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Undergraduate Programs

Xerox Engineering Research Fellows

2019 Research Opportunities

Biomedical Engineering

Professor Danielle Benoit
Department of Biomedical Engineering and Chemical Engineering

Research Project #1: Hydrogel Culture Environments for Regenerative Medicine Applications

We can interrogate and take advantage of the critical interactions between cells and extracellular matrix (ECM) to create bioactive materials capable of controlling cell function and tissue evolution. To determine the requirements of the microenvironment, we utilize hydrogels easily modified with respect to mechanical integrity, adhesive peptides, ECM molecules, degradability, and incorporation of drugs, to direct cellular differentiation through a variety of mechanisms. In particular, we are interested in utilizing hydrogel microenvironments to direct encapsulated mesenchymal stem cell (adult stem cell) function for applications in musculoskeletal tissue engineering. A thorough understanding of how material properties effect cell differentiation and tissue evolution is essential to tailor ‘instructive materials’ to direct cell function.

Research Project #2: Targeted Polymer Therapeutics to Overcome Drug Delivery Barriers

Conventional small molecule drugs and large macromolecular drugs have significant and distinctly different delivery barriers. For example, small molecule drugs, such as the chemotherapeutic doxorubicin, is highly hydrophobic, thus administration requires toxic cosolvents to aid blood solubility. Macromolecular drugs, on the other hand, suffer from enzymatic degradation and inactivation, difficulty in targeting to the appropriate cells and transversing the cell membrane, and often become degraded intracellularly once endocytosed. We are investigating polymer-drug complexes or polymer-drug conjugates to overcome these barriers and modulate drug delivery.

Professor Mark Buckley
Department of Biomedical Engineering

Research Project: Viscoelastic Heating in Tendon

Tendinopathies including tendinitis and tennis elbow are painful, chronic conditions typically associated with tendon overuse. In-vivostudies of horse flexor tendons have measured temperatures greater than 45⁰ C during activity as a result of viscoelastic dissipation. In the human Achilles tendon, application of thermodynamic theory to in-vivo stress-strain data suggests that temperatures could exceed 41⁰ C during running. Since these temperatures are known to trigger thermal nociceptors, induce fibroblast necrosis and alter the extracellular matrix, intra-tendinous viscoelastic hyperthermia could play a key role in tendon pathology. Importantly, since tendinopathy is known to increase viscoelastic dissipation in tendons, this condition may involve a feedback process through which heat-induced damage renders the tendon more susceptible to further heating and accelerated degeneration. Nevertheless, viscoelastic heating has not been studied in a controlled, ex-vivo environment allowing for evaluation of the effects of pathology on heat generation. Our long-term goal is to compare viscoelastic heating in healthy and pathological tendons. As a first step in this process, we are currently 1) optimizing our ex-vivo testing system; and 2) conducting experiments aimed at characterizing location-dependent viscoelastic heating in healthy tendons (i.e., comparing heating in the tendon midsubstance and tendon-bone insertion). The findings of this study will establish viscoelastic heating as a significant factor in tendon pathology and motivate novel therapies aimed at reducing intra-tendinous hyperthermia.

Professor Regine Choe
Department of Biomedical Engineering

Research Project #1: Biomedical Optics for Breast Cancer Detection and Therapy Monitoring

The overall goals of this project in Professor Choe's laboratory are to assess and improve the capabilities of diffuse optical technology in breast cancer therapy monitoring and detection. In clinical measurements of human breasts with tumor, we focus on identifying functional parameters measurable with diffuse optics, which can serve as early indicators of therapy efficacy. Using a preclinical animal model, we study the metabolic mechanism of varied responses to therapy seen in the clinic, and investigate new therapeutic drugs and interventions. The students will have opportunities to participate in various aspects of research: instrumentation construction and characterization, data analysis algorithm development, preclinical experiments, and/or clinical experiments.

