<![CDATA[Researchers Receive $1.7 Million Grant to Build Robot for Sub-surface Soil Exploration]]> 34540 An interdisciplinary research group from Georgia Tech has received a grant from the National Science Foundation to design an advanced self-propelled robot to explore the subsurface and record a range of signals as it advances.

The project is led by principal investigator Chloé Arson, an associate professor in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering. The research team includes faculty from across the Institute, including fellow Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor David Frost, Associate Professor Polo Chau from the School of Computational Science and Engineering, Professor Daniel Goldman from the School of Physics and Assistant Professor Frank Hammond from the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering.

Read the full article here.

]]> Kristen Perez 1 1575989376 2019-12-10 14:49:36 1575989454 2019-12-10 14:50:54 0 0 news 2019-12-10T00:00:00-05:00 2019-12-10T00:00:00-05:00 2019-12-10 00:00:00 Melissa Fralick

Communications Manager

629865 629865 image <![CDATA[Sub-surface Robot]]> image/jpeg 1575989428 2019-12-10 14:50:28 1575989428 2019-12-10 14:50:28
<![CDATA[Georgia Tech Scientist Helps Create Roadmap for Engineering Biology]]> 30678 Genetically engineered trees that provide fire-resistant lumber for homes. Modified organs that won’t be rejected. Synthetic microbes that monitor your gut to detect invading disease organisms and kill them before you get sick.

These are just some of the exciting advances likely to emerge from the 20-year-old field of engineering biology, or synthetic biology. Engineering biology/synthetic biology involves taking what we know about the genetics of plants and animals and then tweaking specific genes to make these organisms do new things.

The field is now mature enough to provide solutions to many societal problems, according to a roadmap released on June 19 by the Engineering Biology Research Consortium. This public-private partnership is partially funded by the National Science Foundation and centered at the University of California, Berkeley (UCB).  

The roadmap is the consensus of more than 80 scientists and engineers from various disciplines, from more than 30 universities and a dozen companies. Among them is Pamela Peralta-Yahya, recently promoted to associate professor in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry. She was the technical theme lead for host and consortia engineering.

"The Engineering Biology Research Roadmap identifies the technological challenges to be addressed over the next 20 years to solve global societal challenges in various areas, from industrial and environmental biotechnology, to health and medicine, to food and agriculture, to energy, and beyond,” Peralta-Yahya says. “Addressing the technological challenges in gene, biomolecules, host and consortia engineering, and developing the necessary data analytics and modeling tools will allow us to realize the promise of a next-generation bioeconomy."

The report urges the federal government to invest in this area, not only to improve public health, food crops, and the environment, but also to fuel the economy and maintain the country’s leadership in synthetic biology.

“This field has the ability to be truly impactful for society, and we need to identify engineering biology as a national priority, organize around that national priority and take action based on it,” said Douglas Friedman in a UCB press release.  He is one of the leaders of the roadmap project and executive director of the Engineering Biology Research Consortium.

Engineering biology research at Georgia Tech cuts across colleges, according to Peralta-Yahya. In the College of Sciences, Peralta-Yahya specializes in engineering biological systems for the production of chemicals and fuels. M.G. Finn, professor and chair in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, engineers virus-like particles for healthcare applications. 

In the College of Engineering, Mark Styczynski, an associate professor in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, engineers point-of-care diagnostic tools for the developing world. His colleague Associate Professor Corey Wilson engineers gene regulatory elements for biotechnology applications.

“If you look back in history, scientists and engineers have learned how to routinely modify the physical world though physics and mechanical engineering, learned how to routinely modify the chemical world through chemistry and chemical engineering,” Friedman said. “The next thing to do is figure out how to utilize the biological world through modifications that can help people in a way that would otherwise not be possible. We are at the precipice of being able to do that with biology.”

]]> A. Maureen Rouhi 1 1561057507 2019-06-20 19:05:07 1561057615 2019-06-20 19:06:55 0 0 news Exciting advances are likely to emerge from the 20-year-old field of engineering biology, or synthetic biology. Engineering biology/synthetic biology involves taking what we know about the genetics of plants and animals and then tweaking specific genes to make these organisms do new things. The field is now mature enough to provide solutions to many societal problems, according to a roadmap released on June 19 by the Engineering Biology Research Consortium.

2019-06-20T00:00:00-04:00 2019-06-20T00:00:00-04:00 2019-06-20 00:00:00 A. Maureen Rouhi, Ph.D.
Director of Communications
College of Sciences

300401 300401 image <![CDATA[Pamela Peralta-Yahya]]> image/jpeg 1449244572 2015-12-04 15:56:12 1475895004 2016-10-08 02:50:04
<![CDATA[Regarding climate change, biologists warn: Don’t forget the microbes]]> 30678 Much of the damage from climate change is in front of our eyes: Bleached-out coral reefs, destroyed homes and flooded neighborhoods ravaged by hurricanes, dangerous wildfires scorching Northern California forests. Worst-case scenarios involve remade coastlines, stunted crops, and social unrest caused by scarce resources.

An international group of microbiologists, however, is warning that as science tries to search for solutions to climate change, it’s ignoring the potential consequences for climate change’s tiniest, unseen victims – the world’s microbial communities.

Frank Stewart, associate professor in the School of Biological Sciences, is one of more than 30 microbiologists from nine countries who today issued a statement urging scientists to conduct more research on microbes and how they are affected by climate change.

The statement, “Scientist’s warning to humanity: Micro-organisms and climate change,” was published in the journal Nature Reviews Microbiology. Lead author is Rick Cavicchioli, microbiologist at the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, in the University of New South Wales (Sydney).

“The consensus statement by Cavicchiolli and colleagues is an overdue warning bell,” Stewart says. “Its goal is to alert stakeholders that major consequences of climate change are fundamentally microbial in nature. As a co-author, I'm hopeful this statement finds a wide audience of nonscientists and scientists alike and also serves as a call to action. Microbes must be considered in solving the problem of climate change.”

The impact on microbes

In the statement, Cavicchiolli calls microbes the “unseen majority” of all life on Earth. Their communities serve as the biosphere’s support system, playing key roles in everything from animal and human health, to agriculture and food production.

A cited example: An estimated 90% of the ocean’s biomass consists of microbes. That includes phytoplankton, lifeforms that are not only at the start of the marine food chain, but also do their part to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But the abundance of some phytoplankton species is tied to sea ice. The continued loss of ice as oceans warm could therefore harm the ocean food web.

“Climate change is literally starving ocean life,” Cavicchioli said in a press release about the consensus statement.

The microbiologists are also worried about microbial environments on land. Microbes release important greenhouse gases like methane and nitrous oxide, but climate change can boost those emissions to unhealthy levels. It can also make it easier for pathogenic microbes to cause diseases in humans, animals, and plants. Climate change affects the range of flying insects that carry some of those pathogens. “The end result is the increased spread of disease, and serious threats to global food supplies,” Cavicchioli said.

“Just as microbes in our bodies critically affect our health, microbes in the environment critically affect the health of ecosystems,” Stewart says. “But microbial processes are changing dramatically under global climate change, including in ways that fundamentally alter food webs and accelerate climate change.”

A call to boost research

Georgia Tech researchers such as Stewart, Mark Hay, Kim Cobb, and Joel Kostka have become experts in researching climate change’s impact on diverse ecosystems, from coral reefs to subarctic peat bogs. Much of their work already focuses on microbes and the roles they play in these stressed environments.

“For example, ocean warming is driving the loss of oxygen from seawater, leading to large swaths of ocean dominated exclusively by microbes,” Stewart says. “Our research at Georgia Tech tries to understand how such changes affect the microbial cycling of essential nutrients.”

According to the consensus paper, that kind of research should play a bigger role when governments and scientists work on policy and management decisions that might mitigate climate change. Also, research that ties biology to worldwide geophysical and climate processes should give greater consideration of microbial processes.

“This goes to the heart of climate change,” Cavicchioli says. “If microorganisms aren’t considered effectively, it means models cannot be generated properly and predictions could be inaccurate.”

Microbiologists can endorse the consensus statement and add their names to it here: https://www.babs.unsw.edu.au/research/microbiologists-warning-humanity

]]> A. Maureen Rouhi 1 1560440223 2019-06-13 15:37:03 1560442322 2019-06-13 16:12:02 0 0 news An international group of microbiologists, including Georgia Tech's Frank Stewart, is warning that as science tries to search for climate-change solutions, it’s ignoring the potential consequences for climate change’s tiniest, unseen victims – the world’s microbial communities.

2019-06-18T00:00:00-04:00 2019-06-18T00:00:00-04:00 2019-06-18 00:00:00 Renay San Miguel
Communications Officer 
College of Sciences

622495 594080 622495 image <![CDATA[Sea ice in Antarctica showing a brown layer of ice algae (Credit Rick Cavicchioli)]]> image/jpeg 1560440715 2019-06-13 15:45:15 1560440715 2019-06-13 15:45:15 594080 image <![CDATA[Frank Stewart ]]> image/png 1501869631 2017-08-04 18:00:31 1501869631 2017-08-04 18:00:31
<![CDATA[Hydrogel Offers Double Punch Against Orthopedic Bone Infections]]> 27303 Surgery prompted by automobile accidents, combat wounds, cancer treatment and other conditions can lead to bone infections that are difficult to treat and can delay healing until they are resolved. Now, researchers have a developed a double-duty hydrogel that both attacks the bacteria and encourages bone regrowth with a single application containing two active components.

The injectable hydrogel, which is a network of cross-linked polymer chains, contains the enzyme lysostaphin and the bone-regenerating protein BMP-2. In a new study using a small animal model, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology showed significant reduction in an infection caused by Staphylococcus aureus – a common infection in orthopedic surgery – along with regeneration within large bone defects.

“Treatment for bone infections now often requires two surgeries to both eliminate the infection and heal the injured bone,” said Andrés J. García, executive director of the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering & Bioscience at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “Our idea was to develop a bifunctional material that does both things in a single step. That would be better for the patient, cost less and reduce hospitalization time. We have shown that we can engineer the hydrogel to control the delivery and release of both the antimicrobial enzyme and the regenerative protein.”

The hydrogel-based therapy could be used to treat established bone infections, and as a prophylactic during surgery to prevent infection. The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, was reported May 17 in the journal Science Advances.

Bone infections today are often treated with systemic antibiotics and surgery to clean the injury. If the infection occurs with implants, they often must be removed. Once the infection is gone, additional surgery may be required to implant proteins that stimulate bone regrowth and restore the implant. And the dead bacteria can prompt a harmful inflammatory reaction.

García and his collaborators – including first author Christopher Johnson – chose lysostaphin, an enzyme that kills the bacteria by cleaving cell walls without generating inflammation. The enzyme keeps working within the hydrogel after it polymerizes.

“With this strategy, we can get rid of the bacteria in such a way that the body re-establishes a normal inflammatory environment that allows the bone to heal,” García said. “Use of lysostaphin has been limited by poor stability inside the body, but in the gel, it can maintain stability for at least two weeks. That allows for controlled release over a longer period of time, which is sufficient for what we are trying to do.”

Beyond treating infections, the new technique might be used to prevent infection during surgery. For instance, if a screw was being inserted to repair an injury, the hydrogel might be applied to the screw threads. The soft gel would not affect the repair.

The next step in the research would be to repeat the study in large animals, after which clinical trials could be considered if the material proves promising.

“The mechanisms used to fight off infection depends on the species,” Garcia noted. “That’s why it’s so important to repeat the studies in a large animal after testing in mice or rats. Showing efficacy in a large animal model would be a key step toward human trials.”

The hydrogel material has been used in the human body before, and is designed to quickly leave the treatment site. “The hydrogel breaks down into small building blocks that are excreted in the urine,” Garcia said. “After several weeks, there is no synthetic material left in the body and it is replaced by normal healing tissue.”

In addition to those already named, co-authors on the paper included Mary Caitlin P. Sok, Karen E. Martin, Pranav P. Kalelkar, Jeremy D. Caplin, and Edward A. Botchwey.

This research was supported by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases of the NIH under award numbers R01AR062920 and F30AR069472. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH.

CITATION: “Lysostaphin and BMP-2 co-delivery reduces S. aureus infection and regenerates critical-sized segmental bone defects,” (Science Advances 2019). http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.aaw1228

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Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986) (jtoon@gatech.edu).

Writer: John Toon

]]> John Toon 1 1561148998 2019-06-21 20:29:58 1561149329 2019-06-21 20:35:29 0 0 news Surgery prompted by automobile accidents, combat wounds, cancer treatment and other conditions can lead to bone infections that are difficult to treat and can delay healing until they are resolved. Now, researchers have a developed a double-duty hydrogel that both attacks the bacteria and encourages bone regrowth with a single application containing two active components.

2019-06-21T00:00:00-04:00 2019-06-21T00:00:00-04:00 2019-06-21 00:00:00 John Toon

Research News

(404) 894-6986

622699 622700 622701 622702 622699 image <![CDATA[Hydrogel for treating bone infection]]> image/jpeg 1561148051 2019-06-21 20:14:11 1561148051 2019-06-21 20:14:11 622700 image <![CDATA[Preparing hydrogel samples]]> image/jpeg 1561148331 2019-06-21 20:18:51 1561148331 2019-06-21 20:18:51 622701 image <![CDATA[Hydrogel-based treatment]]> image/jpeg 1561148471 2019-06-21 20:21:11 1561148471 2019-06-21 20:21:11 622702 image <![CDATA[Hydrogel for treating bone infection 2]]> image/jpeg 1561148584 2019-06-21 20:23:04 1561148584 2019-06-21 20:23:04
<![CDATA[Two Research Vice Presidents Named in EVPR Office]]> 27303 Georgia Tech has announced the selection of two outstanding faculty members to serve as vice presidents in the Office of the Executive Vice President for Research. Each appointment is 75%, allowing them time to continue their established work as faculty members.

Raheem Beyah, the Motorola Foundation Professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, will serve as Vice President for Interdisciplinary Research (VPIR). The VPIR will be responsible for ensuring the effective and strategic administration of interdisciplinary research. This will include providing overall leadership for the interdisciplinary research institutes and centers, the Pediatric Technology Center, Global Center for Medical Innovation, Smart Cities Initiatives and other interdisciplinary activities.

Beyah earned his Ph.D. from Georgia Tech’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. He has also served the school as interim chair and as associate chair for strategic initiatives and innovation.

Robert Butera, associate dean for research and innovation in the College of Engineering, will serve as Vice President for Research Operations (VPRO). The VPRO will be responsible for supporting and developing the research program, operating the internally funded research programs in collaboration with the colleges, overseeing core facilities and research space, and managing policies related to research administration and operations. 

Butera earned his Ph.D. from Rice University, and a bachelor of electrical engineering degree from Georgia Tech. In addition to his duties in the College of Engineering, he has served as a professor with joint appointments in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University.

“I am pleased that we have found such highly qualified and respected faculty to support our efforts to ‘Create the Next in Research,’” said Chaouki Abdallah, Georgia Tech’s Executive Vice President for Research. “The addition of these vice presidents will help us sustain research growth, leverage efficiencies and maximize the impact of Georgia Tech’s research program on research sponsors – and society at large.”

The two positions are part of the restructuring announced in March aimed at providing improved service support for Georgia Tech’s research operation, which has experienced tremendous growth without a corresponding expansion in administration and support. These appointments are pending final institute approvals.

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Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986) (jtoon@gatech.edu).

Writer: John Toon


]]> John Toon 1 1560863332 2019-06-18 13:08:52 1560864573 2019-06-18 13:29:33 0 0 news Georgia Tech has announced the selection of two outstanding faculty members to serve as vice presidents in the Office of the Executive Vice President for Research. Each appointment is 75%, allowing them time to continue their established work as faculty members.

2019-06-18T00:00:00-04:00 2019-06-18T00:00:00-04:00 2019-06-18 00:00:00 John Toon

Research News


622563 622563 622563 image <![CDATA[Raheem Beyah and Robert Butera]]> image/jpeg 1560864432 2019-06-18 13:27:12 1560869516 2019-06-18 14:51:56
<![CDATA[Ancient Toy Inspires Tool for State-of-the-Art Science]]> 27303 A 5,000-year-old toy still enjoyed by kids today has inspired an inexpensive, hand-powered scientific tool that could not only impact how field biologists conduct their research but also allow high-school students and others with limited resources to realize their own state-of-the-art experiments. 

The device, a portable centrifuge for preparing scientific samples including DNA, is reported May 21 in the journal PLOS Biology. The co-first author of the paper is Gaurav Byagathvalli, a senior at Lambert High School in Georgia. His colleagues are M. Saad Bhamla, an assistant professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology; Soham Sinha, a Georgia Tech undergraduate; Janet Standeven, Byagathvalli’s biology teacher at Lambert; and Aaron F. Pomerantz, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley.

“I am exceptionally proud of this paper and will remember it 10, 20, 30 years from now because of the uniquely diverse team we put together,” said Bhamla, who is an assistant professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

From a Rainforest to a High School

Together the team demonstrated the device, dubbed the 3D-Fuge because it is created through 3D printing, in two separate applications. In a rainforest in Peru the 3D-Fuge was an integral part of a “lab in a backpack” used to identify four previously-unknown plants and insects by sequencing their DNA. Back in the United States, a slightly different design enabled a new approach to creating living bacterial sensors for the potential detection of disease. That work was conducted at Lambert High School for a synthetic biology competition.

Thanks to social media and a preprint of the PLOS Biology paper on BioRxiv, the 3D-Fuge has already generated interest from around the world, including emails from high-school teachers in Zambia and Kenya. “It’s awesome to see research not just remain isolated to one location but see it spread,” said Byagathvalli. “Through this, we’ve realized how much of an impact simple yet effective tools can have, and hope this technology motivates others to continue along the same path and innovate new solutions to global issues.”

To better share the work, the team has posted the 3D-Fuge designs, videos, and photos online available to anyone.

Frugal Science

One focus of Bhamla’s lab at Georgia Tech is the development of tools for frugal science, or real research that just about anyone can afford. The tools behind state-of-the-art science often cost thousands of dollars that make them inaccessible to those without serious resources.

Centrifuges are a good example.  A small benchtop unit costs between $3,000 and $5,000; larger units cost many times that. Yet the devices are necessary to produce concentrated amounts of, say, genomic materials like DNA. By rapidly spinning samples, they separate materials of interest from biological debris.

The Bhamla team found that the 3D-Fuge works as well as its more expensive cousins, but costs less than $1.

An Ancient Toy

The 3D-Fuge is based on earlier work by Bhamla and colleagues at Stanford University on a simple centrifuge made of paper. The “paperfuge,” in turn, was inspired by a toy composed of string and a button that Bhamla played with as a child. He later discovered that these toys, known as whirligigs, have existed for some 5,000 years.

They consist of a disk – like a button – with two holes, through which is threaded a length of flexible cord whose ends are knotted to create a single loop with the disk in the middle. That simple contraption is then swung with two hands until the button is spinning and whirring at very fast speeds.

The earlier paperfuge uses a disk of paper. To that disk Bhamla glued small plastic tubes filled with a sample. He and colleagues reported that the device did indeed create high-quality samples. 

In late 2017 Bhamla was separately approached by the Lambert High team and Pomerantz to see if the paperfuge could be adapted for the larger samples they needed (the paperfuge is limited to small samples of ~1 microliter—or one drop of blood). 

Together they came up with the 3D-Fuge, which includes cavities for tubes that can hold some 100 times more of a sample than the paperfuge. The team developed two equally effective designs: one for field biology (led by Pomerantz) and the other for the high-school’s synthetic biology project (led by Byagathvalli).

Bhamla notes that the 3D-Fuge has some limitations. For example, it can only process a few samples at a time (some applications require thousands of samples). Further, because it’s 10 times heavier than the paperfuge, it can’t reach the same speeds or produce the same forces of that device. That said, it still weighs only 20 grams, slightly less than a AA battery.

“But it works,” said Bhamla. “All you need is an [appropriate] application and some creativity.”

This work was funded by the National Science Foundation (award no.181733), the Mindlin Foundation, and the Jacobs Institute Innovation Catalyst Award.

CITATION: Gaurav Byagathvalli, Aaron F. Pomerantz, Soham Sinha, Janet Standeven, and M. Saad Bhamla, “A 3D-printed hand-powered centrifuge for molecular biology,” (PLOS Biology, 2019) https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3000251

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Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986) (jtoon@gatech.edu).

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]]> John Toon 1 1558619320 2019-05-23 13:48:40 1558619436 2019-05-23 13:50:36 0 0 news A 5,000-year-old toy still enjoyed by kids today has inspired an inexpensive, hand-powered scientific tool that could not only impact how field biologists conduct their research but also allow high-school students and others with limited resources to realize their own state-of-the-art experiments. 

2019-05-23T00:00:00-04:00 2019-05-23T00:00:00-04:00 2019-05-23 00:00:00 John Toon

Research News

(404) 894-6986

621920 621921 621922 621920 image <![CDATA[3D-Printed Disks for 3D-Fuge]]> image/jpeg 1558618506 2019-05-23 13:35:06 1558618506 2019-05-23 13:35:06 621921 image <![CDATA[Using the 3D-Fuge]]> image/jpeg 1558618623 2019-05-23 13:37:03 1558618623 2019-05-23 13:37:03 621922 image <![CDATA[Sample vial in 3D-Fuge]]> image/jpeg 1558618740 2019-05-23 13:39:00 1558618740 2019-05-23 13:39:00
<![CDATA[Antibiotics, Taken Strategically, Could Actually Help Defeat Antibiotic Resistance]]> 31759 In the war on antibiotic-resistant bacteria, it's not so much the antibiotics that are making the enemy stronger as it is how they are prescribed. A new study suggests that doctors can beat antibiotic resistance using those same antibiotics but in a very targeted manner and in combination with other health strategies.

The current broad application of antibiotics helps resistant bacterial strains evolve forward. But using data about bacteria’s specific resistances when prescribing those same drugs more precisely can help put the evolution of resistant strains in reverse, according to researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology, Duke University, and Harvard University who conducted the study.

One researcher cautioned that time is pressing: New strategies against resistance that leverage antibiotics need to be in place before bacteria resistant to most every known antibiotic become too widespread. That would render antibiotics nearly useless, and it has been widely reported that this could happen by mid-century, making bacterial infections much more lethal.

“Once you get to that pan-resistant state, it’s over,” said Sam Brown, who co-led the study and is an associate professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Biological Sciences. “Timing is, unfortunately, an issue in tackling antibiotic resistance.”

The new study, which was co-led by game theorist David McAdams, a professor of business administration and economics at Duke University, delivers a mathematical model to help clinical and public health researchers devise new concrete prescription strategies and those supporting health strategies. The measures center on the analysis of bacterial strains to determine what drugs they are resistant to, and which not.

Some medical labs already scan human genomes for hereditary predispositions to certain medical conditions. Bacterial genomes are far simpler and much easier to analyze, and though the analytical technology is currently not standard equipment in doctors’ offices or medical labs they routinely work with, the researchers think this could change in a reasonable amount of time. This would enable the study’s approach.

The researchers published their study in the journal PLOS Biology on May 16, 2019. The work was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, the Simons Foundation, the Human Frontier Science Program, the Wenner-Gren Foundations, and the Royal Physiographic Society of Lund.


Here are some questions and answers on how the study’s counterintuitive approach could beat back antibiotic resistance:

Isn’t prescribing antibiotics the problem? How can it fight resistance?

The real problem is the broad application of antibiotics. They treat human infections and farm animals, and in the process are killing off a lot of non-resistant bacteria while bacteria resistant to those drugs survive. The resistant strains can then reproduce and with fewer competitors in their space, then they dominate bacterial communities in the host animals and people.

The resistant bacteria get passed to other hosts and become more prevalent in the world altogether. New prescription strategies would outsmart that evolutionary scenario by exposing through genomic (or other) analysis bacteria’s resistance but also their vulnerabilities.

“Right now, there are rapid tests for the pathogen. If you’ve got strep throat, the clinic swabs the bacteria and does a rapid assay that says yes, that’s streptococcus,” Brown said. “But it won’t tell you if it’s resistant to the drug usually prescribed against it. In the future, diagnostics at the point-of-care could find out what strain you’ve got and if it’s resistant.”

Then clinicians would choose the specific antibiotics that the bacteria are not resistant to, and kill the bacteria, thus also stopping them from spreading the genes behind their resistance to other antibiotics. So, identifying an infector’s resistance hits two birds with one stone.

“It’s great for fighting antibiotic resistance, but it’s also good for patients because we’ll always use the correct antibiotic,” Brown said.

[Thinking about grad school? Here's how to apply to Georgia Tech.]

Are there enough effective antibiotics left to do this with?

Plenty. Antibiotics still work as a rule.

In addition, searching out and destroying resistant bacteria could help refresh existing antibiotics’ effectiveness.

“The idea is prevalent that we will use antibiotics up, and then they’re gone,” Brown said. “It doesn’t have to be that way. This study introduces the concept that antibiotics could become a renewable resource if we act on time.”

As mentioned above, prescription strategies by themselves won’t beat resistance, right?

Correct. Resistance evolution has some tricky complexities.

“A lot of bacteria with the potential to make us sick like E. coli spend most of their time just lurking peacefully in our bodies. These are bystander bacteria, and they are exposed to lots of antibiotics that we take for other things such as sore throats or ear aches,” Brown said. “This frequent exposure is probably the major driver of resistance evolution.”

The antibiotic prescription strategy needs those additional health care measures to win the fight, but those measures are pretty straightforward.

What are those additional measures?

Diagnostics need to apply to bystander bacteria, too. E. coli in the intestine or, for example, Strep pneumoniae living peacefully in nostrils would be checked for resistance, say, during annual checkups.

“If the patient is carrying a resistant strain, you work to beat it back before it can break out,” Brown said. “There could be non-antibiotic treatments that do this like, perhaps, bacteria replacement.”

Bacteria replacement therapy would introduce new bacteria into the patient’s body to outcompete the undesirable antibiotic-resistant bacteria and displace it. Also, people would stay home from school and work for a few days so as not to spread the bad bacteria to other people while their immune systems and possibly alternative therapies, such as bacteriophages or non-antibiotic drugs battle the bad bacteria.

This sounds hopeful, but are there other real-world circumstances to consider?

“The study’s mathematical models are broad simplifications of real life,” Brown said. “They don’t take into account that pathogens spend a lot of time in other antibiotic-exposed environments such as farms. Dealing with that is going to require some more research.”

The study also purposely leaves out "polymicrobial infections," which are infections by multiple kinds of bacteria at the same time. The researchers believe that the study’s models can still be relevant to them.

“We expect the logic of combating drug resistance to still hold in these more complex scenarios, but diagnostics and treatment rules will have to be honed for them specifically,” Brown said.

Also read: Want to beat antibiotic resistance? Rethink that strep throat prescription

These researchers coauthored the study: David McAdams from Duke University, Kristofer Wollein Waldetoft from Georgia Tech, and Christine Tedijanto and Marc Lipsitch from Harvard University. The research was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (grant OADS BAA 2016-N-17812), the National Institute of General Medical Sciences at the National Institutes of Health (grant U54GM088558), the Simons Foundation (grant 396001), the Human Frontier Science Program (grant RGP0011/2014), the Wenner-Gren Foundations, and the Royal Physiographic Society of Lund.

Media contact/writer: Ben Brumfield

(404) 660-1408


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Atlanta, Georgia  30332-0181  USA

]]> Ben Brumfield 1 1556727886 2019-05-01 16:24:46 1560365801 2019-06-12 18:56:41 0 0 news Those same antibiotics driving antibiotic resistance could also help defeat it if used with the right strategy. Making it work would require companion health strategies like staying home from work when carrying resistant bacteria.

2019-05-20T00:00:00-04:00 2019-05-20T00:00:00-04:00 2019-05-20 00:00:00 600247 600248 600250 600251 600249 600247 image <![CDATA[Group A Streptococci NIAID]]> image/jpeg 1514489748 2017-12-28 19:35:48 1556728853 2019-05-01 16:40:53 600248 image <![CDATA[Associate Professor Sam Brown, bacterial virulence and evolution]]> image/jpeg 1514490509 2017-12-28 19:48:29 1514490509 2017-12-28 19:48:29 600250 image <![CDATA[Evolution of bacterial resistance to antibiotics]]> image/jpeg 1514491473 2017-12-28 20:04:33 1514491473 2017-12-28 20:04:33 600251 image <![CDATA[Antibiotic-resistant bacteria cause horrible infections, lead to death]]> image/jpeg 1514492185 2017-12-28 20:16:25 1514492280 2017-12-28 20:18:00 600249 image <![CDATA[Sam Brown, associate professor, bacterial virulence and evolution]]> image/jpeg 1514490881 2017-12-28 19:54:41 1514490881 2017-12-28 19:54:41
<![CDATA[If I only had a…spine?]]> 34651 Editor's Note: This story by Audra Davidson originally appeared on April 9, 2019, in Charged Magazine.

For as long as I can remember, I have been obsessed with how people move. Now, hear me out. Even simple movements are fascinating if you really think about it. Electrical signals from your brain and spinal cord communicating with hundreds of muscles, forcing them to work together in a perfectly balanced symphony of contractions. All to maneuver our unwieldy skeletons gracefully through space.

Do me a favor and stand up.

For most of us, this movement feels like one of the simplest things we can do.

Now, look at your legs.

There are over 50 muscles below your hips alone. Yet, all these muscles just contracted in expert harmony to use the precise amount of force needed to move your body against gravity, all while maintaining near perfect balance. Precisely how we can perform these seemingly simple yet crucial movements on a whim is an active and exciting area of research, leading us toward innovation in movement rehabilitation, robotics, and beyond. These are movements we don’t even notice, like activating our muscles to breathe, blink, maintain our balance, or even walk. If you did notice these movements, you likely wouldn’t be able to focus on much else, transforming a simple grasp into an impossible and difficult task.

Luckily, you don’t need your brain to do any of these things.

More than just a cord

Many people think of the spinal cord as just that, a cord. The cords and cables we typically interact with are charged with a very important but relatively simple task: bringing electricity from point a to point b. While the spinal cord is very important for bringing electrical signals from your brain to your muscles and organs, it does so much more.

Picture an orchestra with a smart but rather lazy conductor performing for an audience. The musicians are like the motor neurons in the spinal cord, connecting to and contracting the muscles when the neurons fire, allowing you to move. Complicated musical pieces require guidance by our lazy conductor, just like throwing a dart or grasping an object requires guidance by the brain.  The audience’s cheers allow the orchestra to adapt, just like you use sensations from your body to improve or guide movements.

Yet, just like our experienced musicians don’t need the conductor to play simple or repetitive musical pieces, you don’t need your brain to perform “classic” movements. “The spinal cord is able to achieve so many behaviors by itself, completely isolated from the brain,” explains Dr. Cope, spinal cord neurobiology researcher and Georgia Institute of Technology professor.  “You can completely isolate the spinal cord in a living animal from the brain and it can walk on a treadmill. It can change speeds as the treadmill changes speed. You put an obstacle in its way, it can learn to lift its leg over that obstacle,” all without our lazy conductor.

It was discovered in the early 1900’s that your motor neurons are fully capable of running the show. “What that tells you is that there is this rich circuitry that in fact the whole motor system relies upon,” Dr. Cope explained. All in all, it looks like the spinal cord has the classics all worked out for you. Feel free to tell your conductor they can take the day off.

How to run around like a chicken with its head cut off

Unsurprisingly, experienced musicians are able to play complicated, intricate music without their conductor. Surprisingly to many, however, your spinal cord is able perform complicated, intricate behaviors without any input from the brain. How exactly are these behaviors possible? It’s all in the organization.

If you’ve ever gotten a physical, you have probably experienced the odd sensation of your leg flying through the air without your consent. In the right spot, a simple tap on your knee by the doctor sends your foot on a trip automatically. We commonly refer to these types of movements as “reflexes,” in which no approval by the brain is required. This reflex pathway is relatively simple in organization; only two neurons are required, making this one of the fastest reflexes we have. One neuron senses the stretch of your muscle caused by the tap and immediately tells the second neuron to flex that same muscle. This flexion rapidly moves your leg before you can stop to think about it. This can happen in less than a few milliseconds! You use your stretch reflex more often than your visits to the doctor, however. The stretch reflex helps you keep your balance without a second thought and is believed to be crucial for general sensory feedback and movement control.

What if we make things a little more complicated? Instead of just two neurons, let’s add in two sets of neurons in the spinal cord: set A controlling muscle a, and set B controlling muscle b. Much like a seesaw, these sets of neurons rhythmically alternate in activity. A neurons fire until they run out of juice, then B neurons take over and the cycle continues. With this small set of neurons, a pattern of alternating activity emerges. Together, A and Bneurons form a central pattern generator. For humans, however, a 2-muscle central pattern generator isn’t very useful. Adding in more sets of neurons allows your spinal cord to rhythmically control more muscles in a more complicated pattern. With anything from breathing and scratching an itch to walking and running, the spinal cord is in charge.

The patterns are there in your spinal cord, all you need to do is press start. “One of the things the brain does and can take full advantage of is to just send a ‘go’ signal to the spinal cord,” Dr. Cope explained. “[The brain] can say ‘Hey, all of the complicated things you do with timing and organizing … different muscles in different patterns, you do it. You’ve worked all that out. I don’t have to complicate my life with that.’” And while the brain can initiate and influence this pattern of alternating activity, it isn’t required. This pattern can just as easily be started by sensory input from your environment, or by sensory signals from throughout your body.

At the end of the day, it seems like the spinal cord has it all figured out for us. But do we have the spinal cord all figured out? Not even close.

The Mysterious Cord

In the past year, the news has been abuzz with instances of paralyzed patients regaining the ability to walk. Paralysis is typically caused by spinal cord damage. Up until recently it seems, spinal cord injuries often left patients with limbs that were difficult or impossible to move willingly, oftentimes without hope for improvement. So how are these patients taking these miraculous steps?

A better question might be what happens to the spinal cord when it’s injured? We know some things about how it repairs itself, but we are far from the whole story. This means we are a far cry from fully repairing spinal cords ourselves. While these recent miraculous findings may make it seem like we have it all figured out, don’t let that fool you. “I think it’s exciting and I think it’s encouraging. I would say that we shouldn’t let our encouragement overshadow the fact that it’s nowhere close to what we want,” laments Dr. Cope.  “It’s going to require some basic neuroscience information about what the mechanisms are that are limiting recovery.”

Researchers like Dr. Cope at Georgia Tech are working on a piece of this puzzle, studying to understand how the healthy and injured spinal cord contributes to and controls movement. Even with the great strides achieved recently by clinical studies, Dr. Cope explains that “We’re encouraged, but we have a long way to go.”

Audra Davidson is a third-year Applied Physiology Ph.D. student at Georgia Tech. 

Charged Magazine is an online magazine about science and math produced by students and faculty on the STEMcomm VIP team at Georgia Tech.


]]> mrosten3 1 1555519853 2019-04-17 16:50:53 1555522388 2019-04-17 17:33:08 0 0 news Our spines are more than just a cord, performing complicated, intricate behaviors without input from the brain.

2019-04-25T00:00:00-04:00 2019-04-25T00:00:00-04:00 2019-04-25 00:00:00 A. Maureen Rouhi, Ph.D.
Director of Communications
College of Sciences

620565 620564 593191 620565 image <![CDATA[Tendon Tap]]> image/gif 1555520165 2019-04-17 16:56:05 1555520165 2019-04-17 16:56:05 620564 image <![CDATA[Central Pattern Generator]]> image/gif 1555520139 2019-04-17 16:55:39 1555520139 2019-04-17 16:55:39 593191 image <![CDATA[Tim Cope]]> image/jpeg 1498853589 2017-06-30 20:13:09 1498853589 2017-06-30 20:13:09
<![CDATA[Using Fish to Unravel How Complex Behavior is Encoded in the Genome and Wired in the Brain]]> 30678 A collaboration between Georgia Tech and the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology (MPIN) has received a grant of $750,000 over three years from the Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP). The award will allow research on the molecular and genetic encoding of complex behaviors.

The team is led by Georgia Tech’s J. Todd Streelman and MPIN’s Herwig Baier. Streelman is a professor in, and the chair of, the Georgia Tech School of Biological Sciences. Baier is the director of MPIN.

“It remains incredibly difficult to identify the cellular basis and the genetic variants underlying complex behavior,” Streelman says. “Understanding how behavior is encoded requires solving a dual problem involving neurodevelopment and circuit function.”

To find answers, Streelman and Baier will develop a model system to chart the complex path from genome to brain to behavior in cichlid fish from Lake Malawi. 

Male cichlid fish build bowers to attract females for mating. The bowers are either pits, which are depressions in the sand, or castles, which look like volcanoes. Each type corresponds to a specific behavior encoded in a fish strain.

When the two strains mate, their male offspring display a remarkable behavior: First they construct a pit then a castle. This behavior indicates that a single brain containing two genomes can produce each behavior in succession.

Moreover, gene expression in the brain is biased toward the pit variant of the genome – or pit allele -- when the fish are digging pits and toward the castle allele when they are building castles. “This phenomenon offers the chance to identify both the genome regulatory logic and the neural circuitry underlying complex behavior in one sweep,” Baier says.

Streelman’s group will use single-cell RNA sequencing to pinpoint the cell populations that mediate context-dependent, allele-specific expression in male bower builders. Baier’s team will use genome editing and optogenetic tools to manipulate particular neurons in the brains of behaving bower builders.

“Our collaborative work will thus identify the neurons in which behavior-specific alleles are expressed and then, ideally, match those neurons to the corresponding behavioral output,” Baier says.

“Achieving our goals will demonstrate how the genome is activated in particular cell types to produce context-dependent natural social behaviors,” Streelman says.

The award is one of only 25 made from a total of 654 letters of intent HFSP received from around the world. HFSP provides funding for frontier research in the life sciences. The highly competitive program is implemented by the International Human Frontier Science Program Organization, based in Strasbourg, France.

]]> A. Maureen Rouhi 1 1555334019 2019-04-15 13:13:39 1555334281 2019-04-15 13:18:01 0 0 news A collaboration between Georgia Tech and the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology has received a grant of $750,000 over three years from the Human Frontier Science Program. The award will allow research on the molecular and genetic encoding of complex behaviors.

2019-04-15T00:00:00-04:00 2019-04-15T00:00:00-04:00 2019-04-15 00:00:00 A. Maureen Rouhi, Ph.D.
Director of Communications
College of Sciences

620395 620396 620397 620395 image <![CDATA[Cichlids in the lab]]> image/png 1555334116 2019-04-15 13:15:16 1555334116 2019-04-15 13:15:16 620396 image <![CDATA[J. Todd Streelman]]> image/jpeg 1555334180 2019-04-15 13:16:20 1555334180 2019-04-15 13:16:20 620397 image <![CDATA[Herwig Baier]]> image/jpeg 1555334217 2019-04-15 13:16:57 1555334217 2019-04-15 13:16:57
<![CDATA[College of Computing Researchers Awarded $6.25 Million to Study Collective Emergent Behavior]]> 34541 Georgia Tech researchers have been awarded $6.25 million from the Department of Defense (DoD) to use collective emergent behavior to achieve task-oriented objectives. 

DoD’s Multidisciplinary University Research Initiatives (MURI) Program funds projects that bring researchers together from diverse backgrounds to work on a complex problem. Institute for Data Engineering and Science co-director and School of Computer Science Professor Dana Randall is project investigator and leads a team of six that includes Daniel Goldman, Dunn Family Professor in the School of Physics. The Formal Foundations of Algorithmic Matter and Emergent Computation team also includes chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, physics, and computational science researchers from other universities.  

The researchers are trying to predict and design emergent behavior within computation by using basic algorithms on simple machines to perform complex tasks. Emergent behavior is when a microscopic change in a parameter creates a macroscopic change to a system. This collective behavior is easy to find in nature, from a swarm of bees to a colony of ants, but also appears in other scientific disciplines. 

“A MURI lets us take a deep dive toward understanding how many computationally limited components at the micro-scale can be programmed to work collectively to produce useful behavior at the macro-scale,” said Randall, who is also the ADVANCE Professor of Computing. “Our interdisciplinary team combines expertise in many fields, mimicking the research by forming a collaboration that is also greater than the sum of its parts."

The MURI hybrid approach to algorithmic matter combines traditional logic-based programming with non-traditional computational methods, such as using physical characteristics of the interacting matter to drive a system toward collective behavior. One of the goals is to program based on this predictable emergent behavior. The approach also predicts basic properties of the collective’s emergent behavior, like whether it will behave like a gas, fluid, or solid. In this context, emergent behavior turns into emergent collective computation.

“MURI promises basic algorithms that allow very simple machines to work collectively to perform amazingly complex tasks,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) chemical engineering Professor Michael Strano said. “Our team will examine systems of autonomous cell-like particles that interact and respond to the movement of their neighbors in a programmable way. Theorists will be able to test ideas of emergent computation from these simple devices and learn how to execute tasks from the behavior of relatively simple, autonomous particles.”

Although the behavior has footing in physics, computer science, and swarm robotics, there is no underlying framework to explain why until this research. The multidisciplinary approach allows theory and experiment to continuously inform each other and determine the computational capabilities of emergent behavior. The team has an ideal range of expertise in machine learning, control theory, and non-equilibrium physics and algorithms. They are also working with experimentalists who build collective systems at granular and microscopic scales.  

“An exciting aspect of this collaboration will be our attempts to interface and integrate ideas and tools from robotics, non-equilibrium physics, control theory, and computer science to develop task-capable swarms,” Goldman said.

This MURI project will run for five years and is funded by the Army Research Office. In addition to Randall, Goldman, and Strano, the team also includes Arizona State computational science and engineering Professor Andrea Richa, MIT physics Associate Professor Jeremy England, and Northwestern mechanical engineering Professor Todd Murphey.

The overarching goal is to find how simplistic the computation can be for this complexity. This could lead to advances in engineered systems achieving specific task-oriented goals.

“The MURI promises nothing short of the transformation of robots,” Strano said, “from the large, bulky constructions that we think of today, to future clouds or swarms that enable functions that are currently impossible to realize.”


]]> Tess Malone 1 1554906511 2019-04-10 14:28:31 1554907769 2019-04-10 14:49:29 0 0 news Georgia Tech researchers have been awarded $6.25 million from the Department of Defense (DoD) to use collective emergent behavior to achieve task-oriented objectives. 

2019-04-09T00:00:00-04:00 2019-04-09T00:00:00-04:00 2019-04-09 00:00:00 Tess Malone, Communications Officer


620256 620257 620258 620259 620256 image <![CDATA[Vibrating robots with magnetic interactions]]> image/jpeg 1554854240 2019-04-09 23:57:20 1554854240 2019-04-09 23:57:20 620257 image <![CDATA[Mimicking ferromagnetic materials]]> image/jpeg 1554854384 2019-04-09 23:59:44 1554854384 2019-04-09 23:59:44 620258 image <![CDATA[Researchers for MURI]]> image/jpeg 1554854549 2019-04-10 00:02:29 1554854549 2019-04-10 00:02:29 620259 image <![CDATA[Researchers for MURI-2]]> image/jpeg 1554854661 2019-04-10 00:04:21 1554854661 2019-04-10 00:04:21
<![CDATA[Contraceptive Jewelry Could Offer a New Family Planning Approach]]> 27303 Family planning for women might one day be as simple as putting on an earring.

A report published recently in the Journal of Controlled Release describes a technique for administering contraceptive hormones through special backings on jewelry such as earrings, wristwatches, rings or necklaces. The contraceptive hormones are contained in patches applied to portions of the jewelry in contact with the skin, allowing the drugs to be absorbed into the body.

Initial testing suggests the contraceptive jewelry may deliver sufficient amounts of hormone to provide contraception, though no human testing has been done yet. A goal for the new technique is to improve user compliance with drug regimens that require regular dosages. Beyond contraceptives, the jewelry-based technique might also be used for delivering other drugs through the skin.

“The more contraceptive options that are available, the more likely it is that the needs of individual women can be met,” said Mark Prausnitz, a Regents Professor and the J. Erskine Love Jr. chair in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “Because putting on jewelry may already be part of a woman’s daily routine, this technique may facilitate compliance with the drug regimen. This technique could more effectively empower some women to prevent unintended pregnancies.”

This proof-of-concept research was supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) under a subcontract funded by FHI 360.

Contraceptive jewelry adapts transdermal patch technology that is already used to administer drugs that prevent motion sickness, support smoking cessation, and control the symptoms of menopause, but have never been incorporated into jewelry before. Contraceptive patches are also already available, but Prausnitz believes pairing them with jewelry may prove attractive to some women – and allow more discreet use of the drug delivery technology.

“There is a lot of experience with making and using conventional transdermal patches,” he said. “We are taking this established technology, making the patch smaller and using jewelry to help apply it. We think that earring patches can expand the scope of transdermal patches to provide additional impact.” 

Postdoctoral Fellow Mohammad Mofidfar, Senior Research Scientist Laura O’Farrell and Prausnitz tested the concept on animal models, first on ears from pigs. Test patches mounted on earring backs and containing the hormone levonorgestrel were also applied to the skin of hairless rats. To simulate removal of the earrings during sleep, the researchers applied the patches for 16 hours, then removed them for eight hours. Testing suggested that even though levels dropped while the earrings were removed, the patch could produce necessary amounts of the hormone in the bloodstream.

The earring patch tested by the researchers consisted of three layers. One layer is impermeable and includes an adhesive to hold it onto an earring back, the underside of a wristwatch or the inside surface of a necklace or ring. A middle layer of the patch contains the contraceptive drug in solid form. The outer layer is a skin adhesive to help stick to skin so the hormone can be transferred. Once in the skin, the drug can move into the bloodstream and circulate through the body.

If the technique ultimately is used for contraception in humans, the earring back would need to be changed periodically, likely on a weekly basis.

The contraceptive jewelry was originally designed for use in developing countries where access to health care services may limit access to long-acting contraceptives such as injectables, implants and IUDs. However, Prausnitz says the technology may be attractive beyond that initial audience. “We think contraceptive jewelry could be appealing and helpful to women all around the world,” said Prausnitz.

The researchers tested patches adhered to earring backs, about one square centimeter in area, and placed them tightly on the skin of the test animals. Earring backs and watches may be most useful for administering drugs because they remain in close contact with the skin to allow drug transfer. The dose delivered by a patch is generally proportional to the area of skin contact.

“The advantage of incorporating contraceptive hormone into a universal earring back is that it can be paired with many different earrings,” Prausnitz noted. “A woman could acquire these drug-loaded earring backs and then use them with various earrings she might want to wear.”

Though transdermal drug-delivery patches have been available since 1979, testing would be required to determine whether the earring patch is safe and effective. In addition, research would be required to determine whether the concept would be attractive to women in different cultures.

“We need to understand not only the effectiveness and economics of contraceptive jewelry, but also the social and personal factors that come into play for women all around the world,” Prausnitz said. “We would have to make sure that this contraceptive jewelry concept is something that women would actually want and use.”

The technique could potentially be used to deliver other pharmaceuticals, though it would only be suitable for skin-permeable drugs that require administration of quantities small enough to fit into the patches. 

“We think there are uses beyond contraceptive hormones, but there will always be a limitation that the drug has to be effective with a low enough dose to fit into the limited space in the patch,” Prausnitz said. “It also should be a drug that would benefit from continuous delivery from a patch and that is administered to a patient population interested in using pharmaceutical jewelry.”

The earring patch is designed to add another contraceptive option for women. “Pharmaceutical jewelry introduces a novel delivery method that may make taking contraceptives more appealing,” he added. “Making it more appealing should make it easier to remember to use it.”

This work was made possible by the generous support of the American people through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of FHI 360, USAID or the United States Government.  This research was supported by USAID cooperative agreement AID-OAA-15-00045 under a subcontract funded by FHI 360 as a proof-of-concept study (https://www.fhi360.org/projects/envision-fp).

CITATION: Mohammad Mofidfar, Laura O’Farrell and Mark R. Prausnitz, “Pharmaceutical jewelry: Earring patch for transdermal delivery of contraceptive hormone,” (Journal of Controlled Release, 2019) https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jconrel.2019.03.011

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Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986) (jtoon@gatech.edu)

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]]> John Toon 1 1553646770 2019-03-27 00:32:50 1553646942 2019-03-27 00:35:42 0 0 news Family planning for women might one day be as simple as putting on an earring.

2019-03-26T00:00:00-04:00 2019-03-26T00:00:00-04:00 2019-03-26 00:00:00 John Toon

Research News

(404) 894-6986

619697 619696 619699 619698 619700 619697 image <![CDATA[Earring with transdermal patch]]> image/jpeg 1553645829 2019-03-27 00:17:09 1553645829 2019-03-27 00:17:09 619696 image <![CDATA[Earring on a woman's ear]]> image/jpeg 1553645687 2019-03-27 00:14:47 1553645687 2019-03-27 00:14:47 619699 image <![CDATA[Contraceptive jewelry]]> image/jpeg 1553646066 2019-03-27 00:21:06 1553646066 2019-03-27 00:21:06 619698 image <![CDATA[Contraceptive earring patch]]> image/jpeg 1553645968 2019-03-27 00:19:28 1553645968 2019-03-27 00:19:28 619700 image <![CDATA[Vertical - earring on a woman's ear]]> image/jpeg 1553646193 2019-03-27 00:23:13 1553646193 2019-03-27 00:23:13
<![CDATA[Using Smartphones and Laptops to Simulate Deadly Heart Arrhythmias ]]> 27303 Modeling the complex electrical waves that cause heart arrhythmias could provide the key to understanding and treating a major cause of death in the world. Until now, however, real-time modeling of those deadly waveforms within millions of interacting heart cells required especially powerful computer clusters – even supercomputers.

