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Research at the University of Virginia School of Engineering & Applied Science
Volume 11 Number 1
Engineering a Healthier World
Developing Leaders of Innovation
Charlottesville. helping surgeons mend bones and reconnect nerves more efficiently. Address corrections should be sent to the University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science.IMPACT Research at the U. The Engineering School faculty almost doubled its research funding from the National Institutes of Health in fiscal year 2010. Barry W.Va. but also because they are determined to harness that knowledge for the good of humanity. We could not have achieved these gains on our own. They are improving on the body’s own mechanisms for healing. so they can develop ways to halt the progress of diseases like cancer. Writer and Editor Charlie Feigenoff Contributing Editors Josie Pipkin Zak Richards Graphic Design Travis Searcy Mountain High Media Photography Tom Cogill IMPACT is published by the University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science. but a significant number of our faculty have joint appointments in departments like emergency medicine or orthopaedic surgery. diabetes and Alzheimer’s.Va. Health-related research is the primary focus of the Department of Biomedical Engineering.virginia.edu/impact. There is no more direct way to help others than to improve their health — and for faculty researchers that means focusing on how the human body works. Engineering School Contents Healthy Innovations T 3 4 6 8 Reducing Death and Injury on Our Highways Innovations in Biomedical Engineering Medical Research Across the School Exploring Treatments for Alzheimer’s Disease On the cover: The Center for Applied Biomechanics uses a variety of test dummies to measure the effects of side and front impacts on drivers and passengers. or call 434-924-1383. but there are groundbreaking programs in virtually every department in the School. P.seas. In laboratories around the School. What makes these programs successful is our close partnership with the School of Medicine. Box 400259.O. School of Engineering and Applied Science Impact 2 fall 2010 . An online version of the magazine is available at www. faculty members are learning how the body responds to the trauma of injury so they can devise better safety systems for automobiles. he faculty members at the School of Engineering and Applied Science conduct research not simply because they are driven to figure out how things work. And they are learning how cells and tissues function. The Department of Biomedical Engineering is a joint program of our two schools. VA 22904-4259. We understand that the road to innovation in the 21st century lies on the border between disciplines. Johnson Senior Associate Dean Associate Dean for Research U.
” READ MORE: www.000 frames a second and can track the motion of a person during an impact with submillimeter resolution. It is helping to develop more accurate criteria for preventing lower extremity and thoracic injury. this one designed to analyze the vehicle rollovers that account for one-third of all highway fatalities. The center is now the largest University-based impact biomechanics laboratory in the world. “Many of the injuries that occur during a crash inevitably are fatal. It just moved to a new building at the University Research Park. “The only way to treat them is to prevent them. facilities and record of achievement to play a leading role in this effort.000 motor vehicle deaths. the center’s director and a professor in the Departments of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. testing advanced vehicle passenger restraint systems and studying the biomechanics of aging as part of the Engineering Crash Injury Research and Engineering Network. Costin Untaroiu and Richard Kent are shown with Buster. It currently has 30 full-time researchers and 20 graduate students and is poised to expand further. researchers can collect 10.centerforappliedbiomechanics. It is a partner in the Global Human Body Modeling Consortium and is also evaluating next-generation crash dummies. the center has grown dramatically. the lowest since it began counting more than three decades ago. The center currently has projects under way in virtually every area needed to reduce traffic fatalities and injuries. “We film at more than 1. Researchers at the Engineering School’s Center for Applied Biomechanics are determined to reduce that figure even further — and they have the expertise.000 square feet of laboratory and office space. REDUCING HIGHWAY FATALITIES I n 2009 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported 33. The highlight of the new facility is a second state-of-the-art sled system.000 data points every second from each of 250 to 300 channels of information. and Emergency Medicine. The center’s sleds are highly instrumented. giving it 25. Since it was founded 21 years ago. a biofidelic sideimpact test dummy. thanks to support from the Engineering School and the School of Medicine.org/ Impact 3 fall 2010 .Developing Leaders of Innovation Center researchers (L to R) Jeff Crandall. That’s what this center does.” says Jeff Crandall. Biomedical Engineering. During a typical crash test.” notes Richard Kent. a professor in the Departments of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Emergency Medicine and the leader of the Automobile Safety Research Group at the center.