Research Project #2: Diffuse Optical Imaging for Non-Invasive Deep Tissue Monitoring of Bone Graft Vascularization

Achieving effective revascularization is critical for successful integration of bone graft. While various tissue engineering strategies have been proposed and tested, most revascularization assessment is performed using methods requiring destruction/sacrifice of samples. Diffuse optical imaging can quantify hemodynamic parameters of deep-tissue in vivo samples non-invasively, allowing longitudinal monitoring of bone graft vascularization process. The project will focus on development of imaging methods for in vivo preclinical experiments, which will give students exposure to various aspects of research: instrumentation construction and characterization, data analysis algorithm development, preclinical experiments, and collaboration with experts in tissue engineering field (Professor Benoit laboratory).

Professor Diane Dalecki

Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Biomedical Engineering

Research Project: Biomedical Ultrasound

The primary goals of Professor Dalecki’s laboratory are to advance novel diagnostic ultrasound techniques, and to discover new therapeutic applications of ultrasound in medicine and biology. For this project, students will work towards developing new ultrasound technologies for the field of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. Specifically, students will investigate the effects of ultrasound on extracellular matrix proteins and cell functions that are key for engineering artificial 3D tissues and enhancing wound repair. Students will develop skills in acoustic field calibration, signal processing, cellular and tissue preparation procedures, cell and extracellular matrix biology, and ultrasound physics. The research is highly multidisciplinary and spans the fields of biomedical ultrasound, acoustics, medical imaging, cell and tissue engineering, and biomechanics.

Professor Catherine K. Kuo

Department of Biomedical Engineering and Department of Orthopaedics

Research Project #1: Mechanobiology of Embryonic Tissue Development

How the embryo develops tendons and ligaments that transmit forces throughout the adult body is yet to be understood. The Kuo Lab harnesses the powerful tools that engineers have developed for study of synthetic materials and utilizes them to analyze living embryonic tissues. With this novel approach, our goal is to understand the mechanobiology of load-bearing tissue development, and use this knowledge to inform innovative strategies for engineering new tendons and ligaments from stem cells. Projects range from developing living embryo models, to interrogating the mechanical microenvironment of embryonic tissues, to fabricating custom-designed biomaterials and mechanical loading bioreactors to mechanoregulate tissue engineering and regeneration.

Research Project #2: Regulation of Stem Cell Differentiation

It is well established that stem cell function, such as differentiation and the regeneration of new tissues, can be controlled by the application of exogenous cues. Less understood is what specific combination of such cues is required to elicit a desired response that leads to formation of a normal, functional tissue. Furthermore, why certain stem cells respond to some cues and not to others is minimally understood. Projects in the Kuo Lab are focused on 1) identifying combinations of mechanical and biochemical cues that can be applied exogenously to direct stem cell differentiation toward specific musculoskeletal tissue lineages, and 2) understanding what specific characteristics of stem cells play critical roles in these responses.

Professor Jong-Hoon Nam

Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering

Research Project: Measurement of Mechanical Properties of the Inner Ear Sensory Organ

We study the mechano-transduction of the inner ear. The cochlea, the mammalian hearing organ, turns mechanical stimuli (sound) into neural signals. The identification of mechanical properties of cochlear sensory cells and tissues is crucial to better understand how we hear (or fail to hear). To measure the mechanical properties, we need to apply calibrated pressures in the order of mPa and measure displacements in nanometers at the frequency of up to tens of kHz. Students will participate in measuring mechanical responses of artificial and biological micro structures in a micro-fluidic chamber system. Through this project, students will learn how the principles of acoustics, fluid dynamics, solid mechanics and vibrations are applied to micro-mechanical experiments with biological tissues.

Professor Laurel H. Carney

Department of Biomedical Engineering

Research Project: Auditory Neuroscience Lab

We combine neurophysiological, behavioral, and computational modeling techniques towards our goal of understanding neural mechanisms underlying the perception of complex sounds. Most of our work is focused on hearing in listeners with normal hearing ability. We are also interested in applying the results from our laboratory to the design of physiologically based signal-processing strategies to aid listeners with hearing loss.

We are currently studying the following specific problems:

  1. Detection of acoustic signals in background noise
  2. Coding of complex sounds, such as speech, by fluctuations in neural responses
  3. Signal processing to enhance fluctuation cues for listeners with hearing loss
  4. Neural sensitivity to fast frequency transitions

These problems are of interest because they involve tasks at which the healthy auditory system excels, but they are situations that can present great difficulty for listeners with hearing loss. We study the psychophysical limits of ability in these tasks, and we also study the neural coding and processing of these sounds using stimuli matched to those of our behavioral studies.