Using graphics processing chips designed for gaming applications and software that runs on ordinary web browsers, researchers have moved this modeling of the deadly spiral wave heart arrhythmias to less costly computers, and even to high-end smartphones. That could put the real-time 3D modeling into the hands of clinicians who may one day use the system to diagnose and treat these abnormal heart rhythms. The new tools could also help researchers study new drugs that must be evaluated for their potential to cause heart arrhythmias.

Beyond cardiac issues, which can require solving billions of equations, the tools could also be applied to other physical systems, such as fluid flow and crystal growth. The research, which has been supported by the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health, is reported March 27 in the journal Science Advances. The new simulation tools rely on Web Graphics Library (WebGL 2.0) and can run on most common operating systems, independent of the operating system.

“Models that might have been accessible to only a handful of researchers in the world will now be available to many more groups,” said Flavio Fenton, a professor in the School of Physics at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “This also opens the door to many other areas of research where people have equations that can be run in parallel. Anybody can have access to these solutions, which run simulations as much as thousands of times faster than standard CPUs.”

Fenton and collaborators at Georgia Tech and Rochester Institute of Technology have been studying harmful heart rhythm patterns to understand them – and potentially to design control strategies that go beyond existing treatments, which use drugs, implantable devices and tissue ablation to halt the arrhythmias. Ultimately, the researchers envision doctors using the simulations on tablet computers.

“Being able to do real-time simulations in three dimensions could open the door to clinical applications where we could actually obtain patient geometries and solve these equations in the cells that are packed into the heart,” said Elizabeth Cherry, a professor of mathematics at Rochester Institute of Technology and one of the project researchers. “We could see applications in the clinic that could individualize treatments on the basis of their specific heart geometries. We could actually test possible therapies to see what would work for each patient.”

Key to what they have done are graphics processing units (GPUs), which were developed to help computers display graphics and video. Their development and application have now taken off with the growth of the computer gaming industry, which needs fast parallel processing. High-end smartphones have as many as 900 GPU cores, while high-end graphics cards for laptop or desktop computers may have more than 5,000. Each core can process simulation data, providing a massively parallel computing system.

“Over the past several years, GPUs have become really powerful,” Fenton said. “Each one has multiple processors, so you can run problems in parallel like a supercomputer does. As many as 40 or 50 differential equations must be calculated for each cell, and we need to understand how millions of cells interact. I was surprised that even a cellphone may have enough GPU cores to run these simulations.”

Harnessing GPU power is not all the researchers have done. Software for the GPUs varies by manufacturer and chip type. To allow the simulations to run on any GPU, Research Scientist Abouzar Kaboudian developed a versatile programming library that enabled him and his team of collaborators to develop programs in WebGL that run through web browsers such as Chrome and Firefox. Through a browser, the tools can run the simulations on a variety of computers, tablets and phones – without the need to install any new programs on them.

“If you have access to the Internet and a modern web browser like Firefox or Chrome, you can just go to a web link and the simulation will start running on the graphics card of your computer,” said Kaboudian. “Any problem that can be parallelized can run on the library that we have created. It will accelerate simulations on any computer by several hundred times.”

While the original goal was to simulate heart arrhythmias, the tools can be useful with other simulations such as chemical reactions, fluid flow, crystal growth and geophysical forces.

“Oscillating forces can reduce the lifespan of civil engineering structures such as petroleum platforms and underwater pipelines,” Kaboudian said. “To understand these forces, you have to understand fluid flow around the structures and how to control the oscillations. With this program, you can see the effects of changes to modify your design strategy in real time.”

The researchers have developed ten different models based on their WebGL programming, and are planning to make the tools available to other researchers who want to use them. They are planning future enhancements, such as the ability to run the simulations on more than one GPU card to achieve even higher computational speeds.

Though high-end graphics cards can range in cost up to thousands of dollars, even those that cost only a few hundred dollars can provide computational power that would be only possible on supercomputers that would normally cost several hundred thousand dollars, Kaboudian said. In this way, they may provide real savings compared to operating large computer clusters or supercomputers. And that could make simulations available to more researchers.

“Being able to run these simulations on GPU cards greatly lowers the cost compared to a traditional supercomputer,” Cherry noted. “Even the GPUs of high-end cellphones can run these simulations. That will expand access by moving these simulations onto smaller local devices that researchers are familiar with and can afford.”

This research was supported by the National Science Foundation’s Computer and Network Systems under grants CNS-1446675 and CNS-1446312 and by the National Institute of Health’s National Heart Lung and Blood Institute under grant 1R01HL143450-01. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the sponsoring agencies.

CITATION: Abouzar Kaboudian, Elizabeth M. Cherry, Flavio H. Fenton, “Real-time interactive simulations of large-scale systems on personal computers and cell phones: Toward patient-specific heart modeling and other applications,” (Science Advances, 2019). 

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Georgia Institute of Technology
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Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986) (jtoon@gatech.edu)

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]]> John Toon 1 1553709778 2019-03-27 18:02:58 1553709990 2019-03-27 18:06:30 0 0 news Modeling the complex electrical waves that cause heart arrhythmias could provide the key to understanding and treating a major cause of death in the world. Until now, however, real-time modeling of those deadly waveforms within millions of interacting heart cells required especially powerful computer clusters – even supercomputers.

2019-03-27T00:00:00-04:00 2019-03-27T00:00:00-04:00 2019-03-27 00:00:00 John Toon

Research News

(404) 894-6986

619739 619740 619748 619745 619742 619739 image <![CDATA[Cardiac and fluid flow simulations]]> image/jpeg 1553708602 2019-03-27 17:43:22 1553708602 2019-03-27 17:43:22 619740 image <![CDATA[Smartphone screens showing cardiac simulations]]> image/jpeg 1553708752 2019-03-27 17:45:52 1553708752 2019-03-27 17:45:52 619748 image <![CDATA[Researchers discuss simulations]]> image/jpeg 1553709145 2019-03-27 17:52:25 1553709145 2019-03-27 17:52:25 619745 image <![CDATA[Researchers use graphics processing chips]]> image/jpeg 1553709024 2019-03-27 17:50:24 1553709024 2019-03-27 17:50:24 619742 image <![CDATA[Cardiac and fluid flow simulations2]]> image/jpeg 1553708880 2019-03-27 17:48:00 1553708880 2019-03-27 17:48:00
<![CDATA[An Age of Empowerment: Meet Hang Lu]]> 34829 Even before Hang Lu found her career focus, she knew she wanted to do something different.

As she was finishing her Ph.D. in chemical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she found her interest wandering to other disciplines. She took a two-year postdoctoral fellowship in a medical school studying neurogenetics.

“It was partially serendipitous. I didn’t know this was the thing I would do,” she said, referring to her research work. But those two years gave her a chance to test things, explore, and — as she puts it — play.

Read the full story

]]> Kimberly Short kshort6 1 1546975622 2019-01-08 19:27:02 1546975765 2019-01-08 19:29:25 0 0 news Even before Hang Lu found her career focus, she knew she wanted to do something different.

2019-01-04T00:00:00-05:00 2019-01-04T00:00:00-05:00 2019-01-04 00:00:00 Kristen Bailey

Institute Communications

615905 615905 image <![CDATA[An Age of Empowerment: Meet Hang Lu]]> image/jpeg 1546617696 2019-01-04 16:01:36 1546617696 2019-01-04 16:01:36 <![CDATA[Read the Full Story]]>
<![CDATA[A Unique Concentration of Postdoctoral Talent]]> 30678 A postdoctoral scholar, or postdoc, “is an individual holding a doctoral degree who is engaged in a temporary period of mentored research and/or scholarly training for the purpose of acquiring the professional skills needed to pursue a career path of his or her choosing,” according to the National Postdoctoral Association.

Among the most coveted postdoctoral appointments are those from the NASA Postdoctoral Program (NPP). These fellowships offer early-career researchers “the opportunity to share in NASA’s mission, to reach for new heights, and to reveal the unknown so that what we do and learn will benefit all humankind,” NPP says.

The College of Sciences is the proud host of six NPP fellows advancing NASA’s mission in astrobiology and solar system exploration. The concentration of talent testifies to Georgia Tech’s vibrant astrobiology and space science research communities.   

Meet the six NPP fellows whose scientific career paths are being shaped by their mentors in the College of Sciences. Just as we invest in our students, we have a huge stake in the success of these early-career scientists. Like our graduates, they will be very much our alumni, too, after they move on.  

          Peter Conlin

          Moran Frenkel-Pinter

          Andrew Mullen

          Micah Schaible

          Nicholas Speller

          Nadia Szeinbaum

]]> A. Maureen Rouhi 1 1552923685 2019-03-18 15:41:25 1553014717 2019-03-19 16:58:37 0 0 news The College of Sciences is the proud host of six NPP fellows advancing NASA’s mission in astrobiology and solar system exploration. The concentration of talent testifies to Georgia Tech’s vibrant astrobiology and space science research communities.   

2019-03-19T00:00:00-04:00 2019-03-19T00:00:00-04:00 2019-03-19 00:00:00 A. Maureen Rouhi, Ph.D.
Director of Communications
College of Sciences

619360 619361 619362 619365 619366 619367 619368 619360 image <![CDATA[NASA postdoc fellows in the College of Sciences]]> image/png 1552921866 2019-03-18 15:11:06 1552921866 2019-03-18 15:11:06 619361 image <![CDATA[Peter Conlin]]> image/jpeg 1552921944 2019-03-18 15:12:24 1552924345 2019-03-18 15:52:25 619362 image <![CDATA[Moran Frenkel-Pinter]]> image/jpeg 1552921987 2019-03-18 15:13:07 1564677391 2019-08-01 16:36:31 619365 image <![CDATA[Andrew Mullen]]> image/jpeg 1552924500 2019-03-18 15:55:00 1552924500 2019-03-18 15:55:00 619366 image <![CDATA[Micah Schaible]]> image/jpeg 1552924543 2019-03-18 15:55:43 1552924543 2019-03-18 15:55:43 619367 image <![CDATA[Nicholas Speller]]> image/jpeg 1552924588 2019-03-18 15:56:28 1552924588 2019-03-18 15:56:28 619368 image <![CDATA[Nadia Szeinbaum]]> image/jpeg 1552924627 2019-03-18 15:57:07 1552924627 2019-03-18 15:57:07
<![CDATA[Seeing through a Robot’s Eyes Helps Those with Profound Motor Impairments]]> 27303 An interface system that uses augmented reality technology could help individuals with profound motor impairments operate a humanoid robot to feed themselves and perform routine personal care tasks such as scratching an itch and applying skin lotion. The web-based interface displays a “robot’s eye view” of surroundings to help users interact with the world through the machine.

The system, described March 15 in the journal PLOS ONE, could help make sophisticated robots more useful to people who do not have experience operating complex robotic systems. Study participants interacted with the robot interface using standard assistive computer access technologies — such as eye trackers and head trackers — that they were already using to control their personal computers.

The paper reported on two studies showing how such “robotic body surrogates” – which can perform tasks similar to those of humans – could improve the quality of life for users. The work could provide a foundation for developing faster and more capable assistive robots.

“Our results suggest that people with profound motor deficits can improve their quality of life using robotic body surrogates,” said Phillip Grice, a recent Georgia Institute of Technology Ph.D. graduate who is first author of the paper. “We have taken the first step toward making it possible for someone to purchase an appropriate type of robot, have it in their home and derive real benefit from it.”

Grice and Professor Charlie Kemp from the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University used a PR2 mobile manipulator manufactured by Willow Garage for the two studies. The wheeled robot has 20 degrees of freedom, with two arms and a “head,” giving it the ability to manipulate objects such as water bottles, washcloths, hairbrushes and even an electric shaver.

“Our goal is to give people with limited use of their own bodies access to robotic bodies so they can interact with the world in new ways,” said Kemp.

In their first study, Grice and Kemp made the PR2 available across the internet to a group of 15 participants with severe motor impairments. The participants learned to control the robot remotely, using their own assistive equipment to operate a mouse cursor to perform a personal care task. Eighty percent of the participants were able to manipulate the robot to pick up a water bottle and bring it to the mouth of a mannequin.

“Compared to able-bodied persons, the capabilities of the robot are limited,” Grice said. “But the participants were able to perform tasks effectively and showed improvement on a clinical evaluation that measured their ability to manipulate objects compared to what they would have been able to do without the robot.”

In the second study, the researchers provided the PR2 and interface system to Henry Evans, a California man who has been helping Georgia Tech researchers study and improve assistive robotic systems since 2011. Evans, who has very limited control of his body, tested the robot in his home for seven days and not only completed tasks, but also devised novel uses combining the operation of both robot arms at the same time – using one arm to control a washcloth and the other to use a brush.

“The system was very liberating to me, in that it enabled me to independently manipulate my environment for the first time since my stroke,” said Evans. “With respect to other people, I was thrilled to see Phil get overwhelmingly positive results when he objectively tested the system with 15 other people.”

The researchers were pleased that Evans developed new uses for the robot, combining motion of the two arms in ways they had not expected.

“When we gave Henry free access to the robot for a week, he found new opportunities for using it that we had not anticipated,” said Grice. “This is important because a lot of the assistive technology available today is designed for very specific purposes. What Henry has shown is that this system is powerful in providing assistance and empowering users. The opportunities for this are potentially very broad.”

The interface allowed Evans to care for himself in bed over an extended period of time. “The most helpful aspect of the interface system was that I could operate the robot completely independently, with only small head movements using an extremely intuitive graphical user interface,” Evans said.

The web-based interface shows users what the world looks like from cameras located in the robot’s head. Clickable controls overlaid on the view allow the users to move the robot around in a home or other environment and control the robot’s hands and arms. When users move the robot’s head, for instance, the screen displays the mouse cursor as a pair of eyeballs to show where the robot will look when the user clicks. Clicking on a disc surrounding the robotic hands allows users to select a motion. While driving the robot around a room, lines following the cursor on the interface indicate the direction it will travel.

Building the interface around the actions of a simple single-button mouse allows people with a range of disabilities to use the interface without lengthy training sessions.

“Having an interface that individuals with a wide range of physical impairments can operate means we can provide access to a broad range of people, a form of universal design,” Grice noted. “Because of its capability, this is a very complex system, so the challenge we had to overcome was to make it accessible to individuals who have very limited control of their own bodies.”

While the results of the study demonstrated what the researchers had set out to do, Kemp agrees that improvements can be made. The existing system is slow, and mistakes made by users can create significant setbacks. Still, he said, “People could use this technology today and really benefit from it.”

The cost and size of the PR2 would need to be significantly reduced for the system to be commercially viable, Evans suggested. Kemp says these studies point the way to a new type of assistive technology. 

“It seems plausible to me based on this study that robotic body surrogates could provide significant benefits to users,” Kemp added.

This work was supported by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR), grant 90RE5016-01-00 via RERC TechSAge, National Science Foundation Award IIS-1150157, by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program Award, and the Residential Care Facilities for the Elderly of Fulton County Scholar Award. 

Kemp is a cofounder, a board member, an equity holder, and the CTO of Hello Robot Inc., which is developing products related to this research. This research could affect his personal financial status. The terms of this arrangement have been reviewed and approved by Georgia Tech in accordance with its conflict of interest policies.

CITATION: Phillip M. Grice and Charles C. Kemp, “In-home and remote use of robotic body surrogates by people with profound motor deficits” (PLOS ONE 2019). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0212904

Research News
Georgia Institute of Technology
177 North Avenue
Atlanta,Georgia  30332-0171  USA

Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986) (jtoon@gatech.edu).

Writer: John Toon

]]> John Toon 1 1552673872 2019-03-15 18:17:52 1553198438 2019-03-21 20:00:38 0 0 news An interface system that uses augmented reality technology could help individuals with profound motor impairments operate a humanoid robot to feed themselves and perform routine personal care tasks such as scratching an itch and applying skin lotion. The web-based interface displays a “robot’s eye view” of surroundings to help users interact with the world through the machine.

2019-03-15T00:00:00-04:00 2019-03-15T00:00:00-04:00 2019-03-15 00:00:00 John Toon

Research News

(404) 894-6986

619310 619311 619312 619313 619315 619310 image <![CDATA[Controlling the PR2 Robot]]> image/png 1552672836 2019-03-15 18:00:36 1552672836 2019-03-15 18:00:36 619311 image <![CDATA[Retrieving a cup with the robot]]> image/png 1552672973 2019-03-15 18:02:53 1552672973 2019-03-15 18:02:53 619312 image <![CDATA[Henry Evans shaving with the robot]]> image/png 1552673119 2019-03-15 18:05:19 1552673119 2019-03-15 18:05:19 619313 image <![CDATA[PR2 robot arm]]> image/png 1552673270 2019-03-15 18:07:50 1552673270 2019-03-15 18:07:50 619315 image <![CDATA[PR2 humanoid robot]]> image/jpeg 1552673390 2019-03-15 18:09:50 1552673390 2019-03-15 18:09:50
<![CDATA[New Grant Award Supports Research on Early Detection of Ovarian Cancer]]> 27303 Promising research toward what could become the first simple and accurate test for the early detection of ovarian cancer could be validated – and expanded – thanks to a significant grant from the Prevent Cancer Foundation.

If validated, the general technique for the work could also have a variety of other applications. “In my dream world, a single blood test could be used to screen for multiple diseases,” said John McDonald, the leader of the research and a professor in the School of Biological Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Ovarian cancer is especially dangerous because women often don’t show symptoms until the disease is in an advanced stage and difficult to treat. In contrast, when caught early “about 94 percent of patients live longer than five years after diagnosis,” according to the American Cancer Society. 

The problem is that there is no good test for detecting the disease at an early stage. 

About seven years ago McDonald and colleagues decided to see if they could change that by merging the disparate disciplines of biology, analytical chemistry and computer science. “Bringing the computer into it was novel at the time,” said McDonald, who is also director of Georgia Tech’s Integrated Cancer Research Center.

His Georgia Tech collaborators on the initial work were Professor Facundo Fernández, the Vasser Woolley Foundation Chair in Bioanalytical Chemistry, and Alex Gray, an assistant professor of computer science (Gray has since left Georgia Tech to become VP for Artificial Intelligence Science at IBM). They were joined by clinical consultant Dr. Benedict Benigno, a gynecological oncologist and CEO of the Ovarian Cancer Institute in Atlanta.

Promising Results

The researchers initially analyzed blood samples from 49 healthy women and 46 with early-stage ovarian cancer. They specifically focused on metabolites in those samples. Metabolites are molecules like fatty acids that our cells produce through enzymatic reactions.  

In the molecular equivalent of finding needles in a haystack, they proceeded to analyze some 40,000 metabolites to see if there were any associated with the cancer patients that differed from those in samples from the healthy women. These could be biomarkers for the disease; molecules to screen for in an annual test.

Through a variety of techniques, the team first pared down the original thousands of metabolites to a collection of 255 candidate biomarkers. They then applied machine learning to that set, asking the computer to find any metabolites that were over- or under-expressed in the cancer samples. 

“That’s what machine learning is all about,” McDonald said. “The computer is simply looking for correlations in very large data sets, then it comes back to you with what it has found.”

In 2015 the team reported in the journal Scientific Reports the discovery of 16 metabolites that could distinguish women with ovarian cancer from those without the disease with 100 percent accuracy. “Basically we modeled the face of cancer at the metabolic level,” McDonald said. 

Moving Forward

With the new $100,000 grant, the researchers hope to validate their earlier work with samples from some 1,000 women, as compared to the roughly 100 they originally studied. The new study will also include samples from a much more diverse set of women (the original samples were from Caucasian women).

They also aim to expand the work to look for biomarkers associated with different types of ovarian cancer. “We want to be able to distinguish between a Type II cancer with high malignant potential – one that’s highly likely to spread outside the ovary – and a Type I with low malignant potential. A cancer with high malignant potential you’d want to treat right away, while a cancer with low malignant potential might not require immediate surgery,” McDonald said.

In conclusion, McDonald said, “it’s exciting because the initial results look like [our approach] might work.”

Research News
Georgia Institute of Technology
177 North Avenue
Atlanta, Georgia 30332-0181  USA

Media Relations Assistance: John Toon (404-894-6986) (jtoon@gatech.edu).

Writer: Elizabeth Thomson

]]> John Toon 1 1551222630 2019-02-26 23:10:30 1551222667 2019-02-26 23:11:07 0 0 news Promising research toward what could become the first simple and accurate test for the early detection of ovarian cancer could be validated – and expanded – thanks to a significant grant from the Prevent Cancer Foundation.

2019-02-26T00:00:00-05:00 2019-02-26T00:00:00-05:00 2019-02-26 00:00:00 John Toon

Research News

(404) 894-6986

618501 618502 618501 image <![CDATA[Professor John McDonald]]> image/jpeg 1551222065 2019-02-26 23:01:05 1551222065 2019-02-26 23:01:05 618502 image <![CDATA[Sequencing Equipment]]> image/jpeg 1551222240 2019-02-26 23:04:00 1551222240 2019-02-26 23:04:00
<![CDATA[Urine Test Detects Organ Transplant Rejection, Could Replace Needle Biopsies]]> 31759 Too often, it’s only after a transplanted organ is seriously damaged that a biopsy reveals the organ is in rejection. A new screening method using sensor particles and a urine test could catch rejection much earlier, more comprehensively, and without a biopsy needle.

When the body’s immune system has just begun attacking cells of a transplanted organ, the new method’s particles send a fluorescent signal into the urine. In a new study, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University validated the method in a mouse model, and they have engineered the sensor with highly biocompatible components, which could make the path to potential future trials easier.

A patient may feel fine, and a biopsy may look deceptively clean when T cells have already begun attacking a transplanted organ. The sensor particle, a nanoparticle, detects a T cell weapon, an enzyme called granzyme B, that pushes a transplanted organ’s cells into the self-destruction process called apoptosis

Earliest detection

“Before any organ damage can happen, T cells have to produce granzyme B, which is why this is an early detection method,” said Gabe Kwong, a co-principal investigator in the study and an assistant professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University.

“This is sensitive enough to possibly detect budding rejection before you see significant injury to the transplanted organ and that could help clinicians treat early to prevent damage,” said Dr. Andrew Adams, co-principal investigator and an associate professor of surgery at Emory University School of Medicine. “Right now, most tests are aimed at organ dysfunction, and sometimes they don’t signal there is a problem until organ function is below 50 percent.”

Kwong and Adams published the study’s results in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering on February 18, 2019. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund.

Bristly nanoball

The nanoparticles are put together with iron oxide in the middle like a ball. It is double-coated with dextran, a sugar, and polyethylene glycol, a common ingredient in laxatives, to keep the body from disposing of it too quickly.

Bristles made of amino acids stick out from the iron ball with fluorescent “reporter” molecules attached to their tips.

The particles are injected intravenously. They are too big to accumulate in native tissue or to pass through the kidneys and out of the body but small enough to accumulate in the tissue of struggling transplanted organs, where they keep a lookout for rejection.

Exploiting rejection

Once T cells start secreting granzyme B, it severs amino acid strands in the transplanted organ’s cells, triggering the cells to unravel and die.

“The nanoparticles’ bristles mimic granzyme’s amino acid targets in the cells, so the enzyme cuts the bristles on the nanoparticle at the same time,” said Kwong who directs the Laboratory for Synthetic Immunity in the Coulter Department. “That releases the reporter molecules, which are so small that they easily make it through the kidney’s filtration and go into the urine.”

In the experiment, the animals’ urine glowed and could be seen in their bladders in near-infrared images.

[Ready for graduate school? Here's how to apply to Georgia Tech.]

Comprehensive method

The researchers plan to augment their new sensor to detect the other major cause of transplant rejection, attacks by antibodies, which are not living cells but proteins the body creates to neutralize foreign entities.

“Antibodies kill their target cells through similar types of enzymes. In the future, we envision a single sensor to detect both types of rejection,” Kwong said. But there is even more potential.

“This method could be adapted to tease out multiple problems like rejection, infection or injury to the transplanted organ,” Adams said. “The treatments for all of those are different, so we could select the proper treatment or combination of treatments and also use the test to measure how effective treatment is.”

Outdoing biopsies

Biopsies are currently the gold standard in detection but they can go wrong, and the wide, long needle can damage tissue.

“The biggest risk of a biopsy is bleeding and injury to the transplanted organ,” Adams said. “Then there’s the possibility of infection. You’re also just taking a tiny fraction of the transplanted organ to determine what’s going on with the whole organ, and you may miss rejection or misdiagnose it because the needle didn’t hit the right spot.

The urine test gets a more global reading on the whole organ, and it has other advantages over biopsies.

“The biopsy is not predictive. It’s a static snapshot. It’s like looking at a photo of people in mid-jump. You don’t know if they’re on their way up or on their way down. With a biopsy, you don’t know whether rejection is progressing or regressing,” Kwong said.

“Our method measures biological activity rates, and that tells us where things are going.”

Immunosuppressant medications

That could also allow clinicians to carefully dose powerful immunosuppressant medications that the vast majority of transplant patients receive.

“Adjusting the dose is very difficult but very important because heavy immunosuppression increases occurrence of infections and patients who receive it also get cancer more often,” Kwong said.

For this experiment, the researchers used small skin grafts on mice and got a very clear, timely signal from the nanoparticle sensor. Since organ transplants represent a lot more tissue, the researchers believe that any occurrence of organ rejection would trigger a much larger signal from the sensor.

[Also read: 'Demolition Handshakes' Kill Precursor T Cells That Pose an Autoimmune Threat]

These authors contributed to this research: Co-first authors Quoc Mac of the Coulter Department and Dave Mathews of the Emory Transplant Center; Justin Kahla, Claire Stoffers, Olivia Delmas, and Brandon Alexander Holt of the Coulter Department. The research was funded by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, the National Institutes of Health (awards DP2HD091793, 5T32EB006343, and DK109665) and its National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (grant U01AI132904); the National Science Foundation (grant DGE-1650044). Any findings, conclusions or recommendations are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the funding agencies.

Writer & Media Representative: Ben Brumfield (404-660-1408), email: ben.brumfield@comm.gatech.edu

Georgia Institute of Technology
177 North Avenue
Atlanta, Georgia  30332-0181  USA

]]> Ben Brumfield 1 1550607589 2019-02-19 20:19:49 1553539926 2019-03-25 18:52:06 0 0 news Glowing pee may replace the biopsy needle: In detecting organ transplant rejection, a new nanoparticle has proven much faster and more thorough in the lab than a biopsy. When T cells mount their first attack on the organ's cells the nanoparticle sends an alarm signal into the urine that makes it fluoresce.

2019-02-19T00:00:00-05:00 2019-02-19T00:00:00-05:00 2019-02-19 00:00:00 618106 618105 582084 618109 618291 618293 618106 image <![CDATA[Nanoparticle engineered at Georgia Tech may replace biopsy needles in detecting transplant organ rejection]]> image/jpeg 1550606130 2019-02-19 19:55:30 1550606130 2019-02-19 19:55:30 618105 image <![CDATA[Bionanoparticle detects the slightest sign of transplant organ rejection]]> image/jpeg 1550605889 2019-02-19 19:51:29 1550605889 2019-02-19 19:51:29 582084 image <![CDATA[Gabe Kwong, assistant professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory]]> image/jpeg 1475593669 2016-10-04 15:07:49 1475593669 2016-10-04 15:07:49 618109 image <![CDATA[Dr. Andrew Adams, Emory School of Medicine]]> image/png 1550606537 2019-02-19 20:02:17 1550612325 2019-02-19 21:38:45 618291 image <![CDATA[Mac Quoc in Gabe Kwong's lab]]> image/jpeg 1550850046 2019-02-22 15:40:46 1550850046 2019-02-22 15:40:46 618293 image <![CDATA[Dave Mathews at Emory]]> image/jpeg 1550850191 2019-02-22 15:43:11 1550850191 2019-02-22 15:43:11
<![CDATA[Aaron Levine Selected as a AAAS Leshner Fellow]]> 34652 School of Public Policy Associate Professor Aaron Levine was recently selected as American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Alan I. Leshner Leadership Institute Public Engagement Fellow.  Dr. Levine was one of ten researchers chosen for demonstrating leadership and excellence in their research careers and for their interest in promoting meaningful dialogue between science and society. The researchers were selected as the inaugural group in the area human augmentation. Dr. Levine said that he hopes that his induction as an AAAS Leshner Fellow will help encourage evidence-based policymaking for ethically contentious new biomedical technologies. This is the fourth year for AAAS Leshner Fellows program. The program is part of the organization’s long-standing and still-growing commitment to science communication and public engagement.

Dr. Levine and the other AAAS Leshner Fellows will meet this June in Washington, D.C. for a week of training on public engagement and science communication, networking, and public engagement plan development. Over the following year, the fellows will use those skills and networks to help increase the impact of their engagement activities and their capacity for public engagement leadership.

Click here for more information on this year's AAAS Leshner Fellows.

]]> isaunders3 1 1550175855 2019-02-14 20:24:15 1551078647 2019-02-25 07:10:47 0 0 news 2019-02-14T00:00:00-05:00 2019-02-14T00:00:00-05:00 2019-02-14 00:00:00 583582 583582 image <![CDATA[Aaron Levine]]> image/jpeg 1478540612 2016-11-07 17:43:32 1567618808 2019-09-04 17:40:08
<![CDATA[A COOL Center Based on Natural Quid Pro Quo ]]> 30678 Relationships based on “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” are everywhere in the biological world. The recently established Center for the Origin of Life (COOL) will harness these mutualisms to unravel the distant past.

“Mutualisms are persistent and reciprocal exchange of benefit. A species proficient in obtaining certain benefits confers those on a reciprocating partner,” Loren Williams says. Williams is a professor in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Georgia Tech. He will lead COOL. The NASA-funded interdisciplinary team based in Georgia Tech is one of several groups cooperating to identify planetary conditions that might give rise to life.

The COOL team itself is enabled by mutualistic scientific collaborations. Joining Williams as co-investigators are Georgia Tech’s Jennifer Glass and Anton Petrov, Kate Adamala and Aaron Engelhart of the University of Minnesota, George Fox from University of Houston, and Nita Sahai from University of Akron.

Glass is an assistant professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. Petrov is a research scientist in the Schools of Chemistry and Biochemistry and of Biological Sciences. Williams and Glass are members of the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience.

“We represent a rare symbiosis of biochemists and geochemists,” Glass says. “This gives us a unique vantage point from which to tackle this big question that no single discipline can solve alone.”

Williams and his team have discovered that inanimate species – such as molecules, metals, and minerals – engage in mutualism relationships. Those interactions can explain much about modern biology and the origin of life, Williams says. “Mutualisms are fundamental drivers in evolution, ecology, and economics. They sponsor coevolution, foster innovation, increase fitness, inspire robustness, and foster resilience.”

The COOL team aims to use mutualism phenomena to develop tools to study the origins and evolution of life on Earth. One area of study is the mutualism between metals and biomolecules under ancient-Earth conditions, such as between ferrous iron and proteins to form metalloproteins.

Another is the mutualism between minerals and biomolecules, such as between metal sulfide nanoclusters and RNA, peptides, and lipids to form functional biopolymers.

“Understanding how minerals interact with small organic molecules or biopolymers could help predict whether similar processes could occur on other worlds,” Sahai says.

The team will also study mutualisms in the most ancient universal life processes: translation and replication. “We are studying how nucleic acids and proteins joined forces as the biochemical foundation of life,” Petrov says.

The ribosome, the universal cellular machine where proteins are made, is a molecular relict where nucleic and acids and proteins work side by side to translate genotype to phenotype.

“The ribosome is a molecular fossil. It’s a window to the emergence of life,” Engelhart says.

 “We are exploring alternative pathways for the evolution of the translation system,” Adamala says.

“A key to understanding the translation system is by integrating a vast array of information,” Fox says.

COOL is one of four Teams in NASA’s recently launched Prebiotic Chemistry and Early Earth Environments (PCE3) Consortium. One of PCE3’s goals is to guide future NASA missions to discover habitable worlds by understanding how conditions on Earth gave rise to life.

Williams is a member of the steering committee of PCE3. “I am particularly excited to frame the beginnings of life within the context of our planet’s early, dynamic habitability and to use those lessons to imagine how planets around distant stars similarly could have favored the origins and evolution of life,” Williams said about PCE3.

Figure Caption
COOL principal investigators are (clockwise from top left) Kate Adamala, Aaron Engelhart, George Fox, Loren Williams, Nita Sahai, Anton Petrov, and Jennifer Glass. 

]]> A. Maureen Rouhi 1 1550152768 2019-02-14 13:59:28 1550155077 2019-02-14 14:37:57 0 0 news Relationships based on “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” are everywhere in the biological world. The recently established Center for the Origin of Life (COOL) will harness these mutualisms to unravel the distant past.

2019-02-14T00:00:00-05:00 2019-02-14T00:00:00-05:00 2019-02-14 00:00:00 A. Maureen Rouhi, Ph.D.
Director of Communications
College of Sciences

617826 617723 617724 617826 image <![CDATA[Earth (Courtesy of Rensselaer)]]> image/jpeg 1550153940 2019-02-14 14:19:00 1550153940 2019-02-14 14:19:00 617723 image <![CDATA[COOL principal investigators]]> image/png 1550009974 2019-02-12 22:19:34 1550012081 2019-02-12 22:54:41 617724 image <![CDATA[COOL logo]]> image/png 1550010051 2019-02-12 22:20:51 1550010051 2019-02-12 22:20:51
<![CDATA[Snaring Bacteria in DNA-based Nets the Way White Blood Cells Do]]> 31759 One holds it; the other poisons it. This is how a white blood cell may someday work together with an antibiotic. Today's antibiotics are not particularly engineered to coordinate their fight against bacteria with white blood cells, the body’s own first line of defense against infectors, but a new study gives hope that that could change.

How white blood cells called neutrophils work has not been understood well on a micron level, but researchers have gotten a closer look by chemically modeling one of their combat weapons, a kind of web, and trying it out on bacteria. The researchers then successfully double-teamed the bacteria with an antibiotic and their synthetic version of the white blood cell's web.

“One of their (the cells') weapons are neutrophil extracellular traps, also called NETs,” said J. Scott VanEpps, assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Michigan. VanEpps co-led the study with Shuichi Takayama from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Shooting DNA webs

NETs are microscopic networks of fibers made primarily of DNA that neutrophils produce to capture bacteria.

“It’s amazing to think that molecular DNA tape, on which our genetic code is recorded, can also be used as a bacteria-lassoing web. White blood cells can act like cellular Spidermen that net bacterial micro-villains to protect our body,” said Takayama, who is a professor in Georgia Tech’s Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Biosciences and in the Wallace H Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University.

Takayama and VanEpps synthesized a rough chemical imitation of the NETs to study how they work by snaring bacteria in the lab in vitro. They also found antibiotics killed bacteria more effectively when combined with the synthetic web than when applied alone. The researchers published their results in the journal Advanced Materials on January 20, 2018.

Snagging, poisoning E. coli

“Although there are literally hundreds of different ingredients in natural NETs, we were able to recreate a lot of their structure and function with just two ingredients,” VanEpp said. “They look and function very similar to NETs produced by those neutrophil white blood cells and the synthesis method is much simpler than isolating them from neutrophils.”

The researchers first used their microwebs to snare and kill bacteria in order to better understand how white blood NETs work. Then they combined their microwebs with antibiotics in vitro to test for increased drug effectiveness.

Their results imply that the presence of white blood cell NETs in the body may increase the effectiveness of antibiotics. Also, the synthetic microwebs may have medical potential on their own.

Fighting antibiotic resistance

“As bacteria develop resistance even to last-resort antibiotics, there is worry of untreatable infections. We found that microwebs can help antibiotics break through such resistance,” said Takayama, who is also Price Gilbert, Jr. Chair in Regenerative Engineering and Medicine at Georgia Tech.

“The knowledge gained in this study could be helpful in the future in designing new and better antibiotics that mimic the body’s natural defense mechanisms, as well as potentially change how we dose antibiotics given the potential synergy between the immune system and certain antibiotics,” VanEpps said.

The new microwebs also serve as a foundation for future research on even more functions of DNA ejected outside of cells.

“The ability to readily customize the microweb composition opens many opportunities to engineer new DNA materials that mimic biology and increase our understanding of the role of NETs and other types of extracellular DNA in the body,” Takayama said.

These authors contributed to this study: Yang Song from Georgia Tech; Usha Kadiyala, Priyan Weerappuli, Srilakshmi Yalavarthi, Cameron Louttit, Jason S. Knight, and James J. Moon from the Unversity of Michigan; Jordan J. Valdez and David S. Weiss from Emory University School of Medicine. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health: the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences; and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, (grants: NIH NIAID U19 AI116482, R01 AI141883, and K08 AI128006; NIGMS R01 GM123517; NHLBI R01 HL134846 and U01 CA210152), the Veterans Administration (merit award BX‐002788), and a Burroughs Wellcome Fund Investigator in the Pathogenesis of Infectious Disease award.

Writers / media contacts:

Kylie Urban, University of Michigan, kylieo@med.umich.edu

Ben Brumfield, Georgia Institute of Technology, ben.brumfield@comm.gatech.edu, 404-660-1408

]]> Ben Brumfield 1 1549901718 2019-02-11 16:15:18 1549929943 2019-02-12 00:05:43 0 0 news Synthetically modeling white blood cells’ netlike weapon helped researchers understand how they capture and kill bacteria. The researchers also combined their new synthetic web with antibiotics to make them kill more effectively.

2019-02-11T00:00:00-05:00 2019-02-11T00:00:00-05:00 2019-02-11 00:00:00 617609 617607 617608 611744 617609 image <![CDATA[Microweb illustration2]]> image/jpeg 1549904624 2019-02-11 17:03:44 1549904624 2019-02-11 17:03:44 617607 image <![CDATA[Microweb illustration]]> image/jpeg 1549904118 2019-02-11 16:55:18 1549904557 2019-02-11 17:02:37 617608 image <![CDATA[Microweb diagram in vitro]]> image/jpeg 1549904425 2019-02-11 17:00:25 1549904425 2019-02-11 17:00:25 611744 image <![CDATA[Professor Shu Takayama Coulter BME]]> image/jpeg 1537465570 2018-09-20 17:46:10 1537465570 2018-09-20 17:46:10
<![CDATA[FDA Taps Georgia Tech to Help Reduce Cost of Making Antibiotics]]> 31758 A team of researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology has kicked off a three-year federally-funded project to harness new manufacturing technologies and methods in a bid to bring down the cost of making certain antibiotics.

The $2 million award from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) focuses on finding ways to apply continuous manufacturing methods to beta-lactam antibiotics, a class of drugs that includes widely-used antibiotics such as amoxicillin.

“These infection-fighting antibiotics are critically important for the healthcare system, and our goal is to make these medications easier and more cost-effective to produce,” said Andreas Bommarius, a professor in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, one of the researchers leading the project.

Georgia Tech was one of three research institutions chosen by the FDA to explore how to translate manufacturing techniques already in use in food and chemical production to making certain antibiotics that now are often imported into the United States.

The Georgia Tech team will focus on the early stages of drug synthesis, while Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Rutgers University will address later stages of the manufacturing process.

“Continuous manufacturing utilizes technologies that offer clear benefits for both patients and industry,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said when announcing the awards.

“The approach has the potential to shorten production times and improve the efficiency of manufacturing processes. These benefits translate to lower cost of production and thus the cost of medicine.”

Traditionally, the pharmaceutical industry has relied on batch manufacturing for medicine production. With continuous manufacturing, costs associated with starting up and shutting down production are reduced due to the continuous nature of the manufacturing approach. Other potential advantages includes faster ramp-up production during times of shortages and more consistent product quality.

During the project, researchers at Georgia Tech will develop a process to continuously synthesize, crystalize and isolate both cephalexin and amoxicillin, which are examples of two major types of beta-lactam antibiotics.

“Our design is intended to enable beta-lactam active pharmaceutical ingredient production in dedicated, compact, less capital-intensive plants, which in turn is envisioned to lead to better access to medicines for patients and ultimately to less expensive drugs,” Bommarius said.

The new FDA-backed project is among several initiatives at Georgia Tech involving research into ways of bringing down the cost of producing medications. Other projects included a federally-backed initiative to advance medications made from cells, such as vaccines and autoimmune drugs, as well as therapies using living cells to treat a range of conditions.

A separate initiative is aimed at advancing technologies for manufacturing therapeutic cells. Researchers at Georgia Tech were also recently awarded a three-year, $1.8 million grant from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to develop a scalable manufacturing system for cord-tissue derived cells.

Read More: Want to Beat Antibiotic-Resistant Superbugs? Rethink Strep Throat Remedies

]]> Josh Brown 1 1549473084 2019-02-06 17:11:24 1578409710 2020-01-07 15:08:30 0 0 news A team of researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology has kicked off a three-year federally-funded project to harness new manufacturing technologies and methods in a bid to bring down the cost of making certain antibiotics.

2019-02-06T00:00:00-05:00 2019-02-06T00:00:00-05:00 2019-02-06 00:00:00 John Toon

Research News

617421 617421 image <![CDATA[Andreas Bommarius, Martha Grover and Ron Rousseau]]> image/jpeg 1549473499 2019-02-06 17:18:19 1551731588 2019-03-04 20:33:08
<![CDATA[The More Complex, the Easier to Assemble]]> 30678 Conventional wisdom says complex structures should be harder to assemble than simple ones. Their assembly requires more information and presents more opportunities to make mistakes. But in nature, complex assemblies and higher error rates do not necessarily mean higher failure rates. 

A recent study finds a different outcome with materials consisting of hierarchical levels – called hierarchical structures. In this case, more complicated structures are actually easier to assemble than simpler ones.

“Increasing complexity actually makes the assembly process more reliable despite an increasing error rate,” says Peter Yunker, an assistant professor in the School of Physics. He and graduate student Jonathan Michel published their findings today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA).

Hierarchical structures embody distinct structural features on different size scales. They are ubiquitous in nature; a good example is bone. At the nanoscale level, bone consists of fibers made of a mineral and a protein. At the microscale level, the fibers form hollow structures. These structural features impart key physical properties, such as stiffness and toughness.

“It is surprising that making more complicated structures – and making more mistakes – actually produces more reliable final results,” Yunker says. “It goes against intuition.” The work suggests that evolving complex tissues is easier than previously thought.

To study the mechanics of hierarchical materials, Yunker and Michel developed a physical model of how a material’s stiffness relates to each of its distinct length scales. The model system consisted of triangular lattices of nodes connected by springs; distinct connections can be defined on multiple length scales. They examined the dependence of the stiffness on the number of such connections in the presence of random errors.  

“What we found was that each length scale contributed to the overall stiffness in a similar way. There was no preferred length scale,” Yunker says. “This finding gives us a new way to consider the role of physics and mechanics in the early evolution of complexity. To evolve a hierarchical structure with a specific stiffness, an organism doesn’t need to simultaneously evolve an error-correcting mechanism to ensure perfect assembly. The physics of hierarchical structures ensures that stiffness is even more robust against errors.”

The work was spurred by ubiquity of hierarchical structures in nature. Nearly every biological tissue is hierarchical, from bones and muscles to cellulose, feathers, crab shells, and flower petals. The question Yunker and Michel asked was, how did so many complex tissues evolve so many different times, in so many different organisms? “The answer,” Yunker says, “is that physics made it easier.”

Most studies of hierarchical structures focus on their benefits or on unraveling the details of specific tissues, such as a bird’s feathers or a lobster’s claw. “We asked a previously unappreciated question,” Yunker says, “thanks to a unique combination of soft-matter physics and evolutionary biology in my lab and at Georgia Tech.”

The role of soft-matter physics in evolution is of prime interest in Yunker’s lab. The new study was inspired by work of 19th-century physicist James Maxwell – best known for equations governing electricity and magnetism. Maxwell was also interested in explaining the rigidity of structures like truss bridges. He found that for a bridge to be rigid, there must be at least as many struts as there are joints multiplied by the number of spatial dimensions. More broadly, this work revealed the general mechanical requirement for structures to be solid: they must have as many constraints as they have degrees of freedom. The heuristic is known as Maxwell counting, and it was recently demonstrated to be useful in describing tissue mechanics.

“Jonathan and I were curious about how Maxwell counting would apply to hierarchical structures,” Yunker says. “Do you just worry about the smallest length scale? Or just the biggest? Do different length scales behave differently? Then we wondered how evolution could ever favor complicated hierarchical structures, let alone so often!”

The findings open new areas of inquiry, according to Yunker. First is the many interesting questions that remain to be answered about the basic physics of hierarchical materials. Next is the potential to translate this basic physics to manufacturing. Finally, the basic physics could lead to a fuller understanding of the evolution of hierarchical materials.

The work received funding from Georgia Tech’s Soft Matter Incubator. Yunker is a member of the Parker H. Petit Institute of Bioengineering and Bioscience.

]]> A. Maureen Rouhi 1 1549292291 2019-02-04 14:58:11 1549389451 2019-02-05 17:57:31 0 0 news Conventional wisdom says complex structures should be harder to assemble than simple ones. Their assembly requires more information and presents more opportunities to make mistakes. But in nature, complex assemblies and higher error rates do not necessarily mean higher failure rates. 

2019-02-05T00:00:00-05:00 2019-02-05T00:00:00-05:00 2019-02-05 00:00:00 A. Maureen Rouhi, Ph.D.
Director of Communications
College of Sciences

617226 617228 617226 image <![CDATA[Hierarchical structures (Credit: Peter Yunker)]]> image/png 1549291165 2019-02-04 14:39:25 1549291165 2019-02-04 14:39:25 617228 image <![CDATA[Jonathan Michel (left) and Peter Yunker (Courtesy of Peter Yunker)]]> image/jpeg 1549291253 2019-02-04 14:40:53 1549291253 2019-02-04 14:40:53 <![CDATA[When Physics Gives Evolution a Leg Up By Breaking One]]> <![CDATA[Cholera Bacteria Stab and Poison Enemies So Predictably]]> <![CDATA[Coffee Leads to Collaboration]]>
<![CDATA[Initiative Will Create Coursework for Cell Manufacturing Workers]]> 31758 An 18-month federally-sponsored project led by the Georgia Institute of Technology will develop much-needed curriculum to train workers for the fledgling cell manufacturing industry.

Research teams at the University of Georgia (UGA) and the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn), along with four private firms, are also taking part in the $1.4 million effort to develop training materials for cell and gene therapy manufacturing and cell-based biologics manufacturing.

“Cell-based therapies have the potential to benefit many patients, but to achieve that we need a highly-skilled workforce to support the growth of the cell manufacturing industry,” said Chuck Zhang, the principal investigator of this project and Harold E. Smalley Professor in the Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Georgia Tech.

The curriculum development project is part of the National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL), which the U.S. Department of Commerce is supporting with a five-year, $70 million grant.

The goal of the training project is to develop course modules that can be used for certificate or graduate degree programs in biomanufacturing. The modules will be designed to give students instruction in traditional classrooms and through distance learning courses, covering topics such as cell processing and culturing, quality control and supply chain logistics. The modules will also train students in best manufacturing practices, regulatory compliance as well as cultural sensitivity and policy awareness.

The faculty team at Georgia Tech will focus on developing training that involves cell characterization and bioprocessing, logistics and supply chain management and other process-oriented aspects of manufacturing. Researchers at UGA will, among other things, focus on biopharmaceuticals process development, risk management and regulatory aspects, while the team at UPenn will develop training related to the delivery of cell and gene therapies as well as regulatory and entrepreneurial aspects of the industry.

“The upstream and downstream processing modules will have hands-on training components which will be benefit our students who rarely see biomanufacturing operations in a traditional university lab setting,” said David Blum, a co-principal investigator of this project and an associate research scientist and director of the Bioexpression and Fermentation Facility at UGA. Blum will work with colleagues in UGA’s College of Veterinary Medicine Educational Resources group and its Institute for International Biomedical Regulatory Sciences. “We are also excited about the use of virtual reality technology as part of our upstream process module, which will enhance the learning experience and result in more engaging content for students.”

The universities are also partnering with Merck, Akron Biotechnology LLC, RoosterBio and Unum Therapeutics, which will provide input on the curriculum during the development process.

“Recent FDA approvals of cellular therapies and the increase in investment by industry to manufacture these new medicines for patients has resulted in a great need for workforce development and education,” said Bruce Levine, a co-principal Investigator of this project and the Barbara and Edward Netter Professor in Cancer Gene Therapy at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. “This NIIMBL project will allow us and our partners to build the foundation for training the cell manufacturing workforce.”

The overall NIIMBL effort involves more than 150 companies, academic institutions and other organizations and is being coordinated by the University of Delaware in partnership with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The effort began two years ago with a private investment of at least $129 million from institute members across the country in addition to the federal funding.