the results. “My goal is to find ways to more effectively engineer healing. The polymer releases a drug that targets S1P receptors in the bone tissue. in many cases. Impact Botchwey is also developing new techniques to promote healing of peripheral nerves. If they have to stretch them. READ MORE: www.edu/lct/ 4 fall 2010 . enhance integration with host bone and remodel the allograft. which when activated will promote vascularization. surgeons can repair them by delicately stitching together the ends. I’ve never been truly happy with the time it takes or. surgeons take bone from a tissue bank and use it to piece together the fragments. The fibers serve as a scaffold connecting the nerve endings. it is poorly vascularized. “This sometimes causes the allograft to crack and fail. It needs a little assistance to help reach its potential.” Botchwey notes. the human body is like a promising undergraduate. and the laminin encourages the nerve cells on each side of the severed nerve to grow toward the target organ. tendons.” Working with graduate student Cynthia Juang. bundles of nerve fibers that carry information to and from the spinal cord. the outcome is usually poor. degradable polymer. One area in which he thinks the body could do better is bone. graduate student Rebekah Neal has developed a completely novel method of connecting them without strain. which includes muscles. When someone shatters a bone. two substances necessary for nerve growth. which inevitably means additional surgery. specializes in the musculoskeletal tissue. With Botchwey’s guidance. an associate professor of biomedical engineering and orthopaedic surgery. bones and nerves.” he says.IMPACT innovations in biomedical engineering Edward Botchwey is developing new techniques to amplify and manage natural processes to mend shattered bones and reconnect severed nerves. he coats the allograft with a synthetic.virginia. She turned to a process called electrospinning to produce nanoscale fibers that combine a biodegradable polymer with collagen and laminin. “Although the body has the means to heal wounds.” Botchwey.bme. however. When these nerves are severed. “Although this bone allograft has many of the biological components needed for bone healing. Engineering Healing As Edward Botchwey sees it.
“It’s a problem that engineers are ideally suited to solve. thanks to her collaboration with Michael Weber. Weber is developing treatments for melanoma. because these chemical signals often lose their regulation and get stuck on or off in cancer and in inflammatory diseases like atherosclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. or differentiate into another cell type.” he says. Janes is designing a bioassay that is more efficient at producing quantitative results. He is focusing on circuits that use kinase and phosphatase enzymes.” decoding the language of cell signaling O ne way to describe a human cell is as a very sophisticated circuit board. Depending on what is happening in a cell’s microenvironment. It constantly receives inputs from the world around it and processes them into chemical or electrical signals that generate cellular outputs.bme.” Janes says.” Holmberg says. The next challenge is to understand what happens when clusters of circuits are activated. This knowledge will help us choose drug combinations that will inhibit the growth of melanoma cells even more efficiently. This information processing. He has found that certain combinations of drugs have an effect on melanoma cells that is greater than the sum of their individual effects.” One roadblock is that existing methods of analyzing the activities of groups of pathways are slow and cumbersome and permit only a general qualitative assessment. “The assay we’re developing can track the activity of multiple kinases at the same time. “We don’t really understand how pathways work together on a systems level.virginia. is the theme of Kevin Janes’ laboratory. a deadly form of skin cancer in which kinase signaling is often deregulated.9 million in funding. called signal transduction. a professor of microbiology and director of the U. divide. high-throughput method to quantitatively analyze samples for half a dozen kinases at a time.Va. In recent years scientists have made great progress understanding how each individual circuit works. helping us understand why certain drug combinations are synergistic. as is typically the case.Developing Leaders of Innovation Over the past 18 months.edu/janes/ Impact 5 fall 2010 . these signals might cause the cell to migrate. but he is not sure why. Working with graduate student Karin Holmberg. we are developing a much more sensitive. Cancer Center. “It will provide the data we need to understand cell signaling at the network level. READ MORE: www. Kevin Janes’ research has attracted more than $2. a knock-out combination for cancer The new kinase assay system that Karin Holmberg (pictured above) is developing will be put to use immediately. “By combining our knowledge of enzyme biochemistry with newly introduced instrumentation.
” Patek is part of a multidisciplinary international team that is developing an automatic continuous system for blood sugar control. notes. yet that’s exactly what people with Type 1 diabetes have to do four or more times a day. “There are thousands of small events during the day — from eating a doughnut with your 10 o’clock coffee to going for a jog — that can cause dramatic swings in blood sugar levels.” READ MORE: http://web. but it’s a complicated process.sys. Another issue is the lag-time of up to 45 minutes associated with using the continuous glucose monitor and the insulin pump. which includes Professors Boris Kovatchev and Marc Breton from the School of Medicine. the National Science Foundation and industry groups. Food ingestion will always elevate blood sugar levels. they have to continually monitor their blood sugar and inject the hormone when blood sugar levels rise too high.” This research is funded by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.” Patek says. It takes time for the changes in the blood to reach the fluids that the monitor samples. As Stephen Patek. Patek’s specialties include the optimization of random events.html Impact S Stephen Patek is contributing his systems engineering expertise to a global effort that one day will make the artificial pancreas a reality. and it takes even more time for insulin delivered by the pump under the skin to reach the bloodstream. but the consequences of eating a meal are hardly random. the National Institutes of Health. While the technology for doing this has become much more convenient — there are now glucose monitors that help people interpret these pinpricks and insulin pumps that replace syringes — these blood sugar snapshots provide only a rough assessment of a person’s insulin needs. Patek is building mathematical models that enable him to bridge that gap.IMPACT medical research across the school AUTOMATING DIABETES TREATMENT ticking yourself with a lancet is no fun. The ultimate goal of the team. “Typical models used to describe random disturbances don’t work for people.” he notes. “This is a fascinating project to be involved with. Their challenge is to develop algorithms that take all these daily variables into account.edu/stephen-d-patek. just as exercise lowers them. Because their bodies have lost the ability to produce insulin. “The path to having a positive impact on people’s lives is commercialization. 6 fall 2010 .virginia. an associate professor of systems engineering. is to link glucose monitors with insulin pumps in a closedloop system they call the “artificial pancreas.