Computational modeling helps bridge the gap between our behavioral and physiological studies. For example, using computational models derived from neural population recordings, we make predictions of behavioral abilities that can be directly compared to actual behavioral results. The cues and mechanisms used by our computational models can be manipulated to test different hypotheses for neural coding and processing.

By identifying the cues involved in the detection of signals in noise and fluctuations of signals, our goal is to direct novel strategies for signal processors to preserve, restore, or enhance these cues for listeners with hearing loss.

Professor Gaurav Sharma

Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Department of Biostatistics and Computational Biology

Research Project: Noncoding RNA Gene Search: Unlock the hidden information in Genomes

With the widespread availability of high throughput sequencing technology, vast datasets of genomes are now available to researchers for exploration. Conventional protein-coding genes can be located within these large genome data sets with relative ease using BLAST and other alignment tools. Noncoding RNAs (ncRNAs) that serve a direct functional role instead of providing a recipe for protein synthesis, however, present a challenge for genomic analysis. Across species ncRNAs are conserved in secondary structure rather than in sequence and they are therefore not discovered by common sequence alignment based search tools. With the discovery of an increasing number of ncRNAs it is clear that they represent the next frontier in advancing our understanding of the genomes. As a participant in this research, you will develop and evaluate new computational methods for identifying ncRNAs.

Professor James McGrath

Department of Biomedical Engineering

Research Project: Nanomembranes for small format hemodialysis

This research project applies our ultrathin membrane nanotechnology - silicon nanomembranes - to create wearable hemodialysis systems that will improve the life and health of patients with end-stage renal disease (ESRD). The fellow or REU student will work on the development of a bench top model system that simulates the body system. The system will be used to benchmark hemodialysis with nanomembranes against commercial membranes. The student may also participate in parallel studies on small rodent models of ESRD and will have an opportunity to shadow engineers at a local start-up that manufactures silicon nanomembranes if interested.

Professor Stephen McAleavey

Department of Biomedical Engineering and Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Research Project 1: Wearable Assistive Technology for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Toilet use is an essential quality-of-life skill, which is often delayed in children with Autism spectrum disorder and related conditions. Keys to the development of this skill in these children include overcoming communication challenges and an absence of cues to allow caregivers to provide timely assistance. Working with Dr. Daniel Mruzek in the Department of Clinical Psychology, we are developing wearable-technology to overcome these challenges and assist in the acquisition of toileting skills. The student will assist in the development of Bluetooth-connected wearable technology to model a child’s activity and physiological signals, including heart rate, movement, and enuresis. Hardware development, prototyping, and programming in iOS (Objective-C or Swift) and embedded environments are key skills for this project.

Research Project 2: Characterization of Non-linear Mechanical Properties of Tissue and Tissue-like Materials Using Acoustic Radiation Force

Ultrasound elastography can produce 2-dimensional maps of the shear modulus (“stiffness”) of tissue. A limitation of current clinical systems is that tissue is modeled as a linear elastic material – the modulus is independent of applied strain. Real tissue is significantly non-linear and appears to “stiffen” when deformed.  This limitation is significant, as the non-linear mechanical properties of tissue might be exploited to provide diagnostic information, e.g. to distinguish benign from malignancy lesions in the breast. In this project, the student will assist in the development and testing a combined quasi-static compression and acoustic radiation force impulse (ARFI) shear wave elastography imaging (SWEI) system for measurement and imaging of nonlinear mechanical properties of breast tissue. We will develop an elastography system to measure shear wave velocity in the linear and nonlinear regime. This system will use linear positioning stages to apply strains to tissues and phantom materials under computer control while simultaneously allowing imaging with an ultrasound transducer array. This array will generate shear waves via acoustic radiation force impulses, and track the resulting tissue motion to estimate shear wave velocity. The geometry of the system will allow scanning of phantoms, excised tissue specimens, and in vivo breast tissue. In this project, the performance of the system will be evaluated with tissue mimicking phantom materials.