The consortium aims to improve the way biological medicines, also known as biopharmaceuticals, are produced, with a goal of bringing down costs and finding ways to get the drugs into the hands of clinicians and patients faster.

The new curriculum development effort is just one of several cell manufacturing research projects ongoing at Georgia Tech. The Marcus Center for Therapeutic Cell Characterization and Manufacturing (MC3M) was established in 2016 and made possible by a $15.75 million gift from philanthropist Bernie Marcus, with a $7.25 million investment from Georgia Tech and another $1 million from the Georgia Research Alliance. In 2017, Georgia Tech was picked to lead the $20 million National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center for Cell Manufacturing Technologies (CMaT).

“Cell manufacturing has become a growing area of research at Georgia Tech, and we will leverage all of our resources and expertise in developing these course modules,” Zhang said.

]]> Josh Brown 1 1548430936 2019-01-25 15:42:16 1578409758 2020-01-07 15:09:18 0 0 news 2019-01-25T00:00:00-05:00 2019-01-25T00:00:00-05:00 2019-01-25 00:00:00 John Toon

Research News


595805 595809 595806 595805 image <![CDATA[Cell manufacturing lab]]> image/jpeg 1505149092 2017-09-11 16:58:12 1505149092 2017-09-11 16:58:12 595809 image <![CDATA[Cell bioreactor]]> image/jpeg 1505149639 2017-09-11 17:07:19 1505149639 2017-09-11 17:07:19 595806 image <![CDATA[Cell manufacturing lab2]]> image/jpeg 1505149268 2017-09-11 17:01:08 1505149268 2017-09-11 17:01:08
<![CDATA[Bhatti Appointed as ECE Associate Chair for Innovation and Entrepreneurship]]> 27241 Pamela Bhatti has been appointed as the new Associate Chair for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), effective February 1. She succeeds ECE Professor Raheem Beyah in this position. 

"As academic faculty, we are wired to innovate,” Bhatti said. “I look forward to facilitating the nexus between our scholarly activities, industry interactions, and entrepreneurship to enhance the impact of our school, college, and institute."

In this role, Bhatti will lead the School’s support of faculty members’ entrepreneurial activities. She will also manage the programs associated with ECE’s large number of corporate partners and affiliates, and support the partnership with the School’s Advisory Board. 

Bhatti joined the ECE faculty in 2007, where she is now an associate professor. She received the B.S. degree in bioengineering from the University of California, Berkeley in 1989; the M.S. degree in electrical engineering (robotics) from the University of Washington, Seattle in 1993; and the Ph.D. degree in electrical engineering (MEMS) from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in 2006. 

Before completing her Ph.D., Bhatti researched the detection of breast cancer with ultrasound imaging in the Department of Radiology, University of Michigan from 1997-1999. Her industry experience includes embedded systems software development at Microware Corporation in Des Moines, Iowa from 1996-1997; local operating network applications at Motorola Semiconductor in Austin, Texas from 1994-1995; and research and fabrication of controlled-release drug delivery systems at Alza Corporation in Palo Alto, California from 1986-1990.

Bhatti’s lab currently conducts research in biomedical sensors and subsystems. More specifically, her lab focuses on cochlear and vestibular neural prostheses, as well as improving coronary artery imaging. She advises both ECE and biomedical engineering graduate students in her research group, and she has mentored postdoctoral trainees and residents at the Emory School of Medicine and residents at Georgia Regents University in Augusta. 

In 2011, Bhatti received the NSF CAREER Award to focus on vestibular rehabilitation research. In 2013, she earned an M.S. degree in Clinical Research from Emory University and serves as the Georgia Tech co-director for the KL2 and TL1 training programs sponsored by the Georgia Clinical and Translational Science Alliance (CTSA) and supported by the National Institutes of Health, National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS). Dedicated to deepening the integration of engineering with medicine, she is currently the editor-in-chief for the IEEE Journal of Translational Engineering in Health and Medicine.

Committed to translating technology to the clinical setting, in 2016, Bhatti co-founded Camerad Technologies, a company dedicated to improving throughput and quality in radiology imaging. She is also an entrepreneurship educator and coach with the I-Corps@NCATS program, as well as for the Georgia Tech CREATE-X and InVenture Prize programs.  

In ECE, Bhatti established a graduate student peer mentoring program and has served as a co-chair for the recent ECE Strategic Planning/Strategic Doing Committee. She also serves as the ECE representative on the College of Engineering Strategic Planning Committee, and she is a Grand Challenges Faculty Fellow. At the Institute level, Bhatti has been recognized for her research, education, and leadership abilities. She participated in the Provost’s Emerging Leaders Program in 2018 and received the Class of 1934 Outstanding Interdisciplinary Activities Award in 2017. She has also been a Hesburgh Teaching Fellow in the Center for Teaching and Learning and currently serves on the Academic Faculty Senate.

]]> Jackie Nemeth 1 1549374927 2019-02-05 13:55:27 1549374927 2019-02-05 13:55:27 0 0 news Pamela Bhatti has been appointed as the new Associate Chair for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), effective February 1.

2019-02-05T00:00:00-05:00 2019-02-05T00:00:00-05:00 2019-02-05 00:00:00 Jackie Nemeth

School of Electrical and Computer Engineering


617316 617316 image <![CDATA[Pamela Bhatti]]> image/jpeg 1549373723 2019-02-05 13:35:23 1549373723 2019-02-05 13:35:23 <![CDATA[Pamela Bhatti]]> <![CDATA[School of Electrical and Computer Engineering]]> <![CDATA[Georgia Tech]]> <![CDATA[Georgia Clinical and Translational Science Alliance]]> <![CDATA[Camerad Technologies]]> <![CDATA[CREATE-X]]> <![CDATA[InVenture Prize]]>
<![CDATA[Georgia Tech Microbiologists Elected AAM Fellows]]> 30678 The American Academy of Microbiology (AAM) has elected 109 new fellows in 2019. Among them are Joel Kostka and Joshua Weitz.

Kostka is a professor in the Schools of Biological Sciences and of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. Weitz is a professor in the School of Biological Sciences. Both are members of the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience.

AAM is an honorific leadership group within the American Society for Microbiology (ASM). Fellows of the AAM are elected annually through a selective, peer-review process, based on records of scientific achievement and original contributions that have advanced microbiology.

The election of Kostka as AAM fellow comes shortly after another high recognition of his contributions to microbiology. In 2018, he was named Distinguished Lecturer by ASM. In this capacity, Kostka speaks at ASM branch meetings throughout the U.S. His visits provide opportunities for students and early-career research microbiologists to interact with prominent scientists.

Kostka is well-known for his research in environmental microbiology. His lab characterizes the role of microorganisms in the functioning of ecosystems, especially in the context of bioremediation and climate change. He is co-principal investigator of C-IMAGE-III. This consortium is funded by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative to study the environmental consequences of the release of petroleum hydrocarbons on living marine resources and ecosystem health.

Weitz holds courtesy appointments in the Schools of Physics and of Electrical and Computer Engineering. He is also the founding director of Georgia Tech’s Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Quantitative Biosciences, a Simons Foundation Investigator in Ocean Processes and Ecology, and author of an award-winning book on quantitative viral ecology.

"I'm grateful for the recognition and excited to continue our ongoing, collaborative efforts to understand the role of ecology and evolution in shaping microbial and viral life," Weitz says.

Weitz’s research focuses on the interactions between viruses and their microbial hosts, that is, the viral infections of microbial life. Weitz is motivated by seemingly simple questions: What happens to a microbe when it is infected by a virus? How do infections of single cells translate into population- and system-wide consequences?

AAM fellows represent all subspecialties of the microbial sciences and are involved in basic and applied research, teaching, public health, industry, or government service. They hail from all around the globe. Kostka and Weitz join fellows from France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Israel, Korea, Taiwan, and China.

]]> A. Maureen Rouhi 1 1548946482 2019-01-31 14:54:42 1548946873 2019-01-31 15:01:13 0 0 news The American Academy of Microbiology (AAM) has elected 109 new fellows in 2019. Among them are Joel Kostka and Joshua Weitz.

2019-01-31T00:00:00-05:00 2019-01-31T00:00:00-05:00 2019-01-31 00:00:00 A. Maureen Rouhi, Ph.D.
Director of Communications
College of Sciences

617009 617009 image <![CDATA[Kostka, Weitz: Fellows of the American Academy of Microbiology]]> image/png 1548799271 2019-01-29 22:01:11 1548799271 2019-01-29 22:01:11
<![CDATA[Inan to Attend China-America Frontiers of Engineering Symposium]]> 27241 Omer T. Inan has been invited to attend the 2019 China-America Frontiers of Engineering Symposium, to be held June 20-22 in San Diego, California. Inan is an associate professor in the Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE). 

This symposium will be hosted by Qualcomm and is organized by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and the Chinese Academy of Engineering. Inan is among 60 early-career engineers from Chinese and United States universities, industry, and government who have been chosen to participate. The symposium will cover four topics – smart cities, new materials, neuroengineering, and 5G wireless communications technology. Each participant will be asked to present a poster describing his/her research or technical work.

Inan has been on the ECE faculty since 2013. He is a member of the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience, and he is a program faculty member for the Interdisciplinary Bioengineering Graduate Program. Inan’s most recent honors include the IEEE Sensors Council Young Professional Award (w2018), ONR Young Investigator Award (2018), NSF CAREER Award (2018), ECE Outstanding Junior Faculty Member Award (2018), the Georgia Tech Sigma Xi Young Faculty Award (2017), and the Lockheed Dean’s Excellence in Teaching Award (2016). He is also a senior member of IEEE.  

Since 1995, NAE has held an annual U.S. Frontiers of Engineering Symposium that brings together 100 highly accomplished early-career engineers from U.S. universities, companies, and government to discuss leading-edge research and technical work across a range of engineering fields. Convening engineers from disparate fields and challenging them to think about developments and problems at the frontiers of areas different from their own can lead to a variety of desirable results. These include collaborative work, the transfer of new techniques and approaches across fields, and establishment of contacts among the next generation of leaders in engineering.

The Frontiers program has expanded to include bilateral meetings with Germany, Japan, India, China, and the EU. The objectives for the bilateral meetings are similar to those for the U.S. Frontiers of Engineering with the added element of facilitating international cooperation and understanding. In general, the international FOEs are held biennially, with the location alternating between countries. To learn more about this program, visit the Frontiers website at www.naefrontiers.org.

]]> Jackie Nemeth 1 1547832649 2019-01-18 17:30:49 1547832905 2019-01-18 17:35:05 0 0 news ECE Associate Professor Omer T. Inan has been invited to attend the 2019 China-America Frontiers of Engineering Symposium, to be held June 20-22 in San Diego, California.

2019-01-18T00:00:00-05:00 2019-01-18T00:00:00-05:00 2019-01-18 00:00:00 Jackie Nemeth

School of Electrical and Computer Engineering


603198 603198 image <![CDATA[Omer Inan]]> image/jpeg 1520021113 2018-03-02 20:05:13 1520021113 2018-03-02 20:05:13 <![CDATA[Omer T. Inan]]> <![CDATA[Inan Research Lab]]> <![CDATA[School of Electrical and Computer Engineering]]> <![CDATA[Georgia Tech]]> <![CDATA[Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience]]> <![CDATA[Interdisciplinary Bioengineering Graduate Program]]> <![CDATA[2019 China-America Frontiers of Engineering Symposium]]> <![CDATA[National Academy of Engineering ]]> <![CDATA[Chinese Academy of Engineering]]>
<![CDATA[Long-Acting Contraceptive Designed to be Self-Administered Via Microneedle Patch]]> 27303 A new long-acting contraceptive designed to be self-administered by women may provide a new family planning option, particularly in developing nations where access to health care can be limited, a recent study suggests. The contraceptive would be delivered using microneedle skin patch technology originally developed for the painless administration of vaccines.

Long-acting contraceptives now available provide the highest level of effectiveness, but usually require a health care professional to inject a drug or implant a device. Short-acting techniques, on the other hand, require frequent compliance by users and therefore are often not as effective. In animal testing, an experimental microneedle contraceptive patch provided a therapeutic level of contraceptive hormone for more than a month with a single application to the skin.

When the patch is applied for several seconds, the microscopic needles break off and remain under the surface of the skin, where biodegradable polymers slowly release the contraceptive drug levonorgestrel over time. Originally designed for use in areas of the world with limited access to health care, the microneedle contraceptive could potentially provide a new family planning alternative to a broader population. 

The research was reported January 14 in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering and was supported by Family Health International (FHI 360), funded under a contract with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

“There is a lot of interest in providing more options for long-acting contraceptives,” said Mark Prausnitz, a Regents Professor in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the paper’s corresponding author. “Our goal is for women to be able to self-administer long-acting contraceptives with the microneedle patch that would be applied to the skin for five seconds just once a month.”

Long-acting contraceptives are now available in formats such as patches that must be worn continuously, intrauterine devices (IUDs) that must be placed by trained health care professionals, and drugs injected with hypodermic needles. If the microneedle contraceptive patch is ultimately approved for use, it could become the first self-administered, long-acting contraceptive that does not involve a conventional needle injection. Like other long-acting contraceptive techniques, the microneedle contraceptive patch would disrupt the menstrual cycles of women using it. 

Because the tiny needles must remain in the skin for the time-release of the hormone, researchers led by Georgia Tech postdoctoral research scholar Wei Li developed a mechanical technique that would allow the drug-containing microneedles to break free from the patch’s backing material. To accomplish that, the researchers molded tiny air bubbles into the top of the microneedles, creating a structural weakness. The resulting microneedles are strong enough to be pressed into the skin, but when the patch is then shifted to one side, the shear force breaks off the tiny structures in the skin. The patch backing can then be discarded.

Experimental patches designed to deliver a sufficient amount of the hormone for humans have been developed, but not yet tested, noted Prausnitz, who holds the J. Erskine Love Jr. Chair in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Georgia Tech. Researchers are also studying whether a single patch could carry enough hormone to provide contraception for as long as six months.

“The microneedle patch delivery platform being developed by Mark Prausnitz and his colleagues for contraception is an exciting advancement in women’s health,” said Gregory S. Kopf, director of R&D Contraceptive Technology Innovation at FHI 360. “This self-administered long-acting contraceptive will afford women discreet and convenient control over their fertility, leading to a positive impact on public health by reducing both unwanted and unintended pregnancies.”

The microneedles are molded from a blend of a biodegradable polymers, poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid) and poly(lactic acid), commonly used in resorbable sutures, said Steven Schwendeman, the Ara Paul Professor and chair of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Michigan and a collaborator on this project. Lactic and glycolic acids are present naturally in the body, contributing to the biocompatibility of the polymer material, he said.  

“We select polymer materials to meet specific design objectives such as microneedle strength, biocompatibility, biodegradation and drug release time, and formulation stability,” Schwendeman explained. “Our team then processes the polymer into microneedles by dissolving the polymer and drug in an organic solvent, molding the shape, and then drying off the solvent to create the microneedles. The polymer matrix when formed in this way can slowly and safely release contraceptive hormone for weeks or months when placed in the body.”

Testing with rats evaluated only the blood levels of the hormone and did not attempt to determine whether it could prevent pregnancy. “The goal was to show that we could enable the concentration of the levonorgestrel to stay above levels that are known to cause contraception in humans,” Prausnitz explained.

In developing the experimental contraceptive microneedle patch, the researchers leveraged earlier work on dissolving microneedle patches designed to carry vaccines into the body. A Phase I clinical trial of influenza vaccination using rapidly dissolving microneedles has been conducted in collaboration with Emory University. 

That study suggested that the microneedle patches could be safely used to administer the vaccine. Because the microneedles are so small, they enter only the upper layers of the skin and were not perceived as painful by study participants. 

“We do not yet know how the contraceptive microneedle patches would work in humans,” Prausnitz said. “Because we are using a well-established contraceptive hormone, we are optimistic that the patch will be an effective contraceptive. We also expect that possible skin irritation at the site of patch application will be minimal, but these expectations need to be verified in clinical trials.”

The contraceptive patches tested on the animals contained 100 microneedles. To deliver an adequate dose of levonorgestrel to a human will require a larger patch, which has been fabricated but not yet tested. The researchers would like to develop a patch that could be applied once every six months.

“There is a lot of interest in minimizing the number of health care interventions that are needed,” Prausnitz said. “Therefore, a contraceptive patch lasting more than one month is desirable, particularly in countries where women have limited access to health care. But because microneedles are by definition small, there are limits to how much drug can be incorporated into a microneedle patch.”

The research team also included Richard N. Terry from Georgia Tech, and Jie Tang and Meihua R. Feng from the University of Michigan.

This publication was prepared under a subcontract funded by Family Health International (FHI 360) under Cooperative Agreement No. AID-OAA-15-00045 funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The content of this publication does not necessarily reflect the views, analysis or policies of FHI 360 or USAID, nor does any mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by FHI 360 or USAID.

Mark Prausnitz is an inventor of patents licensed to companies developing microneedle-based products, is a paid advisor to companies developing microneedle-based products, and is a founder/shareholder of companies developing microneedle-based products (Micron Biomedical). This potential conflict of interest has been disclosed and is managed by Georgia Tech and Emory University.

CITATION: Wei Li, et al., “Rapidly separable microneedle patch for the sustained release of a contraceptive,” (Nature Biomedical Engineering, 2019). https://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41551-018-0337-4

Research News
Georgia Institute of Technology
177 North Avenue
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Media Relations Contacts: John Toon (404-894-6986) (jtoon@gatech.edu) or Ben Brumfield (404-660-1408) (ben.brumfield@comm.gatech.edu).

Writer: John Toon

]]> John Toon 1 1547476410 2019-01-14 14:33:30 1547483620 2019-01-14 16:33:40 0 0 news A new long-acting contraceptive designed to be self-administered by women may provide a new family planning option, particularly in developing nations where access to health care can be limited, a recent study suggests. The contraceptive would be delivered using microneedle skin patch technology originally developed for the painless administration of vaccines.

2019-01-14T00:00:00-05:00 2019-01-14T00:00:00-05:00 2019-01-14 00:00:00 John Toon

Research News

(404) 894-6986

616307 616308 616309 616310 616311 616307 image <![CDATA[Microneedle contraceptive skin patch]]> image/jpeg 1547475392 2019-01-14 14:16:32 1547475392 2019-01-14 14:16:32 616308 image <![CDATA[Microneedle contraceptive skin patch closeup]]> image/jpeg 1547475509 2019-01-14 14:18:29 1547475509 2019-01-14 14:18:29 616309 image <![CDATA[Microneedle contraceptive skin patch microscope image]]> image/jpeg 1547475657 2019-01-14 14:20:57 1547475657 2019-01-14 14:20:57 616310 image <![CDATA[Simulated application of microneedle skin patch]]> image/jpeg 1547475788 2019-01-14 14:23:08 1547475788 2019-01-14 14:23:08 616311 image <![CDATA[Microneedle contraceptive and birth control pills]]> image/jpeg 1547475917 2019-01-14 14:25:17 1547475917 2019-01-14 14:25:17
<![CDATA[Georgia Tech Welcomes Early Action Admits]]> 27469 Georgia Tech welcomes 4,000 students from around the world today as it issues decisions for Early Action applicants for the incoming class of 2019.

As was the case in 2018, a record number of students applied for admission this year. Georgia Tech saw a 12 percent increase in Early Action applications for a total of 20,289.

Some students got their early action decisions early.

Members of Georgia Tech’s Undergraduate Admission team traveled across the state Friday to personally hand-deliver acceptance letters to more than a dozen students. They visited high schools in Atlanta, Warner Robins, and Winder and invited the students’ families and friends to join in on the celebration.

The school visits allowed the admissions team to meet some exceptional students in person, after spending months reading thousands of applications.

At Charles R. Drew Charter School in Atlanta, four students received their admission packets. They ripped open the envelopes, read “Congratulations!” and beamed. Their families and counselors applauded.

Chris McCrary hugged his mom, Jennifer, who was in tears. She gave him a Georgia Tech sweatshirt. He took off the Drew Charter sweatshirt he was wearing and put on the one that represented his future.

“This is amazing,” Chris said, overwhelmed. “I’ve worked so hard to get here and get to a place where I can succeed.”

He plans to major in architecture and hopes to build mixed-use developments with an emphasis on affordable housing.

“I am melting, I’m just so proud of him,” Jennifer McCrary said. “You want your child’s hopes and dreams to be fulfilled, and this is where he wants to go.”

At Atlanta’s Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy, Ayanna Prather was surrounded by her mother, uncle, and closest friends when she opened her acceptance letter.

“Thank you. This is so special,” an emotional Prather said. “Georgia Tech is the difference between getting an education and getting a quality education.” 

Prather is her school’s valedictorian and was admitted through the Atlanta Public Schools Scholars program. Georgia Tech will cover tuition and fees for four years.

This year’s Early Action admit pool also includes 300 Georgia Tech Scholars — students who are either valedictorian or salutatorian of their class at a Georgia high school.

Prather is already familiar with Tech through Project Engages, which brings high school students to campus, where they conduct research in labs and learn more about engineering, science, and technology. Prather discovered her passion for science through the program and plans to major in psychology. She hopes to fight the stigma against mental illness, particularly in African-American communities.

Prather is one of the thousands of Georgia residents who were admitted this round. The admit rate for Early Action this year is 20 percent — 39.6 percent for Georgia residents, and 14 percent for non-Georgia residents.

This year, the Institute is offering a new way for first-generation, in-state students to come to Tech through its Georgia First Pathway Program. The program is for first-year applicants who are Georgia residents and whose parents have not completed a bachelor’s degree. This program becomes the sixth pathway option for students who may not be admitted initially but want to pursue transferring to Georgia Tech.

Between Early Action and Regular Decision rounds, a total of 37,000 students have applied for admission, an increase of nearly 4 percent. Two notable increases came from women applicants — an increase of 5 percent — and first-generation students — an increase of 8 percent.

This is the second year Georgia Tech has seen a larger jump in applications during the Early Action round, a trend that’s happening at universities across the country and recently made news in the pages of the Washington Post.

Applicants for Regular Decision admission to Georgia Tech will be notified Saturday, March 9.

]]> Kristen Bailey 1 1547311423 2019-01-12 16:43:43 1547312753 2019-01-12 17:05:53 0 0 news As was the case in 2018, a record number of students applied for admission this year. Georgia Tech saw a 12 percent increase in Early Action applications for a total of 20,289.

2019-01-12T00:00:00-05:00 2019-01-12T00:00:00-05:00 2019-01-12 00:00:00 Kristen Bailey

Institute Communications

616291 616293 616294 616292 616291 image <![CDATA[#gt23 admits]]> image/jpeg 1547243565 2019-01-11 21:52:45 1547243565 2019-01-11 21:52:45 616293 image <![CDATA[Jennifer and Chris McCrary]]> image/jpeg 1547243830 2019-01-11 21:57:10 1547243830 2019-01-11 21:57:10 616294 image <![CDATA[Jennifer and Chris McCrary]]> image/jpeg 1547243858 2019-01-11 21:57:38 1547243858 2019-01-11 21:57:38 616292 image <![CDATA[DeGreer Harris]]> image/jpeg 1547243786 2019-01-11 21:56:26 1547243786 2019-01-11 21:56:26 <![CDATA[Undergraduate Admission]]>
<![CDATA[Georgia Tech President Peterson Announces Plans to Retire as President]]> 27469 Georgia Institute of Technology President G.P. “Bud” Peterson today announced he will retire as president in the summer of 2019, a position he’s served in since 2009.

“The opportunity to serve as president of Georgia Tech the past 10 years has been one of the highlights of my career,” Peterson said. “Georgia Tech is a great institution and great institutions are built on great people, great faculty, great staff and great students. Since our very first visit to Georgia Tech in the fall of 2008, Val and I have continued to be impressed with the quality of the people of Georgia Tech and the dedication and commitment to making Georgia Tech the nationally recognized institution that it is today.”

“President Peterson’s extraordinary contributions to Georgia Tech, a top-10 public research university, are unmatched,” said Chancellor Steve Wrigley. “Under Bud’s leadership, Georgia Tech became the first institution in a decade to receive an invitation to join the prestigious Association of American Universities. His focus on research led to an increase in total awards from $445 million to $851 million. At the same time, he grew student enrollment, including the number of women enrolled in first-year classes and transformed the landscape of midtown Atlanta. Whether in academic distinction, student growth or reputation for research, Georgia Tech has flourished under Bud’s tenure. His vision and achievements will continue to leave their mark on the university and its graduates for years to come. I’m grateful for his service to our students and the University System of Georgia, and wish him well as he embarks on his next chapter.”

Other accomplishments during Peterson’s presidency include:

The University System of Georgia will organize a national search for Peterson’s replacement in the coming days.

]]> Kristen Bailey 1 1546880457 2019-01-07 17:00:57 1546980854 2019-01-08 20:54:14 0 0 news Georgia Institute of Technology President G.P. “Bud” Peterson today announced he will retire as president in the summer of 2019, a position he’s served in since 2009.

2019-01-07T00:00:00-05:00 2019-01-07T00:00:00-05:00 2019-01-07 00:00:00 Lance Wallace

Institute Communications

511191 511191 image <![CDATA[Georgia Tech President G.P. "Bud" Peterson]]> image/jpeg 1458923712 2016-03-25 16:35:12 1475895273 2016-10-08 02:54:33 <![CDATA[ USG Announcement: Georgia Tech President Peterson announces plans to retire as president]]> <![CDATA[Chancellor's Response to Progress Report on Ethics]]>
<![CDATA[Growing Pile of Human and Animal Waste Harbors Threats, Opportunities]]> 31758 As demand for meat and dairy products increases across the world, much attention has landed on how livestock impact the environment, from land usage to greenhouse gas emissions.

Now researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are highlighting another effect from animals raised for food and the humans who eat them:  the waste they all leave behind.

In a paper published November 13 in Nature Sustainability, the research team put forth what they believe is the first global estimate of annual recoverable human and animal fecal biomass. In 2014, the most recent year with data, the number was 4.3 billion tons and growing, and waste from livestock outweighed that from humans five to one at the country level.

“Exposure to both human and animal waste represent a threat to public health, particularly in low-income areas of the world that may not have resources to implement the best management and sanitation practices,” said Joe Brown, an assistant professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “But estimating the amount of recoverable feces in the world also highlights the enormous potential from a resource perspective.”

Metals, phosphorus, nitrogen and potassium are all among the resources that could be recovered from human and animal waste. The researchers pointed to an earlier analysis that estimated the value of recoverable metals alone reaches $13 million a year from the waste of one million people.

The researchers looked at data from 2003 to 2014 as well as projections through 2030. The study combined global animal population data from the United Nations, human population data from the World Bank as well as earlier research on animal-specific estimates of fecal production.

From 2003 to 2014, the amount of waste biomatter produced grew annually by more than 57 million tons as both human and livestock populations grew. The researchers estimated that by 2030, the total amount of global fecal biomass produced each year would reach at least five billion tons, with livestock waste outweighing that from humans six to one at the country level.

“This paper demonstrates that building more latrines in developing parts of the world isn’t going to solve all of our waste management problems,” Brown said. “Animal waste has the potential to negatively impact health in many of the same ways as with human waste, from spreading enteric infections to hurting growth and cognitive development of the humans exposed.”

While chickens were the most plentiful livestock globally, cattle, with their larger body mass, produced the most fecal waste on the planet. As a result, countries with high numbers of cattle, such as those in the Americas, produced the most waste by mass.

The researchers estimated that by 2030, the planet’s total annual fecal and urinary biomass could contain as much as 100 million tons of phosphorus, 30 million tons of potassium, 18 million tons of calcium, and 5.5 million tons of magnesium, to name a few recoverable materials.

While much of the attention on reducing disease transmission has focused through the decades on pathogens associated with human waste, much less attention has been given to animal waste, the researchers wrote, despite livestock accounting for 80 percent of the global fecal biomass generated.

“Ultimately, shining a light on the amount of waste that we produce is the first step toward shaping policies and regional planning geared toward maximizing public health and resource recovery,” Brown said. “This is an area where there’s a huge need for attention and investment – to help develop next-generation waste management innovations, for both large-scale and small-scale animal husbandry operations, that will enable us to maximize human health and meet the global demand for natural resources.”

The findings and conclusions in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

CITATION: David M. Berendes, Patricia J. Yang, Amanda Lai, David Hu and Joe Brown, “Estimation of global recoverable human and animal faecal biomass,” (Nature Sustainability, November 13, 2018) http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41893-018-0167-0

]]> Josh Brown 1 1543354929 2018-11-27 21:42:09 1578409881 2020-01-07 15:11:21 0 0 news 2018-11-27T00:00:00-05:00 2018-11-27T00:00:00-05:00 2018-11-27 00:00:00 John Toon

Research News

614682 614685 614682 image <![CDATA[Cattle plays a big role in recoverable waste]]> image/jpeg 1543355400 2018-11-27 21:50:00 1543355400 2018-11-27 21:50:00 614685 image <![CDATA[Joe Brown]]> image/jpeg 1543355690 2018-11-27 21:54:50 1543355769 2018-11-27 21:56:09
<![CDATA[AAAS Honors Cola, Fox and Weitz as Fellows]]> 31759 The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has named three researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology as fellows for 2017 for their contributions to the advancement of science.

Baratunde Cola, Mary Frank Fox, and Joshua Weitz, who are members of AAAS, were elected by their peers to receive the honor and join hundreds of their contemporaries who became fellows this year. “This year 396 members have been awarded this honor by AAAS because of their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications,” the AAAS wrote in its announcement of this year’s fellows.

All three Georgia Tech fellows saw the AAAS Fellowship as encouragement to continue serving science and humanity.

The three have excelled in research in the following fields, according to AAAS: Cola in nanoscale engineering, Fox in the participation and performance of women and men in science, and Weitz in virus dynamics in populations and in ecosystems. Here are summaries of the researchers’ achievements and interests.

Baratunda Cola may be best known for engineering the first-ever optical rectenna. A rectenna, or rectifying antenna, turns electromagnetic waves into direct current electricity, and Cola’s invention was the first known to work with sunlight instead of radio waves, making it an innovation in efficient solar energy generation.

Cola, who is an associate professor in The George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech, is currently focused on the transfer of heat, and the conversion of energy in nanostructures, particularly those based on carbon nanotubes. He holds three carbon nanotube related patents and is interested in making his innovations producible on a large scale for practical use.

“I was honored that AAAS chose to recognize my contributions to science over the years,” Cola said. “The fellowship gives a bigger platform to my work so it can reach more people and be useful to them.”

Cola’s vision transcends arbitrary confines of a research field. “I think of myself less as being a mechanical engineer and more as a person concerned with the advancement and well-being of people, and I appreciate the power of science to positively affect lives through practical applications.”

In April, Cola received the highest honor awarded by the National Science Foundation to up-and-coming scientists and engineers. Like the AAAS Fellowship, the Alan T. Waterman award also recognized Cola’s achievements in transforming light and heat into electricity on the nanoscale, and it added $1 million in funding to his research.

Cola also serves as CEO of Carbice Corporation, a Georgia Tech spinoff company that has developed a heat-conducting tape that helps prevent electronic devices from overheating.

Mary Frank Fox is known for her research on women and men in scientific organizations and occupations. She is nationally recognized as a leader on issues of diversity, equity, and equity in science, and her work has had a significant influence on science and technology policy.

Fox, who is an ADVANCE Professor at the School of Public Policy in Georgia Tech’s Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts, is particularly interested in how social and organizational settings, in which scientists are educated and work, influence their performance. She holds multiple board of director positions in societies connected to science and technology policy.

“I’m deeply honored by the AAAS award,” Fox said. “I value that it recognizes my years of research on women and men in sciences and the policy implications for equity.”

Fox sees the award as recognition that her work advances science and is aligned with AAAS’s commitments. “I’m one of the founders of this area of science, and I value this award recognizing this research that advances science,” Fox said.

Joshua Weitz uses models to predict the effects of viruses on populations and on ecosystems, but his work encompasses many complex biological systems. His group combines methods from physics, math, computational biology, and bioinformatics to develop in-depth analytical models of biological dynamics to understand experimental and environmental data.

In the field of virology, he applies this approach to the molecular workings of viruses, their spread through a population and their evolution into new strains. His work is theoretical, but he uses his detailed computational methods to collaborate with experimentalists. Weitz is a professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Biological Sciences, Courtesy Professor of Physics and the Director of the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Quantitative Biosciences.

“When AAAS first informed me, I was honored and humbled.  And I was proud of my group and its collective effort in the last 10 years at Georgia Tech to study viral ecology,” Weitz said.

“The mission of the AAAS is ever more important in these times, and being a fellow gives us a greater responsibility to communicate our research beyond the scientific community, to let the public know how it serves society’s betterment by improving public health and environmental health.”

The American Association for the Advancement of Science lays claim to the distinction of being “the world’s largest general scientific society.” AAAS was founded in 1848 and publishes the journal Science as well as many other prestigious research periodicals. The AAAS Fellowship began in 1874.

]]> Ben Brumfield 1 1512428917 2017-12-04 23:08:37 1512429888 2017-12-04 23:24:48 0 0 news 2017-12-04T00:00:00-05:00 2017-12-04T00:00:00-05:00 2017-12-04 00:00:00 Writer and Media Relations Contact: Ben Brumfield (404-660-1408)

Georgia Institute of Technology
177 North Avenue
Atlanta, Georgia  30332-0181  USA

599529 599528 599530 599529 image <![CDATA[Mary Frank Fox AAAS Fellow 2017]]> image/jpeg 1512428091 2017-12-04 22:54:51 1512428091 2017-12-04 22:54:51 599528 image <![CDATA[Joshua Weitz AAAS Fellow]]> image/jpeg 1512427820 2017-12-04 22:50:20 1512427820 2017-12-04 22:50:20 599530 image <![CDATA[Baratunde Cola AAAS Fellow 2017]]> image/jpeg 1512428369 2017-12-04 22:59:29 1512428369 2017-12-04 22:59:29
<![CDATA[Swapping Bacteria May Help ‘Nemo’ Fish Cohabitate with Fish-Killing Anemones]]> 31759 Nemo, the adorable clownfish in the movie Finding Nemo, rubs himself all over the anemone he lives in to keep it from stinging and eating him like it does most fish. That rubbing leads the makeup of microbes covering the clownfish to change, according to a new study.

Having bacterial cooties in common with anemones may help the clownfish cozily nest in anemones’ venomous tentacles, a weird symbiosis that life scientists - including now a team from the Georgia Institute of Technology - have tried for decades to figure out. The marine researchers studied how populations of microbes shifted on clownfish who mixed and mingled with fish-killing anemones.

“It’s the iconic mutualism between a host and a partner, and we knew that microbes are on every surface of each animal,” said Frank Stewart, an associate professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Biological Sciences. “In this particular mutualism, these surfaces are covered with stuff that microbes love to eat: mucus.”

Swabbing mucus 

Clownfish and anemones swap lots of mucus when they rub. So, the researchers brought clownfish and anemones together and analyzed the microbes in the mucus covering the fish when they were hosted by anemones and when they weren’t.

“Their microbiome changed,” said Zoe Pratte, a postdoctoral researcher in Stewart’s lab and first author of the new study. “Two bacteria that we tracked in particular multiplied with contact with anemones.”

“On top of that, there were sweeping changes,” said Stewart, the study’s principal investigator. “If you looked at the total assemblages of microbes, they looked quite different on a clownfish that was hosted by an anemone and on one that was not.” 

The researchers chased 12 clownfish in six fish tanks for eight weeks to swab their mucus and identify microbes through gene sequencing. They published their results in the journal Coral Reefs. The research was funded by the Simons Foundation

Questions and Answers

Here are some questions and answers about the experiment, which produced some amusing anecdotes, along with fascinating facts about anemones and clownfish. For example, fish peeing on anemones makes the latter stronger. Clownfish change genders. And it was especially hard to catch one fish the researchers named “Houdini.”

Does this solve the mystery about this strange symbiosis?

No, but it’s a new approach to the clownfish-anemone conundrum.

“It’s a first step that’s asking the question, ‘Is there part of the microbial relationship that changes?’” Stewart said. The study delivered the answer on the clownfish side, which was “yes.”

An earlier hypothesis on the conundrum held that clownfish mucus was too thick to sting through. Current ideas consider that mucus swapping also covers the clownfish with anemone antigens, i.e. its own immune proteins, or that fish and fish killer may be exchanging chemical messages.

“The anemone may recognize some chemical on the clownfish that keeps it from stinging,” Stewart said. “And that could involve microbes. Microbes are great chemists.”

Going forward, the researchers want to analyze mucus chemistry. They also don’t yet know to what extent the microbes on the fish change because of bacteria the fish gleans from the anemone. It’s possible the fish mucus microbiome just develops differently on the fish due to the contact.

What do anemones normally do to fish?

Kill them and eat them. 

“The anemone evolved to kill fish. It shoots little poison darts into the skin of a fish to kill it then pull it into its mouth,” Stewart said. “The clownfish gets away with living right in that.”

By the way, the tentacles are not harmful to people.

“If you touch an anemone, it feels like they’re sucking on your finger,” Pratte said. “Their little harpoons feel like they’re sticking to you. It doesn’t hurt.”

What do the anemones and clownfish get out of the relationship?

For starters, they protect each other from potential prey. But there’s lots more. Some clownfish even change genders by living in an anemone.

“When they start being hosted, the fish make a big developmental switch,” Stewart said. “The first fish in a group that establishes itself in an anemone in the wild transitions from male to female, grows much bigger and becomes the dominant member of the group.”

She is then the sole female in a school of smaller male mates.

Anemones appear to grow larger and healthier, partly because the clownfish urinate on them.

“When the fish pee, algae in the anemone take up the nitrogen then secrete sugars that feed the anemone and make it grow,” Pratte said. “Sometimes the fish drop their food, and it falls into the anemone which eats it.”

Any fun anecdotes from this experiment? 

Plenty: It was scientifically straightforward but laborious to carry out, partly because the researchers were taking meticulous care of the fish at the same time.

“You have to get fish and anemones to pair up, and the fish can host in other places, like nooks in the rock,” Pratte said.

“Clownfish are smarter than other fish, so they’re harder to catch, especially when we want to minimize stress on the animals,” said Alicia Caughman, an undergraduate research assistant in the School of Biological Science’s Fast Track to Research program. “We named one fish ‘Houdini.’ He could wiggle between nets and tight spaces and usually outsmart whoever was trying to catch him."

“We also had 'Bubbles,' who blew a lot of bubbles, 'Biggie' and 'Smalls,' 'Broad,' 'Sheila,' 'Earl,' and 'Flounder,' who liked to flounder (flop around),” Pratte said. Clownfish have differing sizes and details in their stripes, which allow people to tell them apart.

The anemone side of the microbial question may prove harder to answer because for all Houdini's wiles, anemones, which are squishy non-vertebrates, are even more trying. They can squeeze into uncomfortable niches or plug up the aquarium drainage, and they also have temperamental microbiomes.

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Also READ: When boy fish build castles to impress girl fish, boy genes get a rise

Also READ: Teeny bacteria do a dirty job to clean a huge fish tank

The following researchers coauthored the paper: Nastassia V. Patin, Mary E. McWhirt and Darren J. Parris, all of Georgia Tech. DOI: 10.1007/s00338-018-01750-z. The research was funded by the Simons Foundation (award 346253). Any findings, opinions or recommendations are those of the authors and not necessarily of the Simons Foundation.

Media relations assistance: Ben Brumfield (404) 660-1408, ben.brumfield@comm.gatech.edu

Research News
Georgia Institute of Technology
177 North Avenue
Atlanta, Georgia  30332-0181  USA

Writer: Ben Brumfield

]]> Ben Brumfield 1 1544044045 2018-12-05 21:07:25 1544819613 2018-12-14 20:33:33 0 0 news The fish killer and the fish live in perfect harmony: But how the clownfish thrives in the venomous tentacles of the anemone remains a mystery. A new study tackles the iconic conundrum from the microbial side by watching bacterial colonies shift in fish mucus, as the clownfish cozy up to anemones.

2018-12-10T00:00:00-05:00 2018-12-10T00:00:00-05:00 2018-12-10 00:00:00 615035 615036 615038 615037 615035 image <![CDATA[Clownfish in anemone]]> image/jpeg 1544045694 2018-12-05 21:34:54 1544045694 2018-12-05 21:34:54 615036 image <![CDATA[Clownfish mingle in anemones]]> image/jpeg 1544045795 2018-12-05 21:36:35 1544045851 2018-12-05 21:37:31 615038 image <![CDATA[Anemone kills, eats fish]]> image/jpeg 1544046260 2018-12-05 21:44:20 1544046283 2018-12-05 21:44:43 615037 image <![CDATA[Clownfish in anemone 2]]> image/jpeg 1544045966 2018-12-05 21:39:26 1544045966 2018-12-05 21:39:26
<![CDATA[Sarthak Sharma, M.S. in Bioinformatics]]> 30678 Sarthak Sharma hails from the small city of Meerut, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, in India. After going to school there, he moved to the state of Assam to pursue a Bachelor of Technology degree in Biotechnology from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Guwahati

As an undergraduate student, and using computational approaches, Sarthak worked on the evolution of CRISPR-Cas systems. These systems form the innate immune systems in bacteria. “It was here that I learned about molecular biology and bioinformatics,” Sarthak says.

In IIT Guwahati, Sarthak joined the robotics club, participating in various intercollegiate robotics events. He also played for the institute's football club.

In his second-year at IIT Guwahati, Sarthak came across a piece of news: Georgia Tech researchers had combined biology and machine learning to seek biology-inspired – bio-inspired – solutions to various problems.

“This single article drove me to research various courses at Georgia Tech,” Sarthak says. “I found that the bioinformatics program at Georgia Tech was flexible and highly computation-oriented. It was perfect for someone like me – interested in computer science and biology. Not only was I impressed, I was inspired to join Georgia Tech.”

Sarthak started the Master of Science program in Bioinformatics in August 2017. In early 2018, he received the J. Leland Jackson Fellowship in Bioinformatics for the outstanding master’s student in the program.

For his research, Sarthak studied the nervous system of tunicates, “our closest living invertebrate relatives,” he says. His work resulted in first use of a technique called single-cell RNA sequencing to characterize the gene expression profiles of neurons in tunicates.

Sarthak has been working with Alberto Stolfi, an assistant professor in the School of Biological Sciences and a member of the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience. “Sarthak’s accomplishments speak for themselves,” Stolfi says. “He so quickly and fundamentally elevated the research in the lab in such a short time. In addition, Sarthak is a courteous, kind, and mature student. Mentoring him has been a joyous experience.”

Sarthak graduates with a Master of Science in Bioinformatics.

What is the most important thing you learned at Georgia Tech?
The most important thing I learned at Georgia Tech is management – managing multiple projects simultaneously, managing stress, managing group work, and managing time.

I was aware that Georgia Tech is a tough school. I was also certain that it would be an enriching, albeit challenging, experience.

Georgia Tech met my expectations and then some! Instructions are excellent and instructors are very approachable. They are willing to attend to your problems almost anytime. Everyone at Tech is willing to give their time to you if you are interested in learning.

What are your proudest achievements at Georgia Tech?
Within one year, I submitted a paper as first author in the peer-reviewed journal Developmental Biology, and I received the Outstanding (Master’s) Bioinformatics Student Award. I am proud of these achievements because working on publishing a paper while taking difficult courses and maintaining a GPA of 4.0 was really challenging.

Which professor(s) or class(es) made a big impact on you?
Dr. Alberto Stolfi has been my research guide and mentor ever since I came to Georgia Tech. I was the first student in his lab. He has been a perfect leader for me. He clearly stated his research goals and his expectations of me. And then he gave me utmost freedom to deliver results.

Not only has he been understanding throughout, but he has also been extremely supportive of my career choices and aspirations. If ever I hold a leadership position anywhere in life, I hope I can be half as good a leader as he has been for me.

What is your most vivid memory of Georgia Tech?
I witnessed the first snowfall of my life at Georgia Tech. I was in Dr. Stolfi's office. We were discussing some project when he abruptly pointed toward his office window. It was snowing! We quickly finished the discussion, and I left for home early.

I walked in the falling snow for more than a mile, slipping almost five times on the way. In the evening, when the entire campus was covered in snow, I got together with a few friends and made my first snowman.

It's still as clear in my memory as if it happened only yesterday. It was a special day. Although I fell ill the next day, it was all worth it!

In what ways did your time at Georgia Tech transform your life?
I have made significant contributions to various projects, developed skills that I had never even imagined, and evolved work ethics that had seemed impossible to me.

Georgia Tech drove me to push myself and get out of my comfort zone. I am a very different person today from who I was before attending Georgia Tech.

What unique learning activities did you undertake?
I took a special-problems course to do research alongside my studies. This enabled me to apply my classroom learning to real-world problems and to devise new methods and tools for answering intriguing questions.

What advice would you give to incoming graduate students at Georgia Tech?Manage your time. Otherwise, you will be in a sea of problems.

Do not take anything for granted, especially your health. At times, you'll have deadlines, exams, and presentations in a single week. Make sure you give yourself enough time and space to unwind. It’s not always be possible, but do the best you can.

Challenge yourself by taking a tough course, if you find one that interests you, without worrying about the grade. You might never get the opportunity to study those subjects again. 

Where are you headed after graduation?
I will not immediately go for a Ph.D. I’m looking for a bioinformatics software engineer position.  

Georgia Tech stresses ethical behavior in the workplace. These principles will guide me in making tough decisions. 

Georgia Tech has equipped me with a unique combination of technical and soft skills. My experience at Georgia Tech has made me capable of handling multiple projects simultaneously and work efficiently in both collaborative and independent work settings.

]]> A. Maureen Rouhi 1 1541449158 2018-11-05 20:19:18 1544566645 2018-12-11 22:17:25 0 0 news 2018-12-12T00:00:00-05:00 2018-12-12T00:00:00-05:00 2018-12-12 00:00:00 A. Maureen Rouhi, Ph.D.
Director of Communications
College of Sciences

613882 613882 image <![CDATA[Sarthak Sharma]]> image/jpeg 1541445157 2018-11-05 19:12:37 1541445157 2018-11-05 19:12:37
<![CDATA[Georgia Tech Researchers Helping Develop Game to Improve STEM Learning in Chronically-Ill Children]]> 33939 Georgia Tech researchers are partnering with a Georgia-based game developer on a $1.5 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) Small Business Innovation Research grant to help chronically-ill children maintain their educational development.

With an emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects, researchers from the Schools of Interactive Computing and Biomedical Engineering are teaming with Thrust Interactive, Inc., to create digital games that can help these kids that tend to miss a lot of school due to their illnesses.

Associate Professor Betsy DiSalvo (IC) and Associate Professor Wilbur Lam (BME) are leading the project, which will span two years under the current terms of the grant. Their goal is to take advantage of the time chronically-ill children spend in waiting rooms, having transfusions, or other times spent outside of the classroom.

The digital games are based on physical tabletop games created by members of Lam’s lab. Led by Dr. Elaissa Hardy (Emory), a team of BME undergraduate students originally created the tabletop games to help kids in the hospital with sickle cell disease engage with STEM subjects.

Lam’s lab has worked with DiSalvo and Thrust for the past two years to pilot test digital versions of these games. The new NIH grant will be used to develop findings from the pilot testing so the research team can better understand how to create a scalable model that can be used in hospitals across the country.

Another challenge the team wants to address is the difficulty children face in discussing their diseases with others. Common illnesses such as diabetes and asthma, as well as those less common like sickle cell and cystic fibrosis, can be challenging topics for children, particularly in their early teen years.

“The middle schoolers we interviewed told us it was awkward to talk about their disease,” DiSalvo said. “Sometimes, they got bullied or had issues finding ways to discuss it with their peers. Previous research has shown that if you can have kids play a game around their disease, they’ll engage about it more in conversation with peers and families.

“It can diminish the stigma, and it also positions them as experts. When children feel like they have expertise, they are usually willing to dive deeper and learn more to maintain their expert position.”

A better understanding of their disease at this age is critical for young people beginning to take charge of managing their own care, according to the researchers.

“These adolescents are beginning to transition into adulthood, so managing their illness is beginning to become their responsibility,” DiSalvo said. “Those transitions are difficult because, in doctor visits, parents tend to dominate the conversation while kids sit in the background, not really asking questions or engaging. It’s important to change that dynamic at this age.”

The researchers are investigating three different approaches to the digital games to determine the best learning experience outcomes. They will test content using:

Follow-up comprehension tests after will help determine which approach leads to the best results. Those tests will take up the first year of the project, with the second year focused on testing the application in live hospital settings.

“We want it to be so fun and engaging that they don’t think of it as an educational game,” said Sarah Boyd, a Thrust Interactive team member who will work on design.

“It’s fun, and they’re learning. There are existing approaches relating to education of disease, but they aren’t as engaging. We want a fun and engaging game first, but then they’re going to be learning about their health as they engage.”

Thrust Interactive has elicited help from Paul Jenkins, a comic book writer and video game creator who has been involved with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a number of Marvel Comics titles, and video games like God of War and The Darkness.

