to see using static imaging. We have developed an MR compatible medical device that is capable of measuring rotational head torsion in the axial plane.  Preliminary results show that our device provides the stability and precision necessary to support a patient’s head in a variety of positions while MR images are acquired. Our device will be used in an ongoing study and has important implications in the fundamental understanding of cervical spine injury mechanics.

Inducing heterogeneous ice nucleation using pressure release to create a biocompatible coolant 
Students: Andrew Barr, Eric Fischer, Zane Giffen, Andrew Hicks 
Advisor: Dr. Lampe

Each year in the United States, 330,000 people die directly or indirectly from cardiac arrest. Of those patients that do survive, only 11% are successfully revived without neurological damage. Emerging therapeutic hypothermia techniques, however, show promise in improving these outcomes. In ischemic patients, hypothermia lowers oxygen metabolism and limits reperfusion injury, reducing deficits in brain function. Current cooling techniques require up to four hours to lower core body temperature to 32-34 °C. The motivation for this design project was to create a device that produces supercooled saline solution to induce therapeutic hypothermia over an accelerated time course.  The design presented here describes a system that produces nucleated saline droplets with a median diameter of 131.4 µm at a volumetric flow rate of 270 mL/min. These droplets can be administered intravenously or orally to accelerate cooling of the core body temperature.  This novel technology promises rapid and convenient induction of therapeutic hypothermia and has the potential to prevent thousands of fatalities caused by cardiac arrest.

Bacterial adhesion to biomimmetic surfaces
Students: Stephanie Klebba, Amy Silverstein, Vincent Valant
Advisors:  Dr. Composto and Dr. Eckmann

Implants placed into the human body are susceptible to the buildup of bacterial films and infection. We designed and built a laminar flow imaging chamber that can be used to measure bacterial and cellular adhesion to various implantable materials and surface coatings.  The chamber consists of anodized aluminum plates closed with four screws to create a flow bath within a silicone gasket, sandwiched by a cover slip and a sample material. The material sample is held in place by various sizes of inserts and the fluid is pumped across the material, within the gasket, through holes in the upper plate. The chamber is compatible with various methods of microscopy needed to observe cells and bacteria under fluid flow and shear stress conditions.

Sensor System for Improved Treatment of Plagiocephaly
Students: Yuning Chien , Katherine Gerasimowicz , Kenneth Hwu , Clarence Quah
Advisors: Dr. Daniel Bogen and Calli Clark

Orthotic helmets are used to apply forces to the skulls of certain infants so that their skulls will be shaped properly.  Currently, there is no feedback regarding the actual forces that the helmet is applying to the head.  This team incorporated sensors into an orthotic helmet in order to measure and give immediate feedback regarding the forces being applied by the helmet.  This has the potential to allow the helmet to provide better, faster, and more complete treatment.  Download their research poster.

Design of a Semi-Automatic Segmentation Method for Measurement of the Hippocampal Volume in the Rat Brain from Magnetic Resonance Images
Students: Matthew DiFrancesco, Emily Wible, Amanda Yung
Advisors: Drs. James Gee and Lynnae Schwartz

This group developed a semi-automatic method of measuring the volume of the hippocampus of a rat.  This easy-to-use method provides significant time savings over manual methods while still providing users with lots of flexibility.  The motivation for providing an easier, faster way to measure rat hippocampal volume is that it may allow scientists to better understand what may affect the human hippocampus. Download their research poster.

3-D Mapping and Visualization Tool for EEG Data
Students: Horng-An "Edward" Nieh, Raghav Puranmalka, Jay Yang
Advisor: Dr. Brian Litt

This group developed software to allow surgeons to accurately see where electrodes were placed on a patient's brain and to more clearly visualize the brain's activity in time and space.  This is particularly important in the treatment of epilepsy because it will more accurately allow clinicians to understand which parts of the brain are causing problems. Download their research poster.