They are responsible for pulling the foot from the ground with each stride. READ MORE: www. the shape of your muscles When you take a really close look at muscle — and graduate student Bahar Sharafi (pictured above) has — you start noticing a variety of different tissue geometries. These internal tendons. “I’ve found it fascinating to apply the principles of mechanical engineering to the human body.virginia. 7 fall 2010 . is taking a fresh look at why certain muscles like hamstrings are particularly prone to injury. The hamstrings run along the back of the thigh and attach on both sides of the knee joint. Blemker proposes to take magnetic resonance images of members of a sports team at the beginning of their season and then track them to see if people with narrow aponeuroses do indeed become injured more often. or bundles of muscle fibers or cells. She is also studying the mechanics of the myotendinous junction. Different fascicle shapes are more appropriate for different sheer forces and are found in different muscles. The goal is to create a computational model of the musculoskeletal system that incorporates its complex three-dimensional architecture and geometry.Developing Leaders of Innovation the geometry of muscle strain W hether you can sprint 100 meters in 9. researchers treat them like anatomical rubber bands.mae.8 seconds like the Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt or are content to run a few laps around the track after work. using modeling. Blemker is taking a closer look. she has found that the shape of its fascicles. To determine if aponeuroses width is an important factor in injury. you are likely to experience a hamstring strain sooner or later. Silvia Salinas Blemker. an assistant professor in the Departments of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Biomedical Engineering. relating muscle structure to its mechanical properties and ultimately to its function. to explore the mechanisms that contribute to a high rate of injury in this region.edu/muscle/ Impact Blemker’s work combines computation with magnetic resonance imaging and anatomical measurements. Recreational athletes and Olympians alike may suffer fewer muscle strains in the future. Sharafi came to her research without any knowledge of biomechanics and muscle anatomy. uniformly elastic along their length. she has discovered a significant marker for injury susceptibility that could be applied to all muscles. length and thickness. Blemker found that strains occur in muscle tissues adjacent to narrow aponeuroses.” she says. In the process. For instance. Tendons are embedded in muscle to provide a firmer attachment. the point of insertion of muscle fibers into the tendon. Traditionally. which vary in width. are called aponeuroses. Sharafi’s challenge has been to create three-dimensional computational models that link a muscle’s microscopic morphology and properties to muscle function. gives a muscle its ability to adapt to the sheer forces that act on it. thanks to research on muscle geometry by Silvia Blemker.
seas. an assistant professor of chemical engineering.O. He is particularly interested in Alzheimer’s disease. consist of a chain of amino acids.edu/kwon/ .virginia. “We still need to do more testing. amyloid-beta peptides are harmless. Box 400246 Charlottesville. 164 Alzheimer’s Disease disrupting the Biochemistry of I Inchan Kwon is searching for a substance that could prevent the formation of amyloid plaques. takes the old DuPont advertising slogan “Better Living through Chemistry” quite literally. nchan Kwon. to cure neurodegenerative diseases. His research on peptides has been similarly productive. but when they clump together they disrupt communication between neurons and cause them to die.” Kwon says.faculty. Individually.edu/impact Non-Profit Organization US Postage PAID Charlottesville. “but we are hopeful that we will be able to make a difference.virginia. Kwon is screening small molecules already approved by the FDA and other peptides to search for compounds that could modulate amyloid-beta aggregation safely and effectively. “Finding a substance that could modulate amyloid-beta aggregation is a promising strategy for preventing or treating Alzheimer’s. a characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease. Peptides.” he says. VA Permit No. VA 22904-4246 www.” READ MORE: www.IMPACT University of Virginia Office of the Dean School of Engineering and Applied Science P . He is combining his expertise as a chemical engineer and his knowledge of proteins. like proteins. He has identified a number of promising molecules and is applying to the National Institutes of Health for funding to fine-tune the characteristics of these molecules and to conduct animal studies. One theory for the cause of the disease places the blame on a peptide called amyloid-beta. honed in industry and university research labs.
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