]]> David Mitchell 1 1543510014 2018-11-29 16:46:54 1543510014 2018-11-29 16:46:54 0 0 news 2018-11-29T00:00:00-05:00 2018-11-29T00:00:00-05:00 2018-11-29 00:00:00 David Mitchell

Communications Officer


614765 614765 image <![CDATA[Video game on tablet STOCK]]> image/jpeg 1543509687 2018-11-29 16:41:27 1543509687 2018-11-29 16:41:27 <![CDATA[Computer Science Education Week at Georgia Tech]]>
<![CDATA['Demolition Handshakes' Kill Precursor T Cells that Pose Autoimmune Dangers]]> 31759 A person reaches out for a handshake; the other person takes their hand with two hands and tugs then dies as a consequence. That’s a rough description of newly discovered cellular mechanisms that eliminate T cells that may cause autoimmune disorders. 

Although the mechanisms are intertwined with biochemical processes, they also work mechanically, grasping, tugging and clamping, say researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, who, for a new study in the journal Nature Immunology, measured responses to physical force acting upon these elimination mechanisms.

The mechanisms’ purpose is to make dangerously aggressive developing immune cells called thymocytes destroy themselves to keep them from attacking the body, while sparing healthy thymocytes as they mature into T cells. Understanding these selection mechanisms, which ensure T cells aggressively pursue hordes of infectors and cancers but not damage healthy human tissue, could someday lead to new immune-regulating therapies.

Two-handed handshake

Usually, researchers pursue such mechanisms using chemistry experiments, but Georgia Tech’s Cheng Zhu, who led the study, makes atypical discoveries via physical experiments to observe effects of forces between key proteins in living cells.

“Experiments where the proteins are isolated and used in chemical reactions in vitro miss this force dynamic,” said Zhu, a Regents Professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University. “Before our work, force was not considered as a factor in thymocyte selection and now it is.”

In this study, they discovered a loop of physical signals resembling a double-handed handshake that encourages cell apoptosis. It is described in more detail below.

The medical significance of this field of research was highlighted by the 2018 Nobel Prize in medicine, which was awarded to other researchers at other institutions, James Allison of MD Anderson Cancer Center and Tasuku Honjo of Kyoto University. Allison and Honjo received the prize for their cancer therapies exploiting T cell regulating mechanisms intertwined with those that the Georgia Tech researchers study.

Georgia Tech's Zhu and first authors Jinsung Hong and Chenghao Ge published their new research paper on November 12, 2018. The research was funded by the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The agencies are part of the National Institutes of Health.

Thymocyte selection gauntlet

Like blood cells, human thymocytes are born in bone marrow, but they travel to the thymus, a small organ just below the neck, where they run a gauntlet of selection tests. Failing any one selection means cell self-destruction; passing all selections promotes thymocytes to T cells that depart the thymus to battle our bodies’ foes.

One selection checks T cell receptors (TCR), which are on the thymocyte’s membrane, to ensure they are properly formed then to see if they recognize self-antigens, i.e. molecules that identify the body’s own cells. Then another selection, called negative selection, tests TCRs to make sure they don’t react too aggressively to self-antigens.

Cells that pass these checks then have TCRs that tolerate self- yet react to enemy antigens.

“You don’t want the cells with strongly grabbing receptor sites to turn against the body itself,” said Zhu, whose study focused on negative selection.

Self-antigen grip

In negative selection, other cells extend self-antigens on their membrane to interact with the thymocytes’ T cell receptors. Those interactions seal the thymocytes’ fate: advance or die.

Studying forces in those interactions revealed a new signaling loop with mechanical properties analogous to a two-handed grip and tug by the thymocyte.

The first hand would be the T cell receptor itself, and the other cell presenting the self-antigen would be like someone else’s hand holding a special ball out to the T cell’s first hand. The handshake begins as the self-antigen gives a signal to the T cell receptor.

If the TCR reacts too strongly to the self-antigen, the thymocyte adds the second, assisting hand, which comes in from the side to make a two-handed handshake. The additional hand is a lever called CD8 (cluster of differentiation 8), which connects to key mechanisms inside the thymocyte and is considered part of the TCR site.

Demolition handshakes

For about two weeks in the thymus, multiple T cell receptor sites engage in one- or two-handed handshakes, which send signals into the thymocyte that make it either mature into a T cell or begin the process of programmed cell death.

The researchers found that the two-handedness markedly resisted the force applied to break the grip between the T cell receptor and the self-antigen, thus prolonging the duration of the handshake. A long grip sent signals for the thymocyte to die.

“That’s the study’s elegant finding,” Zhu said. “That the force is significant for the selection to work.”

New signaling loop

The researchers also made the novel discovery that CD8’s handshake participation constitutes a signal coming from inside the thymocyte back out to the self-antigen in answer to its initial signal.

“The inside-out return signal had not yet been reported for this T cell receptor,” Zhu said.

Together, the outside-in and inside-out signals create a feedback loop that perpetuates the handshake:

  1. Self-antigen touches receptor.
  2. Receptor fires signal into cell and interacts with self-antigen too aggressively.
  3. Inside cell membrane, signal pulls CD8 closer.
  4. Outside cell membrane, CD8 strengthens handshake.
  5. When the self-antigen slips a bit, the double-handed grip can coax it back into the receptor, kicking off another signal, restarting the signaling cycle again and again.
  6. Many feedback loops increase likelihood of programmed cell death.

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Also READ: Remote-Control Shoots Laser at Nano-Gold to Turn on Cancer-Killing T Cells

Coauthors on the study were: Prithiviraj Jothikumar, Zhou Yuan, Baoyu Liu, Ke Bai, Kaitao Li, William Rittase, all of Georgia Tech at the time of the research; Miho Shinzawa and Alfred Singer of the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health; Brian Evavold, Khalid Salaita and Yun Zhang of Emory University; Amy Palin and Paul Love of the NIH Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Development; and Xinhua Yu of University of Memphis. The research was funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) (grant CA214354), the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) (grants AI124680, AI096879), the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) (grant NS071518). The funders belong to the National Institutes of Health. Hong and Bai now research at NIAID; Liu and Evavold now research at the University of Utah. Zhu is also in Georgia Tech’s George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering and in Georgia Tech’s Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience. Any findings, opinions or recommendations are those of the authors and not necessarily of the funding agencies

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Media relations assistance: Ben Brumfield (404) 660-1408, ben.brumfield@comm.gatech.edu

Writer: Ben Brumfield

]]> Ben Brumfield 1 1541708427 2018-11-08 20:20:27 1544298453 2018-12-08 19:47:33 0 0 news The mechanisms that trigger the elimination of T cells that pose autoimmune dangers work very mechanically via physical forces. Nascent T cells must loosen their grip on human antigens within a reasonable time, in order to advance and defend the body. But if the nascent T cells, thymocytes, grip the human antigens too tightly, the immune cells must die. Here's how the grip of death works.

2018-11-12T00:00:00-05:00 2018-11-12T00:00:00-05:00 2018-11-12 00:00:00 614029 605304 614031 614030 614034 614029 image <![CDATA[Human T cell]]> image/jpeg 1541703100 2018-11-08 18:51:40 1541703100 2018-11-08 18:51:40 605304 image <![CDATA[T-cells attack cancer cell, Getty Images]]> image/jpeg 1524157695 2018-04-19 17:08:15 1524157695 2018-04-19 17:08:15 614031 image <![CDATA[Tensions measured on cells under microscope]]> image/jpeg 1541705210 2018-11-08 19:26:50 1541705210 2018-11-08 19:26:50 614030 image <![CDATA[Cheng Zhu lab]]> image/jpeg 1541704007 2018-11-08 19:06:47 1541704007 2018-11-08 19:06:47 614034 image <![CDATA[Regents professor Cheng Zhu portrait]]> image/jpeg 1541705463 2018-11-08 19:31:03 1541705463 2018-11-08 19:31:03
<![CDATA[Open Source Machine Learning Tool Could Help Choose Cancer Drugs]]> 27303 The selection of a first-line chemotherapy drug to treat many types of cancer is often a clear-cut decision governed by standard-of-care protocols, but what drug should be used next if the first one fails?

That’s where Georgia Institute of Technology researchers believe their new open source decision support tool could come in. Using machine learning to analyze RNA expression tied to information about patient outcomes with specific drugs, the open source tool could help clinicians chose the chemotherapy drug most likely to attack the disease in individual patients.

In a study using RNA analysis data from 152 patient records, the system predicted the chemotherapy drug that had provided the best outcome 80 percent of the time. The researchers believe the system’s accuracy could further improve with inclusion of additional patient records along with information such as family history and demographics.

“By looking at RNA expression in tumors, we believe we can predict with high accuracy which patients are likely to respond to a particular drug,” said John McDonald, a professor in the Georgia Tech School of Biological Sciences and director of its Integrated Cancer Research Center. “This information could be used, along with other factors, to support the decisions clinicians must make regarding chemotherapy treatment.”

The research, which could add another component to precision medicine for cancer treatment, was reported November 6 in the journal Scientific Reports. The work was supported in part by the Atlanta-based Ovarian Cancer Institute, the Georgia Research Alliance, and a National Institutes of Health fellowship.

As with other machine learning decision support tools, the researchers first “trained” their system using one part of a data set, then tested its operation on the remaining records. In developing the system, the researchers obtained records of RNA from tumors, along with with the outcome of treatment with specific drugs. With only about 152 such records available, they first used data from 114 records to train the system. They then used the remaining 38 records to test the system’s ability to predict, based on the RNA sequence, which chemotherapy drugs would have been the most likely to be useful in shrinking tumors.

The research began with ovarian cancer, but to expand the data set, the research team decided to include data from other cancer types – lung, breast, liver and pancreatic cancers – that use the same chemotherapy drugs and for which the RNA data was available. “Our model is predicting based on the drug and looking across all the patients who were treated with that drug regardless of cancer type,” McDonald said.

The system produces a chart comparing the likelihood that each drug will have an effect on a patient’s specific cancer. If the system were to be used in a clinical setting, McDonald believes doctors would use the predictions along with other critical patient information.

Because it measures the expression levels for genes, analysis of RNA could have an advantage over sequencing of DNA, though both types of information could be useful in choosing a drug therapy, he said. The cost of RNA analysis is declining and could soon cost less than a mammogram, McDonald said.

The system will be made available as open source software, and McDonald’s team hopes hospitals and cancer centers will try it out. Ultimately, the tool’s accuracy should improve as more patient data is analyzed by the algorithm. He and his collaborators believe the open source approach offers the best path to moving the algorithm into clinical use.

“To really get this into clinical practice, we think we’ve got to open it up so that other people can try it, modify if they want to, and demonstrate its value in real-world situations,” McDonald said. “We are trying to create a different paradigm for cancer therapy using the kind of open source strategy used in internet technology.”

Open source coding allows many experts across multiple fields to review the software, identify faults and recommend improvements, said Fredrik Vannberg, an assistant professor in the Georgia Tech School of Biological Sciences. “Most importantly, that means the software is no longer a black box where you can’t see inside. The code is openly shared for anybody to improve and check for potential issues.”

Vannberg envisions using the decision-support tool to create “virtual tumor boards” that would bring together broad expertise to examine RNA data from patients worldwide. 

“The hope would be to provide this kind of analysis for any new cancer patient who has this kind of RNA analysis done,” he added. “We could have a consensus of dozens of the smartest people in oncology and make them available for each patient’s unique situation.”

The tool is available on the open source Github repository for download and use. Hospitals and cancer clinics may install the software and use it without sharing their results, but the researchers hope organizations using the software will help the system improve.

“The accuracy of machine learning will improve not only as the amount of training data increases, but also as the diversity within that data increases,” said Evan Clayton, a Ph.D. student in the Georgia Tech School of Biological Sciences. “There's potential for improvement by including DNA data, demographic information and patient histories. The model will incorporate any information if it helps predict the success of specific drugs."

In addition to those already mentioned, the research team included Cai Huang, Lilya Matyunina, and DeEtte McDonald from the Georgia Tech School of Biological Sciences, and Benedict Benigno from the Georgia Tech Integrated Cancer Research Center and the Ovarian Cancer Institute.

Support for the project came from the Ovarian Cancer Institute, and equipment used was provided by the Georgia Research Alliance. In addition, the National Institutes of Health supported a graduate fellowship.

CITATION: Cai Huang, et al., “Machine learning predicts individual cancer patient responses to therapeutic drugs with high accuracy,” (Scientific Reports 2018). http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-34753-5

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Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986) (jtoon@gatech.edu).

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]]> John Toon 1 1541551401 2018-11-07 00:43:21 1541551512 2018-11-07 00:45:12 0 0 news A new open source decision support tool could use machine learning to analyze RNA expression -- tied to information about patient outcomes with specific drugs -- to help clinicians chose the chemotherapy drug most likely to attack the disease in individual patients.

2018-11-06T00:00:00-05:00 2018-11-06T00:00:00-05:00 2018-11-06 00:00:00 John Toon

Research News

(404) 894-6986

613939 613940 613939 image <![CDATA[Sample Tubes for Sequencing Equipment]]> image/jpeg 1541550584 2018-11-07 00:29:44 1541550584 2018-11-07 00:29:44 613940 image <![CDATA[Researchers with Sequencing Equipment]]> image/jpeg 1541550711 2018-11-07 00:31:51 1541550711 2018-11-07 00:31:51
<![CDATA[Delivering Antibodies via mRNA Could Prevent RSV Infection]]> 34897 Almost every child gets respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which causes cold-like symptoms. It’s usually not a big deal if they’re healthy, but every year in the U.S. some 57,000 children under the age of five are hospitalized with the infection. To make matters worse, there’s no vaccine and a medication sometimes used to prevent RSV in high-risk children isn’t always effective. Now researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a promising method of delivering antibodies directly to the lungs, improving their efficacy in warding off RSV.

It was a natural outgrowth of research in his lab, said Philip Santangelo, associate professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University. That research focused on using RNA to deliver therapeutic antibodies, as well as with the basic virology of RSV. Combining the two was “a logical choice,” said Santangelo. 

One of the medications used to treat or prevent RSV, the monoclonal antibody palivizumab, is given monthly via intramuscular (IM) injection. Only a small amount of the antibody gets into the airways. “RSV tends to infect airway epithelial cells, as does flu,” said Santangelo. “We really didn’t see palivizumab there in large quantities. So we thought that was an opportunity.”

In a study published October 1 in Nature Communications, Santangelo’s team reported using synthetic messenger RNA (mRNA) to deliver antibodies directly to the lungs of mice via aerosol, which the study showed protected them from RSV infection.  Two forms of palivizumab were used, the whole secreted form (sPali) and one that was engineered with a glycosylphosphatidylinositol (GPI) membrane anchor or linker (aPali), which should allow it to stay on the epithelial surface longer. 

Another group of mice were treated with a different antibody – a VHH camelid antibody, also in secreted and anchored forms – that was previously shown to be more potent than palivizumab but is not currently used to treat RSV.  

“With palivizumab, that may or may not be as critical – we noticed that even with the secreted version we were able to block the virus reasonably well,” said Santangelo. “But single-chain antibodies, which are very small, have short half-lives. You have to give them frequently, which doesn’t seem practical. When we put this linker on the smaller antibody, we were able to see it on the epithelial cells 28 days later. That was really exciting to us.”

In fact, Santangelo suspects that using the linker could cause smaller antibodies to persist for a few months, reducing the need for frequent treatments. “You could see administering this right after a child is born, when they are most vulnerable,” he said.

Using mRNA is an effective and safe delivery option, especially crucial in a pediatric population. “Using a transient, nucleic acid-based method that doesn’t end up in the cell nucleus is really important,” said Santangelo, whose study was funded by a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) grant and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. “We do want this to be transient, so if it lasted even a month that would protect newborns in the hospital where they may be exposed to RSV. And if you could protect kids for a few months at a time, that’s really all you would need to do.” 

The study found that most of the mRNA-expressed antibodies did not change baseline levels of cytokines, indicating that the approach was minimally inflammatory and suggesting that repeat dosing could be considered.

It’s also possible that the antibodies used in this study could potentially neutralize the virus in cells, so even if a child was infected the severity of symptoms might be lessened. And RSV isn’t the only potential virus this method could target – Santangelo is currently working on a project that targets flu via dry powder delivery of mRNA. That project is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

With the promising results from the RSV study, Santangelo hopes to move from a mouse model to additional testing. “There’s more work to be done,” he said. “The use of antibodies for preventing infection is a huge deal right now. But even if you found this potent antibody, if you can’t deliver it where it needs to go then the efficacy may not be where you want it to be. At least with the lung, we know where we want to go, and IV or IM administration isn’t really ideal for the cell types that are most critical for RSV.”

The study was co-authored by these researchers: Pooja Munnilal Tiwari, Daryll Vanover, Kevin E. Lindsay, Swapnil Subhash Bawage, Jonathan L. Kirschman, Sushma Bhosle, Aaron W. Lifland, Chiara Zurla and Philip J. Santangelo. The research was funded by DARPA grant W911NF-15-0609. The views, opinions, and/or findings expressed are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the official views or policies of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

CITATION: Pooja Munnilal Tiwari, et al., “Engineered mRNA-expressed antibodies prevent respiratory syncytial virus infection,” (Nature Communications 9, 2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-06508-3

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Writer: Kenna Simmons

]]> Kenna Simmons 1 1541446737 2018-11-05 19:38:57 1544477641 2018-12-10 21:34:01 0 0 news RSV is a problem for high-risk children. Georgia Tech researchers developed a promising method of warding off the virus in mice by delivering antibodies straight to their lungs.

2018-11-05T00:00:00-05:00 2018-11-05T00:00:00-05:00 2018-11-05 00:00:00 John Toon

Research News

(404) 894-6986

613889 613888 613890 613889 image <![CDATA[RSV Virus Particles on Cell]]> image/jpeg 1541447753 2018-11-05 19:55:53 1541447753 2018-11-05 19:55:53 613888 image <![CDATA[RSV Infected Mouse Lung]]> image/jpeg 1541446899 2018-11-05 19:41:39 1541446899 2018-11-05 19:41:39 613890 image <![CDATA[Santangelo_Team]]> image/jpeg 1541448283 2018-11-05 20:04:43 1541448283 2018-11-05 20:04:43
<![CDATA[Chaouki Abdallah Comes Home to Lead Georgia Tech’s Research Enterprise]]> 27303 Chaouki Abdallah is a proud Yellow Jacket alumnus, parent of two Georgia Tech students and the newest member of the Institute’s executive leadership team. As Georgia Tech’s executive vice president for research, he has returned to what he considers home after nearly 30 years as a professor, chair, provost and president at the University of New Mexico (UNM) in Albuquerque.

The holder of Georgia Tech master’s and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering, parent of twin Georgia Tech first-year students Carter and Calvin, and the spouse of a Georgia Tech industrial engineering graduate who started a successful logistics company, Abdallah has a unique perspective on the institution that ranks 8th among public universities in the latest U.S. News & World Report survey.

“When I was here as a student, Georgia Tech was a good university. It has now become great, world-class – probably because I left,” he joked. “I feel indebted to Georgia Tech. In everything I have done, I can point to my education from Georgia Tech. I’m honored to come back to campus in this capacity.”

After proposing to her on the Skiles Walkway, Abdallah married Catherine Cooper, who earned her bachelor’s degree in industrial and systems engineering. “Every time I walk there, it brings back good memories,” he said. 

A Top Research and Education Institution

His sons, his service on the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering advisory board and roles as UNM provost and president give Abdallah a special view of how education and research fit together at a top research university like Georgia Tech.

“For a long time, we thought that undergraduate and graduate education were two different things,” he said. “It’s actually a continuum. We have undergraduates doing great research here and a lot of research embedded in undergraduate education. Being a top research institution really complements our educational activities.”

The skills essential to academic success are also among those essential to research, he notes. Researchers work in interdisciplinary teams to find answers to challenging questions, just as students labor on team projects. Researchers communicate persuasively to convince colleagues to join their projects and funding agencies to provide them support, just as students make presentations, write term papers and take exams.The results of education and research are final products: a journal paper, a new technology, a new product, a new company or a diploma.

“Research allows us to make the undergraduate and graduate experiences better,” he said. “It helps get students to the point that they are contributing to the development of knowledge, rather than just being its passive consumers.”

Research also satisfies a human need to find the answers to questions. Often, those answers ultimately make someone’s life better and society more prosperous, Abdallah noted. “We are in the business of education, and education doesn’t simply mean classroom teaching. It involves teaching and research, which produce critical skills that are essential to everything we do in a modern society.”

Planting Basic Research for Future Generations

Through efforts such as the Advanced Technology Development Center incubator and the CREATE-X student entrepreneurship initiative, Georgia Tech has become known for transferring new knowledge into the marketplace. Before that can happen, however, there must be an investment in basic research to provide the seeds for applied research and technology transfer. That basic research often does not have a specific commercialization goal, and its end uses may surprise the scientists who pursue it.

“Google was begun at Stanford by two graduate students doing research on digital libraries with a National Science Foundation grant,” Abdallah pointed out. “Nobody at the time planned Google and all it has become.”

Growing up in Lebanon as part of a large family, Abdallah watched his grandfather plant olive trees near century-old trees that were still producing bountiful crops. When he asked why new trees should be planted while the old ones were still producing, his grandfather explained: “Somebody planted those trees for you. You need to plant for future generations.”

Basic research, Abdallah said, is planting for the next generation. Though it may not lead to predictable outcomes, planting basic research is an essential part of Georgia Tech’s innovation pipeline. “We are enjoying the fruits of basic research done by those who came before us,” he added.

Abdallah cites the 1939 essay “The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge,” written by higher education reformer Abraham Flexner, for some examples of how curiosity-driven basic research – magnetism and electricity, for instance – has led to important practical applications, including the wireless communication that is so essential today.

The University’s Role in Society

By educating tomorrow’s leaders and innovators, universities are also helping ensure the future prosperity of their cities, states, nations – and the world. Georgia Tech is making a strong contribution, as a brief visit to Georgia Tech’s Technology Square will attest.

“Universities are the engines of economic development,” Abdallah noted. “It’s great to have Tech Square and all the companies growing there, because they are employing people, paying taxes and creating activity that feeds back into the economy to the benefit of our institution and the state that supports it. It is also giving our students real work experiences and offering opportunities for careers in innovative companies.”

At the University of New Mexico, he served on the board of the university’s commercialization organization and watched that institution’s $300 million research program spin off companies. He is familiar with startups, having helped launch two companies during his time in New Mexico.

“The first one was in the area of image watermarking during the dot-com era,” Abdallah recalled. “It got first-round and second-round funding, but it didn’t make it.”

His second company, which develops analytics for universities to use in targeting resources, is “thriving,” he said. He’s still involved in the firm, which received funding from educational foundations but never took venture capital financing.

The Future of University Research

Seeing down the road is important for making sound decisions regarding Georgia Tech’s research program. Abdallah is careful not to predict the future, but does see trends that the Georgia Tech research enterprise is already beginning to address.

Among them is an increasingly interdisciplinary approach to solving real problems. Instead of pursuing narrow disciplines, researchers are tackling grand challenges by involving expertise from multiple areas. The success of Georgia Tech’s interdisciplinary research institutes shows the value of that approach, he said.

“When I graduated with my Ph.D., we were focused on acquiring tools in specific areas,” he said. “Then the problems we were attacking became broader and more interdisciplinary in the sense that they could not be solved by an electrical engineer alone. Solutions required people from other engineering disciplines and computing, but also from public policy and the humanities. We’ve quickly moved from tools and disciplines to being more problem-focused.”

Abdallah sees a need for policy issues and ethical concerns to catch up with technology, and for the connection between people and technology to play a larger role in the future. “I think the problems we need to address today are so massive that we need to have all hands on deck.”

Ethics and Legality in Academia

The new executive vice president is aware that Georgia Tech has faced some challenges on the ethics front, and he makes ethics reminders part of every talk he gives around campus.

“Being legal is just the floor,” he explained. “Many activities that are legal we should not do for other reasons. Beyond being legal, there are levels of expected behavior and practices that we must adhere to. By doing so, that benefits us, the people we work with and, ultimately, the Institute.”

He believes that transparency is the key to encouraging ethical behavior on the part of faculty, administrators, staff and students.

“We want to be open with our practices, the way we do things,” he explained. “Invariably, somebody is going to stumble and make a mistake or intentionally do something that is not right. We want people to see these instances as bad things that happen to a good organization. We want to be known as a good and ethical organization so that when something does go wrong, it will not be seen as representing what the organization is all about.”

Georgia Tech must be a good steward of the resources entrusted to it to earn the continued support of taxpayers, parents, research sponsors and others. “That’s something that will make the Institute better and benefit us in both the long term and short term.”

Leadership Style and First-Year Plans

Abdallah considers himself a servant leader whose job is to help others in the research organization understand the challenges and opportunities that face them, and to help remove roadblocks to the success of both the individuals and the institution. His experience as a systems engineer leads him to a specific approach to challenges.

“I’m very open to criticism and feedback. I’ll listen to all concerns but will follow processes and structures to make decisions as fairly as possible,” he said. “I don’t have a specific plan for the research enterprise yet, but I do have a specific way of doing things, which is to ask questions, listen and look for outside perspectives. I take the time to acquire the broadest knowledge, but will act swiftly once I become confident in my information.”

Most research universities face challenges that are similar to those faced by Georgia Tech, though they are shaped by local conditions and the institution’s history and culture.

“You always think that your problem is unique, but it’s not,” he said. “There are unique circumstances and a certain culture in every place. Everybody in higher education is dealing with complex issues today, and probably 90 percent of them share something in common.”

In the weeks since he moved into the Carnegie Building in early September, Abdallah has met with hundreds of people, visited with groups from all across campus and accepted meetings with nearly everyone who could be accommodated on his calendar. 

“People look to the new person for answers,” he admitted. “I think what I can do best is ask the right questions. People have many good ideas, and some of them may be exactly what the institution needs. I’m still in the listening mode and do not believe in applying stock solutions to seemingly similar situations.”

He plans to spend his first 100 days listening and learning before charting a course to move Georgia Tech’s research program to the next level. 

Paging Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker

While he takes his job quite seriously, Abdallah tries not to take himself too seriously. He is already known around campus for his self-deprecating humor, and he says his family keeps him grounded.

“My wife and kids are always making fun of me,” he admitted. “You have to take yourself down a little bit. The work I do is important, of course, but there’s probably somebody else who could do it. I often remind myself that I am very lucky to be doing what I do today, being married to an amazing person, and to be the parent of two healthy children.”

And if that’s not enough to demonstrate his humble nature, just ask him about his taste in movies.

“I love to watch animated movies, especially Disney movies,” he said. “When I’m not working or reading something serious, I like to watch The Incredibles, Shrek or the Muppets. It’s my way to recharge, but my kids think it’s funny that dad is often watching the movies I used to watch with them when they were little. One of my favorite movies is The Muppets Take Manhattan.”

Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and his long-suffering lab assistant Beaker would certainly approve of that choice.

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]]> John Toon 1 1541080276 2018-11-01 13:51:16 1541081763 2018-11-01 14:16:03 0 0 news With two Georgia Tech degrees and broad experience at the University of New Mexico, Chaouki Abdallah brings a unique perspective as Georgia Tech's new executive vice president for research.

2018-11-01T00:00:00-04:00 2018-11-01T00:00:00-04:00 2018-11-01 00:00:00 John Toon

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613600 613601 613600 image <![CDATA[Georgia Tech EVPR Chaouki Abdallah]]> image/jpeg 1541079427 2018-11-01 13:37:07 1541079427 2018-11-01 13:37:07 613601 image <![CDATA[Chaouki Abdallah at ATDC Retail Tech]]> image/jpeg 1541079692 2018-11-01 13:41:32 1541079692 2018-11-01 13:41:32
<![CDATA[New Chip Measures Multiple Cellular Responses to Speed Drug Discovery]]> 34897 Finding ways to improve the drug development process – which is currently costly, time-consuming and has an astronomically high failure rate – could have far-reaching benefits for health care and the economy. Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology have designed a cellular interfacing array using low-cost electronics that measures multiple cellular properties and responses in real time. This could enable many more potential drugs to be comprehensively tested for efficacy and toxic effects much faster. That’s why Hua Wang, associate professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Georgia Tech, describes it as “helping us find the golden needle in the haystack.”

Pharmaceutical companies use cell-based assays, a combination of living cells and sensor electronics, to measure physiological changes in the cells. That data is used for high-throughput screening (HTS) during drug discovery. In this early phase of drug development, the goal is to identify target pathways and promising chemical compounds that could be developed further – and to eliminate those that are ineffective or toxic – by measuring the physiological responses of the cells to each compound. 

Phenotypic testing of thousands of candidate compounds, with the majority “failing early,” allows only the most promising ones to be further developed into drugs and maybe eventually to undergo clinical trials, where drug failure is much more costly. But most existing cell-based assays use electronic sensors that can only measure one physiological property at a time and cannot obtain holistic cellular responses. 

That’s where the new cellular sensing platform comes in. “The innovation of our technology is that we are able to leverage the advance of nano-electronic technologies to create cellular interfacing platforms with massively parallel pixels,” said Wang. “And within each pixel we can detect multiple physiological parameters from the same group of cells at the same time.” The experimental quad-modality chip features extracellular or intracellular potential recording, optical detection, cellular impedance measurement, and biphasic current stimulation. 

Wang said the new technology offers four advantages over existing platforms:

Multimodal sensing: The chip’s ability to record multiple parameters on the same cellular sample gives researchers the ability to comprehensively monitor complex cellular responses, uncover the correlations among those parameters and investigate how they may respond together when exposed to drugs. “Living cells are small but highly complex systems. Drug administration often results in multiple physiological changes, but this cannot be detected using conventional single-modal sensing,” said Wang.

Large field of view: The platform allows researchers to examine the behavior of cells in a large aggregate to see how they respond collectively at the tissue level.

Small spatial resolution: Not only can researchers look at cells at the tissue level, they could also examine them at single-cell or even sub-cellular resolution.

Low-cost platform: The new array platform is built on standard complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) technologies, which is also used to build computer chips, and can be easily scaled up for mass production.

Wang’s team worked closely with Hee Cheol Cho, associate professor and the Urowsky-Sahr Scholar in Pediatric Bioengineering, whose Heart Regeneration lab is part of the Wallace Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University. They used neonatal rat ventricular myocytes and cardiac fibroblasts to illustrate the multi-parametric cell profiling ability of the array for drug screening. The recent results were published in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s journal Lab on a Chip on August 31, 2018. 

Monitoring cellular responses in multi-physical domains and holistic multi-parametric cellular profiling should also prove beneficial in screening out chemical compounds that could have harmful effects on certain organs, said Jong Seok Park, a post-doctoral fellow in Wang’s lab and a leading author of the study. Many drugs have been withdrawn from the market after discoveries that they had toxic effects on the heart or liver, for example. This platform should enable researchers to comprehensively test for organ toxicity and other side effects at the initial phases of drug discovery.  

The experimental chip may be useful for other applications, including personalized medicine – for example, testing cancer cells from a particular patient. “Patient to patient variation is huge, even with the same type of drug,” said Wang. The cellular interface array could be used to see which combination of existing drugs would give the best response and to find the optimum dose that is most effective with minimum toxicity to healthy cells. 

The chip is capable of actuation as well as sensing. In the future, Wang said that cellular data from the chip could be uploaded and processed, and based on that, commands for new actuation or data acquisition could be sent to the chip automatically and wirelessly. He envisions rooms and rooms containing culture chambers with millions of such chips in fully automated facilities, “just automatically doing new drug selection for us,” he said. 

Beyond these applications, Wang noted the scientific value of the research itself. Integrated circuits and nanoelectronics are some of the most sophisticated technology platforms created by humans. Living cells, on the other hand, are complex products produced through billions of years of natural selection and evolution. 

“The central theme of our research is how we can leverage the best platform created by nature with the best platform created by humans,” he said. “Can we let them work together to create hybrid systems that achieve capabilities beyond biology only or electronics only systems? The fundamental scientific question we are addressing is how we can let inorganic electronics better interface with organic living cells.” 

These researchers also participated in the related studies: Doohwan Jung, Adam Wang, Taiyun Chi, Sensen Li and Moez K. Aziz from the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Georgia Tech; and Sandra I. Grijalva and Michael N. Sayegh from the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Emory University. The research was funded in part by the National Science Foundation CAREER Award and ECCS CCSS Program, National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship grant numbers DGE-1148903 and DGE-1650044, Office of Naval Research, and Semiconductor Research Corporation SSB roadmap consortium. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the funding agencies.

CITATION: Jong Seok Park, et al., “Multi-parametric cell profiling with a CMOS quad-modality cellular interfacing array for label-free fully automated drug screening,” (Lab Chip 2018). DOI: 10.1039/c8lc00156a

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]]> Kenna Simmons 1 1540396678 2018-10-24 15:57:58 1544477940 2018-12-10 21:39:00 0 0 news An electronic sensor platform that measures multi-physical cellular responses could reduce costs and cut time for new drug development.

2018-10-24T00:00:00-04:00 2018-10-24T00:00:00-04:00 2018-10-24 00:00:00 John Toon

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613200 613198 613200 image <![CDATA[Cellular Sensing Chip in Action]]> image/jpeg 1540395621 2018-10-24 15:40:21 1540395621 2018-10-24 15:40:21 613198 image <![CDATA[Cellular Sensing Array]]> image/jpeg 1540395337 2018-10-24 15:35:37 1540395337 2018-10-24 15:35:37
<![CDATA[How Communication Among Cells Affects Development of Multicellular Tissue]]> 27303 Using a combination of computational modeling and experimental techniques, a research team has developed new information about how intercellular communication affects the differentiation of an embryonic stem cell colony over time. 

By providing new information about the role of communication among cells, the research could lead to a better understanding of how multicellular organoids form from colonies of independent cells. The information could lead to new methods for controlling how multicellular constructs develop, and that could have applications in regenerative medicine, pharmaceutical testing and other research areas.

The research resulted from collaboration between the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Gladstone Institutes, and was reported October 5 in the journal Nature Communications. The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Emergent Behaviors of Integrated Cellular Systems Science and Technology Center (EBICS) supported the research.

“The goal is to control a system of cells like this to direct tissues to take on different phenotypes, to develop into different complex mixtures, and to self-assemble and emerge into very complicated structures,” said Melissa Kemp, an associate professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University. “For developing tissues that could be used as surrogates for screening drugs or as eventual implants for therapeutic purposes, we need to how to control and direct them properly.”

Scientists believe that the patterning of stem cell differentiation affects what kinds of cells will ultimately emerge from the differentiation process. 

Despite the importance of local cell-to-cell interactions in evolving multicellular systems, little has been known about how the overall system regulates its morphological processes. To learn more about this, the paper’s first author, Chad Glen, studied how communication between adjacent mouse cells informs the fate of those cells. Beyond understanding this communication, Glen discovered a potential mechanism for “braking” the rate of differentiation without affecting the overall patterning of the resulting multicellular tissue.

“The amount of coordination among cells that are tightly coupled gives us an idea about how they work as a group,” said Todd McDevitt, senior investigator at the Gladstone Institutes and a professor of bioengineering and therapeutic sciences at the University of California, San Francisco. “This reflects the behavior of a team versus individuals. They really do coordinate activity in a rapid way. This study shows how quickly some important cell behaviors are mediated by gap junction communication.”

Glen, a recent Ph.D. graduate of Georgia Tech, began the project by studying communication between pairs of adjacent cells, which have pores that allow small molecules to enter. By introducing a signaling molecule into a colony containing hundreds of these homogeneous mouse stem cells, the researchers observed that differentiation began with a change in a single cell. That cell triggered a pattern of differentiation that flowed through the cells and eventually led to changes in the entire colony. 

On a larger scale and in three dimensions, such changes lead to development of bodily organs. Understanding how that happens – and how it could be controlled – could be key to directing this transition from individual cells.

Based on experimental observations, Glen developed a model of the process, which allowed the researchers to study the impact of a series of interrelated variables that would have been impossible to study experimentally. The modeling of several hundred individual cells led to specific predictions that the researchers then tested experimentally.

To understand and measure the cell communication process, the researchers used a fluorescent dye to show when signaling molecules had moved from one cell to its neighbors. They then used a laser to bleach the dye from a single cell. Measuring how long it took for the dye to be replaced showed the permeability of the cell membrane – and how well the cell was communicating with its neighbors.

“If you zap a cell and it immediately returns to green, you know there is a lot of fluidity and cross-talk between the cell membranes,” Kemp explained. “If you zap a cell and it stays dark, the cell is effectively isolated and has no communication with its neighbors.”

By partially blocking communication between cells and otherwise perturbing the communications, the researchers slowed the differentiation process – but didn’t change its pattern. “We were able to shift the way the cells were behaving to slow things down – effectively ‘braking’ the process – while preserving the spatial information,” said Kemp. “Cells that were at 48 hours in the process could look like 24-hour cells.”

The combination of computational modeling and experiment allowed the research team to arrive at answers that neither technique by itself could have provided, McDevitt noted.

“With modeling, you can study a much larger set of conditions and parameters than we could experimentally,” he said. “The model could make predictions that we could go back and study experimentally to see how those conditions actually affected the behaviors. The behaviors we measured experimentally matched what the computer predicted, and validated that we had a robust model.”

McDevitt and Kemp have been studying this system of embryonic stem cells for several years, and the new study moves them closer to a more complete understanding of the complex system.

“We have demonstrated in a series of papers over the past six years that this system’s complexity can be modeled,” he said. “This paper represents a further step toward the greater goal of integrating information about this system. With each of these steps, we are much closer to taking a bigger leap into potentially controlling these systems.”

This research was supported by the National Science Foundation Emergent Behaviors of Integrated Cellular Systems Science and Technology Center (CBET 0939511). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

CITATION: Chad M. Glen, Todd C. McDevitt, Melissa L. Kemp, “Dynamic intercellular transport modulates the spatial patterning of differentiation during early neural commitment, (Nature Communications 9, 2018). http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41467-018-06693-1

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]]> John Toon 1 1539638039 2018-10-15 21:13:59 1539638476 2018-10-15 21:21:16 0 0 news Using a combination of computational modeling and experimental techniques, a research team has developed new information about how intercellular communication affects the differentiation of an embryonic stem cell colony over time. 

2018-10-15T00:00:00-04:00 2018-10-15T00:00:00-04:00 2018-10-15 00:00:00 John Toon

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612790 612792 612793 612790 image <![CDATA[Differentiation status]]> image/jpeg 1539637122 2018-10-15 20:58:42 1539637122 2018-10-15 20:58:42 612792 image <![CDATA[Colony patterning]]> image/png 1539637265 2018-10-15 21:01:05 1539637265 2018-10-15 21:01:05 612793 image <![CDATA[Photo bleaching shows diffusion ]]> image/jpeg 1539637400 2018-10-15 21:03:20 1539637400 2018-10-15 21:03:20
<![CDATA[How Animals Use Their Tails to Swish and Swat Away Insects]]> 27303 An adult elephant weighs in at nearly five tons. Its peskiest threat is a fraction of that. But in order for a pachyderm to slap away a tiny mosquito once it lands on its backside, an elephant must generate the same amount of torque it takes to accelerate a car. 

That’s one finding in a new Georgia Institute of Technology study that looked at how animals use their tails to keep mosquitoes at bay. The researchers also discovered that mammals swish the tips of their tails at a velocity of one meter per second, nearly the same speed as a mosquito flies. 

The study and its findings could help engineers discover new methods of building robots and energy-efficient machines that protect humans and animals from mosquitoes.   

“Most people assume that animals use their tails to swat at bugs, but we wanted to know how they do it,” said David Hu, the Georgia Tech professor who supervised the study. “They basically have two methods of attack: the swish and swat.” 

Swishing at one meter per second, an animal creates enough wind to keep nearly 50 percent of mosquitoes from landing on its rear end. 

The Georgia Tech team determined that success rate by building their own mammal tail simulator. They placed a fan atop an acrylic cylinder filled with 10 mosquitoes, then spun the machine at different speeds to see how many insects reached the top. 

“Running the fan faster than an animal’s tail kept even more mosquitoes away, but it takes a lot more energy to spin that quickly,” said Marguerite Matherne, a mechanical engineering Ph.D. student who led the study. “It’s more efficient to swing their tails at just the right speed.”

The swish isn’t perfect, with about 15 percent of the biters finding their way to the animal’s skin. That’s why they also rely on the swat, the second layer of defense. 

Matherne went to Zoo Atlanta and pointed a video camera at elephants, zebras and giraffes. She also went to a horse farm. With hours of footage of animals’ backsides, she noticed that their tails have two parts that sway back and forth: the top part is bone and skin, and the bottom part is mostly hair. She found that the researchers could accurately model the tail as a double pendulum. That’s what the mammals use to accurately swat mosquitoes. 

“Our model shows that the swatting movement of both segments of the tail can be reproduced by only controlling the hinge at the top. Roboticists have struggled to accurately control double pendulums,” said Matherne. “By adjusting the torque during our simulations, we could control both movements.”

An elephant’s tail weighs about 25 pounds. To lift it up and snap it sideways in 1.3 seconds, the huge animal must generate the same amount of torque as the engine of a sedan — 350 Newton meters to be exact.

Humans have used some kind of fly deterrent for centuries. Matherne and Hu’s paper also looked at one of the more recent devices — the ShooAway — that uses two spinning arms to thwart flying mosquitos. The Georgia Tech team replaced their fan with a ShooAway and found that the product is just as effective as an animal’s tail, although it spins faster than necessary.

Hu has previously studied how dogs shake to stay dry, how frogs use their sticky tongues to grab prey and how mosquitoes fly in the rain. He chose animal tails after hearing Matherne talk about being hit in the face while riding horses as a child. 

“She’s been swatted enough times to know that horses can deliver a pretty good sting,” said Hu. “We wanted to know why the swat had to be so powerful. It turns out they swish their tails at a tip speed that generates a small air flow, then swat away those that manage to land by activating only the muscles at the base of the tail.”

The paper, “Mammals repel mosquitoes with their tails,” is published in the Journal of Experimental Biology. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation through award PHY-1255127.

CITATION: Marguerite E. Matherne, Kasey Cockerill, Yiyang Zhou, Mihir Bellamkonda, and David L. Hu, “Mammals repel mosquitoes with their tails,” (Journal of Experimental Biology 2018) http://jeb.biologists.org/content/221/20/jeb178905

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]]> John Toon 1 1539711509 2018-10-16 17:38:29 1539716536 2018-10-16 19:02:16 0 0 news A new study shows how animals use their tails to keep mosquitoes at bay by combining a swish that blows away most of the biting bugs and a swat that kills the ones that get through.

2018-10-16T00:00:00-04:00 2018-10-16T00:00:00-04:00 2018-10-16 00:00:00 John Toon

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612817 612819 612820 612822 612817 image <![CDATA[Mammal tail simulator]]> image/jpeg 1539710617 2018-10-16 17:23:37 1539710617 2018-10-16 17:23:37 612819 image <![CDATA[Researchers of animal tail motion]]> image/jpeg 1539710758 2018-10-16 17:25:58 1539710758 2018-10-16 17:25:58 612820 image <![CDATA[Horse swatting an insect]]> image/jpeg 1539710878 2018-10-16 17:27:58 1539710878 2018-10-16 17:27:58 612822 image <![CDATA[Mosquito close-up]]> image/jpeg 1539711249 2018-10-16 17:34:09 1539711249 2018-10-16 17:34:09
<![CDATA[Microfluidic Molecular Exchanger Helps Control Therapeutic Cell Manufacturing ]]> 27303 Researchers have demonstrated an integrated technique for monitoring specific biomolecules – such as growth factors – that could indicate the health of living cell cultures produced for the burgeoning field of cell-based therapeutics. 

Using microfluidic technology to advance the preparation of samples from the chemically complex bioreactor environment, the researchers have harnessed electrospray ionization mass spectrometry (ESI-MS) to provide online monitoring that they believe will provide for therapeutic cell production the kind of precision quality control that has revolutionized other manufacturing processes. 

“The way that the production of cell therapeutics is done today is very much an art,” said Andrei Fedorov, Woodruff Professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “Process control must evolve very quickly to support the therapeutic applications that are emerging from bench science today. We think this technology will help us reach the goal of making these exciting cell-based therapies widely available.”

By measuring very low concentrations of specific compounds secreted or excreted by cells, the technique could also help identify which biomolecules – of widely varying sizes – should be monitored to guide the control of cell health. Ultimately, the researchers hope to integrate their label-free monitoring directly into high-volume bioreactors that will produce cells in quantities large enough to make the new therapies available at a reasonable cost and consistent quality.

Development of the Dynamic Mass Spectrometry Probe (DMSP) was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Engineering Research Center for Cell Manufacturing Technologies (CMaT), which is headquartered at Georgia Tech. The work was reported September 10 in the journal Biotechnology and Bioengineering.

Traditional ESI-MS techniques have revolutionized analytical chemistry by allowing precise identification of complex biological compounds. Because of complex sample preparation requirements, existing approaches to ESI-MS require too much time to be useful for continuous monitoring of cell growth in bioreactors, where maintaining narrow parameters for specific indicators of cellular health is critical. Biological samples also contain salts, which must be removed before introduction into the ESI-MS system.

To accelerate the analytical process, Fedorov and a team that included graduate research assistant Mason Chilmonczyk and research engineer Peter Kottke used microfluidic technology to help separate compounds of interest from the salts. Salt removal uses a monolithic device in which a size-selective membrane with nanoscale pores is placed between two fluid flows, one the chemically complex sample drawn from the bioreactors and the other salt-free water with conditioning compounds. 

The smaller salt molecules readily diffuse out of the sampled bioreactor flow through the nanopores, while the larger biomolecules mostly remain for the subsequent ESI-MS analysis. Meanwhile, chemical additives are at the same time introduced into the sample mixture through the same membrane nanopores to enhance ionization of the target biomolecules in the sampled mixture for improved ESI-MS analysis.

“We have used advanced microfabrication techniques to create a microfluidic device that will be able to treat samples in less than a minute,” said Chilmonczyk. “Traditional sample preparation can require hours to days.”

The process can currently remove as much as 99 percent of the salt, while retaining 80 percent of the biomolecules. Introduction of the conditioning chemicals allows the molecules to accept a greater charge, improving the capability of the mass spectrometer to detect low concentration biomolecules, and to measure large molecules.

“We can detect really high molecular weight molecules that the mass spectrometer normally wouldn’t be able to detect,” Fedorov said. “The size difference in the molecules of interest can be dramatic, so the improvement in the limit of detection across a broad range of analyte molecular weights will allow this technique to be more useful in cell manufacturing.”

Because they use state of the art microfabrication techniques, the DMSP devices can be mass produced, allowing sampling to be scaled up to include multiple bioreactors at low cost. The small size of the device channels – which are just five microns tall – allows the system to produce results with samples as small as 20 nanoliters – with the potential for reducing that to as little as a single nanoliter.

“We need to monitor small concentrations of large biomolecules in this messy environment in a production line in such a way that we can check at any point how the cells are doing,” Fedorov said. “This system could continuously monitor whether certain molecules are excreted or secreted at a reduced or increased rate. By correlating these measurements with cell health and potency, we could improve the manufacturing process.”

Before the analytical techniques can be applied to quality control, the researchers must first identify biomolecules that indicate health of the growing cells. By sampling the bioreactor content locally in the immediate vicinity of cells and allowing identification of very small quantities of biochemicals, the DMSP technology can help researchers identify changes in molecular concentrations – which range from pico-molar to micro-molar – that may indicate the state of cells in the bioreactors. This would prompt adjustment of conditions in a bioreactor just in time to return to the state of healthy cell growth.

“In this situation, we often can’t see the trees for the forest,” said Fedorov. “There is a lot of material available, but we are looking for just a handful of individual trees that indicate the health of the cells. Because the forest is overgrown, the few selected trees we need to examine are hard to find. This is a grand challenge technologically.”

The research team also included Research Scientist Hazel Stevens and Professor Robert Guldberg, who is now at the University of Oregon.

CITATION: Mason A. Chilmonczyk, Peter A. Kottke, Hazel Y. Stevens, Robert E. Guldberg and Andrei G. Fedorov, “Dynamic Mass Spectrometry Probe (DMSP) for ESI?MS Monitoring of Bioreactors for Therapeutic Cell Manufacturing,” (Biotechnology and Bioengineering, 2018). https://dx.doi.org/10.1002/bit.26832

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]]> John Toon 1 1539204960 2018-10-10 20:56:00 1539205033 2018-10-10 20:57:13 0 0 news Researchers have demonstrated an integrated technique for monitoring specific biomolecules – such as growth factors – that could indicate the health of living cell cultures produced for the burgeoning field of cell-based therapeutics. 

2018-10-10T00:00:00-04:00 2018-10-10T00:00:00-04:00 2018-10-10 00:00:00 John Toon

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612591 612594 612593 612595 612591 image <![CDATA[Dynamic Mass Spectrometry Probe]]> image/jpeg 1539203332 2018-10-10 20:28:52 1539203332 2018-10-10 20:28:52 612594 image <![CDATA[Plasma Etching Probe Device]]> image/jpeg 1539203610 2018-10-10 20:33:30 1539203610 2018-10-10 20:33:30 612593 image <![CDATA[Fabricating Dynamic Mass Spectrometry Probe]]> image/jpeg 1539203473 2018-10-10 20:31:13 1539203473 2018-10-10 20:31:13 612595 image <![CDATA[Testing Dynamic Mass Spectrometry Probe]]> image/jpeg 1539203723 2018-10-10 20:35:23 1539203723 2018-10-10 20:35:23
<![CDATA[Harnessing the Power of Evolution]]> 30678 Three scientists have been named to receive the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. One-half goes to Frances Arnold, of California Institute of Technology, for her work on the directed evolution of enzymes. The other half is shared by George Smith, of the University of Missouri, Columbia, and Gregory Winter, of MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, in Cambridge, U.K., for their work on the phage display of proteins and antibodies.

The winners showed that “scientists in the laboratory can tap into the power of biological evolution to make medicines, catalysts, and other useful molecules,” says M.G. Finn, professor and the chair of the Georgia Tech School of Chemistry. He is also editor-in-chief of the journal ACS Combinatorial Science, whose scope includes discovery of functional molecules or systems through evolution-based means.

Finn details the significance of 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and the participation of Georgia Tech in the research enterprise spawned by the award-winning discoveries.

Why are the discoveries of Arnold, Smith, and Winter Nobel-Prize-worthy?

Nature is the master creator of new materials (skin, bone, wings, eyes), molecules (insulin, serotonin, glucose, proteins), and functions (smelling a rose, digesting a meal, retrieving a memory). Chemists, other scientists, and engineers also make new things, but we are not very good at it, in comparison to nature.  

Nature’s method of creation is evolution, the essence of which is the making of many possible solutions to a problem and the comparative testing of them against each other. “Survival of the fittest” best captures the idea. But what it misses – and what many don’t fully appreciate – is the role of time. Nature takes a very long time to evolve things, but it has lots of time at its disposal. 

We in the laboratory do not. The 2018 Nobel laureates invented methods to speed the process up.  

What has been the impact of these discoveries?

The harnessing of biological evolution in the laboratory – started by George Smith – has led to a revolution in medical care through drugs called biologics, first made by Gregory Winter. Biologics are proteins that bind specifically and tightly to disease-causing molecules. Administered by injection, biologics represent the best treatments for many diseases, including arthritis, colitis, some types of diabetes, and various kinds of cancer.  

The methods pioneered by Frances Arnold have led to new ways to make molecules by evolving the catalysts that create them. This new tool has reduced the cost of making drugs, biofuels, and other products.   

What are the award-winning discoveries?

George Smith invented the method called “phage display,” which uses viruses as a platform. He found a way to make – in a single experiment – trillions of viruses, each one displaying on its surface a different variant of a protein or peptide.

That immense collection of variants can then be mixed with a “target” that you want to grab onto, such as a cancer cell, or toxin, or anything. Some of the viruses may stick to the target, most will not.  

When Smith washed away those that didn’t stick, he was left with the ones that did.

Crucially, each of the viruses contained the genetic instructions to make the protein variant on its surface. Smith could then cause the “sticky” viruses to replicate themselves, make trillions of new viruses, and repeat the process. Out of a vast number of candidates, a small number emerge that bind very well to the target.  

The technique has been used by thousands of laboratories all over the world and has inspired many other methods to do similar kinds of “cycles” of evolution.  

Gregory Winter pioneered a particularly important use for phage display – the creation of human antibodies. These proteins are compatible with the human body and bind very specifically to disease-causing molecules or cells.

Winter was the first to use phage display to create an antibody that bound to a molecule responsible for causing many inflammation-based diseases in humans. The phage display method was the only way to sort through the countless potential variants of antibodies to find a useful solution to the problem.

This first drug developed from this approach is adalimumab (marketed as Humira). In many countries, this antibody drug is now the first-line treatment for arthritis and other inflammatory disease. 

Frances Arnold harnessed a different part of evolution’s power: the ability to develop new catalysts, which are molecules that speed up chemical reactions.

Here the challenge is more subtle than evolving something that just sticks tightly to a target: it is to create something that grabs two molecules, causes them to connect to each other, releases the product, and then repeats the process, over and over.

Arnold used biological tools to create many candidate protein-based catalysts, or enzymes. Then she applied sophisticated methods of chemical analysis to rapidly determine which one was the best at the assigned chemical task.

Showing that this process could create better enzymes caused a revolution in catalysis. Now called directed evolution, this approach is used worldwide. 

This method of discovery is different from what we usually do; it doesn’t presuppose an answer to a complex problem. Rather, it lets the solution emerge on its own, guided by the investigator. 

What is Georgia Tech’s participation in this field of research?

Georgia Tech is a leading institution in the study of biological evolution and its use.

Recognizing the central importance of evolution as both a phenomenon and tool, in 2016 Georgia Tech established the country’s first core facility for molecular evolution.

Led by Anton Bryksin, the facility helps investigators use techniques developed by the 2018 Nobel Prize winners to discover their own molecular solutions to their research problems.

Phage display and directed evolution methods are extraordinarily helpful to Georgia Tech biomedical engineers, biochemists, chemical engineers, and biologists who need new molecules for useful functions. 

]]> A. Maureen Rouhi 1 1538671135 2018-10-04 16:38:55 1538675909 2018-10-04 17:58:29 0 0 news Georgia Tech chemist M.G. Finn details the significance of 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and the participation of Georgia Tech in the research enterprise spawned in part by the award-winning discoveries.

2018-10-04T00:00:00-04:00 2018-10-04T00:00:00-04:00 2018-10-04 00:00:00 A. Maureen Rouhi, Ph.D.
Director of Communications
College of Sciences

612336 595865 612336 image <![CDATA[Winners of 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry (Courtesy of Nobel Media)]]> image/png 1538670837 2018-10-04 16:33:57 1538670837 2018-10-04 16:33:57 595865 image <![CDATA[M.G. Finn]]> image/jpeg 1505317144 2017-09-13 15:39:04 1505317144 2017-09-13 15:39:04
<![CDATA[Betsy DeVos Visits Georgia Tech ]]> 27918 U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos visited Georgia Tech Wednesday as part of this year’s “Rethink School” tour. 

DeVos is travelling to stress the importance of rethinking education in order to improve outcomes for students. Over a couple of hours, President G.P. “Bud” Peterson and others described how Georgia Tech is making college more accessible while also helping more students succeed. 

DeVos noted that the Institute is “meeting the needs of students today and tomorrow and really changing to meet those needs in very innovative ways.” 

“It is fascinating and I hope that what they have done is replicated far and wide in unique ways to each situation,” she told reporters after the event.   

Officials highlighted the Georgia Tech Promise Program, which allows academically qualified students with demonstrated financial need to earn a degree debt-free. They also shared details about special initiatives, such as the Georgia Tech Scholars Program, which offers automatic acceptance to valedictorians and salutatorians from Georgia public and private high schools with 50 or more graduates.

In addiiton, DeVos heard about Tech programs designed to expose students to entrepreneurship and help them launch successful startups. These programs include the InVenture Prize, the K-12 InVenture Prize and CREATE-X

Officials then reviewed Georgia Tech’s three online master’s degree programs, which allow students to earn degrees exclusively through the "massive online" format and for a fraction of the standard cost.

The first was the groundbreaking Online Master of Science in Computer Science program, which launched in 2014 and enrolls about 10,000 students. Last year Georgia Tech started the Online Master of Science in Analytics and in January will offer the new Online Master of Science in Cybersecurity, aimed at addressing a severe global workforce shortage in the field.

As part of its K-12 outreach, Georgia Tech explained the GIFT (Georgia Intern Fellowship for Teachers) program, which provides paid summer internships in industry workplaces and university laboratories for science, mathematics and technology teachers. Teachers gain "real world" applications of the subjects they teach and increase their content knowledge.

DeVos later had lunch with students from Project ENGAGES (Engaging New Generations at Georgia Tech through Engineering and Science). Through this program Georgia Tech works with six Atlanta public high schools to expose underrepresented students to research and career paths in engineering and science. 

DeVos and Federal Student Aid’s Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer Wayne Johnson also demonstrated the newly launched myStudentAid mobile application.

]]> Laura Diamond 1 1538594185 2018-10-03 19:16:25 1538665029 2018-10-04 14:57:09 0 0 news U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos visited campus Wednesday and learned about how Georgia Tech is making college more accessible while fostering student success.

2018-10-03T00:00:00-04:00 2018-10-03T00:00:00-04:00 2018-10-03 00:00:00 Laura Diamond

Institute Communications

612311 612310 612311 image <![CDATA[Betsy DeVos at Georgia Tech ]]> image/jpeg 1538594859 2018-10-03 19:27:39 1538596120 2018-10-03 19:48:40 612310 image <![CDATA[Betsy DeVos ]]> image/jpeg 1538594641 2018-10-03 19:24:01 1538596070 2018-10-03 19:47:50
<![CDATA[Optical Tweezers – The Stuff of Science Fiction]]> 30678 The 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics recognizes two breakthroughs that revolutionized laser physics. Optical tweezers are one of them. Using laser beams as fingers, these tools grab particles, atoms, viruses, and living cells. Arthur Ashkin, formerly of Bell Labs, receives half of the 2018 prize for this invention.

Optical tweezers have had an impact on many scientific areas by providing direct physical access to the nanoscopic world, says Jennifer Curtis, an associate professor in the Georgia Tech School of Physics. Ashkin showed that a focused laser beam could grab and manipulate tiny bits of matter. Researchers can observe what’s going on through a microscope.

“I am thrilled to see Ashkin receive a prize for his contributions,” says Curtis, who is a member of the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience. “His invention opened new frontiers in many fields for creative researchers who want to probe, manipulate, and engineer nanoscale matter. He inspired a next generation of scientists, including myself.”

Optical tweezers are like the tractor beams that Captain Kirk of Star Trek uses to capture enemy starships, Curtis says. They are possible, she says, because polarizable materials are attracted to regions of high electromagnetic radiation, which includes light.

“A focused laser beam provides a sweet spot for small particles localize,” Curtis explains. “The tighter the laser focus, the stronger the trap, and the more confined the particle becomes. Once trapped, particles and cells are easily moved about by simply steering the laser beam with a mirror. Hence by moving the focus of the laser around, you can move, probe, and assemble materials from the bottom up.  

“It’s a fascinating tool that boggles the imagination and opens up great possibilities thanks to its ability to grab and examine what would normally be untouchable tiny pieces of matter – from DNA to viruses to organelles to red blood cells.”

As a Ph.D. student, Curtis contributed to developing the technology of optical tweezers. Her research showed that liquid crystal displays can be used to split a single laser beam into multiple beams forming a desired pattern. “We could create hundreds of optical traps and locate them in three dimensions. We could also change the position of the traps in real time,” she says.

In her Georgia Tech research in the field of biological physics, Curtis uses optical tweezers to study the mechanical properties of cells and to explore cell-cell and cell-interface interactions. Eventually, she would like to study the mechanical properties and spatial dynamics of microbial communities such as biofilms.

For now, the largest impact of optical tweezers is on research, Curtis says. By enabling close examination of biological molecules, organelles, and cells and measurement of the force applied on these tiny particles, optical tweezers gave birth to the field of single-molecule biophysics. From the biophysics of DNA to the workings of molecular motors like kinesin and myosin, optical tweezers opened a window to a world that was not available before. Other fields – colloidal physics, soft-matter physics, materials science, polymer physics, statistical physics, and fluid mechanics – have been similarly energized by this tool.  

The other half of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics is shared by Gérard Mourou, at the École Polytechnique near Paris, and Donna Strickland, at the University of Waterloo in Ontario. They invented a way to create the shortest and most intense laser pulses ever. Applications of their work include millions of corrective eye surgeries.  

]]> A. Maureen Rouhi 1 1538573427 2018-10-03 13:30:27 1538579468 2018-10-03 15:11:08 0 0 news Optical tweezers are one of two inventions that won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics.

2018-10-03T00:00:00-04:00 2018-10-03T00:00:00-04:00 2018-10-03 00:00:00 A. Maureen Rouhi, Ph.D.
Director of Communications
College of Sciences

612268 612267 612268 image <![CDATA[Arthur Ashkin wins 2018 Nobel Prize for optical tweezers (Courtesy of Nobel Media)]]> image/png 1538572885 2018-10-03 13:21:25 1538572885 2018-10-03 13:21:25 612267 image <![CDATA[Jennifer Curtis]]> image/jpeg 1538572672 2018-10-03 13:17:52 1538572750 2018-10-03 13:19:10 <![CDATA[How Cells Swallow]]>
<![CDATA[Red Glow Helps Identify Nanoparticles for Delivering RNA Therapies]]> 27303 A new screening process could dramatically accelerate the identification of nanoparticles suitable for delivering therapeutic RNA into living cells. The technique would allow researchers to screen hundreds of nanoparticles at a time, identifying the organs in which they accumulate – and verifying that they can successfully deliver an RNA cargo into living cells.

Based on work known as “DNA barcoding,” the technique inserts unique snippets of DNA into as many as 150 different nanoparticles for simultaneous testing. The nanoparticles are then injected into animal models and allowed to travel to organs such as the liver, spleen or lungs. Genetic sequencing techniques then identify which DNA-labeled nanoparticles have reached specific organs.

In a paper published October 1 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a research team describes taking the process a step farther to verify that the nanoparticles have entered the cells of the specific organs. In addition to the DNA barcode, the researchers inserted into each nanoparticle a snippet of mRNA that is turned into a protein known as “Cre.” The Cre protein generates a red glow, identifying cells that the nanoparticles have entered and successfully delivered the mRNA drug, allowing the researchers to identify which nanoparticles can deliver RNA drugs to the cells of the specific organs.

“This technique, known as Fast Indication of Nanoparticle Discovery (FIND), will allow us to identify the right carrier far more quickly and less expensively than we have been able to do in the past,” said James E. Dahlman, assistant professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University. “As a result, the odds that we will be able to find carriers for specific tissues should increase dramatically.”

The FIND technique would replace in vitro screening, which has limited success at identifying nanoparticle carriers for the genetic therapies. The research was supported by funding from the National Institutes of Health, and from the Cystic Fibrosis Research Foundation, the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation and the Bayer Hemophilia Awards Program. 

Therapies based on RNA and DNA could address a broad range of genetically based diseases, including atherosclerosis, where such therapies may be able to reverse the buildup of plaque in arteries. Nanoparticles used to deliver RNA and DNA into cells are made from several ingredients whose levels can be varied, creating the potential for tens of thousands of different nanoparticles. Finding the right combination of these ingredients to target specific cells has required extensive trial-and-error discovery processes that have limited the use of RNA and DNA therapies.

Use of the DNA barcoding process allows hundreds of possible nanoparticle combinations to be tested simultaneously in a single animal, but until now, researchers could only tell that the combination had reached specific organs. By examining which cells within the organs have the red glow, they can now verify that the nanoparticles carried the barcodes and delivered functional mRNA drugs into the cells.

In the paper, the researchers report discovering two nanoparticles that efficiently delivered siRNA, sgRNA and mRNA to endothelial cells in the spleen. The researchers believe their technique can deliver therapeutic RNA and DNA to a wide variety of endothelial cell types, and perhaps also to immune system and other cell types.

“The field has been able to functionally deliver genetic drugs to the liver, and we are now trying to use our technology to deliver to different organs and cell types to enable therapies to treat all of the cell types that are in the liver,” said Cory Sago, the paper’s first author and a Ph.D. candidate in Dahlman’s lab. “Now that we have a system that allows us to probe these questions at a very specific level of resolution, we now want to go after other cell types in a more efficient manner.”

Dahlman expects to put the new technology to use quickly. 

“We hope to take projects that would ordinarily require years and complete several of them within the next 12 months,” he said. “FIND could be used to carry all sorts of nucleic acid drugs into cells. That could include small RNAs, large RNAs, small DNAs and large DNAs – many different types of genetic drugs that are now being developed in research labs.”

Technical challenges ahead include demonstrating that identifying an affinity for mouse organs predicts which particles will work in the human body, and that the approach works for different classes of genetic therapies.

Experimentally, Dahlman’s lab produces the nanoparticles at three formulation stations that require about 90 seconds to produce each of the 250 or so samples used. The resulting nanoparticles are then examined for proper size range – 40 to 80 nanometers in diameter – before being purified and sterilized for injection into the animals. 

After three days, the researchers separate cells that are glowing red and sequence the DNA snippets in them to identify which chemical compositions were most successful at entering cells of specific organs. The most promising chemical compositions are used to develop of a new batch of candidate nanoparticles for a new round of screening, which takes about a week to complete.

“We want to evolve the best particles that we can,” Sago said. “Every single one of the components matters, and we work to get each component right for the cell type that we are interested in. There is a lot of optimization required.”

In addition to those already mentioned, the paper’s co-authors include Melissa P. Lokugamage, Kalina Paunovska, Daryll A. Vanover, Marielena Gamboa Castro, Shannon E. Anderson, Tobi G. Rudoltz, Gwyneth N. Lando, Pooja Tiwari, Jonathan L. Kirschman and Philip J. Santangelo, all of the Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering; Chris M. Monaco, Young Jang and Nirav N. Shah of the Georgia Tech School of Biological Sciences; Nick Willett of Emory University and the Atlanta Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center, and Anton V. Bryksin of the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience at Georgia Tech.

The research was supported by the NIH/NIGMS-sponsored Immunoengineering Training Program (T32EB021962), the Georgia Research Assistantship (Grant 3201330), the NIH/NIGMS-sponsored Cell and Tissue Engineering (CTEng) Biotechnology Training Program (T32GM008433), the National Institutes of Health GT BioMAT Training Grant (5T32EB006343), the Cystic Fibrosis Research Foundation (DAHLMA15XX0), the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation (PDF-JFA-1860), and the Bayer Hemophilia Awards Program (AGE DTD). This content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the sponsors.

CITATION: Cory D. Sago, et al., “A high throughput in vivo screen of functional mRNA delivery identifies nanoparticles for endothelial cell gene editing,” (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2018) www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1811276115

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Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986) (jtoon@gatech.edu).
Writer: John Toon

]]> John Toon 1 1538420821 2018-10-01 19:07:01 1538420981 2018-10-01 19:09:41 0 0 news A new screening process could dramatically accelerate the identification of nanoparticles suitable for delivering therapeutic RNA into living cells. The technique would allow researchers to screen hundreds of nanoparticles at a time, identifying the organs in which they accumulate – and verifying that they can successfully deliver an RNA cargo into living cells.

2018-10-01T00:00:00-04:00 2018-10-01T00:00:00-04:00 2018-10-01 00:00:00 John Toon

Research News

(404) 894-6986

612163 612164 612165 612163 image <![CDATA[James Dahlman with microfluidics]]> image/jpeg 1538420286 2018-10-01 18:58:06 1538420286 2018-10-01 18:58:06 612164 image <![CDATA[Glow indicates nanoparticle success]]> image/jpeg 1538420439 2018-10-01 19:00:39 1538420439 2018-10-01 19:00:39 612165 image <![CDATA[James Dahlman in lab]]> image/jpeg 1538420550 2018-10-01 19:02:30 1538420550 2018-10-01 19:02:30
<![CDATA[Synthetic Organelle Shows How Tiny Puddle-Organs in our Cells Work]]> 31759 A couple of sugars, a dash of enzymes, a pinch of salt, a splash of a real common lab chemical, all arranged in watery baths. And researchers had made a synthetic organelle, which they used in a new study to explore some odd cellular biochemistry.

The researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology made the chemical medley in the lab to closely mimic membraneless organelles, mini-organs in cells that are not contained in a membrane but exist as pools of watery solutions, or puddles. And their model demonstrated how, with just a few ingredients, the organelles could carry out fine-tuned biological processes.

The researchers published the results of their study in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces for the September 26, 2018 issue. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of General Medical Science and by the National Science Foundation.

A quick look at membraneless organelles should aid in understanding the research’s significance.

What are membraneless organelles?

Organelles that are pools of watery solutions and not objects with membranes are a fairly recent discovery. A prime example is the nucleolus. It resides inside of the cell’s nucleus, which is an organelle that does have a membrane.

In the past, researchers thought the nucleolus disappeared during cell division and reappeared later. In the meantime, researchers have realized that the nucleolus has no membrane and that during cell division it gets diffused the way water bubbles do in vinaigrette dressing that has been shaken up.

“After cell division, the nucleolus comes back together as a single compartment of fluid,” said Shuichi Takayama, the study’s principal investigator and a professor in the Wallace E. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University.

Membraneless organelles can be made up of a few different aqueous solutions, each with different solutes like proteins or sugar or RNA or salt. Differences in the thermodynamics of the solutions, that is, how their molecules bounce around, keep them from merging into a single solution.

Instead, they phase separate the way oil and water do, even after intermingling. But there’s no oil in this case.

“They’re all waters,” Takayama said. “They just don’t mix with each other because they have different solutes.”

What lifelike processes did the synthetic experiment demonstrate?

During intermingling, important things happen. The nucleolus, for example, is vital to DNA transcription. But the synthetic set-up, a collection of watery solutions made by the study’s first author, Taisuke Kojima, carried out a simpler series of reactions that demonstrated how membraneless organelles could process sugar.

“We had three phases of solutions that each held different reactants,” Kojima said. “It was like a ball with three layers: an outer solution, an intermediate solution, and a core solution. Glucose was in the outer layer; an enzyme, glucose oxidase, was in the second layer, and horseradish peroxidase was in the core along with a colorimetric substrate that gave us a visible signal when the last reaction we were looking for occurred.”

The glucose in the outer layer interfaced with the glucose oxidase in the second layer, which catalyzed the glucose to hydrogen peroxide. It landed in the second layer and interfaced with the horseradish peroxidase in the core layer, which catalyzed the hydrogen peroxide along with the compound that turns colors, which changed the color of the core layer.

“This type of cascading reaction is what one would expect to see membraneless organelles perform,” Takayama said.

The cascade even transported each reaction product from one compartment to the next, something very typical in biological processes, like organs digesting food or an organelle processing molecules.

What can a surprise discovery teach us?

Part of the reaction took the researchers by surprise, and it resulted in a novel discovery.

“When researchers think about membraneless organelles, we often think that the reactions inside them are more efficient when their enzymes and substrates are in the same compartment,” Takayama said. “But in our experiments, that actually slowed the reaction down. We said, ‘Whoa, what’s going on here?’”

“When the substrate is in the same place where the product of the reaction also builds up, the enzyme sometimes gets confused, and that can impede the reaction,” said Kojima, who is a postdoctoral researcher in Takayama’s lab. “I was pretty surprised to see it.”

Kojima put the enzymes and substrate into separate solutions, which interfaced but did not merge to a single solution, and the reaction in his synthetic organelle worked efficiently. This showed how unexpected subtleties may be fine-tuning organelle chemistry.

“It was a Goldilocks regime, not too much contact between substrate and enzyme, not too little, just right,” Takayama said.

“Sometimes, in a cell, a substrate is not abundant and may need to be concentrated in its own little compartment and then brought into contact with the enzyme,” Takayama said. “By contrast, some substrates can be very abundant in the nucleus, and it might be important to partition them off from enzymes to get just enough contact for the right kind of reaction.”

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Also read: Buzzing Cancer Drugs into Malignancies in the Brain

The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of General Medical Science (grant R01 GM12351) and by the National Science Foundation (grant CBET 0939511). Findings, opinions, and conclusions are those of the authors and not necessarily of the NIH.

Writer & Media Representative: Ben Brumfield (404-660-1408), ben.brumfield@comm.gatech.edu

Georgia Institute of Technology
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]]> Ben Brumfield 1 1537467133 2018-09-20 18:12:13 1538056523 2018-09-27 13:55:23 0 0 news Imagine your liver being just a big puddle. Some organelles in your cells are exactly that including prominent ones like the nucleolus. Now a synthetic organelle engineered in the lab shows how such puddle organs can carry out complex life-sustaining reaction chains.

2018-09-20T00:00:00-04:00 2018-09-20T00:00:00-04:00 2018-09-20 00:00:00 611737 611735 611740 611742 611743 611744 611745 611737 image <![CDATA[synthetic membraneless organelle phase separation]]> image/jpeg 1537463201 2018-09-20 17:06:41 1537464312 2018-09-20 17:25:12 611735 image <![CDATA[Synthetic organelle ASC Applied Materials & Interfaces cover art]]> image/jpeg 1537462668 2018-09-20 16:57:48 1537471089 2018-09-20 19:18:09 611740 image <![CDATA[Takayama and Kojima]]> image/jpeg 1537464598 2018-09-20 17:29:58 1537464598 2018-09-20 17:29:58 611742 image <![CDATA[Nucleolus is membraneless organelle]]> image/jpeg 1537465066 2018-09-20 17:37:46 1537465066 2018-09-20 17:37:46 611743 image <![CDATA[Nucleolus membraneless organelle once mysterious]]> image/jpeg 1537465353 2018-09-20 17:42:33 1537465386 2018-09-20 17:43:06 611744 image <![CDATA[Professor Shu Takayama Coulter BME]]> image/jpeg 1537465570 2018-09-20 17:46:10 1537465570 2018-09-20 17:46:10 611745 image <![CDATA[Taisuke Kojima]]> image/jpeg 1537465706 2018-09-20 17:48:26 1537465706 2018-09-20 17:48:26
<![CDATA[Silica May Have Helped Form Protein Precursors in Prebiotic Earth]]> 30678 It is one of the most abundant minerals on Earth. Silica is found in beach sand, playground sand, and desert sand. It is in gravel, clay, and granite. It is in the concrete and glass structures of buildings everywhere. A study now shows that this prosaic material also could have played a key role in forming the polymeric molecules of life.

How the molecules of life formed on Earth is the subject of extensive studies. Researchers have long suggested that minerals may have played a role in the formation of peptides in prebiotic Earth. However, most past attempts to use minerals to catalyze amino acid polymerization have not shown a significant improvement or difference in products compared to the same reactions in the absence of minerals.  

The study – by Georgia Tech researchers in the National Science Foundation (NSF)/NASA Center for Chemical Evolution (CCE) – finds that drying and heating a mixture of amino and α-hydroxy acids in the presence of silica yields peptides that are longer than those formed in its absence. (Peptides are the precursors of proteins; amino acids are the building blocks of peptides; α-hydroxy acids are chemically similar to amino acids and could have been present in prebiotic Earth; silica would have been abundant on Earth billions of years ago.)

The findings suggest a mechanism by which organic compounds and silica on prebiotic Earth could have worked together to produce peptides. Designated a VIP (Very Important Paper), the paper reporting results is the front-cover article of the Sept. 17, 2018, issue of ChemBioChem.

The work was supported by the NSF and NASA Astrobiology Program under the NSF Center for Chemical Evolution (CHE-1504217). “The study shows silica, a major constituent of Earth’s crust, could play an important role in prebiotic evolution,” says NSF’s Acting Deputy Division Director in Chemistry Lin He. “It provides the grounds to better understand the rules of life and enables a wide range of applications in biomedical engineering, biosensors, chemical, and biological research.”

The production of peptides in model prebiotic reactions has been a bottleneck in origins-of-life research,” says Thomas Orlando, a professor in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the paper’s corresponding author. “With this discovery we can move to the next level and ask even deeper questions about the origins of life: Could minerals have played a role in selecting some of the organic molecules that participated in the origins of life? Are there common mineral properties that allow them to interact with prebiotic building blocks in a productive way?”

CCE researchers reported in 2015 that drying and heating mixtures of hydroxy acids and amino acids produces polymers called depsipeptides. While depsipeptides may also have played a role in the origin of life, finding an efficient prebiotic method to produce pure peptides remains of great interest.

“It is well-known that minerals react with organic acids, making mineral-organic interfaces that could have existed on early Earth,” Orlando says. Since the founding of the CCE, more than 10 years ago, affiliated researchers have been investigating the possible impacts of minerals on model prebiotic reactions.

“We have been asking: Could minerals, through their cooperation with simple organic molecules on early Earth, have facilitated the synthesis of complex polymers that, ultimately, gave rise to life?” says Nicholas Hud, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, CCE director, and a coauthor of the paper.

“Like almost everyone, we are curious about the origins of life,” says Aaron McKee, a Ph.D. candidate and the paper’s first author. “But we are also interested in the relevance to modern life.” For example, McKee says, scientists are developing nanoparticles that are essentially tiny functionalized mineral surfaces as biomolecule detectors or drug delivery agents. 

“There is a vast matrix of minerals and organic molecules related to those used in this study. Some of these would have also been present on prebiotic Earth,” McKee says. “We are now in an excellent position to investigate the numerous combinations of these minerals and organic molecules to see if there is any other chemical cooperation between inorganic and organic substances that could have facilitated the production of molecules important for starting life.”

]]> A. Maureen Rouhi 1 1537287739 2018-09-18 16:22:19 1537437005 2018-09-20 09:50:05 0 0 news Work from the Center for Chemical Evolution suggests a mechanism by which organic compounds and silica, found in sand, could have produced long peptides in prebiotic Earth.

2018-09-20T00:00:00-04:00 2018-09-20T00:00:00-04:00 2018-09-20 00:00:00 A. Maureen Rouhi, Ph.D.
Director of Communications
College of Sciences

611623 611624 611625 611626 611623 image <![CDATA[ChemBioChem Cover Sept. 17, 2018 (Courtesy of ChemBioChem)]]> image/png 1537287133 2018-09-18 16:12:13 1537287133 2018-09-18 16:12:13 611624 image <![CDATA[Thomas Orlando]]> image/jpeg 1537287267 2018-09-18 16:14:27 1537287267 2018-09-18 16:14:27 611625 image <![CDATA[Nicholas Hud]]> image/jpeg 1537287309 2018-09-18 16:15:09 1537287309 2018-09-18 16:15:09 611626 image <![CDATA[Aaron McKee]]> image/jpeg 1537287358 2018-09-18 16:15:58 1537287358 2018-09-18 16:15:58 <![CDATA[What Came Before the Chicken or the Egg?]]>
<![CDATA[3D-Printed Tracheal Splints Used in Groundbreaking Pediatric Surgery]]> 27303 Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta has performed Georgia’s first-ever procedure to place 3D-printed tracheal splints in a pediatric patient. A cross-functional team of Children’s surgeons used three custom-made splints, which biomedical engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology helped create using an innovative and experimental 3D-printing technology, to assist the breathing of a 7-month-old patient battling life-threatening airway obstruction. 

"We are so fortunate to work with a leading engineering school like Georgia Tech to find innovative, potentially life-saving treatment options for our patients,” said Donna Hyland, president and CEO, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. “This is a great example of how aligning Children’s clinical expertise with the missions of our research collaborators can improve patient outcomes. Research that can be translated into more effective care at the bedside is why our collaboration with Georgia Tech is so important for the future of pediatric care in Georgia.”

The patient who received the groundbreaking surgery is a 7-month-old boy battling both congenital heart disease and tracheo-bronchomalacia, a condition that causes severe life-threatening airway obstruction. During his six-month inpatient stay in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Children’s, he experienced frequent episodes of airway collapse that could not be corrected by typical surgery protocols. The clinical team proposed surgically inserting an experimental 3D-printed tracheal splint, which is a novel device still in development, to open his airways and expand the trachea and bronchus. 

Scott Hollister, Ph.D., who holds the Patsy and Alan Dorris Endowed Chair in Pediatric Technology, a joint initiative supported by Georgia Tech and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, developed the process for creating the tracheal splint using 3D printing technology at University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital prior to joining Georgia Tech. The Children’s procedure was the 15th time a 3D-printed tracheal splint was placed in a pediatric patient. 

“The possibility of using 3D printing technology to save the life of a child is our motivation in the lab every day,” said Hollister, who is also the director of the Center for 3D Medical Fabrication at Georgia Tech and a professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University. “We’re determined to develop innovative solutions that meet the needs of Georgia’s most complex pediatric patients.”

The splints were created using reconstructions of the patient’s airways from CT scans. Hollister and his team of biomedical engineers collaborated with the Global Center for Medical Innovation (GCMI) so that GCMI could create multiple versions of the splint, of varying sizes, to ensure the perfect fit was available for the surgical team to select and place around the patient’s airways during surgery. GCMI will also support the ongoing development and commercialization of the technology.

In a complex 10-hour surgery, Children’s cross-functional team of surgeons successfully placed three 3D-printed splints around the patient’s trachea on the morning of August 17, 2018. The splints will eventually be absorbed into the body, allowing for expansion of the trachea and bronchus. 

The Children’s tracheal splint team included Steve Goudy, M.D., and April Landry, M.D., (ENT), pediatric otolaryngologists; Subhadra Shashidharan, M.D., pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon; and Kevin Maher, M.D., pediatric cardiologist. 

As the tracheal procedure concluded, the child was placed on a heart lung machine for surgical repair of his cardiac defect. Postoperative care took place in the Cardiac ICU and the Pediatric ICU at Children’s.

“It’s the close relationships we have with our research collaborators that make this kind of groundbreaking procedure possible,” said Dr. Goudy. “A large number of additional physicians, support staff and outside collaborators worked together on this innovative procedure.”

The 3D-printed tracheal splint is a new device still under development, as safety and effectiveness have not yet been determined and is therefore not available for clinical use. The Children’s team sought emergency clearance from the FDA to move forward with the procedure under expanded access guidelines.

In 2015, Georgia Tech and Children’s formed The Children's Healthcare of Atlanta Pediatric Technology Center on Georgia Tech's campus to further advance pediatric research.

Media Contacts: Chrissie Gallentine, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (404-785-7614) or John Toon, Georgia Institute of Technology (404-894-6986)(jtoon@gatech.edu).

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta 
Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta has been 100 percent dedicated to kids for more than 100 years. A not- for-profit organization, Children’s is dedicated to making kids better today and healthier tomorrow. Our specialized care helps children get better faster and live healthier lives. Managing more than a million patient visits annually at three hospitals, Marcus Autism Center, and 27 neighborhood locations, Children’s is the largest healthcare provider for children in Georgia and one of the largest pediatric clinical care providers in the country. Children’s offers access to more than 60 pediatric specialties and programs and is ranked among the top children’s hospitals in the country by U.S. News & World Report.  With generous philanthropic and volunteer support since 1915, Children’s has impacted the lives of children in Georgia, the United States and throughout the world. Visit www.choa.org for more information.


]]> John Toon 1 1537278248 2018-09-18 13:44:08 1537279681 2018-09-18 14:08:01 0 0 news Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta has performed Georgia’s first-ever procedure to place 3D-printed tracheal splints in a pediatric patient. A cross-functional team of Children’s surgeons used three custom-made splints, which biomedical engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology helped create using an innovative and experimental 3D-printing technology, to assist the breathing of a 7-month-old patient battling life-threatening airway obstruction. 

2018-09-18T00:00:00-04:00 2018-09-18T00:00:00-04:00 2018-09-18 00:00:00 John Toon

Research News

(404) 894-6986

611614 611615 611616 611614 image <![CDATA[3D printed tracheal splints]]> image/jpeg 1537276925 2018-09-18 13:22:05 1537276925 2018-09-18 13:22:05 611615 image <![CDATA[Researchers with 3D printing equipment]]> image/jpeg 1537277063 2018-09-18 13:24:23 1537277063 2018-09-18 13:24:23 611616 image <![CDATA[3D printed tracheal splints-2]]> image/jpeg 1537277151 2018-09-18 13:25:51 1537277151 2018-09-18 13:25:51
<![CDATA[Trailblazing Molecular Jungles with New Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Consortium]]> 31759 They may look a little like space capsules, but nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometers stay planted on the floor and use potent magnetism to explore opaque constellations of molecules.

Three Atlanta area universities jointly launched a nuclear magnetic resonance collaboration called the Atlanta NMR Consortium to optimize the use of this technology that provides insights into relevant chemical samples containing so many compounds that they can otherwise easily elude adequate characterization. The consortium has been operating since July 2018.

Crab pee

Take, for example, crab urine. It’s packed with hundreds to thousands of varying metabolites, and researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology wanted to nail down one or two of them that triggered a widespread crab behavior. Without access to NMR they may not have found them at all even after an extensive search.

The spectrometer pulled the right two needles out of the haystack, so the researchers could test them on the crabs and confirm that they were initiating the behavior.

Emory University, Georgia State University and Georgia Tech already have NMR technology, but the Atlanta NMR Consortium will enable them to fully exploit it while cost-effectively staying on top of upgrades.

“NMR continues to grow and develop because of technological advances,” said David Lynn, a chemistry professor at Emory University.

That means buying new machines every so often, and one new NMR spectrometer can run into the millions; annual maintenance for one machine can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Thus, reducing costs and maximizing usage makes good sense.

Medicine, geochemistry

The human body, sea-side estuaries, and rock strata present huge collections of compounds. NMR takes inventory of complex samples from such sources via the nuclei of atoms in the molecules.

A nucleus has a spin, which makes it magnetic, and NMR spectrometry’s own powerful magnetism detects spins and pinpoints nuclei to feel out whole molecules. These can be large or small, from mineral compounds with three or four component atoms to protein polymers with tens of thousands of parts.

Researchers in medicine, biochemistry, ecology, geology, food science – the possible list is exhaustive -- turn to NMR to untangle their particular molecular jungles. The consortium wants to leverage that diversity.

“As we go in different directions, we will benefit from a cohesive community of people who know how to use NMR for a wide range of problems,” said Anant Paravastu, an associate professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

“The most important goal for us is the sharing of our expertise,” said Markus Germann, a professor of chemistry at Georgia State.

Consortium members will benefit the most from the pooled NMR resources, but non-partners can also book access. Read more about the Atlanta NMR Consortium here on Georgia Tech’s College of Sciences website

]]> Ben Brumfield 1 1536677324 2018-09-11 14:48:44 1536683078 2018-09-11 16:24:38 0 0 news What do crab urine, human lymph samples, and eons-old rock records have in common? Hundreds, thousands or more kinds of molecules make them up, so many a postdoc or graduate researcher have pulled their hair out trying to isolate one or two compounds. NMR is so much faster and more efficient, but it can be pricey, so Atlanta area universities have partnered up to optimize use and costs, and to offer use to outside researchers.

2018-09-11T00:00:00-04:00 2018-09-11T00:00:00-04:00 2018-09-11 00:00:00 Georgia Institute of Technology

Institute Communications / Research News

College of Sciences / communications 

Media relations contact: Maureen Rouhi, maureen.rouhi@cos.gatech.edu

Writers: Ben Brumfield / Maureen Rouhi

600552 581932 611314 607397 600552 image <![CDATA[Julia Kubanek NMR with Serge Lavoie]]> image/jpeg 1515442321 2018-01-08 20:12:01 1515442321 2018-01-08 20:12:01 581932 image <![CDATA[Leslie Gelbaum and Johannes Leisen during unpacking of new NMR instruments in July 2016. Photo by Julia Kubanek.]]> image/jpeg 1475185129 2016-09-29 21:38:49 1475185129 2016-09-29 21:38:49 611314 image <![CDATA[Bruker AVIII-400]]> image/jpeg 1536683041 2018-09-11 16:24:01 1536683041 2018-09-11 16:24:01 607397 image <![CDATA[Atlanta NMR Consortium]]> image/jpeg 1530222652 2018-06-28 21:50:52 1530222652 2018-06-28 21:50:52
<![CDATA[Summer Lab Experience Helps Launch Industry and Research Careers]]> 27303 Sofía Hernández-Torres spent her summer working to optimize a testing device that will be used to measure muscle strength in mice that have an animal model of muscular dystrophy. The testing will help a research team at the Georgia Institute of Technology advance cell-based therapies for fighting the disease, an inherited X-linked disorder diagnosed in one in 3,500 people worldwide. 

“I am in love with the work that I’m doing,” she said. “We are looking at extending the lifespan and improving the quality of life. Being in the lab and working with diseases that are affecting people around the world is what I want to do with my life.”

Hernández, an industrial biotechnology major at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, spent 10 weeks this summer in the laboratory of Andrés García, the Rae and Frank H. Neely Chair in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering and the executive director of the Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience at Georgia Tech. The opportunity came through the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, which supported her work through the NSF Engineering Research Center for Cell Manufacturing Technologies (CMaT), also headquartered at Georgia Tech.

As one of 14 students working in cell therapy and manufacturing labs at the University of Georgia, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Georgia Tech during the summer, Hernández received hands-on experience with cutting-edge research, and said she hopes to be part of the health care revolution that CMaT is helping to create.

“Cell therapy is an emerging field and CMaT’s goal is to make it scalable, high quality and affordable,” she explained. “Working in a project that aims to make this type of treatment available is very important to me.”

Workforce Development a Key Part of CMaT 

Students have traditionally not received much research-based experience until they enter graduate school. The NSF’s REU effort is helping to change that by giving undergraduates an opportunity to work in advanced research labs alongside top graduate students and pioneering researchers in a broad range of fields. By giving them an idea of what it’s like to participate in the development of cutting-edge therapies and new technologies, the program is helping develop the next generation of research leaders.

“Educational programs at all levels are critical, of course, and the REU program bringing undergraduates into CMaT labs is important for introducing these students to the excitement of new cell therapies and cell manufacturing,” said Aaron Levine, CMaT’s co-director for workforce development and a professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Public Policy. “Developing the future workforce has been identified as a critical issue for cell manufacturing to succeed. The CMaT workforce programs are critical to our success — and for the industry to reach its full potential.”

The students applied for the REU at CMaT and were assigned both a university principal investigator and a mentor for the summer. Beyond the lab experiences, the students learn collaboration, networking and other key skills.

“This is a unique and impactful REU program focused on cell manufacturing research that has successfully engaged an impressive cohort of students, many from underrepresented groups in STEM," said Mary Poats, REU program manager in NSF’s Division of Engineering Education and Centers. “The students are engaged early on in state-of-the-art ERC research and innovation activities that are directed toward a goal of curing disease and illnesses throughout the world. It is rewarding to hear these students passionately describe how being a part of CMaT’s summer REU program has so positively impacted their desire to further pursue related engineering and science academic studies, along with careers in the health care industry.” 

After a summer working in the laboratory of Hang Lu, the Love Family Professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Tailynn McCarty, says she’d like to get some experience in industry before going on to graduate school. A chemical engineering major from the University of Rhode Island, she hopes her experience with optimizing culture procedures for cellular aggregates — large groups of cells measured in three dimensions instead of just two — might open a corporate door.

“CMaT is providing an opportunity to save lives,” she said. “I’ve wanted to help people for a very long time, and I didn’t know exactly how I would do that. The work that CMaT is doing will allow me and other people to develop cures for illnesses to reduce the large impact of disease.”

NSF REU Gives Students Early Experience in Research

A key goal of the REU program is to give students a taste of what they’ll experience working in a research lab, whether that’s in a traditional academic setting or in industry. That goal appealed to Eva Gatune, who is working on dual degrees in biology and biomedical engineering at Xavier University of Louisiana.

“As undergraduates, we’re looking to the future and to graduate school — what we’ll do next,” she said. “This is the perfect preview to tell us if this is something we want to do or not.”

During the summer REU, Gatune worked in the laboratory of Georgia Tech Biomedical Engineering Professor Manu Platt studying cathepsins, enzymes that degrade proteins in the body. Specifically, she worked on how cathepsins and their protein networks affect breast cancer — and found that experience inspiring.

“Not a lot of young people would get an opportunity like this,” she said. “It’s heartwarming and fascinating to be part of something that is bigger than you. In the next 10 years, who knows how far this is going to go?”

For Yasmine Stewart, a biology major from Savannah State University, the REU program provided an opportunity to participate in one of the most exciting areas of life sciences research today: cell therapies. She worked with graduate students in the laboratory of Lohitash Karumbaiah, assistant professor in the College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences at the University of Georgia, learning cell culture techniques.

“We all have loved ones who suffer from diseases, so I’m especially passionate about doing my part to help them,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot of things in the lab, as far as cell culturing, but I’ve also learned patience, how to read research articles and to study more. I’ve learned how to work with others in the lab.”

Stewart had been considering an M.D.- Ph.D. path, but her experience using microfluidics technology to study potential cell treatments made the research track more intriguing. “The CMaT program is important because it is going to improve health care,” she said.

Getting in on the Ground Floor of an Exciting Technology

Kailyn Cleaves saw the summer REU as an opportunity to “get outside my comfort zone and do things I had never done before.” A biochemistry and pre-med major from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, she enjoyed the lab experience and, like other students, found involvement in the early stages of cell manufacturing to be both exciting and rewarding.

“I felt intimidated at first because I had never worked in a lab before,” she said. But she quickly found that graduate students in the laboratory of Steven Stice, director of the University of Georgia’s Regenerative Bioscience Center, enjoyed helping her and providing mentoring.

For David Frey, a Georgia Tech second-year student majoring in biomedical engineering, working in the lab of Krishnendu Roy, CMaT executive director and Robert A. Milton Chair, unlocked a “dream come true.” Frey worked on a microfluidics project that could lead to improvements in the way cells are cultured. The technology could also help match therapies to a patient’s specific disease characteristics.

“It’s truly been a dream come true,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to be in the lab all day. But being in school, I could never do that. This program definitely helps you immerse yourself in the research you are doing.”

As with others in the program, Frey was excited about being part of the cell manufacturing initiative in its early stages.

“It’s exciting being a pioneer with this specific technology,” he said. “Every day you want to see what the final product will look like. You want to see that the technology is being used for medical purposes. This could potentially help thousands of people someday.”

Making Cell Therapies Widely Available and Affordable

The companies that will bring cell therapies to the clinic will create a broad range of new jobs, everything from Ph.D. researchers developing new technologies to production staff and quality control specialists responsible for manufacturing cells of consistent quality and efficacy. Developing a new workforce to handle those divergent tasks is a key element of the CMaT initiative.

“Many of the REU students will go into industry, and they will come out of this lab experience with a better understanding of what industry needs and what sorts of skills are important for both industry and academic researchers,” Levine explained. “We deliberately structure our projects to have faculty and students from multiple institutions, often with industry partners. This is really how the real world works today — assembling the best teams to advance knowledge.”

Therapies based on living cells are different from traditional drug-based treatments, having great promise but also significant challenges.

“Most of the medical treatments we have now are much simpler, relying on small molecules or biologics,” Levine said. “The idea behind cell therapies is that cells can be much more powerful to treat conditions that are currently not treatable. Many of the conditions that we struggle with have to do with cellular dysfunction. The hope is that cell therapy can emerge as a way to replace or repair those cells.”

However, living cells can be affected by small changes in their environment and as they are transported to the clinics where they will be used. Ensuring consistency is another of the major challenges ahead, one for which Georgia Tech is applying its expertise in manufacturing and process control.

Only a small number of cellular therapies have been approved for use in the United States, and many more are in the research pipeline. But these therapies are often expensive — sometimes costing hundreds of thousands of dollars per patient. Making these affordable for use by ordinary patients is yet another challenge that CMaT is taking on.

“By developing better technologies to manufacture cells more reliably, more safely and more inexpensively, we hope to lower the cost of these therapies and make cell therapy more widely accessible,” Levine explained. “The students participating in this program will be thrust into a field where the opportunities are growing dramatically. Preparing them to understand what the potential is and what the trends are like in this field is what we believe we’ve accomplished this summer.”

The NSF Engineering Research Center for Cell Manufacturing Technologies was established to create new integrated manufacturing innovations and advanced bioprocessing technologies to enable robust, scalable, low-cost bio-manufacturing of high-quality therapeutic cells. CMaT has established cellular testbeds in three areas: (1) Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) to repair, regenerate and restore diseased tissues and organs, (2) Engineered T cells to treat some forms of cancer, and (3) Induced pluripotent stem cell (IPSC)-derived cardiomyocytes to treat heart disease.

Research News
Georgia Institute of Technology
177 North Avenue
Atlanta, Georgia  30332-0181  USA

Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986) (jtoon@gatech.edu).

Writer: John Toon

]]> John Toon 1 1537033251 2018-09-15 17:40:51 1537202737 2018-09-17 16:45:37 0 0 news Undergraduate students from around the United States spent their summer learning about cell manufacturing research. They worked in laboratories at Georgia Tech, the University of Georgia and the University of Wisconsin Madison.

2018-09-15T00:00:00-04:00 2018-09-15T00:00:00-04:00 2018-09-15 00:00:00 John Toon

Research News

(404) 894-6986

611521 611522 611523 611524 611525 611521 image <![CDATA[Yasmine-Stewart]]> image/jpeg 1537032309 2018-09-15 17:25:09 1537032309 2018-09-15 17:25:09 611522 image <![CDATA[Tailynn McCarty]]> image/jpeg 1537032429 2018-09-15 17:27:09 1537032429 2018-09-15 17:27:09 611523 image <![CDATA[Sofía Hernández-Torrres]]> image/jpeg 1537032547 2018-09-15 17:29:07 1537032547 2018-09-15 17:29:07 611524 image <![CDATA[David Frey]]> image/jpeg 1537032679 2018-09-15 17:31:19 1537032679 2018-09-15 17:31:19 611525 image <![CDATA[Aaron Levine]]> image/jpeg 1537032787 2018-09-15 17:33:07 1537032787 2018-09-15 17:33:07
<![CDATA[Conan Zhao Joins ScienceMatters Hall of Fame]]> 30678 Conan Zhao is the winner of ScienceMatters Episode 3 quiz.

ScienceMatters Episode 3 features M.G. Finn, chair of the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Finn described his efforts to create a vaccine against the dreadful parasitic disease leishmaniasis.

The quiz question was: What sugar molecule mentioned in Episode 3 is the main reason surgeons can’t transplant organs from animals into humans?

The answer is in the rest of the story, here.


]]> A. Maureen Rouhi 1 1536845903 2018-09-13 13:38:23 1536949027 2018-09-14 18:17:07 0 0 news Conan Zhao, a research assistant in the lab of Sam Brown, won ScienceMatters Episode 3 quiz. Brown is an associate professor in the School of Biological Sciences and a member of the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience.

2018-09-13T00:00:00-04:00 2018-09-13T00:00:00-04:00 2018-09-13 00:00:00 A. Maureen Rouhi, Ph.D.
Director of Communications
College of Sciences

611413 611415 611413 image <![CDATA[Conan Zhao wins ScienceMatters Episode 3 quiz.]]> image/jpeg 1536845977 2018-09-13 13:39:37 1536845977 2018-09-13 13:39:37 611415 image <![CDATA[ScienceMatters Hall of Fame, Season 1]]> image/png 1536848106 2018-09-13 14:15:06 1541077603 2018-11-01 13:06:43
<![CDATA[Genomic Study of 412 Anthrax Strains Provides New Virulence Clues]]> 27303 By analyzing genomic sequences from more than 400 strains of the bacterium that causes anthrax, researchers have provided the first evidence that the severity – technically known as virulence – of  specific strains may be related to the number of copies of certain plasmids they carry. Plasmids are genetic structures of the cell that can reproduce independently, and are responsible for producing the anthrax toxin and other virulence factors. 

The research found that bacteria strains collected from humans and animals tended to have more copies of the virulence plasmids than those collected from environmental sources. The research, a collaboration between scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), used CDC’s collection of Bacillus anthracis strains gathered from around the world beginning in the 1950s. 

“There is a hypothesis that the copy number – number of copies of the plasmids – plays a role in how virulent each strain is,” said Kostas Konstantinidis, a professor in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “We want to understand which are the more virulent strains, which are less virulent and what explains the difference. This study provides the first evidence that there is a significant difference in plasmid copy number that may be related to the virulence. But more research is needed to test this emerging hypothesis.”

The research, which was sponsored by the CDC and the National Science Foundation, was reported August 14 in the journal mSystems, an open access journal from the American Society for Microbiology. The study involved more than 600 gigabytes of data, which will be shared with other researchers working to understand anthrax.

In B. anthracis, two plasmids – known as pXO1 and pXO2 – are autonomous and independent pieces of DNA that encode the toxin and other virulence factors. In bacteria, plasmids like these tend to move around independently of the organisms’ main chromosomes, and can jump from one strain to another via genetic mechanisms of DNA transfer. Bacterial resistance to antibiotics can also be transferred through plasmid movement, for instance. Interestingly, this study found that the anthrax plasmids show limited genetic exchange between strains; rather, they are inherited from the ancestor, similar to the chromosomes. 

“This work and additional analyses performed at Georgia Tech and CDC on these genomes from strains of B. anthracis from around the world help further define the global diversity of this health threat,” said Alex Hoffmaster, chief of CDC’s Zoonotic Select Agent Lab and a co-author on the article. “Understanding more about the strains and their distribution can help us more easily determine whether anthrax cases were caused by natural or man-made sources so we can respond as needed to protect the public’s health.”

The research could also provide information about other organisms, Konstantinidis said. “Beyond B. anthracis, this work could help provide a better understanding of the virulence potential of other organisms carrying similar plasmids. Being able to distinguish between more virulent and less virulent strains is a broader challenge for microbiology.”

The study began with researchers from the CDC’s Division of High-Consequence Pathogens and Pathology, who used next-generation techniques to sequence diverse strains of B. anthracis. The agency provided its data to the Konstantinidis laboratory at Georgia Tech, where Graduate Research Assistant Angela Pena-Gonzalez led the bioinformatics analysis of the data.

“We were able to use the sequencing data to calculate the correlation of the copy number with the source of each strain,” she explained. “We used the whole length of the plasmid to calculate the copy number, and our results were based on the analysis of hundreds of strains obtained from several sources – humans, animals and the environment – and not just a couple of them. This was an advantage of our study.”

Analytical techniques developed at Georgia Tech allowed the whole genome comparisons to be done on the more than 400 genomes – a substantial data science challenge. The research revealed that B. anthracis genomes carried, on average, 3.86 and 2.29 copies of the pXO1 and pXO2 plasmids respectively, and that there was a positive linear correlation between the copy numbers of the two plasmids.

“The technology to do this whole genome sequencing is available, but the processing of the data and the interpretation is not yet very straightforward,” Konstantinidis said. “The very magnitude of the data requires a specific process and considerable experience. The way in which we analyzed this data was not even available two years ago when we started the study.”

Beyond the possible correlation of copy number of virulence, the study also showed the genome of the strains was surprisingly consistent. “The work shows that these plasmids are relatively stable, though we found a few strains that had different varieties of the plasmids that seem to have attenuated the virulence,” he said.

A next step would be to investigate further the possible correlation between copy number and virulence in animal studies. 

Konstantinidis hopes to continue collaborating with the CDC to gain a better understanding of virulence and other factors in anthrax and other organisms that have implications for public health.

“The CDC has unique resources like this collection of anthrax strains, and we hope to continue this collaboration to further understand what is going on with this and other pathogens,” he said. “There are a lot of applications to public health and to improving our understanding of the basic biology behind these organisms.”

In addition to those already mentioned, the work included Luis M. Rodriguez-R from the Georgia Tech School of Civil and Environmental Engineering; and Chung K. Marston, Jay E. Gee, Christopher A. Gulvik, Cari B. Kolton, Elke Saile and Michael Frace from the CDC.

This work was supported by United States National Science Foundation (NSF) award number 1356288 and DHHS/PHS/CDC award number RF023, and by Colciencias—Colombian Administrative Department for Science, Technology. The findings and conclusions in this work are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official positions of the NSF or CDC.

CITATION: Angela Pena-Gonzalez, et al., “Genomic Characterization and Copy Number Variation of Bacillus anthracis Plasmids pXO1 and pXO2 in a Historical Collection of 412 Strains,” (mSystems 2018) https://msystems.asm.org/content/3/4/e00065-18

Research News
Georgia Institute of Technology
177 North Avenue
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Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986) (jtoon@gatech.edu)

Writer: John Toon


]]> John Toon 1 1535550697 2018-08-29 13:51:37 1535551589 2018-08-29 14:06:29 0 0 news By analyzing genomic sequences from more than 400 strains of the bacterium that causes anthrax, researchers have provided the first evidence that the severity – technically known as virulence – of  specific strains may be related to the number of copies of certain plasmids they carry. 

2018-08-29T00:00:00-04:00 2018-08-29T00:00:00-04:00 2018-08-29 00:00:00 John Toon

Research News

(404) 894-6986

610533 610534 610533 image <![CDATA[Endospores from Bacillus anthracis bacteria]]> image/jpeg 1535548443 2018-08-29 13:14:03 1535548443 2018-08-29 13:14:03 610534 image <![CDATA[Photomicrographic view of Bacillus anthracis]]> image/jpeg 1535548772 2018-08-29 13:19:32 1535548772 2018-08-29 13:19:32
<![CDATA[Buzzing Cancer Drugs into Malignancies in the Brain]]> 31759 Getting cancer drugs to permeate tumors can be tough, especially in the brain, but researchers have been using ultrasound to massage the drugs into malignancies that have taken root there. A new study details how the experimental method has overcome various barriers to treating cancers in the brain.

“The blood-brain barrier is a challenge in the treatment of brain malignancies,” said Costas Arvanitis, an assistant professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering. “Even when a drug reaches the brain’s circulation, abnormal blood vessels in and around tumors lead to non-uniform drug delivery with low concentrations in some areas of the tumor.”

If a drug does make it through the distorted blood vessels, then dense tumorous tissue often blocks the drug’s path to the malignant cells. Arvanitis co-led the new study with Dr. Vasileios Askoxylakis at Massachusetts General Hospital to explore the effectiveness of ultrasound that is focused on affected brain areas to buzz the drugs through these barriers and into the cancer.

Already, the method had proven effective enough in fighting tumors to make it to phase I clinical trials, but until now, it was not well observed how it actually worked. 

Beaming tumors

Arvanitis, also an assistant professor in the Wallace E. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University, and his collaborators sought to determine tissue-level mechanisms behind the new ultrasound treatment’s improved drug delivery throughout brain tumors. The findings will help researchers and clinicians fine-tune this potential treatment against cancers in the brain.

The team, which included researchers from the University of Edinburgh, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, published its findings in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on August 27, 2018. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the German Research Foundation, the Solidar-Immun Foundation, the Harvard Ludwig Cancer Center, and the National Foundation for Cancer Research. 

The therapy is minimally invasive, focusing multiple beams of ultrasound energy onto a cancerous spot, where microbubbles, tiny lipid bubbles in the bloodstream that vibrate in response to ultrasound signals, can temporarily breach the blood-brain barrier at the target site. That creates an opening for drugs to get through. The microbubbles are injected intravenously before ultrasound is applied.

Observing success

The team studied the new method on mice with metastasized breast cancer cells in the brain. In lab experiments, the researchers observed improved delivery of two cancer therapies, the common chemotherapy drug doxorubicin, and the targeted drug T-DM1.

“We established that we were able to get more of both drugs across blood vessel walls,” said Yutong Guo, a graduate student in Arvanitis’s lab and coauthor of the study. “The doxorubicin molecule is small, and it got the bigger boost, but altogether, the therapy distributed more of both drugs to more tumor tissue.”

Also, the fluid that surrounds cells, interstitial fluid, which can serve as a conduit for drugs, was seen flowing more freely between cells of a tumor in high-resolution images taken following ultrasound treatment. The drugs appeared to make it through significant barriers to reach tumors.

“Evidence of increased cellular transmembrane transport and uptake of doxorubicin by focused ultrasound was largely unknown until now,” Askoxylakis said.

The improved delivery dissipated five days after treatment, suggesting that the higher T-DM1 accumulation indeed had resulted from the ultrasound method better permeating blood vessels and tumor tissue.

Optimizing treatment

The researchers quantified the changes in tissues and in cellular drug transport properties using mathematical modeling and used this to devise parameters for optimal drug delivery, which may prove useful in the design of new rounds of clinical trials.

“By explaining and underscoring the potential of combining focused ultrasound with different drugs for the treatment of brain metastases, our findings provide important scientific principles for the optimal clinical use of the technology,” said Rakesh Jain, who collaborated on the study and is a professor of radiation oncology at Harvard Medical School.

The study may also stimulate a broader discussion on how some cancer drugs should be administered, perhaps in some cases as a slow infusion rather than a quicker injection. The researchers would like to explore tuning the new method to optimize delivery of varying drugs or engineered immune cells to fight an array of tumors occurring in the brain.

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Also READ: Punching Cancer with RNA Knuckles

These researchers co-authored the study: Meenal Datta, Jonas Kloepper, Gino Ferraro, and Dai Fukumura of Steele Labs, Mass Gen Radiation Oncology; Miguel Bernabeu of the University of Edinburgh; and Nathan McDannold of Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (grant R00 EB016971) and the National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute (F31 HL126449), the German Research Foundation (grant AS 422-2/1) and grants from the Solidar-Immun Foundation, the Harvard Ludwig Cancer Center, and the National Foundation for Cancer Research. Findings, opinions, and conclusions are those of the authors and not necessarily of the funding agencies. 

Research News
Georgia Institute of Technology
177 North Avenue
Atlanta, Georgia  30332-0181  USA

Media relations assistance: Ben Brumfield (404) 660-1408, ben.brumfield@comm.gatech.edu

Writer: Ben Brumfield

]]> Ben Brumfield 1 1536273392 2018-09-06 22:36:32 1536786011 2018-09-12 21:00:11 0 0 news Focused ultrasound has thus far successfully improved anti-cancer drug delivery into malignancies in the brain in animal models. As it moves from the research bench to phase I clinical trials, engineers examine the deep mechanisms that have made it work. Here's what they found.

2018-09-07T00:00:00-04:00 2018-09-07T00:00:00-04:00 2018-09-07 00:00:00 611051 611075 611052 611056 611206 611057 611051 image <![CDATA[Focused ultrasound cancer drug delivery diagram]]> image/png 1536269399 2018-09-06 21:29:59 1536331254 2018-09-07 14:40:54 611075 image <![CDATA[Focused ultrasound in test set-up 2]]> image/jpeg 1536326850 2018-09-07 13:27:30 1536331268 2018-09-07 14:41:08 611052 image <![CDATA[Focused ultrasound mathematical modeling ]]> image/png 1536269727 2018-09-06 21:35:27 1536331285 2018-09-07 14:41:25 611056 image <![CDATA[Costas Arvanitis headshot]]> image/jpeg 1536272167 2018-09-06 22:16:07 1536331303 2018-09-07 14:41:43 611206 image <![CDATA[Yutong Guo in Costas Arvanitis lab]]> image/jpeg 1536593265 2018-09-10 15:27:45 1536593265 2018-09-10 15:27:45 611057 image <![CDATA[Focused ultrasound in test set-up]]> image/jpeg 1536272544 2018-09-06 22:22:24 1536331236 2018-09-07 14:40:36
<![CDATA[Toward A Vaccine for an Ancient Scourge: Episode 3, Starring M.G. Finn]]> 30678 Episode 3 of ScienceMatters' Season 1 stars M.G. Finn. Listen to the podcast and read the transcript here!

Leishmaniasis is a scary parasitic disease; it can rot flesh. Formerly contained in countries near the equator, it has arrived in North America. School of Chemistry and Biochemistry Professor and Chair M.G. Finn explains why it’s so tough to fight this disease. His collaboration with Brazilian researcher Alexandre Marques has raised hopes for a possible vaccine.

Follow the the researchers' journey at sciencematters.gatech.edu.

Enter to win a prize by answering the episode's question:

What sugar molecule mentioned in Episode 3 is the main reason surgeons can’t transplant organs from animals into humans?

Submit your entry by noon on Friday, Sept. 7, at sciencematters.gatech.edu. Answer and winner will be announced on Monday, Sept. 10.

Results of Episode 2 Quiz

Q: What small four-legged animals mentioned in Episode 2 help Jenny McGuire collect bones from Natural Trap Cave?

A: Wood rats, pack rats, or rats

The winner is Pedro Marquez Zacarias. He was listening to ScienceMatters while doing routine data analysis for his research.

A third-year Ph.D. student in the Georgia Tech Quantitative Biosciences Graduate Program, Marquez Zacarias aims to add to the understanding of how biological complexity evolved, particularly multicellularity.

Marquez Zacarias comes from a small town in rural México, an indigenous community called Urapicho, in the state of Michoacán.

]]> A. Maureen Rouhi 1 1536006741 2018-09-03 20:32:21 1536084495 2018-09-04 18:08:15 0 0 news The parasite that causes leishmaniasis, a scary flesh-rotting disease, is tough to beat, says School of Chemistry and Biochemistry Professor and Chair M.G. Finn. It usually ravages equatorial countries but is now in North America. Finn is teaming with Brazilian scientists to work on a potential vaccine. And congratulations to Pedro Marquez Zacarias for nailing the episode 2 quiz.

2018-09-03T00:00:00-04:00 2018-09-03T00:00:00-04:00 2018-09-03 00:00:00 A. Maureen Rouhi, Ph.D.
Director of Communications
College of Sciences

595760 610794 595760 image <![CDATA[Finn and Marques]]> image/jpeg 1504903937 2017-09-08 20:52:17 1504903937 2017-09-08 20:52:17 610794 image <![CDATA[Pedro Marquez Zacaria, ScienceMatters quiz winner]]> image/jpeg 1536007559 2018-09-03 20:45:59 1536007559 2018-09-03 20:45:59 <![CDATA[ScienceMatters, the Podcast, Arrives]]>
<![CDATA[Coffee Leads to Collaboration ]]> 30678 Editor's Note: This story by Victor Rogers was originally published on the Georgia Tech News Center on Aug. 8, 2018.

When Will Ratcliff and Peter Yunker first met for coffee they had no idea they would eventually collaborate on research that would be published in Nature Communications and Nature Physics.

Ratcliff, an assistant professor in the School of Biological Sciences, arrived at Tech in January 2014. Yunker, an assistant professor in the School of Physics, arrived in January of the following year.

“I met with [Physics Professor] Dan Goldman and told him about my interests in biophysics,” said Yunker. “He told me there’s another young guy who just arrived. You should contact him.”  

Yunker reached out to Ratcliff, and the two began meeting weekly for coffee in the basement of the College of Computing.

“I think our conversations for a solid six months were just about friend stuff,” Ratcliff said. “We talked about science, but we weren’t actively pursuing projects. We were just hanging out and getting to know each other.”

Yunker said they discussed ideas about the evolution of multicellularity.

“Will would talk a little about the biology of the evolution of multicellularity. And then we would pivot, and I would talk about the physics of multicellularity,” Yunker said. 

Though coming from different disciplines — biology and physics — Ratcliff and Yunker quickly recognized some common ground.  

“I would say, ‘There’s this thing in biology where this needs to happen,’ and he would say ‘there’s this thing in physics where this needs to happen,’” Ratcliff said. “It would blow my mind because it was a totally different way of thinking about the things that I was already thinking about. It was incredibly exciting because there were these parallels coming from such different places, and they were describing the same overlapping material. I think we both could tell there was a lot of cool stuff to be done.”

The harder part was figuring out where the overlap was concrete so they could actually conduct experiments or write models.

“A lot of our conversations are brainstorming style,” Yunker said. “They’re less about knocking down ideas and more about: ‘Let’s get a lot of information out there so we can find where that concrete idea emerges.’”  

The collaboration also eased the pressure of being a new faculty member.

“It’s nice to work with other people who are at a similar level, to bounce ideas off each other, talk about critical review, and vent about frustrations,” Yunker said. “The whole time I’ve been here I have always heard Georgia Tech is very supportive of collaboration. I’ve heard of other places where that support isn’t there when you’re still at the assistant professor level. I haven’t worried at all about if there will be trouble down the line if we collaborate. Instead, I see it as we’re doing the best science, and that’s what Georgia Tech wants.”

Ratcliff said, “That’s one of Georgia Tech’s real strengths. People really appreciate our collaboration. I hear from people in both communities — biology and physics. They appreciate not just the research, but also the strengthening of the bridge between the departments and the sense of community it builds.”

In addition to their research collaborations, Ratcliff and Yunker co-advise a Ph.D. student and a postdoc.

Collaboration Advice to New Faculty

Yunker and Ratcliff make collaboration look deceptively easy.

“Collaboration takes effort. It takes sustained interaction,” Ratcliff said. “There’s got to be a reason to do that because as new professors we’re super busy trying to get everything off the ground: get your lab running, get grants, write papers, design classes, do service work. We’re spread really thin. So, to have sustained interactions that are needed for a good collaboration, you have to prioritize it and want to do it.”

Yunker added, “One of the best approaches when starting a new collaboration is to either let it grow or die on its own. If the idea isn’t there or if you just don’t mesh, then forcing it is going to be difficult for everyone.”

Ratcliff has advice for new faculty who are interested in collaborating.

“It’s really exciting and valuable to have a close collaborator from a different discipline or with a  different skillset,” he said. “To get that, I suggest forming collaborations with other professors who are about your age. Key reasons are you’re both at the same stage in your careers. You’re equals. Also, a new professor is likely to have time to form new collaborations. Lastly, new professors have startup funds and a large degree of flexibility. This is great for trying things that are risky.”

He also suggests attending receptions for new faculty.

“Talk to people outside of your discipline. Don’t spend all of your time at the mixer talking to your departmental colleagues,” Ratcliff said.

Developing a good collaboration can be transformational.

“Our collaboration has fundamentally reshaped the way I think about key problems in my field,” Ratcliff said. “I know how to think about the things I was trained to think about, but I had no idea how to think about things I wasn’t trained to think about.”

Yunker said, “Together we’re able to ask and answer more interesting questions. I was not versed at all on questions about evolutionary transitions and individuality. I wasn’t aware of all the open questions and problems there, and they’re fascinating. By coming together, we end up asking even more interesting questions and, hopefully, coming up with new approaches.”

Ratcliff said what made the collaboration work is that he and Yunker became friends.

“We enjoy hanging out. I look forward to having coffee,” Ratcliff said. “We have these exciting scientific discussions where it was obvious that there’s something there, but we had to make the ideas touch down to reality.”



]]> A. Maureen Rouhi 1 1535651470 2018-08-30 17:51:10 1535718720 2018-08-31 12:32:00 0 0 news When Will Ratcliff and Peter Yunker first met for coffee they had no idea they would eventually collaborate on research that would be published in Nature Communications and Nature Physics. 

2018-08-30T00:00:00-04:00 2018-08-30T00:00:00-04:00 2018-08-30 00:00:00 Victor Rogers

Institute Communications

609498 609497 599139 609498 image <![CDATA[Will Ratcliff (left) and Peter Yunker]]> image/jpeg 1533771453 2018-08-08 23:37:33 1533771549 2018-08-08 23:39:09 609497 image <![CDATA[Will Ratcliff (left) and Peter Yunker at Highland Bakery ]]> image/jpeg 1533771293 2018-08-08 23:34:53 1533771354 2018-08-08 23:35:54 599139 image <![CDATA[Yunker and Ratcliff in Yunker physics lab]]> image/jpeg 1511797212 2017-11-27 15:40:12 1511797212 2017-11-27 15:40:12 <![CDATA[Cholera research ]]> <![CDATA[Evolution of multicellularity]]>
<![CDATA[More Workers Working Might Not Get More Work Done, Ants (and Robots) Show]]> 27303 For ants and robots operating in confined spaces like tunnels, having more workers does not necessarily mean getting more work done. Just as too many cooks in a kitchen get in each other’s way, having too many robots in tunnels creates clogs that can bring the work to a grinding halt.

A study published August 17 in the journal Science shows that in fire ant colonies, a small number of workers does most of the digging, leaving the other ants to look somewhat less than industrious. For digging nest tunnels, this less busy approach gets the job done without ant traffic jams – ensuring smooth excavation flow. Researchers found that applying the ant optimization strategy to autonomous robots avoids mechanized clogs and gets the work done with the least amount of energy.

Optimizing the activity of autonomous underground robots could be useful for tasks such as disaster recovery, mining or even digging underground shelters for future planetary explorers. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation’s Physics of Living Systems program, the Army Research Office and the Dunn Family Professorship.

“We noticed that if you have 150 ants in a container, only 10 or 15 of them will actually be digging in the tunnels at any given time,” said Daniel Goldman, a professor in the School of Physics at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “We wanted to know why, and to understand how basic laws of physics might be at work. We found a functional, community benefit to this seeming inequality in the work environment. Without it, digging just doesn’t get done.”

By monitoring the activities of 30 ants that had been painted to identify each individual, Goldman and colleagues, including former postdoctoral fellow Daria Monaenkova and Ph.D. student Bahnisikha Dutta, discovered that just 30 percent of the ants were doing 70 percent of the work – an inequality that seems to keep the work humming right along. However, that is apparently not because the busiest ants are the most qualified. When the researchers removed the five hardest working ants from the nest container, they saw no productivity decline as the remaining 25 continued to dig.

Having a nest is essential to fire ants, and if a colony is displaced – by a flood, for instance – the first thing the ants will do upon reaching dry land is start digging. Their tunnels are narrow, barely wide enough for two ants to pass, a design feature hypothesized to give locomotion advantages in the developing vertical tunnels. Still, the ants know how to avoid creating clogs by retreating from tunnels already occupied by other workers – and sometimes by not doing anything much at all. 

To avoid clogs and maximize digging in the absence of a leader, robots built by Goldman’s master’s degree student Vadim Linevich were programmed to capture aspects of the dawdling and retreating ants. The researchers found that as many as three robots could work effectively in a narrow horizontal tunnel digging 3D printed magnetic plastic balls that simulated sticky soil. If a fourth robot entered the tunnel, however, that produced a clog that stopped the work entirely.

“When we put four robots into a confined environment and tried to get them to dig, they immediately jammed up,” said Goldman, who is the Dunn Family Professor in the School of Physics. “While observing the ants, we were surprised to see that individuals would sometimes go to the tunnel and if they encountered even a small amount of clog, they’d just turn around and retreat. When we put those rules into combinations with the robots, that created a good strategy for digging rapidly with low amounts of energy use per robot.”

Experimentally, the research team tested three potential behaviors for the robots, which they termed “eager,” “reversal” or “lazy.” Using the eager strategy, all four robots plunged into the work – and quickly jammed up. In the reversal behavior, robots gave up and turned around when they encountered delays reaching the work site. In the lazy strategy, dawdling was encouraged.

“Eager is the best strategy if you only have three robots, but if you add a fourth, that behavior tanks because they get in each other’s way,” said Goldman. “Reversal produces relatively sane and sensible digging. It is not the fastest strategy, but there are no jams. If you look at energy consumed, lazy is the best course.” Analysis techniques based on glassy and supercooled fluids, led by former Ph.D. student Jeffrey Aguilar, gave insight into how the different strategies mitigated and prevented clog-forming clusters.

To understand what was going on and experiment with the parameters, Goldman and colleagues – including Will Savoie, a Georgia Tech Ph.D. student, Research Assistant Hui-Shun Kuan and Professor Meredith Betterton from the Department of Physics at the University of Colorado Boulder – used computer modeling known as cellular automata that has similarities to the way in which traffic engineers model the movement of cars and trucks on a highway.

“On highways, too few cars don’t provide much flow, while too many cars create a jam,” Goldman said. “There is an intermediate level where things are best, and that is called the fundamental diagram. From our modeling, we learned that the ants are working right at the peak of the diagram. The right mix of unequal work distributions and reversal behaviors has the benefit of keeping them moving at maximum efficiency without jamming.”

The ability to avoid clumping seems to meet a need that many systems have, Betterton noted. “The ants work in a sweet spot where they can dig quickly without too many clogs. We see the same physics in ant digging, simulation models, and digging by robots, which suggests that for groups of animals that need to excavate, avoiding clogs is crucial.”

The researchers used robots designed and built for the research, but they were no match for the capabilities of the ants. The ants are flexible and robust, able to squeeze past each other in confines that would cause the inflexible robots to jam. In some cases, the robots in Goldman’s lab even damaged each other while jostling into position for digging.

The research findings could be useful for space exploration where tunnels might be needed to quickly shield humans from approaching dust storms or other threats. “If you were a robot swarm on Mars and needed to dig deeply in a hurry to get away from dust storms, this strategy might help provide shelter without having perfect information about what everybody was doing,” Goldman explained. 

Beyond the potential robotics applications, the work provides insights into the complex social skills of ants and adds to the understanding of active matter. 

“Ants that live in complex subterranean environments have to develop sophisticated social rules to avoid the bad things that can happen when you have a lot of individuals in a crowded environment,” Goldman said. “We are also contributing to understanding the physics of task-oriented active matter, putting more experimental knowledge into phenomenon such as swarms.”

In addition to those already mentioned, the research included Michael Goodisman, associate professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Biological Sciences.

This research was supported by the National Science Foundation through grant numbers PoLS-0957659, PHY-1205878 and DMR-1551095 as well as a grant W911NF-13-1-0347 from the Army Research Office, and the National Academies Keck Futures Initiative. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation or Army Research Office.

CITATION: J. Aguilar, et. al., “Collective clog control: optimizing traffic flow in confined biological and robophysical excavation,” (Science 2018).

Research News
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Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986) (jtoon@gatech.edu).

Writer: John Toon

]]> John Toon 1 1534426195 2018-08-16 13:29:55 1534516322 2018-08-17 14:32:02 0 0 news For ants and robots operating in confined spaces like tunnels, having more workers does not necessarily mean getting more work done. Just as too many cooks in a kitchen get in each other’s way, having too many robots in tunnels creates clogs that can bring the work to a grinding halt.

2018-08-16T00:00:00-04:00 2018-08-16T00:00:00-04:00 2018-08-16 00:00:00 John Toon

Research News

(404) 894-6986

609802 609805 609807 609808 609812 609811 609802 image <![CDATA[Ants digging tunnels]]> image/jpeg 1534424710 2018-08-16 13:05:10 1534424710 2018-08-16 13:05:10 609805 image <![CDATA[Researchers with excavating robots]]> image/jpeg 1534424847 2018-08-16 13:07:27 1534424847 2018-08-16 13:07:27 609807 image <![CDATA[Autonomous robotic digger]]> image/jpeg 1534425020 2018-08-16 13:10:20 1534425020 2018-08-16 13:10:20 609808 image <![CDATA[Painting ants]]> image/jpeg 1534425133 2018-08-16 13:12:13 1534425133 2018-08-16 13:12:13 609812 image <![CDATA[3D magnetic particles]]> image/jpeg 1534425363 2018-08-16 13:16:03 1534425363 2018-08-16 13:16:03 609811 image <![CDATA[Robot traffic]]> image/jpeg 1534425241 2018-08-16 13:14:01 1534425241 2018-08-16 13:14:01
<![CDATA[This Matrix Delivers Healing Stem Cells to Injured Elderly Muscles]]> 31759 A car accident leaves an aging patient with severe muscle injuries that won’t heal. Treatment with muscle stem cells from a donor might restore damaged tissue, but doctors are unable to deliver them effectively. A new method may help change this.

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology engineered a molecular matrix, a hydrogel, to deliver muscle stem cells called muscle satellite cells (MuSCs) directly to injured muscle tissue in patients whose muscles don’t regenerate well. In lab experiments on mice, the hydrogel successfully delivered MuSCs to injured, aged muscle tissue to boost the healing process while protecting the stem cells from harsh immune reactions.

The method was also successful in mice with a muscle tissue deficiency that emulated Duchene muscular dystrophy, and if research progresses, the new hydrogel therapy could one day save the lives of people suffering from the disease.

Inflammatory war zone

Simply injecting additional muscle satellite cells into damaged, inflamed tissue has proven inefficient, in part because the stem cells encounter an immune system on the warpath.

“Any muscle injury is going to attract immune cells. Typically, this would help muscle stem cells repair damage. But in aged or dystrophic muscles, immune cells lead to the release a lot of toxic chemicals like cytokines and free radicals that kill the new stem cells,” said Young Jang, an assistant professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Biological Sciences and one of the study’s principal investigators.

Only between 1 and 20 percent of injected MuSCs make it to damaged tissue, and those that do, arrive there weakened. Also, some tissue damage makes any injection unfeasible, thus the need for new delivery strategies. 

“Our new hydrogel protects the stem cells, which multiply and thrive inside the matrix. The gel is applied to injured muscle, and the cells engraft onto the tissues and help them heal,” said Woojin Han, a postdoctoral researcher in Georgia Tech’s School of Mechanical Engineering and the paper’s first author.

Han, Jang and Andres Garcia, the study’s other principal investigator, published their results on August 15, 2018, in the journal Science Advances. The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases of the National Institutes of Health funded the research.

Hydrogel: watery nets

Hydrogels often start out as water-based solutions of molecular components that resemble crosses, and other components that make the ends of the crosses attach to each other. When the components come together, they fuse into molecular nets suspended in water, resulting in a material with the consistency of a gel. 

If stem cells or a drug are mixed into the solution, when the net, or matrix, forms, it ensnares the treatment for delivery and protects the payload from death or dissipation in the body. Researchers can easily and reliably synthesize hydrogels and also custom-engineer them by tweaking their components, as the Georgia Tech researchers did in this hydrogel. 

“It physically traps the muscle satellite cells in a net, but the cells also grab onto chemical latches we engineered into the net,” Han said.

This hydrogel’s added latches, which bond with proteins protruding from stem cells’ membranes, not only increase the cells’ adhesion to the net but also hinder them from committing suicide. Stem cells tend to kill themselves when they’re detached and free-floating. 

The chemical components and the cells are mixed in solution then applied to the injured muscle, where the mixture sets to a matrix-gel patch that glues the stem cells in place. The gel is biocompatible and biodegradable.

“The stem cells keep multiplying and thriving in the gel after it is applied,” Jang said. “Then the hydrogel degrades and leaves behind the cells engrafted onto muscle tissue the way natural stem cells usually would be.”

Stem cell breakdown

In younger, healthier patients, muscle satellite cells are part of the natural healing mechanism.

“Muscle satellite cells are resident stem cells in your skeletal muscles. They live on muscle strands like specks, and they’re key players in making new muscle tissue,” Han said.

“As we age, we lose muscle mass, and the number of satellite cells also decreases. The ones that are left get weaker. It’s a double whammy,” Jang said. “At a very advanced age, a patient stops regenerating muscle altogether.”

“With this system we engineered, we think we can introduce donor cells to enhance the repair mechanism in injured older patients,” Han said. “We also want to get this to work in patients with Duchene muscular dystrophy.”

“Duchene muscular dystrophy is surprisingly frequent,” Jang said. “About 1 in 3,500 boys get it. They eventually get respiratory defects that lead to death, so we hope to be able to use this to rebuild their diaphragm muscles.”

If the method goes to clinical trials, researchers will likely have to work around the potential for donor cell rejection in human patients.

Also READ: Punching Cancer with RNA Knuckles Wrapped in Hydrogel

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The following researchers coauthored the paper: Shannon Anderson, Mahir Mohiuddin, Shadi Nakhai, and Eunjung Shin from Georgia Tech; Isabel Freitas Amaral, and Ana Paula Pêgo from the University of Porto in Portugal, and Daniela Barros from Georgia Tech and the University of Porto. The research was funded by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases of the National Institutes of Health (awards # R21AR072287 and R01AR062368). Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect views of the National Institutes of Health.

Research News
Georgia Institute of Technology
177 North Avenue
Atlanta, Georgia  30332-0181  USA

Media Relations Assistance: Ben Brumfield (404) 660-1408, ben.brumfield@comm.gatech.edu

Writer: Ben Brumfield

]]> Ben Brumfield 1 1534356903 2018-08-15 18:15:03 1534516427 2018-08-17 14:33:47 0 0 news Injured elderly muscle tissue heals slowly or not at all, and Duchene MS sufferers often die when their diaphragm muscles weaken then give out. A new hydrogel that packs donor muscle stem cells could someday help these patients recover and live longer.

2018-08-15T00:00:00-04:00 2018-08-15T00:00:00-04:00 2018-08-15 00:00:00 609786 609788 609789 609790 609786 image <![CDATA[New muscle strands thanks to stem cell hydrogel]]> image/jpeg 1534355280 2018-08-15 17:48:00 1534355280 2018-08-15 17:48:00 609788 image <![CDATA[Woojin Han observes muscle tissue in Young Jang's lab]]> image/jpeg 1534355598 2018-08-15 17:53:18 1534355598 2018-08-15 17:53:18 609789 image <![CDATA[Young Jang and Woojin Han in Jang's lab]]> image/jpeg 1534355772 2018-08-15 17:56:12 1534355772 2018-08-15 17:56:12 609790 image <![CDATA[Injured muscle tissue with hydrogel delivered stem cells]]> image/png 1534355901 2018-08-15 17:58:21 1534355901 2018-08-15 17:58:21
<![CDATA[National Neurotrauma Society Names Michelle LaPlaca as President-Elect]]> 27513 The National Neurotrauma Society (NNS) has selected Michelle LaPlaca, associate professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University, as its president-elect for the term 2019-2020. The announcement came during the Society’s most recent international conference held in Toronto, Canada, August 11-16.


The National Neurotrauma Society seeks to accelerate research that will provide answers for clinicians and ultimately improve the treatments available to patients. The society promotes excellence in the field by providing opportunities for scientists, establishing standards in both basic and clinical research, encouraging and supporting research, and promoting liaisons with other organizations that influence the care and cure of neurotrauma victims.


LaPlaca earned a Ph.D. in bioengineering (1996) and completed her postdoctoral training in neurosurgery while at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research interests surround translational research in traumatic brain injury (TBI) and concussion. Her research goals are to better understand acute injury mechanisms and mechanotransduction, identify novel TBI biomarkers, and develop multimodal concussion assessment tools. She has won numerous awards for her research and currently serves as vice chair of the Brain Injury Association of Georgia.

]]> Walter Rich 1 1534346527 2018-08-15 15:22:07 1534346527 2018-08-15 15:22:07 0 0 news 2018-08-15T00:00:00-04:00 2018-08-15T00:00:00-04:00 2018-08-15 00:00:00 Walter Rich

609776 609776 image <![CDATA[Michelle LaPlaca, associate professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering]]> image/jpeg 1534346428 2018-08-15 15:20:28 1534346437 2018-08-15 15:20:37
<![CDATA[Coulter Translational Program Announces Awards for Innovative Research]]> 27513 The Coulter Translational Program, in partnership with the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University, awarded $765,000 to six biomedical research projects. These awards help bring innovations in patient care into the marketplace.


The Coulter program fund provides annual awards to Emory University and Georgia Institute of Technology research teams who create products with commercial potential that address an unmet clinical need. Funding and project management provided by the Coulter program team is used to bridge the gap in development between early stage university research and its commercialization.


Out of 54 applications in this year’s funding cycle, the below innovative projects were selected by a committee comprised of venture capitalists, industry, entrepreneurs, doctors, biomedical engineers and technology transfer experts from both universities.


1. Antiviral Peptide: a broad-spectrum antiviral drug used for the treatment of the Influenza virus. The therapeutic discovery platform has identified therapeutic peptides with broad-spectrum antiviral activity.

Principal Investigator: Joshy Jacobs, Emory University


2. Neurodegenerative Disease Diagnostic: a mass spectrometry-based immunoassay that can detect and track biomarkers to determine progression of neurodegenerative disease earlier and more reliably that clinical manifestation of symptoms.

Principal Investigators: Allan Levey, Emory University; Duc Duong, Emory University; and Nick Seyfried, Emory University


3. Nanoparticle Screening for Gene Therapies: a high throughput DNA barcoding platform that identifies lipid nanoparticles that can deliver gene therapies to targeted tissues and organs with high specificity. 

Principal Investigator: James Dahlman, Georgia Tech


4. Steerable Guidewire: a robotically steerable guidewire tip to enable greater maneuverability and navigation in vascular spaces.

Principal Investigators: Jaydev Desai, Georgia Tech and Zach Bercu, Emory University


5. TUMAAS Breast Pump: a wearable, portable breast pump that can draw milk with minimal noise.

Principal Investigator: Andrea Joyner, Emory University


6. Wheelchair In-seat Activity Tracker (WiSAT)*: an in-seat activity tracker to encourage weight shifts and reduce pressure ulcer formation.

Principal Investigators: Sharon Sonenblum, Georgia Tech, and Stephen Sprigle, Georgia Tech

*Support for this project is in partnership with the Rick Hansen Institute.


“There is a rich pipeline of commercializable patient-impacting technologies at Georgia Tech and Emory University. This year’s applicant pool was exceedingly competitive” says Shawna Khouri, managing director of the Coulter Translational Program. “The projects selected to be a part of this cohort have a strong potential for commercialization and we’re eager to work with our PIs to grow these opportunities and advance them aggressively toward the market.”


To learn more about the Coulter Translational Program and its funding and partnership opportunities, visit www.coulter.gatech.edu.


The Coulter Translational Program is a partnership with the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University to fund and support the translation of technologies that address an unmet clinical need and will lead to a commercial product. The primary goal of the program is to improve patient care through collaborations between clinicians and engineers to commercialize biomedical technologies.



]]> Walter Rich 1 1534270302 2018-08-14 18:11:42 1534356910 2018-08-15 18:15:10 0 0 news 2018-08-14T00:00:00-04:00 2018-08-14T00:00:00-04:00 2018-08-14 00:00:00 Walter Rich

609739 609746 609742 609745 609741 609740 609744 609747 609743 609739 image <![CDATA[Antiviral Peptide: Joshy Jacobs, PhD and his lab team]]> image/jpeg 1534269481 2018-08-14 17:58:01 1534269481 2018-08-14 17:58:01 609746 image <![CDATA[Neurodegenerative Disease Diagnostic: Allan Levey, MD, PhD]]> image/jpeg 1534269903 2018-08-14 18:05:03 1534270948 2018-08-14 18:22:28 609742 image <![CDATA[Neurodegenerative Disease Diagnostic: Nick Seyfried, PhD]]> image/jpeg 1534269678 2018-08-14 18:01:18 1534271004 2018-08-14 18:23:24 609745 image <![CDATA[Nanoparticles/RNA Barcodes: James Dahlman, PhD]]> image/jpeg 1534269826 2018-08-14 18:03:46 1534271078 2018-08-14 18:24:38 609741 image <![CDATA[Steerable Guidewire: Jaydev Desai, PhD ]]> image/jpeg 1534269608 2018-08-14 18:00:08 1556323292 2019-04-27 00:01:32 609740 image <![CDATA[Steerable Guidewire: Zach Bercu, MD, RPVI]]> image/jpeg 1534269563 2018-08-14 17:59:23 1534269563 2018-08-14 17:59:23 609744 image <![CDATA[TUMAAS Breast Pump: Andrea Joyner, MD, FACOG, IBCLC]]> image/jpeg 1534269782 2018-08-14 18:03:02 1534269782 2018-08-14 18:03:02 609747 image <![CDATA[Wheelchair In-seat Activity Tracker (WiSAT): Sharon Sonenblum, PhD]]> image/jpeg 1534269947 2018-08-14 18:05:47 1534269947 2018-08-14 18:05:47 609743 image <![CDATA[Wheelchair In-seat Activity Tracker (WiSAT): Stephen Sprigle, PhD]]> image/jpeg 1534269726 2018-08-14 18:02:06 1534269726 2018-08-14 18:02:06
<![CDATA[World’s Fastest Creature May Also be One of the Smallest]]> 27303 Ask most people to identify the fastest animal on Earth and they’ll suggest a cheetah, falcon or even a sailfish. To that list of speedy animals, Georgia Institute of Technology assistant professor Saad Bhamla would like to add the Spirostomum ambiguum, a tiny single-celled protozoan that achieves blazing-fast acceleration while contracting its worm-like body.

Common to many lakes and ponds, the Spirostomum ordinarily moves about using tiny hairs called cilia. But its claim to speed involves extremely rapid acceleration while contracting its body when startled. The creature can shorten its body by more than 60 percent in a few milliseconds, going from a four-millimeter flat ribbon to the shape of an American football – all without the kind of muscles humans use. 

How it does that, and how it does that without damaging fragile internal structures, is part of a four-year National Science Foundation (NSF) grant Bhamla just received. The physics and mathematics of the answers could help advance nanotechnology and accelerate a new generation of robots barely large enough to see with the naked eye.

“As engineers, we like to look at how nature has handled important challenges,” said Bhamla, who is an assistant professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. “We are always thinking about how to make these tiny things that we see zipping around in nature. If we can understand how they work, maybe the information can cross over to fill the gap for small robots that can move fast with little energy use.”

Human muscles rely on the activity of actin and myosin proteins, but tiny creatures like this protozoan owe their motion to supramolecular springs, latches and motors that more often are found in the mechanical world. 

“If they had only the actin and myosin proteins that make up our muscles, they couldn’t generate enough force to actually move that fast,” Bhamla added. “The smaller they are, the faster they go – up to 200 meters per second squared. That’s really off the charts.”

Bhamla holds a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Stanford University, where he was part of a research team studying the world of very small animals. The single-celled creatures he and his collaborators found in ponds and lakes challenged his expectations for what it means to be unicellular.

“My early biology training suggested that cells were just simple bags of fluid that didn’t do much but make up more interesting tissues,” said Bhamla. “The Spirostomum is completely different from the cells we are accustomed to.”

As part of the NSF’s joint molecular cell biology (MCB) and Physics of Living Systems (POLS) program, Bhamla and his students are using the language of mathematics and physics to describe the activities of Spirostomum. 

“For instance, we want to know what is the fundamental limit for acceleration in a living cell,” he said. “We want to map out everything this creature is doing and model it in the computer, taking an engineering approach. We want to learn how a single cell achieves such remarkable acceleration and uses molecular springs to amplify its power output.”

What the researchers learn could be useful to future generations of tiny robots that won’t be able to utilize the technologies for propulsion and grasping common to much larger machines. Beyond the simple mechanical challenges of making very small robots, engineers will have to confront energy density limitations – which the Spirostomum seems to have overcome.

Robots this small would also be rather fragile, but what the researchers have observed by peering at protozoans is just the opposite. 

“It has internal organelles, DNA and delicate cytoskeletal components inside,” Bhamla noted. “We want to understand how they are not damaged by the rapid compression, because the internal pressures must increase rapidly. This may advance our understanding of how truly robust biological materials are under extreme stresses and pressures. ”

Protozoans like Spirostomum are found everywhere in bodies of water, and part of the NSF award will fund sharing that tiny world with K-12 students. Already, Bhamla has established a collaboration with Janet Standeven, a science teacher  at the Lambert High School in Forsyth County, north of Atlanta. Five high school students are working this summer in a Georgia Tech lab to learn more about the world of tiny organisms.

“To find these curious and crazy cells, you don’t need to go far,” said Bhamla. “We just go to a pond, collect samples and look them under a microscope. The sky is the limit on how far you can push this, and high school students are capable of a lot given the right mentorship.”

This research is supported by the National Science Foundation under award number 1817334. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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]]> John Toon 1 1533686205 2018-08-07 23:56:45 1533762026 2018-08-08 21:00:26 0 0 news Ask most people to identify the fastest animal on Earth and they’ll suggest a cheetah, falcon or even a sailfish. To that list of speedy animals, Georgia Institute of Technology assistant professor Saad Bhamla would like to add the Spirostomum ambiguum, a tiny single-celled protozoan that achieves blazing-fast acceleration while contracting its worm-like body.

2018-08-07T00:00:00-04:00 2018-08-07T00:00:00-04:00 2018-08-07 00:00:00 John Toon

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609419 609418 609419 image <![CDATA[Single-celled protozoan]]> image/jpeg 1533685505 2018-08-07 23:45:05 1533685505 2018-08-07 23:45:05 609418 image <![CDATA[Researcher Saad Bhamla and protozoan]]> image/jpeg 1533685397 2018-08-07 23:43:17 1533685397 2018-08-07 23:43:17
<![CDATA[Integrated Sensor Could Monitor Brain Aneurysm Treatment]]> 27303 Implantation of a stent-like flow diverter can offer one option for less invasive treatment of brain aneurysms – bulges in blood vessels – but the procedure requires frequent monitoring while the vessels heal. Now, a multi-university research team has demonstrated proof-of-concept for a highly flexible and stretchable sensor that could be integrated with the flow diverter to monitor hemodynamics in a blood vessel without costly diagnostic procedures.

The sensor, which uses capacitance changes to measure blood flow, could reduce the need for testing to monitor the flow through the diverter. Researchers, led by Georgia Tech, have shown that the sensor accurately measures fluid flow in animal blood vessels in vitro, and are working on the next challenge: wireless operation that could allow in vivo testing. 

The research was reported July 18 in the journal ACS Nano and was supported by multiple grants from Georgia Tech’s Institute for Electronics and Nanotechnology, the University of Pittsburgh and the Korea Institute of Materials Science. 

“The nanostructured sensor system could provide advantages for patients, including a less invasive aneurysm treatment and an active monitoring capability,” said Woon-Hong Yeo, an assistant professor in Georgia Tech’s George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering and Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University. “The integrated system could provide active monitoring of hemodynamics after surgery, allowing the doctor to follow up with quantitative measurement of how well the flow diverter is working in the treatment.”

Cerebral aneurysms occur in up to five percent of the population, with each aneurysm carrying a one percent risk per year of rupturing, noted Youngjae Chun, an associate professor in the Swanson School of Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh. Aneurysm rupture will cause death in up to half of affected patients. 

Endovascular therapy using platinum coils to fill the aneurysm sac has become the standard of care for most aneurysms, but recently a new endovascular approach – a flow diverter – has been developed to treat cerebral aneurysms. Flow diversion involves placing a porous stent across the neck of an aneurysm to redirect flow away from the sac, generating local blood clots within the sac.

“We have developed a highly stretchable, hyper-elastic flow diverter using a highly-porous thin film nitinol,” Chun explained. “None of the existing flow diverters, however, provide quantitative, real-time monitoring of hemodynamics within the sac of cerebral aneurysm. Through the collaboration with Dr. Yeo's group at Georgia Tech, we have developed a smart flow-diverter system that can actively monitor the flow alterations during and after surgery.”  

Repairing the damaged artery takes months or even years, during which the flow diverter must be monitored using MRI and angiogram technology, which is costly and involves injection of a magnetic dye into the blood stream. Yeo and his colleagues hope their sensor could provide simpler monitoring in a doctor’s office using a wireless inductive coil to send electromagnetic energy through the sensor. By measuring how the energy’s resonant frequency changes as it passes through the sensor, the system could measure blood flow changes into the sac.

“We are trying to develop a batteryless, wireless device that is extremely stretchable and flexible that can be miniaturized enough to be routed through the tiny and complex blood vessels of the brain and then deployed without damage,” said Yeo. “It’s a very challenging to insert such electronic system into the brain’s narrow and contoured blood vessels.”

The sensor uses a micro-membrane made of two metal layers surrounding a dielectric material, and wraps around the flow diverter. The device is just a few hundred nanometers thick, and is produced using nanofabrication and material transfer printing techniques, encapsulated in a soft elastomeric material.

“The membrane is deflected by the flow through the diverter, and depending on the strength of the flow, the velocity difference, the amount of deflection changes,” Yeo explained. “We measure the amount of deflection based on the capacitance change, because the capacitance is inversely proportional to the distance between two metal layers.”

Because the brain’s blood vessels are so small, the flow diverters can be no more than five to ten millimeters long and a few millimeters in diameter. That rules out the use of conventional sensors with rigid and bulky electronic circuits.

“Putting functional materials and circuits into something that size is pretty much impossible right now,” Yeo said. “What we are doing is very challenging based on conventional materials and design strategies.”

The researchers tested three materials for their sensors: gold, magnesium and the nickel-titanium alloy known as nitinol. All can be safely used in the body, but magnesium offers the potential to be dissolved into the bloodstream after it is no longer needed.

The proof-of-principle sensor was connected to a guide wire in the in vitro testing, but Yeo and his colleagues are now working on a wireless version that could be implanted in a living animal model. While implantable sensors are being used clinically to monitor abdominal blood vessels, application in the brain creates significant challenges.

“The sensor has to be completely compressed for placement, so it must be capable of stretching 300 or 400 percent,” said Yeo. “The sensor structure has to be able to endure that kind of handling while being conformable and bending to fit inside the blood vessel.”

The research included multiple contributors from different institutions, including Connor Howe from Virginia Commonwealth University; Saswat Mishra and Yun-Soung Kim from Georgia Tech, Youngjae Chun, Yanfei Chen, Sang-Ho Ye and William Wagner from the University of Pittsburgh; Jae-Woong Jeong from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology; Hun-Soo Byun from Chonnam National University; and Jong-Hoon Kim from Washington State University. 

CITATION: Connor Howe, et. al., “Stretchable, Implantable, Nanostructured Flow-Diverter System for Quantification of Intra-aneurysmal Hemodynamics” (ACS Nano, 2018). http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/acsnano.8b04689

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]]> John Toon 1 1533220945 2018-08-02 14:42:25 1533221122 2018-08-02 14:45:22 0 0 news Implantation of a stent-like flow diverter can offer one option for less invasive treatment of brain aneurysms – bulges in blood vessels – but the procedure requires frequent monitoring while the vessels heal. Now, a multi-university research team has demonstrated proof-of-concept for a highly flexible and stretchable sensor that could be integrated with the flow diverter to monitor hemodynamics in a blood vessel without costly diagnostic procedures.

2018-08-02T00:00:00-04:00 2018-08-02T00:00:00-04:00 2018-08-02 00:00:00 John Toon

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609259 609261 609263 609259 image <![CDATA[Flow sensor with stent]]> image/jpeg 1533220153 2018-08-02 14:29:13 1533220153 2018-08-02 14:29:13 609261 image <![CDATA[Woon-Hong Yeo with flow sensor]]> image/jpeg 1533220279 2018-08-02 14:31:19 1533220324 2018-08-02 14:32:04 609263 image <![CDATA[Close-up of proof-of-concept flow sensor]]> image/jpeg 1533220446 2018-08-02 14:34:06 1533220446 2018-08-02 14:34:06
<![CDATA[Flexible, Wearable Oral Sodium Sensor Could Help Improve Hypertension Control]]> 27303 For people who have hypertension and certain other conditions, eating too much salt raises blood pressure and increases the likelihood of heart complications. To help monitor salt intake, researchers have developed a flexible and stretchable wireless sensing system designed to be comfortably worn in the mouth to measure the amount of sodium a person consumes.

Based on an ultrathin, breathable elastomeric membrane, the sensor integrates with a miniaturized flexible electronic system that uses Bluetooth technology to wirelessly report the sodium consumption to a smartphone or tablet. The researchers plan to further miniaturize the system – which now resembles a dental retainer – to the size of a tooth.

“We can unobtrusively and wirelessly measure the amount of sodium that people are taking in over time,” explained Woon-Hong Yeo, an assistant professor in the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “By monitoring sodium in real-time, the device could one day help people who need to restrict sodium intake and learn to change their eating habits and diet.”

Details of the device are reported May 7 in the early edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The device has been tested in three adult study participants who wore the sensor system for up to a week while eating both solid and liquid foods including vegetable juice, chicken soup and potato chips.

According to the American Heart Association, Americans on average eat more than 3,400 milligrams of sodium each day, far more than the limit of 1,500 milligrams per day it recommends. The association surveyed a thousand adults and found that “one-third couldn’t estimate how much sodium they ate, and another 54 percent thought they were eating less than 2,000 milligrams of sodium a day.”

The sodium sensing system could address that challenge by helping users better track how much salt they consume, Yeo said. “Our device could have applications for many different goals involving eating behavior for diet management or therapeutics,” he added.

Key to development of the intraoral sensor was replacement of traditional plastic and metal-based electronics with biocompatible and ultrathin components connected using mesh circuitry. Sodium sensors are available commercially, but Yeo and his collaborators developed a flexible micro-membrane version to be integrated with the miniaturized hybrid circuitry.

“The entire sensing and electronics package was conformally integrated onto a soft material that users can tolerate,” Yeo explained. “The sensor is comfortable to wear, and data from it can be transmitted to a smartphone or tablet. Eventually the information could go a doctor or other medical professional for remote monitoring.”

The flexible design began with computer modeling to optimize the mechanical properties of the device for use in the curved and soft oral cavity. The researchers then used their model to design the actual nanomembrane circuitry and choose components.

The device can monitor sodium intake in real-time, and record daily amounts. Using a smartphone or tablet application, the system could advise users planning meals how much of their daily salt allocation they had already consumed. The device can communicate with a smartphone up to ten meters away.

Next steps for the sodium sensor are to further miniaturize the device, and test it with users who have the medical conditions to address: hypertension, obesity or diabetes. 

The researchers would like to do away with the small battery, which must be recharged daily to keep the sensor in operation. One option would be to power the device inductively, which would replace the battery and complex circuit with a coil that could obtain power from a transmitter outside the mouth.

The project grew out of a long-term goal of producing an artificial taste system that can sense sweetness, bitterness, pH and saltiness. That work began at Virginia Commonwealth University, where Yeo was an assistant professor before joining Georgia Tech.

In addition to Yeo, the paper’s authors include Yongkuk Lee, Saswat Mishra, and Musa Mahmood of Georgia Tech; Matthew Piper, Youngbin Kim, Connor Howe, Dong Sup Lee, Katie Tieu, James Coffey and Richard Costanzo of Virginia Commonwealth University; Hun-Soo Byun of Chonnam National University in Korea, and Mahdis Shayan and Youngjae Chun of the University of Pittsburgh.

This research was funded with a research grant from the MEDARVA Foundation, a seed grant from the Georgia Tech Institute for Electronics and Nanotechnology, a grant by the Fundamental Research Program (PNK5061) of the Korea Institute of Materials Science, and startup funding from Georgia Tech.

CITATION: Yongkuk Lee et al., “Wireless, Intraoral Hybrid Electronics for Real-Time Quantification of Sodium Intake Toward Hypertension Management,” (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2018). http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2018/05/01/1719573115

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]]> John Toon 1 1525727189 2018-05-07 21:06:29 1525727446 2018-05-07 21:10:46 0 0 news For people who have hypertension and certain other conditions, eating too much salt raises blood pressure and increases the likelihood of heart complications. To help monitor salt intake, researchers have developed a flexible and stretchable wireless sensing system designed to be comfortably worn in the mouth to measure the amount of sodium a person consumes.

2018-05-07T00:00:00-04:00 2018-05-07T00:00:00-04:00 2018-05-07 00:00:00 John Toon

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605921 605922 605921 image <![CDATA[Intraoral sodium sensor]]> image/jpeg 1525726588 2018-05-07 20:56:28 1525726588 2018-05-07 20:56:28 605922 image <![CDATA[Assistant Professor Woon-Hong Yeo]]> image/jpeg 1525726720 2018-05-07 20:58:40 1525726720 2018-05-07 20:58:40
<![CDATA[García Chosen to Head Georgia Tech Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience]]> 27303 The Georgia Institute of Technology has selected Andrés J. García as the new executive director of the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience. García, who joined Georgia Tech in 1998, is a Regents’ Professor who specializes in biomaterials, cellular and tissue engineering.

In addition to his research and teaching as the Rae and Frank H. Neely Chair in Mechanical Engineering, García has directed Georgia Tech’s Interdisciplinary BioEngineering Graduate Program. His research focuses on potential new therapies for diseases such as diabetes and cystic fibrosis, as well as basic science discoveries in the area of regenerative medicine. 

“Andrés is widely respected as a researcher and scholar across campus and throughout the global biotech research community,” said Christopher Jones, Georgia Tech’s Interim Executive Vice President for Research. “His many years on the faculty at Georgia Tech endow him with local knowledge and connections that will allow him to interconnect members of our community across the whole spectrum of schools, colleges and critical organizations such as GTRI and the Enterprise Innovation Institute.”

The Petit Institute, an internationally recognized hub of multidisciplinary research at Georgia Tech, brings engineers, scientists and clinicians together to solve some of the world’s most complex health challenges. With 18 research centers, more than 200 faculty members, and $24 million in state-of-the-art facilities, the Petit Institute is translating scientific discoveries into game-changing solutions to solve real-world problems.

“I am excited and honored to be the next executive director of the Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience,” said García. “I look forward to working with the best faculty, staff and trainees on campus along with our industry, philanthropic and federal partners to transform this dynamic community into an innovation engine that will generate new discoveries and disruptive technologies with far-reaching economic and societal benefits.”

García received his Ph.D. and M.S.E. degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, and holds a faculty appointment in Georgia Tech’s George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering. His research centers on integrating engineering and biological principles to control cell function to restore and/or enhance activity in injured or diseased organs. Specific research areas include adhesive force regulation and mechanotransduction, mechanobiology technologies for induced pluripotent stem cells, cell-instructive adhesive materials for regenerative medicine, and biomaterials for imaging and modulating inflammation and infection.

García succeeds Robert Guldberg, who has accepted a position with the University of Oregon.

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]]> John Toon 1 1533142300 2018-08-01 16:51:40 1533142341 2018-08-01 16:52:21 0 0 news The Georgia Institute of Technology has selected Andrés J. García as the new executive director of the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience. García, who joined Georgia Tech in 1998, is a Regents’ Professor who specializes in biomaterials, cellular and tissue engineering.

2018-08-01T00:00:00-04:00 2018-08-01T00:00:00-04:00 2018-08-01 00:00:00 John Toon

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609201 609202 609201 image <![CDATA[Andrés García, new Petit Institute executive director]]> image/jpeg 1533141866 2018-08-01 16:44:26 1533141866 2018-08-01 16:44:26 609202 image <![CDATA[Andres Garcia, new Petit Institute executive director]]> image/jpeg 1533141966 2018-08-01 16:46:06 1533141966 2018-08-01 16:46:06
<![CDATA[Atlanta NMR Consortium Now Open for Business]]> 30678 NMR – nuclear magnetic resonance – is a powerful tool to investigate matter. It is based on measuring the interaction between the nuclei of atoms in molecules in the presence of an external magnetic field; the higher the field strength, the more sensitive the instrument.

For example, high magnetic fields enable measurement of analytes at low concentrations, such as the compounds in the urine of blue crabs. High-field NMR has also allowed scientists to “see” the structure and dynamics of complex molecules, such as proteins, nucleic acids, and their complexes.

NMR is used widely in many fields, from biochemistry, biology, chemistry, and physics, to geology engineering, pharmaceutical sciences, medicine, food science, and many others.

NMR instruments, however, are a major investment. The most advanced units can cost up to up to millions of dollars per piece. Maintenance can cost tens of thousands of dollars a year. The investment in people is also significant. It can take years of training before a user can perform some of the most advanced techniques. 

For these and other reasons, Emory University, Georgia Institute of Technology, and Georgia State University have formed the Atlanta NMR Consortium. The aim is to maximize use of institutional NMR equipment by sharing facilities and expertise with consortium partners.

Through the consortium, students, faculty, and staff of a consortium member can use the NMR facilities of their partners. The cost to a consortium member is the same as what the facility charges its own constituents. 

“NMR continues to grow and develop because of technological advances,” says David Lynn, a chemistry professor at Emory University. To keep up, institutions need to keep buying new, improved instruments. Such a never-ending commitment is becoming untenable and redundant across Atlanta, Lynn says. Combining forces is the way to go.

Immediately, the consortium offers access to the most sensitive instruments now in Atlanta – the 700- and 800-MHz units at Georgia Tech. Georgia Tech invested more than $5 million to install the two high-field units, as well as special capabilities, in 2016.

Through the consortium, partners can gain access to Georgia State’s large variety of NMR probes. Solid-state capability, which is well established in Emory and advancing at Georgia Tech, will be available to partners.

Needless to say, the consortium offers alternatives when an instrument at a member institution malfunctions.

Beyond maximizing use of facilities, the consortium offers other potential benefits.

Building community

“The biggest benefit is community,” says Anant Paravastu. Paravastu is an associate professor in the Georgia Tech School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. He is also a member of the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience (IBB).

“Each of us specializes the hardware and software for our experiments,” Paravastu says. “As we go in different directions, we will benefit from a cohesive community of people who know how to use NMR for a wide range of problems.”

Paravastu previously worked at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, in Florida State University. That national facility sustains a large community of NMR researchers who help each other build expertise, he says. “We Atlanta researchers would benefit from a similar community, and not only for the scientific advantage.”

Both Lynn and Paravastu believe the consortium will help the partners jointly compete for federal grants for instrumentation. “A large user group will make us more competitive,” Lynn says.

“The federal government would much rather pay for an instrument that will benefit many scientists rather than just one research group in one university,” Paravastu says.     

Sharing expertise

“The most important goal for us is the sharing of our expertise,” says Markus Germann, a professor of chemistry at Georgia State. A particular expertise there is the study of nucleic acids. 

More broadly, Georgia State has wide experience in solution NMR. Researchers there have developed NMR applications to study complex structures of biological and clinical importance. Germann offers some examples:

“For me, there’s a direct benefit in learning from people at Georgia State about soluble-protein structure,” Paravastu says. He studies the structures of peptides; of particular interest are certain water-soluble states of beta-amyloid peptide, in Alzheimer’s disease. These forms, Paravastu says, have special toxicity to neurons.

Paravastu also studies proteins that self-assemble. “People at Emory have a different approach to studying self-assembling proteins,” he says. “We have a lot of incentive to strengthen our relationships with other groups.”

“Different labs do different things and have different expertise,” Lynn says. “The consortium lowers the activation energy to take advantage of partners’ expertise.”

Even before the consortium, Germann notes, his lab has worked with Georgia Tech’s Francesca Storici on studies of the impact of ribonucleotides on DNA structure and properties. Storici is a professor in the School of Biological Sciences and a member of IBB.

Germann has also worked with Georgia Tech’s Nicholas Hud on the binding of small molecules to duplex DNA. Hud is a professor in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry and a member of IBB.

“While collaboration between researchers in Atlanta Universities is not new,” Paravastu says, “the consortium will help facilitate ongoing and new collaborations.

Breaking barriers

What will now be tested is whether the students, faculty, and staff of the partners will take advantage of the consortium.

Travel from one institution to another is a barrier, Lynn says. “Are people going to travel, or will they find another way to solve the problem? How do you know that the expertise over there will really help you?” he asks.

“The intellectual barrier is very critical,” Lynn says. “We address that through the web portal.”

The website defines the capabilities, terms of use, training for access, and institutional fees, among others. Eventually, Lynn says, it will be a place to share papers from the consortium partners.

“Like many things in life, the consortium is about breaking barriers,” Paravastu says. It’s about students meeting and working with students and professors outside their home institutions.

Already some partners share a graduate-level NMR course. For the long-term, Paravastu suggests, the partners could work together on training users to harmonize best practices and ease the certification to gain access to facilities.

“We can think of students being trained by the consortium rather than just by Georgia Tech, or Emory, or Georgia State,” Paravastu says. “By teaming up, we can create things that are bigger than the sum of the parts.”

]]> A. Maureen Rouhi 1 1530222571 2018-06-28 21:49:31 1530543646 2018-07-02 15:00:46 0 0 news The Atlanta NMR Consortium is a partnership among Emory University, Georgia Institute of Technology, and Georgia State University to broaden research capabilities by sharing world-class facilities and expertise.

2018-07-02T00:00:00-04:00 2018-07-02T00:00:00-04:00 2018-07-02 00:00:00 A. Maureen Rouhi, Ph.D.
Director of Communications
College of Sciences

607397 607393 607394 607395 607397 image <![CDATA[Atlanta NMR Consortium]]> image/jpeg 1530222652 2018-06-28 21:50:52 1530222652 2018-06-28 21:50:52 607393 image <![CDATA[David Lynn]]> image/jpeg 1530220894 2018-06-28 21:21:34 1530220894 2018-06-28 21:21:34 607394 image <![CDATA[Anant Paravastu]]> image/jpeg 1530220959 2018-06-28 21:22:39 1530220959 2018-06-28 21:22:39 607395 image <![CDATA[Markus Germann]]> image/jpeg 1530221022 2018-06-28 21:23:42 1530221022 2018-06-28 21:23:42 <![CDATA[Atlanta NMR Consortium]]> <![CDATA[Georgia Tech NMR Center Open House on Homecoming Week]]>
<![CDATA[Simon Sponberg Wins Major Funding to Study Insect Brains]]> 30678 “Movement is a defining feature of animals,” says Simon Sponberg. He is an assistant professor in the School of Physics and of Biological Sciences. How animals navigate their environments is the motivating question of his research program.

Studying animal movement makes for riveting experiments. For example, Sponberg used high-speed infrared cameras to observe, at low light conditions, moths tracking 3-D-printed flowers oscillating at various speeds. The set-up emulates the natural world of Manduca sexta, or hawk moth. Like a hummingbird, this moth feeds by extending its proboscis into flowers, which may be swaying with the wind – at dusk.   

Such dynamic behavior requires neural systems to organize and coordinate many muscles to control the moth’s wings all in fractions of a second. It creates extreme motor and sensory demands on the moths. How do they do it?

Using tethered moths tracking plastic flowers, Sponberg discovered that the moth slows down certain brain functions to improve its vision in dim light. The moths’ neural circuits are adapting exquisitely to the environment.

Other work shows how this small, but still sophisticated brains of insects collect and act upon multiple sensory signals at the same time. “Surprisingly,” Sponberg says, “some very simple physics-based models can describe a lot of how the moth sees and feels its world.”

These findings are tiny pieces of a huge puzzle. The full picture will likely take a long time to complete.

In three years, however, parts of it may emerge, thanks to a major research grant. The Esther A. & Joseph Klingenstein Fund and the Simons Foundation have awarded Sponberg a Klingenstein-Simons Fellowship Award in Neurosciences for a period of three years. The grant will support research described in the proposal “Timing, Learning, and Coordination in a Comprehensive, Spike-Resolved Motor Program for Flight.”

The work is part of Sponberg’s broader research goal: to understand how stable and maneuverable movement emerges from the neural and muscular systems of animals in their natural environments. If we know the biophysics of these movements, we may know how the brain could activate and control muscle to modify movement.

“This award will catalyze a lot of work that would not be otherwise possible,” says Sponberg, who is also a member of the Parker H. Petit Institute of Bioengineering and Bioscience. “Specifically my research group has been developing a way to have unprecedentedly complete access to all the signals the animal’s brain is sending to its muscles, all during a challenging and highly dynamic behavior like flight.

“Instead of getting a small piece of the picture of what the brain is trying to do, we want to have complete read-and-write access to its neuromuscular signals to understand how it is executing agile maneuvers.

“The Klingenstein-Simons fellowship will enable us to take this project from is initial stages toward a deeper understanding of learning and coordination during locomotion – ideas that we think are common across all animals.”

The research is informed by myriad disciplines: computational neuroscience, electrophysiology, neuromechanics, and comparative biology. Sponberg group’s research tools -- small force and torque sensors, miniature insect-sized backpacks, virtual-reality worlds that the moth can control like a video game, and many tiny electrodes tapping into the animal’s brain and muscles –will yield high-dimensional datasets of all kinds of physiological signals.

From the vast amounts of data, Sponberg will extract neuromechanical principles. Ultimately, he hopes, the data will enable predictions about neural control and behavior.

More broadly, Sponberg’s research on movement bridges the gap between physics and organismal biology – the study of complex creatures. “The intersection of physics and organismal biology is a very exciting one right now,” Sponberg commented in 2017. “The assembly and interaction of multiple natural components manifests new behaviors and dynamics. The collection of these natural components manifests different patterns than the individual parts, and that’s fascinating.”

]]> A. Maureen Rouhi 1 1530224451 2018-06-28 22:20:51 1530225545 2018-06-28 22:39:05 0 0 news

The Esther A. & Joseph Klingenstein Fund and the Simons Foundation have awarded Simon Sponberg a Klingenstein-Simons Fellowship Award in Neurosciences for a period of three years. The award will support Sponberg’s research, described in the proposal “Timing, Learning, and Coordination in a Comprehensive, Spike-Resolved Motor Program for Flight.”

2018-06-29T00:00:00-04:00 2018-06-29T00:00:00-04:00 2018-06-29 00:00:00 A. Maureen Rouhi, Ph.D.
Director of Communications
College of Sciences

596194 596194 image <![CDATA[Hawk moth on natural flower]]> image/jpeg 1505853283 2017-09-19 20:34:43 1505853283 2017-09-19 20:34:43 <![CDATA[Multitasking Moths]]> <![CDATA[Running Roaches, Flapping Moths Create a New Physics of Organisms]]>
<![CDATA[Dahlman in Elite Company]]> 28153 James Dahlman, assistant professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University, and a researcher in the Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience, has been named to MIT Technology Review’s prestigious annual list of Innovators Under 35.

Dahlman is a bioengineer working at the interface of nanotechnology, gene editing, and genomics. His lab develops novel ‘big data’ technologies and applies them to the study of nanomedicine. One such application is the use of DNA barcodes to track thousands of nanoparticles directly in vivo; typically, labs will study a few nanoparticles in vivo.

His lab also has pioneered the use of DNA barcoded nanoparticles, and is using this powerful new technology to design nanoparticles that deliver genetic drugs to target tissues. He has designed nanoparticles that deliver RNA drugs to blood vessels; these nanoparticles have worked in more than 20 labs and are under consideration for clinical development. At the age of 31, he already has published in Nature Nanotechnology (twice), Nature Biotechnology, Cell, Nature Cell Biology, Science Translational Medicine, PNAS (twice), JACS, and other prestigious journals.

In addition to the Technology Review honor, Dahlman has won many national and international awards, and since 2014, has given dozens of invited talks at leading universities around the world on drug delivery and DNA barcoding.

For more than a decade, Technology Review has recognized exceptionally talented technologists whose work has great potential to transform the world. Previous Innovators Under 35 include Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the cofounders of Google, Mark Zuckerberg, the cofounder of Facebook, Helen Greiner, the cofounder of iRobot, and Jonathan Ive, the chief designer of Apple.

Gideon Lichfield, editor-in-chief of MIT Technology Review, said: “MIT Technology Review inherently focuses on technology first - the breakthroughs and their potential to disrupt our lives. Our annual Innovators Under 35 list is a chance for us to honor the outstanding people behind those technologies. We hope these profiles offer a glimpse into what the face of technology looks like today as well as in the future.”

Learn more about this year’s honorees on the MIT Technology Review website here and in the July/August print magazine, which will hit newsstands worldwide on July 3. The honorees are also invited to appear in person at the upcoming EmTech MIT conference, MIT Technology Review’s flagship event exploring future trends and technologies that will impact the global economy, happening September 11-14, 2018 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


About MIT Technology Review

Founded at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1899, MIT Technology Review is a world-renowned, independent media company whose insight, analysis, reviews, interviews and live events explain the commercial, social and political impact of new technologies. MIT Technology Review derives its authority from the world's foremost technology institution and from its editors' deep technical knowledge, capacity to see technologies in their broadest context, and unequaled access to leading innovators and researchers. MIT Technology Review’s mission is to bring about better-informed and more conscious decisions about technology through authoritative, influential and trustworthy journalism.



]]> Jerry Grillo 1 1530106443 2018-06-27 13:34:03 1530110698 2018-06-27 14:44:58 0 0 news Georgia Tech researcher named to MIT Technology Review’s Innovators Under 35 List

2018-06-27T00:00:00-04:00 2018-06-27T00:00:00-04:00 2018-06-27 00:00:00 Jerry Grillo
Communications Officer II
Parker H. Petit Institute for
Bioengineering and Bioscience

607327 607336 607327 image <![CDATA[James Dahlman]]> image/jpeg 1530105505 2018-06-27 13:18:25 1530105505 2018-06-27 13:18:25 607336 image <![CDATA[MIT Technology Review ]]> image/jpeg 1530110671 2018-06-27 14:44:31 1530110671 2018-06-27 14:44:31
<![CDATA[The Next Frontier in Biomedical Engineering ]]> 34602 Congenital heart disease (CHD) affects nearly nine in every 1,000 babies born. In fact, it’s the world’s most common birth defect. Researchers and clinicians today have begun applying stem cell therapies and 3D tissue printing to pediatric heart defects. Michael Davis, director of the Children’s Heart Research and Outcomes Center (HeRO) under the Georgia Tech and Emory University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering, is busy pushing the boundaries on innovative stem cell research with clinical trials, predictive medicine models and 3D printing.

Davis’ lab focuses on pediatric heart failure and general defects. Mostly, he’s dealing with patients who have congenital issues, including hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS) and left ventricular cardiomyopathy. Being local to Atlanta, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA) offers Davis and his team of researchers access to a large volume of young cardiac patients who need the help of his new and developing therapies.

“With pediatrics, clinicians are very open to collaborating and trying new procedures and therapies,” said Davis. “In the pediatric world, there are fewer options for these kids, and the parents and clinicians are hungry for new therapies to try.”

Designing Targeted Stem Cell Therapies

A few years ago, Davis noticed that during bypass surgery, small amounts of tissue were being removed to run the bypass tubing into the heart, and surgeons were throwing it away after removal. As the new director of HeRO at the time, he asked and was granted permission to use the tissue in his research lab for stem cell studies. Davis began extracting and quantifying the stem cells, eventually finding that the young cells had more reparative qualities, and when injected into damaged tissue, released healing proteins.

Davis’ first clinical trial with the stem cells (Autologous Cardiac Stem Cell Injection in Patients with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (ACT-HLHS) Trial) is happening in the next few months and has already been cleared by the FDA. Clinicians will inject the stem cells into the hearts of babies with CHD to boost the function of the heart.

“For a baby with HLHS, we are not going to re-grow the left ventricle, but rather try to strengthen and prevent deterioration of the existing right ventricle,” said Davis. “It sets the baby up for a successful repair surgery down the road.”

In his lab, Davis observes the cells and gathers quantitative data on their behavior. The research is conducted for cord blood, bone marrow and cardiac stem cells, which is where Davis’ work is revolutionizing his field. Davis and Manu Platt, diversity director of STC on Emergent Behaviors of Integrated Cellular Systems (EBICS) at Georgia Tech, have written a grant in the hopes of combining all the cellular data from patients in three different clinical trials to create a large data repository of cell signals. By studying the signals, otherwise known as protein secretions of the cell, Davis and Platt can determine how effective certain cells are in treating diseases.

“These cells could be acting a number of ways, and we want to collect all the information we can, including their genome and what they release,” said Davis. “We essentially want to make equations to determine how cells will respond. We want to put the data together to create a treatment prediction.”

With this information, they will be able to build a mathematical model that identifies the cell genome in order to predict what the cell will do in the clinic. The goal is to identify the best characteristics of these cells and determine which diseases they can target to begin the reparative process.

“If we can study the cells and isolate their response, we will be able to provide personalized approaches to stem cell therapy – that’s really what the field is currently lacking,” said Davis. “A patient could come in, and we could sequence their cells and know immediately what cells to inject for the best outcome. Different cells are going to have differing effects on each individual.”

Innovations in 3D Printing

The 3D printing in Davis’ lab is used to create valves, leaflets and patches. Aline Nachlas, a fourth-year PhD biomedical engineering candidate, has earned a fellowship for tissue engineering, with the goal of creating valve cells. She has also found a material that will support the printing of these cells. The valves are made using skin cells from the patient, so essentially, they are growing their own cells, minimizing the risk of organ rejection. And ideally, the valve will continue to grow with the patient, never needing to be replaced.

“We hope these cells will be able to print valves, or at least the leaflets that make up valves,” said Davis. “Currently, children are undergoing animal valve replacements, which are sometimes too big, and they don’t grow with the child. This means more surgeries down the road to replace the valve, as well as high doses of immunosuppressants. We want to create a living valve that grows with the child.”

Davis’ lab is also working on a printable patch that contains stem cells. The patch functions to keep all the stem cells in one place, so the cells can repair the surrounding tissue. Davis’ student is hoping to print the patch scaffold with a decellularized pig material matrix.

“Very few people are trying to heal with 3D printed patches,” said Davis. “My lab is on the forefront of that research. We are trying to make a positive contribution in a sensible way.”

Next up for Davis is a summer trip to Galway, an international biotechnology hub, where he will teach tissue engineering to Georgia Tech biomedical engineering students. In the next five to 10 years, he hopes to be more focused on 3D printing and really pushing the envelope on printing small tissues. Davis wants to bring more regenerative therapies to the greatest number of children possible.

“My research may not always move at the speed I want, so I try to remember there is a bigger picture,” said Davis. “We are already helping many kids with CHD become healthier and stronger. But, I am always asking myself ‘what can we do better?’”

To learn more about Michael Davis’ research and lab, visit https://www.facebook.com/Childrensheartresearch/.

]]> Georgia Parmelee 1 1526328496 2018-05-14 20:08:16 1526328496 2018-05-14 20:08:16 0 0 news 2018-05-14T00:00:00-04:00 2018-05-14T00:00:00-04:00 2018-05-14 00:00:00 606169 606169 image <![CDATA[Michael Davis]]> image/jpeg 1526328448 2018-05-14 20:07:28 1526328448 2018-05-14 20:07:28
<![CDATA[New Cell Manufacturing Research Facility will Change Approaches to Disease Therapies]]> 27303 The vision of making affordable, high-quality cell-based therapies available to hundreds of thousands of patients worldwide moved closer to reality June 6 with the dedication of a new cell manufacturing research facility at Georgia Tech aimed at changing the way we think about medical therapies.

The new Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) like ISO 8 and ISO 7 compliant facility is part of the existing Marcus Center for Therapeutic Cell Characterization and Manufacturing (MC3M). The center was established in 2016 and made possible by a $15.75 million gift from philanthropist Bernie Marcus, with a $7.25 million investment from Georgia Tech and another $1 million from the Georgia Research Alliance

MC3M is already helping researchers from Georgia Tech and partner organizations develop ways to provide therapeutic living cells of consistent quality in quantities large enough to meet the growing demands for the cutting-edge treatments. The center and this new facility also provide the infrastructural foundation for the Georgia Tech-led National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center for Cell Manufacturing Technologies (CMaT), which was announced in September 2017.

The Marcus Foundation’s gift along with the NSF’s expected funding over ten years in CMaT, together with potential private-sector contributions and the state of Georgia’s investment in infrastructure related bio manufacturing, could result in a combined statewide investment of more than $70 million in cell manufacturing. Beyond developing technologies to help make these life-saving cell therapies broadly available and affordable, the initiative will also help train the specialized workforce needed to manufacture these therapies at large scale. 

“This initiative has the potential to change the way we think about medical treatments, to change the way we think about medicine, and the way we approach cures for different diseases,” said Georgia Tech President G.P. “Bud” Peterson, who opened the dedication event. “Here, we will develop the tools and technologies to produce these cells at lower cost, more rapidly and for more people.”

MC3M is already supporting 23 research projects aimed at all components of the challenge, from understanding cell quality and developing scalable processes, to chip-based disease models for safety and efficacy testing and new models for supply-chain optimization and logistics. The center collaborates with several other institutions, supporting the work of 29 faculty members, and helping train 27 students and fellows for the emerging cell manufacturing industry.

The new facility dedicated on June 6 is a unique “sandbox” for collaboration among engineers, clinicians, and industry to develop and validate new scalable manufacturing processes for cell therapies under GMP conditions necessary to eventually obtain regulatory approvals. It will serve as the translational arm of the Marcus Center and CMaT to help researchers throughout the state of Georgia translate emerging cell therapies to clinical practice. This facility – designed to enable real time quality monitoring and control of cell products during manufacturing – is a one-of-a-kind space that will be instrumental in bringing affordable cell therapies to patients faster. 

The new cell-based therapies being approved for use in humans can have dramatic impact. But the therapies are costly, as much as a $500,000 per patient. The MC3M will help develop new technologies and processes to make these treatments consistent in quality and available to the average person.

“The center is about providing access for patients and enabling patients to benefit from these incredible therapies that could change their lives,” said Krishnendu Roy, who directs both MC3M and CMaT. “We need to scale these therapies up to treat hundreds of thousands of patients. This is the vision of Mr. Marcus – to make this available to everyone regardless of their socio-economic status.”

Marcus, who recalled working as a pharmacist before co-founding home improvement retailer The Home Depot, noted that common drugs such as aspirin are chemically consistent around the world, regardless of where they are sold. The consistency of living cell therapies can’t be similarly counted on because their properties may depend on the specific skills and facilities of the research center producing them. 

“Patients receiving these cells need to know that they are getting the right things,” Marcus said. “This is a very practical question for which we have no answer now.” Beyond consistency, the cells also need to be affordable, he said.  

The new cell manufacturing facility will connect cell-based therapies being developed in research facilities with the appropriate tools and technologies that ensure consistency in manufacturing and product quality while enabling scalability. “There is a gap right now between what we do in the research lab and what we need to do to get these therapies to a hundred thousand or even millions of patients,” Roy noted. 

Beyond developing quality control and analytical techniques to ensure consistency, the center will also develop novel feedback-controlled automation systems to lower the cost, Roy said. 

Peterson noted the potential economic impact of building a cell manufacturing industry in Georgia. “Working with our partner universities, the Technical College System of Georgia and the private sector, we will be able to attract new industries, create new jobs and help build the economy of the state of Georgia.”

The initiative began, he noted, with the development of a national cell manufacturing roadmap, an effort supported by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The Marcus gift built on that foundation, and in turn, made it possible for Georgia Tech to lead a team including the University of Wisconsin, University of Georgia, University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez, and other partners, to win the NSF Engineering Research Center award last fall.

Other collaborators in Georgia include Emory University and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

The NSF ERC could provide up to $40 million over ten years, and attract private and local investment that could boost that amount much higher.

“We have incredible momentum,” Roy said. “We are bonded together by a single goal: getting these therapies to many patients at a lower cost to really help them.”

Research News
Georgia Institute of Technology
177 North Avenue
Atlanta, Georgia  30332-0181  USA

Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986) (jtoon@gatech.edu).

Writer: John Toon

]]> John Toon 1 1529436550 2018-06-19 19:29:10 1529436851 2018-06-19 19:34:11 0 0 news The vision of making affordable, high-quality cell-based therapies available to hundreds of thousands of patients worldwide moved closer to reality June 6 with the dedication of a new cell manufacturing research facility at Georgia Tech aimed at changing the way we think about medical therapies.

2018-06-19T00:00:00-04:00 2018-06-19T00:00:00-04:00 2018-06-19 00:00:00 John Toon

Research News

(404) 894-6986

607185 607186 607187 607185 image <![CDATA[Unveiling Marcus Center plaque]]> image/jpeg 1529435842 2018-06-19 19:17:22 1529435842 2018-06-19 19:17:22 607186 image <![CDATA[Touring Good Manufacturing Practice facility]]> image/jpeg 1529435987 2018-06-19 19:19:47 1529435987 2018-06-19 19:19:47 607187 image <![CDATA[Ribbon-cutting at the new Good Manufacturing Practice facility]]> image/jpeg 1529436110 2018-06-19 19:21:50 1529436110 2018-06-19 19:21:50
<![CDATA[Making the Oxygen We Breathe, a Photosynthesis Mechanism Exposed]]> 31759 Arguably, the greatest fueler of life on our planet is photosynthesis, but understanding its labyrinthine chemistry, powered by sunlight, is challenging. Researchers recently illuminated some new steps inside the molecular factory that makes the oxygen we breathe.

Though chlorophyll is the best-known part, for the vivid green it colors nature, many compounds work together in photosynthesis. And Georgia Tech chemists devised clever experiments to inspect a small metal catalyst and an amino acid intimately involved in the release of O2 from water in what's known as photosystem II (PSII). 

PSII is a complex protein structure found in plants and algae. It has a counterpart called photosystem I, an equally complex light-powered producer of oxygen and biomaterials.

Photosynthesis Q & A

Some questions and answers below will help elucidate the researchers’ findings about O2 production inside PSII.

“Photosynthesis in plants and algae can be compared to an artificial solar cell,” said principal investigator Bridgette Barry, who is a professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “But, in photosynthesis, light energy fuels the production of food (carbohydrates) instead of charging a battery. O2 is released from water as a byproduct.”

Barry, first author Zhanjun Guo, and researcher Jiayuan He published their research on May 11, 2018, in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Their work was funded by the National Science Foundation.

How does photosynthesis II release oxygen from water?

Many details are still unknown, but here are some basic workings that were already well-established going into this new study.

PS II is a biochemical complex made mostly of large amino acid corkscrew cylinders and some smaller such cylinders strung together with amino acid strands. The reaction cycle that extracts the O2 from H2O occurs at a tiny spot, which the study focused on.

For scale, if PSII were a fairly tall, very wide building, the spot might be the size of a large door in about the lower center of the building, and the metal cluster would be located there. Intertwined in the proteins would be sprawling molecules that include beta-carotene and chlorophyll, a great natural photoelectric semiconductor.

“Photons from sunlight bombard photosystem II and displace electrons in the chlorophyll,” Barry said. “That creates moving negative charges.”

What is the metal catalyst?

The metal catalyst acts like a capacitor, building up charge that it uses to expedite four chemical reactions that release the O2 by removing four electrons, one-by-one, from two water molecules. In the process, water also spins off four H+ ions, i.e. protons, from two H2O molecules.

An additional highly reactive compound near the metal cluster acts as a "switch" to drive the electron movement in each step of the reaction cycle. It's a common amino acid called tyrosine, a little building block on that mammoth protein building.

What does the ‘switch’ do?

This is where the new study’s insights come in to describe details of what's going on between the tyrosine and the cluster.

The light reactions remove one electron from tyrosine, making it what’s called an unstable radical, and the radical version of tyrosine strongly attracts a new electron.

It very quickly gets that new electron from the metal cluster. As PSII absorbs photons, the taking of an electron from tyrosine and its radical’s grabbing of a new one from the cluster repeats rapidly, making the tyrosine a kind of flickering switch.

“The tyrosine radical drives the cycle around, and what they (Guo and He) did in the lab was to develop a way of seeing the radical reaction in the presence of the metal cluster,” Barry said.

Guo and He also found that the calcium atom in the cluster has key interactions with tyrosine.

How did they observe that single chemical component in a living system?

Figuring out how to make the reactions observable was painstaking. The researchers isolated some PSII from spinach, and they slowed it way down by cooling it in the dark.

Then they gave it a burst of red light to prepare one step in the reaction cycle, then a green flash to take the electron from tyrosine. Then the electrons slowly returned to the tyrosine.

The researchers observed the processes via vibrational spectroscopy, which revealed qualities of tyrosine’s chemical bonds. The researchers also examined the calcium and discovered a special interaction between it and tyrosine.

“A new thing we saw was that the calcium ion made the tyrosine twist a certain way,” Barry said. “It turns out that the tyrosine may be a very flexible switch.”

The researchers also swapped out calcium for other metals and found that the calcium fulfills this role quite optimally.

So, why is understanding photosynthesis important?

“Oxygen photosynthesis really is the great fueler life on our planet,” Barry said.

About two billion years ago, the photosynthesis that generates O2 exploded, and as breathable oxygen filled Earth’s oceans and atmosphere, life began evolving into the complex variety we have today. There are also pragmatic reasons for studying photosynthesis.

“You could work with it to make crops more productive,” Barry said. “We may have to repair and adapt the photosynthesis process someday, too.”

Environmental stresses could possibly weaken photosynthesis in the future, calling for biochemical tweaks. Also, natural photosynthesis is an exceptionally good model for photoelectric semiconductors like those used in emerging energy systems.

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The research was funded by the National Science Foundation (grant MCB-14-11734). Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect views of the National Science Foundation.

Media Relations Contact: Ben Brumfield (404-660-1408) (ben.brumfield@comm.gatech.edu).

Writer: Ben Brumfield

]]> Ben Brumfield 1 1528733157 2018-06-11 16:05:57 1530107037 2018-06-27 13:43:57 0 0 news Oxygen photosynthesis has to be the greatest giver of life on Earth, and researchers have cracked yet another part of its complex but efficient chemistry. The more we know about it, the better we may be able to tweak photosynthesis, if it comes under environmental duress. It's also a great teacher of how to harvest sheer unlimited energy from the sun.

2018-06-11T00:00:00-04:00 2018-06-11T00:00:00-04:00 2018-06-11 00:00:00 Research News
Georgia Institute of Technology
177 North Avenue
Atlanta, Georgia  30332-0181  USA

606869 606873 606870 606882 606877 606883 606885 606869 image <![CDATA[Photosystem II artwork]]> image/jpeg 1528729369 2018-06-11 15:02:49 1528729406 2018-06-11 15:03:26 606873 image <![CDATA[Global oxygen photosynthesis]]> image/jpeg 1528730577 2018-06-11 15:22:57 1528730577 2018-06-11 15:22:57 606870 image <![CDATA[Photosystem II rights-free]]> image/jpeg 1528730128 2018-06-11 15:15:28 1528730128 2018-06-11 15:15:28 606882 image <![CDATA[Metal cluster and tyrosine at the core of O2 creation in photosystem II]]> image/jpeg 1528732225 2018-06-11 15:50:25 1528732317 2018-06-11 15:51:57 606877 image <![CDATA[Zhanjun Guo, Ph.D.]]> image/jpeg 1528731147 2018-06-11 15:32:27 1528731147 2018-06-11 15:32:27 606883 image <![CDATA[Trees]]> image/jpeg 1528732480 2018-06-11 15:54:40 1528732480 2018-06-11 15:54:40 606885 image <![CDATA[Sun in the leaves]]> image/jpeg 1528733227 2018-06-11 16:07:07 1528733227 2018-06-11 16:07:07
<![CDATA[Biomaterial Particles Educate Immune System to Accept Transplanted Islets]]> 27303 By instructing key immune system cells to accept transplanted insulin-producing islets, researchers have opened a potentially new pathway for treating type 1 diabetes. If the approach is ultimately successful in humans, it could allow type 1 diabetes to be treated without the long-term complications of immune system suppression.

The technique, reported June 4 in the journal Nature Materials, uses synthetic hydrogel particles (microgels) to present a protein known as the Fas ligand (FasL) to immune system T-effector cells along with the pancreatic islets being transplanted. The FasL protein “educates” the effector cells – which serve as immune system watchdogs – causing them to accept the graft without rejection for at least 200 days in an animal model.

The FasL-presenting particles are simply mixed with the living islets before being transplanted into the mice, which suffer from chemically-induced diabetes. The researchers believe the FasL-presenting hydrogels would not need to be personalized, potentially allowing an “off-the-shelf” therapy for the transplanted islets.

Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Louisville and University of Michigan collaborated on the work, which was supported by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. A follow up study testing the approach in non-human primates has already begun.

“We have been able to demonstrate that we can create a biomaterial that interrupts the body’s desire to reject the transplant, while not requiring the recipient to remain on continuous standard immunosuppression,” said Haval Shirwan, the Dr. Michael and Joan Hamilton Endowed Chair in Autoimmune Disease at the University of Louisville School of Medicine and director of the Molecular Immunomodulation Program at the Institute for Cellular Therapeutics at the university. “We anticipate that further study will demonstrate potential use for many transplant types, including bone marrow and solid organs.”

In the United States, some 1.25 million persons have type 1 diabetes, which is different from the more common type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is caused by immune system destruction of the pancreatic islet cells that produce insulin in response to blood glucose levels. Treatment involves frequent injection of insulin to replace what the islets no longer produce. There is no long-term cure for the disease, though persons with type 1 diabetes have been treated experimentally with islet cell transplants – which almost always fail after a few years even with strong suppression of the immune system.

“Drugs that allow the transplantation of the islet cells are toxic to them,” said Andrés García, the Rae S. and Frank H. Neely Chair and Regents' Professor in Georgia Tech’s George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering. “Clinical trials with transplantation of islets showed effectiveness, but after a few years, the grafts were rejected. There is a lot of hope for this treatment, but we just can’t get consistent improvement.”

Among the problems, García said, is toxicity to the islet cells from the immune system suppression, which also makes patients more susceptible to other adverse effects such as infections and tumors. Other researchers are exploring techniques to protect the islets from attack, but have so far not been successful.

The research reported in Nature Materials takes a totally different approach. By presenting the FasL protein – which is a central regulator of immune system cells – the researchers can prevent the immune system from attacking the cells. Once they are educated at the time of transplantation, the cells appear to retain their acceptance of the transplanted islet cells long after the FasL has disappeared.

“At the time of transplantation, we take the islets that are harvested from cadavers and simply mix them with our particles in the operating room and deliver them to the animal,” García explained. “We do not have to modify the islets or suppress the immune system. After treatment, the animals can function normally and are cured from the diabetes while retaining their full immune system operation.”

The hydrogels can be prepared up to two weeks ahead of the transplant, and can be used with any islet cells. “The key technical advance is the ability to make this material that induces immune acceptance that can simply be mixed with the islets and delivered. We can make the biomaterial in our lab and ship them to where the transplantation will be done, potentially making it an off-the-shelf therapeutic.”

In the experimental mice, the islets were implanted into the kidneys and into an abdominal fat pad. If the treatment is ultimately used in humans, the islets and biomaterial would likely be placed laparoscopically into the omentum, a tissue with significant vasculature that is similar to the fat pad in mice. Garcia’s lab has previously shown that it can stimulate blood vessel growth into islet cells transplanted into this tissue in mice.

In future work, the researchers want to see if the graft acceptance can be retained in more complex immune systems, and for longer periods of time. By reducing damage to the cadaver islets, the new technique may be able to expand the number of patients that can treated with available donor cells.

García’s lab uses polymer hydrogel particles that are about 150 microns in diameter, about the same size as the islet cells. They engineer the particles to capture the FasL – a novel recombinant protein developed by Shirwan and Esma S. Yolcu, associate professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Louisville – on the particle surface, where it can be seen by the effector cells.

In addition to those already mentioned, the research team included Devon M. Headen, Maria M. Coronel, Jessica Weaver, Michael D. Hunckler and Christopher T. Johnson from Georgia Tech; Kyle B. Woodward, Pradeep Shrestha, Hong Zhao, Min Tan, William S. Bowen and Esma S. Yolcu from the University of Louisville, and Lonnie Shea from the University of Michigan.

This work was funded in part by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (2-SRA-2014-287-Q-R) and NIH (R21EB020107, R21AI113348, R56AI121281, and U01AI132817). Any conclusions or opinions are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the sponsoring organizations.

CITATION: Devon B. Headen, et al., “Local immunomodulation with Fas ligand-engineered biomaterials achieves allogeneic islet graft acceptance,” (Nature Materials, 2018). http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41563-018-0099-0

Research News
Georgia Institute of Technology
177 North Avenue
Atlanta, Georgia  30332-0181 USA

Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986) (jtoon@gatech.edu).

Writer: John Toon

]]> John Toon 1 1528246019 2018-06-06 00:46:59 1528247986 2018-06-06 01:19:46 0 0 news By instructing key immune system cells to accept transplanted insulin-producing islets, researchers have opened a potentially new pathway for treating type 1 diabetes. If the approach is ultimately successful in humans, it could allow type 1 diabetes to be treated without the long-term complications of immune system suppression.

2018-06-05T00:00:00-04:00 2018-06-05T00:00:00-04:00 2018-06-05 00:00:00 John Toon

Research News

(404) 894-6986

606768 606769 606768 image <![CDATA[Immune signal presentation]]> image/jpeg 1528245260 2018-06-06 00:34:20 1528245260 2018-06-06 00:34:20 606769 image <![CDATA[Pancreatic islet cells]]> image/jpeg 1528245398 2018-06-06 00:36:38 1528245398 2018-06-06 00:36:38
<![CDATA[Early-Career Astrobiologists Gather for AbGradCon 2018 ]]> 30678 Georgia Tech Ph.D. students and postdocs host AbGradCon 2018 this week. AbGradCon stands for Astrobiology Graduate Conference. The popular gathering provides a unique setting for attendees to share research, collaborate, and network.

The meeting is for and by early-career scientists addressing the broad questions of astrobiology: How did life start? Where else does life exist? How could humans search for life outside Earth?

AbGradCon 2018 brings to the fore Georgia Tech’s standing in astrobiology research and education. Georgia Tech leads in training scientists who will direct space exploration in the 21st century.


George Tan chairs the organizing committee. He is a Ph.D. student of Amanda Stockton, in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Working with Tan were more than a dozen other Ph.D. students or postdoctoral researchers.

Organizers expect 96 attendees: 72 from the U.S. and 24 from overseas, Tan says. They come from nine countries: Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, United Kingdom, and United States.  

The program includes an evening for the public, which features Astronaut Lawrence DeLucas.

“We have a big astrobiology community at Tech. This is the perfect opportunity for us to network with students and postdocs with similar interests. I also learned a lot about planning conferences,” says Adriana Lozoya. She is a Ph.D. student of Nicholas Hud, in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Hud is also a member of the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience (IBB).

“It’s been a great experience getting all the moving parts to work to make this conference exciting and worthwhile for all attendees,” says Marcus Bray. He is a Ph.D. student of Jennifer Glass, in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. Glass is also an IBB member. 


Major funding for the meeting came from the NASA Astrobiology Institute. Other sponsors are:

“We can’t thank our sponsors enough,” Tan says. “Their generosity markedly enhanced our ability to prepare the best possible program and accommodate close to a hundred participants.”

“I look forward to the many informal discussions over the week,” says Rebecca Rapf. She is a postdoctoral researcher with Kevin Wilson at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. “I’m sure they will lead to productive collaborations and long-term friendships with people who will be our peers throughout our careers.”

]]> A. Maureen Rouhi 1 1528130244 2018-06-04 16:37:24 1528218728 2018-06-05 17:12:08 0 0 news

Georgia Tech Ph.D. students and postdocs host AbGradCon 2018 on June 4-8, 2018. The annual Astrobiology Graduate Conference provides a unique setting for graduate students and early-career scientists to share their research, collaborate, and network.

2018-06-04T00:00:00-04:00 2018-06-04T00:00:00-04:00 2018-06-04 00:00:00 A. Maureen Rouhi, Ph.D.
Director of Communications
College of Sciences

606755 606753 606734 606735 606736 606737 606755 image <![CDATA[From left: Marcus Bray, Rebecca Rapf, George Tan, Adriana Lozoya (Photo by Renay San Miguel)]]> image/jpeg 1528218614 2018-06-05 17:10:14 1528218614 2018-06-05 17:10:14 606753 image <![CDATA[AbGradCon 2018 in session (Photo by Renay San Miguel)]]> image/jpeg 1528214149 2018-06-05 15:55:49 1528214149 2018-06-05 15:55:49 606734 image <![CDATA[George Tan]]> image/jpeg 1528128307 2018-06-04 16:05:07 1528128307 2018-06-04 16:05:07 606735 image <![CDATA[Adriana Lozoya]]> image/png 1528128386 2018-06-04 16:06:26 1528128416 2018-06-04 16:06:56 606736 image <![CDATA[Marcus Bray]]> image/jpeg 1528128488 2018-06-04 16:08:08 1528128488 2018-06-04 16:08:08 606737 image <![CDATA[Rebecca Rapf]]> image/jpeg 1528128553 2018-06-04 16:09:13 1528128553 2018-06-04 16:09:13 <![CDATA[Astrobiology Rising at Georgia Tech]]>
<![CDATA[Study Shows How Bacteria Behave Differently in Humans Compared to the Lab]]> 27303 Most of what we know today about deadly bacteria such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa was obtained from studies done in laboratory settings. Research reported May 14 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that this laboratory-based information may have important limits for predicting how these bugs behave once they’ve invaded humans.

Among the differences are increased expression of genes responsible for antibiotic resistance, the bane of drugs currently used to treat a wide range of infections. The new research could help scientists understand how to draw more accurate conclusions from their laboratory work – and provide doctors with better information on treating bacterial infections.

“Bacteria in human infections are often tolerant of antibiotics, but when we culture them outside the human they are highly susceptible,” said Marvin Whiteley, a professor in the School of Biological Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology and co-director of the Emory-Children’s Cystic Fibrosis Center. “In this paper, we show that several genes important for antibiotic tolerance are highly induced in humans compared to our laboratory and mouse modeling systems. There appears to be something unique in the human that is promoting resistance.”

What might be causing that difference remains a mystery, though bacteria are known to be affected by their environment. Understanding how bacterial genes and their expression levels differ in humans could allow researchers to search for laboratory conditions that better mimic the human conditions – and provide better guidance for the use of antibiotics.

“Understanding which antibiotic resistance genes are highly expressed in humans may inform our therapeutic decisions on antibiotic usage,” said Whiteley, who holds the Bennie H. & Nelson D. Abell Chair in Molecular and Cellular Biology at Georgia Tech and is a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar. “For instance, one might predict antibiotic resistance of an infecting community from gene expression data without the need for culturing microbes in the clinical lab.”

The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and the Lundbeck Foundation. In addition to the Georgia Tech researchers, the research team included scientists at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, the University of Mississippi Medical Center, the University of California, and several clinical and research organizations in Denmark.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa is an important pathogen that threatens immunocompromised people, including those with cystic fibrosis, diabetes and obesity. It is a major hospital-acquired infection, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention characterizes multi-drug resistant strains of the bacteria as a serious threat.

In their research, the scientists analyzed RNA sequencing data from both human clinical infections and laboratory experiments. The human samples were obtained from collaborating clinicians, who took the samples directly from patients and put them into a chemical that preserved their RNA for later processing. The laboratory experiments studied different strains of the bacterium under a variety of growth conditions, from antibiotic treatment to competition with other bacteria.

The researchers also included previously published in vitro and mouse experiment data from the Whiteley laboratory and other research teams. Data analysis techniques included a machine learning approach known as Support Vector Machines, which was used to distinguish between gene expression profiles of samples taken from human and in vitro sources.

“We saw high expression in several genes notorious for antibiotic resistance, including genes that encode efflux pumps that extrude antibiotics from the cell as well as an enzyme that degrades certain antibiotics, such as ampicillin,” said Daniel Cornforth, a research scientist in Whiteley’s laboratory and the paper’s first author. “There were also less studied antibiotic resistance genes, including three related to zinc transport that our previous work has identified as critical antibiotic resistance determinants that were also highly expressed in the human patients.”

Though the research focused only on a single troublesome pathogen, Whiteley believes the results could have broader implications. “We actually know very little about bacteria behaviors during human infection and most model systems cannot replicate most aspects of human infection. I expect that this work would be generalizable to other bacteria.”

By identifying how bacteria behave differently in humans compared to standard laboratory settings, the work could provide a foundation for additional study with more samples and different types of infection.

“The key takeaway from this work is that now microbiologists can perform transcriptomics on bacterial populations in a range of human infections, so we can better understand what bacteria are actually doing in these clinical infections,” said Cornforth. “We can also determine where our laboratory models succeed and where they fail in mimicking these infection environments.”

This study was funded by National Institutes of Health Grant R01GM116547-01A1, a Human Frontiers Science grant, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Grant WHITEL16G0, Lundbeck Foundation Grant R204-2015-4205 and Lundbeck Foundation Grant R105-A9791, and by Cystic Fibrosis postdoctoral Fellowships CORNFO15F0 and IBBERS16F0.

CITATION: Daniel Cornforth, et al., “Pseudomonas aeruginosa transcriptome during human infection,” (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2018). https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1717525115

Research News
Georgia Institute of Technology
177 North Avenue
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Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986) (jtoon@gatech.edu).

Writer: John Toon

]]> John Toon 1 1526994862 2018-05-22 13:14:22 1526995557 2018-05-22 13:25:57 0 0 news Most of what we know today about deadly bacteria such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa was obtained from studies done in laboratory settings. Research reported May 14 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that this laboratory-based information may have important limits for predicting how these bugs behave once they’ve invaded humans.

2018-05-22T00:00:00-04:00 2018-05-22T00:00:00-04:00 2018-05-22 00:00:00 John Toon

Research News

(404) 894-6986

606354 606355 606357 606354 image <![CDATA[Bacterial biofilm]]> image/jpeg 1526994184 2018-05-22 13:03:04 1526995733 2018-05-22 13:28:53 606355 image <![CDATA[Studying bacterial behavior]]> image/jpeg 1526994315 2018-05-22 13:05:15 1526995719 2018-05-22 13:28:39 606357 image <![CDATA[Studying bacterial behavior2]]> image/jpeg 1526994399 2018-05-22 13:06:39 1526995705 2018-05-22 13:28:25
<![CDATA[In Child-Crippling Mucolipidosis IV, Drug Shows Hope in Lab Cultures]]> 31759 Mucolipidosis IV debilitates afflicted children’s nervous systems in their first year of life, steals their eyesight in their teens and often takes their lives in their twenties, and so far, there is no therapy to fight it. Now, lab tests using an existing prescription drug have shown initial hope for a future treatment.

Fingolimod is used to treat a form of multiple sclerosis and is already FDA-approved. Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and at the Massachusetts General Hospital Research Institute have led successful testing of fingolimod, in vitro, i.e. on lab cultures, in cells originating from the brains of mice genetically augmented to mimic mucolipidosis IV (MLIV).

The next step will be tests in living mice, and researchers are hopeful that continued research progress may lead to a quicker than usual approval for human clinical drug trials. Fingolimod has not been tested on human MLIV cells and is not yet prescribed to treat MLIV.

The researchers published their study in the latest edition of the journal Human Molecular Genetics. Their work was funded by the ML4 Foundation.

Cellular junk accumulation

Mucolipidosis IV is a rare hereditary disease with a cruelty that can rival cerebral palsy’s. MLIV strikes very early in life and goes from bad to worse.

“Around the age of 9 months, you see cognitive deficits,” said Levi Wood, an assistant professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Mechanical Engineering. Wood’s research focuses on neurological diseases. “The children never learn to speak, and hardly at all to walk.”

“When they go blind, it changes everything so badly, because the children stop recognizing faces, including their parents’,” said Yulia Grishchuk, a junior faculty member at Mass General and Harvard Medical School. She co-led the study with Wood.

MLIV is caused by a single mutated gene.

“It disrupts the lysosome (a cell organelle), which is responsible for recycling waste, and this causes it to pile up in the cell,” Grishchuk said. “Junk accumulates in all the cells of the body, but the brain suffers the most, and the eyes.”

Lab success: Astrocyte observation

The disease particularly throws off a group of cells in the brain called glial cells. One type, oligodendrocytes, produces the white sheathing called myelin that protects many neurons.

“These patients, and also our lab mice, have ineffective myelination,” Wood said. “That’s one thing that may be impeding brain function.”

Other glial cells, microglia and astrocytes, both have immune functions in the brain, and in this study, the researchers were able to observe for the first time that the latter were not behaving normally.

“The astrocytes’ activity is unusual in this disease and associated with increased inflammation,” Grishchuk said.

Grishchuk trained in the lab of Susan Slaugenhaupt, an MLIV pioneer who initially discovered the causal gene at Mass General and developed the mouse model used to study and fight the disease. Slaugenhaupt collaborated on this study.

Lab success: Astrocyte regulation

A certain type of multiple sclerosis, remitting-relapsing MS (RRMS), shares this odd astrocyte behavior, which gave the researchers the idea of testing a drug used to treat that disease in MLIV cell samples.

“We thought fingolimod would have a good chance because it works on astrocytes in MS,” Wood said.

It tested successfully in the researchers’ mouse-MLIV-astrocyte lab cultures, inhibiting the astrocytes’ abnormal behavior. Now, the researchers want to move on to live mouse models to see if treatment helps brain function.

Fingolimod was recently improved for pediatric treatment of RRMS. Also, if it positively affects astrocytes in clinical trials, there is hope fingolimod could also improve other glial cells’ functioning.

MLIV’s particular challenges

Very few people carry the mutated gene that causes MLIV, and the gene is recessive, meaning that to get the disease, not only do both parents have to carry it, but both have to pass on their respective recessive gene to the child.

Since the affliction is so rare, parents of a child with MLIV usually spend years going through misdiagnoses before correctly determining their child’s disease. And, ironically, though the effects of the disease are obviously visible, early on, neural damage is not.

“It’s neurodevelopmental in very early childhood. The neurodegeneration kicks in much later in life,” Grishchuk said.

Once a clinician or parent stumbles onto the disorder in medical literature, it can be confirmed by a genetic test. But then the parents are confronted with the cruel fact that there is no treatment at all for MLIV.

Research fight against MLIV

As with many rare diseases, research and development funding for MLIV is scarce, so researchers are pushed to find promise in existing FDA-approved medications for other conditions, so that clinical trials may become more likely.

If fingolimod does make it to a clinical trial to treat MLIV, it may be a one-shot proposition. If the trial fails, then subsequent clinical trials may not be possible for many years, since the patient pool is very small and participation in a failed clinical trial often rules out a patient’s inclusion in further trials with different medications.

If the drug advances to become an available treatment, it would ideally be combined with early disease detection, so that therapy could begin as young as possible, thus preempting neurological ravages and rescuing brain function without delay.

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These authors collaborated in the study: Laura Weinstock and Sitara Sankar of Georgia Tech; Amanda Furness, Shawn Herron, Sierra Smith, Samantha DeRosa, Dadi Gao and Molly Mepyans of Massachusetts General, Anna Scotto Rosato and Diego Medina of Italy’s Telethon Institute of Genetics and Medicine; Ayelet Vardi, Soo Min Cho and Anthony Futerman of Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science; and Natalia S. Ferreira of Switzerland’s University of Zurich-Vetsuisse. Findings and opinions in the paper are those of the authors and not necessarily of the funding agency.

]]> Ben Brumfield 1 1527266092 2018-05-25 16:34:52 1527859689 2018-06-01 13:28:09 0 0 news Medicine offers no treatment for children crippled by mucolipidosis IV, which hits them in the first year of life and gradually becomes fatal. But researchers battling it with limited means at their disposal have captured a glimmer of hope in lab tests on an existing drug.

2018-05-29T00:00:00-04:00 2018-05-29T00:00:00-04:00 2018-05-29 00:00:00 Writer & Media Representative: Ben Brumfield (404-660-1408)

Georgia Institute of Technology
177 North Avenue
Atlanta, Georgia  30332-0181  USA

606491 606489 606494 606500 606496 606491 image <![CDATA[Mucolipidosis IV sufferer Daniella]]> image/jpeg 1527260970 2018-05-25 15:09:30 1527859654 2018-06-01 13:27:34 606489 image <![CDATA[Mucolipidosis IV sufferer Paul with rabbit]]> image/jpeg 1527260254 2018-05-25 14:57:34 1527260254 2018-05-25 14:57:34 606494 image <![CDATA[Yulia Grishchuk, Mass General, Havard Medical School]]> image/jpeg 1527263841 2018-05-25 15:57:21 1527263841 2018-05-25 15:57:21 606500 image <![CDATA[Levi Wood, Ph.D., mechanical engineering]]> image/jpeg 1527274467 2018-05-25 18:54:27 1527274467 2018-05-25 18:54:27 606496 image <![CDATA[Levi Wood lab]]> image/jpeg 1527267115 2018-05-25 16:51:55 1527267115 2018-05-25 16:51:55
<![CDATA[Bacterial Conversations in Cystic Fibrosis]]> 30678 “A large part of my research is thinking about how bacteria communicate,” says Sophie Darch. The postdoctoral researcher works with School of Biological Sciences Professor Marvin Whiteley, studying the social lives of bacteria.

Darch observes the conversations of bacteria, which take place via molecules they release into the environment and are sensed by other bacteria. In Darch’s experiments, completed messages are marked by the red-to-green change in the color of the bacterium sensing the molecule.

By sending and receiving extracellular signals, bacteria sense their neighbors. When enough bacteria are in the conversation, things happen. Sometimes it leads to changes in virulence or ability to establish an infection. The phenomenon is called quorum sensing.

Yet little is known about how quorum sensing proceeds during infection “Much of what is known about quorum sensing,” Darch says, “comes from studies of large populations of bacteria in an environment that does not compare with the natural infection site.” In infections, for example, bacteria are often found in small, dense clusters, called aggregates. “It’s really important for us as scientists to think about what bacterial growth looks like in an infection,” Darch says.

In a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, Darch, Whiteley, and colleagues describe for the first time how close bacteria need to be to “talk” with each other in an environment similar to an infection. Their findings could reveal new ways to disrupt bacterial signaling and provide other targets to treat infections.

The work was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Human Frontiers Science, and the Welch Foundation.

Cystic Fibrosis Model

The study uses an environment similar to the chronic infection of the cystic fibrosis (CF) lung.

CF is a genetic disease that causes buildup of sticky mucus in the lung. The viscous setting CF creates makes the organ prime real estate for disease-causing bacteria. Among the most prevalent of these in the CF lung is Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

P. aeruginosa infections pose a huge problem because they are resistant to many antibiotics and are difficult to treat. Often P. aeruginosa infection is what causes death among patients with CF.

The team used a synthetic CF sputum media (SCFM2), based on the makeup of lung secretions from patients. In nutritional content and physical form, the medium is similar to sputum from the lung. Importantly, P. aeruginosa forms aggregates in SCFM2 that are similar in size to those observed in CF lung tissue.

3-D Printed Bacteria

To begin to answer the question “How close do you have to be to talk to your neighbor?” the team collaborated with Jason Shear at the University of Texas, Austin. The Shear Lab had developed a micro-3D-printing platform that could be used to engineer the growth of bacteria to mimic infections.

Bacteria are not uniformly distributed in infections. “Instead we see bacterial aggregates that vary in size and can be separated by large distances,” Whiteley says. “We needed an experimental method to engineer these types of infection landscapes in the lab.”

Using Shear’s micro-3D-printing platform, the team printed bacterial aggregates of exact positions and sizes.

A typical experiment starts by enclosing one producer cell in a picoliter-sized trap, using micro-3D-printing. After multiple cell divisions, the population fills the volume of the trap. Then SCFM2-containing aggregates of responder cells are overlaid the porous trap.

They observe the one-way flow of signals from aggregates in a trap (producers) to aggregates outside receiving signals (responders). They could see the response of completed conversations by responders changing color from red to green.

Implications for Cystic Fibrosis

“We found that bacterial aggregates slightly larger than those in CF lung – containing about 2,000 cells – were not large enough to signal to other aggregates,” Darch says.

Prior to this study, it was thought that bacterial signaling could occur over extended distances. However, in the CF lung, small populations of bacteria are scattered across a large volume and separated by large distances. Aggregates are unlikely to “talk” to each other. 

It took aggregates containing at least 5,000 cells to successfully send signals to neighbors as far away as 176 micrometers. “These aggregates are around five times the size of the average aggregate observed in CF lung tissue” Darch says “From these data, communication is likely confined within an individual aggregate rather than being a population-wide phenomenon”.

Among CF patients who are at least 20 years old, 80% are infected with P. aeruginosa. “Infection with P. aeruginosa remains a significant clinical problem in immunocompromised patients, particularly those with CF,” Darch says. “Understanding better how bacteria communicate has the potential to find ways of disrupting the communication and potentially diminishing bacterial virulence.”

“The study provides benchmark data for how quorum sensing might proceed in an environment similar to the CF lung,” says Whiteley, who is a member of the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience. “In different settings, where P. aeruginosa and other bacteria exist as aggregates of different sizes, communication may look different. Future studies will involve experimental and modeling work to further examine the spatial parameters of quorum sensing in CF and other infections, such as a chronic wound.”

Figure Caption

(Left) Rendered confocal laser-scanning micrograph of a micro-3D-printed trap (red)  surrounded by P. aeruginosa aggregates responding to quorum-sensing signals (green) in a synthetic CF sputum media (SCFM2).

(Right) Rendered confocal laser-scanning micrograph of responding (green) and non-responding (red) P. aeruginosa aggregates formed in a synthetic CF sputum media (SCFM2).

]]> A. Maureen Rouhi 1 1527629739 2018-05-29 21:35:39 1528121072 2018-06-04 14:04:32 0 0 news Despite the wealth of information about how bacteria communicate, little is known about how quorum sensing proceeds during an infection. Georgia Tech researchers describe for the first time how close bacteria need to be to “talk” in an environment similar to chronic infection in cystic fibrosis.   

2018-05-31T00:00:00-04:00 2018-05-31T00:00:00-04:00 2018-05-31 00:00:00 A. Maureen Rouhi, Ph.D.
Director of Communications
College of Sciences

606584 606585 606586 606584 image <![CDATA[Bacterial conversations]]> image/jpeg 1527630232 2018-05-29 21:43:52 1527630232 2018-05-29 21:43:52 606585 image <![CDATA[Sophie Darch]]> image/jpeg 1527630675 2018-05-29 21:51:15 1527630675 2018-05-29 21:51:15 606586 image <![CDATA[Marvin Whiteley]]> image/jpeg 1527630964 2018-05-29 21:56:04 1547233181 2019-01-11 18:59:41
<![CDATA[New Frontiers Beckon Math and Biology in Multimillion Dollar NSF-Simons Project]]> 31759 A new national project, which includes the Georgia Institute of Technology, aims to convey the benefits of physics’ age-old intertwining with math upon biology, a science historically less connected with it. The National Science Foundation and the Simons Foundation have launched four centers to do this, funded with $40 million, one of which is headquartered at Georgia Tech and will receive a quarter of the funding.

Article and graphics here

]]> Ben Brumfield 1 1527174567 2018-05-24 15:09:27 1527686593 2018-05-30 13:23:13 0 0 news A new national project, which includes the Georgia Institute of Technology, aims to convey the benefits of physics’ age-old intertwining with math upon biology, a science historically less connected with it.

2018-05-24T00:00:00-04:00 2018-05-24T00:00:00-04:00 2018-05-24 00:00:00 Writer & Media Representative: Ben Brumfield (404-660-1408)

Georgia Institute of Technology
177 North Avenue
Atlanta, Georgia  30332-0181  USA

606456 606455 606456 image <![CDATA[Canalization illustrated]]> image/jpeg 1527173888 2018-05-24 14:58:08 1527175248 2018-05-24 15:20:48 606455 image <![CDATA[Mathematicians and bioscientists collaborate in new NSF-Simons project]]> image/jpeg 1527173789 2018-05-24 14:56:29 1527173789 2018-05-24 14:56:29
<![CDATA[Chemical Octopus Catches Sneaky Cancer Clues, Trace Glycoproteins]]> 31759 Cancer drops sparse chemical hints of its presence early on, but unfortunately, many of them are in a class of biochemicals that could not be detected thoroughly, until now.

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have engineered a chemical trap that exhaustively catches what are called glycoproteins, including minuscule traces that have previously escaped detection.

Glycoproteins are protein molecules bonded with sugar molecules, and they’re very common in all living things. Glycoproteins come in myriad varieties and sizes and make up important cell structures like cell receptors. They also wander around our bodies in secretions like mucus or hormones.

But some glycoproteins are very, very rare and can serve as an early signal, or biomarker, indicating there’s something wrong in the body – like cancer. Existing methods to reel in glycoproteins for laboratory examination are relatively new and have had big holes in their nets, so many of these molecules, especially those very rare ones produced by cancer, have tended to slip by.

Cancerous traces

“These tiny traces are critically important for early disease detection,” said principal investigator Ronghu Wu, a professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “When cancer is just getting started, aberrant glycoproteins are produced and secreted into body fluids such as blood and urine. Often their abundances are extremely low, but catching them is urgent.”

This new chemical trap, which took Georgia Tech chemists several years to develop and is based on a boronic acid, has proven extremely effective in lab tests including on cultured human cells and mouse tissue samples.

“This method is very universal,” said first author Haopeng Xiao, a graduate research assistant. “We get over 1,000 glycoproteins in a really small lab sample.”

In comparison tests with existing methods, the chemical trap, a complex molecular construction reminiscent of an octopus, captured exponentially more glycoproteins, especially more of those trace glycoproteins.

Wu, Xiao and Weixuan Chen, a former Georgia Tech postdoctoral researcher, who was also first author of the study alongside Xiao, published their results in the journal Nature Communications. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

Boronic bungles

For chemistry whizzes, here’s a short summary of how the researchers made the octopus. They took a good thing and doubled then tripled down on it.

Those who recall high school chemistry class may still know what boric acid is, as do people who use it to kill roaches. Its chemical structure is an atom of boron bonded with three hydroxyl groups (H3BO3).

Boronic acids are a family of organic compounds that build on boric acid. There are many members of the boronic acid family, and they tend to bond well with glycoproteins, but their bonds can be less reliable than needed.

“Most boronic acids let too many low-abundance glycoproteins get away,” Wu said. “They can catch glycoproteins that are in high abundance but not those in low abundance, the ones that tell us more valuable things about cell development or about human disease.”

Benzoboroxole octopus

But the Georgia Tech chemists were able to leverage the strengths of boronic acids to develop a glycoprotein capturing method that works exceptionally well.

First, they tested several boronic acid derivatives and found that one called benzoboroxole strongly bound with each sugar component on the glycopeptide. (“Peptide” refers to the basic chemical composition of a protein.)  

Then they stitched many benzoboroxole molecules together with other components to form a "dendrimer," which refers to the resulting branch- or tentacle-like structure. The finished large molecule resembled an octopus ready to go after those sugar components.

In its middle, similarly positioned to an octopus's head, was a magnetic bead, which acted as a kind of handle. Once the dendrimer caught a glycoprotein, the researchers used a magnet to grab the bead and pull out their chemical octopus along with its ensnared glycopeptides (e.g. glycoproteins).

“Then we washed the dendrimer off with a low pH solution, and we had the glycoproteins analyzed with things like mass spectrometry,” Wu said.

Cancer treatments?

The researchers have some ideas about how medical laboratory researchers could make practical use of the new Georgia Tech method to detect odd biomolecules emitted by cancer, such as antigens. For example, the chemical octopus could improve detection of prostate-specific antigens (PSA) in prostate cancer screenings.

“PSA is a glycoprotein. Right now, if the level is very high, we know that the patient may have cancer, and if it’s very low, we know cancer is not likely,” Wu said. “But there is a gray area in between, and this method could lead to much more detailed information in that gray area.”

The researchers also believe that developers could leverage the chemical invention to produce targeted cancer treatments. Immune cells could be trained to recognize the aberrant glycoproteins, track down their source cancer cells in the body and kill them.

The research’s potential for science goes far beyond its possible future medical applications.

The fields of genomics and proteomics have made great strides. Following in their footsteps, this new molecular trap could advance the study of the rising field of glycoscience.


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ALSO read: Cancer-killing T-cells switched on via remote control

Georgia Tech’s Johanna Smeekens coauthored the research paper. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation (CAREER award CHE-1454501), and the National Institutes of Health (R01GM118803). Findings and any opinions are those of the authors’ and not necessarily of the funding agencies.

]]> Ben Brumfield 1 1525454101 2018-05-04 17:15:01 1525874934 2018-05-09 14:08:54 0 0 news Certain minuscule cancer signals easily evade detection, but perhaps no longer. Biomarkers made of glycoproteins are bound to get snared in the tentacles of this chemical octopus that Georgia Tech chemists devised over several years. The monstrous molecule could also be a windfall for the rising field of glycoscience.

2018-05-04T00:00:00-04:00 2018-05-04T00:00:00-04:00 2018-05-04 00:00:00 Writer & Media Representative: Ben Brumfield (404-660-1408)

Georgia Institute of Technology
177 North Avenue
Atlanta, Georgia  30332-0181  USA

594424 605849 605853 605857 605855 605858 605850 605860 594424 image <![CDATA[iStock cancer cells illustration]]> image/jpeg 1502800506 2017-08-15 12:35:06 1525450970 2018-05-04 16:22:50 605849 image <![CDATA[Chemical octopus that catches trace glycoproteins]]> image/jpeg 1525450569 2018-05-04 16:16:09 1525464687 2018-05-04 20:11:27 605853 image <![CDATA[Loading sample into mass spectrometer in Ronghu Wu lab]]> image/jpeg 1525451782 2018-05-04 16:36:22 1525451782 2018-05-04 16:36:22 605857 image <![CDATA[Wu and Xiao in Wu's lab]]> image/jpeg 1525452611 2018-05-04 16:50:11 1525452642 2018-05-04 16:50:42 605855 image <![CDATA[Haopeng Xiao loads mass spectrometer in Wu lab]]> image/jpeg 1525452420 2018-05-04 16:47:00 1525452456 2018-05-04 16:47:36 605858 image <![CDATA[Samples prepared in Ronghu Wu lab]]> image/jpeg 1525452825 2018-05-04 16:53:45 1525452853 2018-05-04 16:54:13 605850 image <![CDATA[Chemical octopus grabbers bond on two places with sugary glycans]]> image/jpeg 1525450813 2018-05-04 16:20:13 1525450813 2018-05-04 16:20:13 605860 image <![CDATA[Professor Ronghu Wu School of Chemistry and Biochemistry]]> image/jpeg 1525453197 2018-05-04 16:59:57 1525453197 2018-05-04 16:59:57
<![CDATA[Ultrafast Compression Offers New Way to Get Macromolecules into Cells]]> 27303 By treating living cells like tiny absorbent sponges, researchers have developed a potentially new way to introduce molecules and therapeutic genes into human cells. 

The technique first compresses cells in a microfluidic device by rapidly flowing them through a series of tiny “speed bumps” built into the micro-channels, which compresses out small amounts of fluid – known as cytosol – from inside the cells. The cells then naturally recover and refill themselves, sucking up surrounding fluid and pulling in macromolecules or genes mixed into it. Though the abrupt collisions can reduce cell volume by as much as 30 percent, the cells rapidly rebound and less than five percent of cells experience viability loss.

The new technique is known as cell volume exchange for convective transfer, or cell VECT. It is believed to be the first compression process to prompt highly transient cell volume exchange by utilizing the ability of cells to lose and rapidly recover their cytosol. The research, which was supported by the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health and Wallace H. Coulter Foundation, was reported online April 17 by the journal Materials Today.

“We are taking advantage of an intrinsic mechanical property of cells,” said Anna Liu, a Ph.D. candidate in the laboratory of Associate Professor Todd Sulchek in Georgia Tech’s Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering. “When cells are compressed suddenly over a period of microseconds, they lose some of their volume. The cells are exchanging volume with the fluid around them, and that’s what allows them to convectively take up macromolecules from their environment.”

The technique could be useful for cell transfection, in which a target gene is introduced into human cells to cause behavior that the cells wouldn’t ordinarily exhibit, such as expression of a protein. There are a number of existing techniques for introducing genetic material into living cells, including the use of specially-designed viruses, but existing techniques have significant disadvantages. 

A broad range of therapeutic and diagnostic applications could benefit from introduction of large molecules, which could also be used as markers for quality control purposes in cell manufacturing. “There are a lot of reasons to want to deliver molecules to the interior of cells, but there are not a lot of good ways to do it,” said Liu, who is a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow.

The researchers discovered the compression and volume change phenomena while developing techniques for sorting cells according to their mechanical properties. In their microfluidic devices, compression forced softer cells to move in one direction, while stiffer cells took a different path. Though the research focused on cancer detection, it also produced a new understanding of what happens to cells when they are compressed rapidly.

“Our technique doesn’t depend at all on the properties of macromolecules to do the work,” Liu explained. “The activity is all caused by the convective influx of fluid volume back into the cells. The molecules in the fluid are just along for the ride, which allows us to transfer molecules without regard to their size or properties.”

Speed of compression is critical. If cells undergo compression over longer periods of time, they can deform gradually and maintain their volume. The entire cell VECT compression and relaxation process takes milliseconds, causing the cells to deform suddenly without conserving volume. Yet the process has little to no effect on cell viability. “We have done a variety of tests to see if cell viability, function and gene expression are altered, and we haven’t seen any significant differences,” Liu said.

The researchers have studied a wide range of human cell types, from prostate cancer to leukemia cells, and even primary T cells. They began with delivering a polysaccharide, dextran, and followed up with proteins, RNA and plasmids. To explore the limits of the technique, they used cell VECT to move 100-nanometer particles into cells.

Beyond transferring therapeutic and diagnostic macromolecules that are now difficult to introduce into cells, the technique could allow larger macromolecules to be delivered to cells, opening new possibilities for cell engineering and therapies. 

“Cell VECT means we are no longer limited by the size of the cargo that a virus can carry,” said Alexander Alexeev, an associate professor in the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering and a collaborator on the research. “This may open a new way for researchers to engineer living cells using more complex molecules. Cargo size would no longer be a critical issue.”

By introducing labeling molecules into cells, the cell VECT technique could also provide a reliable and reproducible quality control technique for manufacturing processes that generate therapeutic cells, Sulchek noted.

In future work, the researchers plan to develop a better understanding of how the technique works, study the parameters of the process – and observe cells over long periods of time to make sure there are no ill effects.

“There is still a basic science understanding that we need to develop,” Sulchek said. “We’d like to characterize what leaves the cells, and under what conditions they leave. We want to know how fast things return, what are the limitations of that return, and where they go in the cell when they do return.”

In addition to those already mentioned, the research included Muhymin Islam, Nicholas Stone, Vikram Varadarajan, Jenny Jeong, Samuel Bowie and Peng Qiu of Georgia Tech and Edmund K. Waller of Emory University.

This work was supported by the NSF Stem Cell Biomanufacturing IGERT, the Wallace H. Coulter Translational Partnership Research Award, the Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS) Scholars Award, NIH award 1R21CA191243-01A1, and the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship under Grant No. DGE-1650044.

CITATION: Anna Liu, et al., “Microfluidic generation of transient cell volume exchange for convectively driven intracellular delivery of large macromolecules,” (Materials Today, 2018). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mattod.2018.03.002

Research News
Georgia Institute of Technology
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Atlanta, Georgia  30332-0181  USA

Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986) (jtoon@gatech.edu).

Writer: John Toon

]]> John Toon 1 1525109265 2018-04-30 17:27:45 1525110992 2018-04-30 17:56:32 0 0 news By treating living cells like tiny absorbent sponges, researchers have developed a potentially new way to introduce molecules and therapeutic genes into human cells. 

2018-04-30T00:00:00-04:00 2018-04-30T00:00:00-04:00 2018-04-30 00:00:00 John Toon

Research News

(404) 894-6986

605695 605697 605699 605700 605695 image <![CDATA[NSF Graduate Research Fellow Anna Liu]]> image/jpeg 1525108372 2018-04-30 17:12:52 1525108372 2018-04-30 17:12:52 605697 image <![CDATA[Microfluidic device for compressing cells]]> image/jpeg 1525108487 2018-04-30 17:14:47 1525108487 2018-04-30 17:14:47 605699 image <![CDATA["Speed bumps" on microfluidic device compress cells]]> image/jpeg 1525108598 2018-04-30 17:16:38 1525108598 2018-04-30 17:16:38 605700 image <![CDATA[Cells being compressed in microfluidic device]]> image/jpeg 1525108719 2018-04-30 17:18:39 1525108719 2018-04-30 17:18:39
<![CDATA[Inan Wins NSF CAREER Award]]> 27241 Omer Inan has received a National Science Foundation CAREER Award for his research project entitled “Wearable Joint Sounds Sensing for Children with Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis.” Inan is an assistant professor in the Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE).

Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) is the most common form of childhood arthritis and is a disability affecting more than 50,000 children in the United States. JIA’s presentation and progression can vary greatly from person to person, and a multitude of new treatment options are available for the various stages of the disease. Diagnosing, tracking, and treating JIA on a patient-by-patient basis is difficult because of a lack of tools for assessing the condition.

This project will focus on researching wearable joint health sensing systems for persons with JIA that will allow for continuous assessment both in and out of the clinic. The project will also include several educational objectives which are closely integrated with the research:

Inan is a member of the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience and a program faculty member for the Interdisciplinary Bioengineering Graduate Program. His most recent honors include the ECE Outstanding Junior Faculty Member Award (2018), the Georgia Tech Sigma Xi Young Faculty Award (2017), and the Lockheed Dean’s Excellence in Teaching Award in (2016). He is also a senior member of IEEE.

]]> Jackie Nemeth 1 1522343491 2018-03-29 17:11:31 1522343491 2018-03-29 17:11:31 0 0 news ECE Assistant Professor Omer T. Inan has received a National Science Foundation CAREER Award for his research project entitled “Wearable Joint Sounds Sensing for Children with Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis.”

2018-03-29T00:00:00-04:00 2018-03-29T00:00:00-04:00 2018-03-29 00:00:00 Jackie Nemeth

School of Electrical and Computer Engineering


603198 603198 image <![CDATA[Omer Inan]]> image/jpeg 1520021113 2018-03-02 20:05:13 1520021113 2018-03-02 20:05:13 <![CDATA[Omer T. Inan]]> <![CDATA[Inan Research Lab]]> <![CDATA[School of Electrical and Computer Engineering]]> <![CDATA[Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience ]]> <![CDATA[Georgia Tech]]> <![CDATA[National Science Foundation ]]>
<![CDATA[Sarioglu Wins NSF CAREER Award]]> 27241 Fatih Sarioglu has received a National Science Foundation CAREER Award for his research project entitled “Feedback-Controlled Microfluidic Chips with Integrated Sensor Networks for Blood Analysis.”

Technologies that can rapidly characterize blood samples and extract reliable information are in ever-increasing demand for both clinical and basic research applications. In this project, Sarioglu aims to develop smart and adaptive microfluidic chips that can reliably analyze small blood samples with minimal sample preparation. 

The proposed microfluidic chips will be low-cost and disposable, and they will include built-in electronics that can convert the chemical information from blood cells into electrical signals to be interpreted by a smartphone and transmitted to the healthcare provider. If successful, the research has the potential to revolutionize healthcare by enabling complex blood tests to be performed outside of clinical laboratories.

Sarioglu has been an assistant professor at the Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) since 2014. He and his research team develop technologies to investigate and manipulate biological systems on the micro and nanoscale primarily for biomedical applications. Using advanced fabrication techniques, they build devices that utilize microfluidics, microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), optics, electronics, and data analytics. Through clinical collaborations, they use these technologies as medical devices for disease detection and monitoring and as bioanalytical instruments for high-throughput molecular and cellular analysis.

Sarioglu is a member of the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience and the Institute for Electronics and Nanotechnology, and he is a program faculty member in the Interdisciplinary Bioengineering Graduate Program. In 2017, Sarioglu received the Beckman Young Investigator Award for his outstanding work in the chemical and life sciences.

]]> Jackie Nemeth 1 1521310410 2018-03-17 18:13:30 1521310518 2018-03-17 18:15:18 0 0 news ECE Assistant Professor Fatih Sarioglu has received a National Science Foundation CAREER Award for his research project entitled “Feedback-Controlled Microfluidic Chips with Integrated Sensor Networks for Blood Analysis.”

2018-03-17T00:00:00-04:00 2018-03-17T00:00:00-04:00 2018-03-17 00:00:00 Jackie Nemeth

School of Electrical and Computer Engineering


592821 592821 image <![CDATA[Fatih Sarioglu]]> image/jpeg 1497970750 2017-06-20 14:59:10 1497970750 2017-06-20 14:59:10 <![CDATA[Fatih Sarioglu]]> <![CDATA[Biomedical Microsystems Laboratory]]> <![CDATA[School of Electrical and Computer Engineering]]> <![CDATA[Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience]]> <![CDATA[Institute for Electronics and Nanotechnology]]> <![CDATA[Interdisciplinary Bioengineering Graduate Program]]> <![CDATA[Georgia Tech]]> <![CDATA[National Science Foundation]]>
<![CDATA[Data Detectives Shift Suspicions in Alzheimer's from Usual Suspect to Inside Villain]]> 31759 The mass pursuit of a conspicuous suspect in Alzheimer’s disease may have held back research success for decades. Now, a new data analysis that has untangled evidence amassed in years of Alzheimer’s studies encourages researchers to refocus their investigations.

Heaps of plaque formed from amyloid-beta that accumulate in afflicted brains are what stick out under the microscope in tissue samples from Alzheimer’s sufferers, and that eye-catching junk has long seemed an obvious culprit in the disease. But data analysis of the cumulative evidence doesn’t support giving so much attention to that usual suspect, according to a new study from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Though the bad amyloid-beta protein does appear to be an accomplice in the disease, the study has pointed to a seemingly more likely red-handed offender, another protein-gone-bad called phosphorylated tau (p-tau). What’s more, the Georgia Tech data analysis of multiple studies done on mice also turned up signs that multiple biochemical actors work together in Alzheimer’s to tear down neurons, the cells that the brain uses to do its work.

Suspect line-up: P-tau implicated, plaque not so much

And the corrupted amyloid-beta that appeared more directly in cahoots with p-tau in the sabotage of brain function was not tied up in that plaque. In the line-up of the biochemical suspects examined, principal investigator Cassie Mitchell, an assistant professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University, said the data pointed to a pecking order of culpability.

“The most important one would be the level of phosphorylated tau present. It had the strongest connection with cognitive decline,” Mitchell said. “The correlation with amyloid plaque was there but very weak; not nearly as strong as the correlation between p-tau and cognitive decline.”

Mitchell, a biomedical informaticist, and first author Colin Huber statistically analyzed data gleaned from 51 existing lab studies in mice genetically augmented with a human form of Alzheimer’s. They published their analysis in the current edition of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

The crime: Eviscerating the brain

One look at an image of an Alzheimer’s afflicted brain is unflinching testimony to the disease’s cruelty: It destroys of up to 30 percent of a brain’s mass, carving out ravines and depositing piles of molecular junk, most visibly amyloid plaque.

The plaque builds up outside of neurons, while inside neurons, p-tau forms similar junk known as neurofibrillary tangles that many researchers believe push the cells to their demise. But many biochemical machinations behind Alzheimer’s are still unknown, and the fight to uncover them has vexed researchers for decades.

Since the first patient was diagnosed by Dr. Aloysius Alzheimer between 1901 and 1906, little medical progress has been made. Though some available medications may mitigate symptoms somewhat, none significantly slow disease progression, let alone stop it.

Alzheimer’s mostly strikes late in life. Longer lifespans in industrialized countries have ballooned the caseload, advancing the disease to a major cause of death.

Meet the syndicate: Assassin, accomplices, stooges

Even though p-tau showed the strongest correlation with cognitive decline, and amyloid-beta only a slight correlation, that doesn’t mean that p-tau is committing the crime inside cells all by itself while amyloid loiters in spaces outside of cells in large gangs, creating a distraction. Mitchell’s data analysis has pointed to dynamics more enmeshed than that.

“Though the study had clear trends, it also had a good bit of variance that would indicate multiple factors influencing outcomes,” Mitchell said. And a particular manifestation of amyloid-beta has piqued the researchers’ ire.

Little pieces are water soluble, that is, not tied up in clumps of plaque. The data has shown that these tiny amyloids may be up to no good. After p-tau levels, the study revealed that those of soluble amyloid-beta had the second-strongest correlation with cognitive decline.

“Lumpy amyloid-beta, the stuff we see, ironically doesn’t correlate as well with cognitive decline as the soluble amyloid,” Mitchell said. “The amyloid you don’t see is like the sugar in your tea that dissolves and hits your taste buds versus the insoluble amyloid, which is more like the sugar that doesn’t dissolve and stays at the bottom of the cup.”

Some Alzheimer’s researchers have cited evidence indicating that free-floating amyloid helps produce the corrupted p-tau via a chain of reactions that centers around GSK3 (Glycogen synthase kinase 3), an enzyme that arms tau with phosphorous, turning it into a potential biochemical assassin.

Incidentally, Mitchell’s study also looked at un-phosphorylated tau and found its levels do not correlate with cognitive decline. “That makes sense,” Mitchell said. “Regular tau is the backbone of our neurons, so it has to be there.”

Also, p-tau is a normal part of healthy cells, but in Alzheimer’s it is wildly overproduced.

Massive dataset: 528 mice rat out p-tau

One advantage of data mining 51 existing studies versus doing one new lab experiment, is that the cumulative analysis adds the sample sizes of so many studies together for a whopping grand total. Mitchell’s analysis encompassed results from past experiments carried out on, all totaled, 528 Alzheimer’s mice.

A previous study Mitchell led had already indicated that amyloid-beta plaque levels may not be the most productive target for drug development. Separate reports by other researchers on failed human trials of drugs that fought plaque would seem to corroborate this.

Mitchell’s prior analysis examined lab studies that used an Alzheimer’s lab mouse model that did not allow for the study of p-tau. Mitchell’s current analysis covered studies involving a different mouse model that did allow for the observation of p-tau.

Mitchell’s latest findings have corroborated the prior study’s findings on amyloid, and also added p-tau as a key suspect in cognitive decline.

Principal investigator: My take on possible treatments

To arrive at the 51 studies with data suitable for inclusion in their analysis, Mitchell’s research team sifted through hundreds of Alzheimer’s research papers, and over time, Mitchell has examined a few thousand herself. She has gained some impressions of how biomedical research may need to tackle the disease’s slippery biochemical labyrinth.

“When we see multifactorial diseases, we tend to think we’ll need multifactorial treatments,” Mitchell said. “That seems to be working well with cancer, where they combine chemotherapy with things like immunotherapy.”

Also, Alzheimer’s diagnosticians might be wise to their adopt cancer colleagues’ early detection stance, she said, as Alzheimer’s disease appears to start long before amyloid-beta plaque appears and cognitive decline sets in.

Above all, basic research should cast a broader net.

“I think p-tau is going to have to be a big part,” she said. “And it may be time to not latch onto amyloid-beta plaque so much like the field has for a few decades.”

Did you know? Cassie Mitchell is also an Olympic medalist! Watch her video here.

Also READ: Our feature on Alzheimer’s researchKilling the Mind First

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Georgia Tech’s Connor Yee, Taylor May, and Apoorva Dhanala coauthored the study. Funding was provided by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke at the National Institutes of Health (grants NS069616, NS098228, and NS081426). Any findings or conclusions are those of the authors and not necessarily of the sponsor.

]]> Ben Brumfield 1 1519058058 2018-02-19 16:34:18 1521603031 2018-03-21 03:30:31 0 0 news The pursuit of the usual suspect in Alzheimer's research may be distracting from a more direct culprit in the disease, according to a study that analyzed data from 51 published experiments. P-tau looked a good bit more culpable than amyloid-beta plaque.

2018-02-19T00:00:00-05:00 2018-02-19T00:00:00-05:00 2018-02-19 00:00:00 Writer & Media Representative: Ben Brumfield (404-660-1408)

Georgia Institute of Technology
177 North Avenue
Atlanta, Georgia  30332-0181  USA

602578 602574 602571 602575 602567 602583 602578 image <![CDATA[Alzheimer's brain shrinkage illustration NIA NIH]]> image/jpeg 1519056525 2018-02-19 16:08:45 1519056574 2018-02-19 16:09:34 602574 image <![CDATA[Amyloid beta and p-tau illustration NIA NIH]]> image/jpeg 1519055534 2018-02-19 15:52:14 1519055534 2018-02-19 15:52:14 602571 image <![CDATA[Informaticist Cassie Mitchell studies Alzheimer's]]> image/jpeg 1519054976 2018-02-19 15:42:56 1519055031 2018-02-19 15:43:51 602575 image <![CDATA[Alzheimer's brain NIH]]> image/jpeg 1519056121 2018-02-19 16:02:01 1519056121 2018-02-19 16:02:01 602567 image <![CDATA[Amyloid-beta plaque under microscope]]> image/jpeg 1519054627 2018-02-19 15:37:07 1519054627 2018-02-19 15:37:07 602583 image <![CDATA[Alzheimer's diagram of biochemical processes]]> image/jpeg 1519056910 2018-02-19 16:15:10 1519056967 2018-02-19 16:16:07
<![CDATA[The Minds of the New Machines - Machine Learning at Georgia Tech]]> 27303 Machine learning has been around for decades, but the advent of big data and more powerful computers has increased its impact significantly — ­moving machine learning beyond pattern recognition and natural language processing into a broad array of scientific disciplines.

A subcategory of artificial intelligence, machine learning deals with the construction of algorithms that enable computers to learn from and react to data rather than following explicitly programmed instructions. “Machine-learning algorithms build a model based on inputs and then use that model to make other hypotheses, predictions, or decisions,” explained Irfan Essa, professor and associate dean in Georgia Tech’s College of Computing who also directs the Institute’s Center for Machine Learning.

Established in June 2016, the Center for Machine Learning is comprised of researchers from six colleges and 13 schools at Georgia Tech — a number that keeps growing. “Among our goals is to better coordinate research efforts across campus, serve as a home for machine learning leaders, and train the next generation of leaders,” Essa said, referring to Georgia Tech’s new Ph.D. program in machine learning.

Within the center, researchers are striving to advance both basic and applied science. “For example, one foundational goal is to really understand deep learning at its core,” Essa said. “We want to develop new theories and innovative algorithms, rather than just using deep learning as a black box for inputs and outputs.” And on the applied research front, the center has seven focal areas: health care, education, logistics, social networks, the financial sector, information security, and robotics.

See the complete article from Research Horizons magazine.

]]> John Toon 1 1520622000 2018-03-09 19:00:00 1520622091 2018-03-09 19:01:31 0 0 news Machine learning has been around for decades, but the advent of big data and more powerful computers has increased its impact significantly. Georgia Tech researchers are advancing both basic and applied science involved.

2018-03-09T00:00:00-05:00 2018-03-09T00:00:00-05:00 2018-03-09 00:00:00 John Toon

Research News

(404) 894-6986

603587 603588 603587 image <![CDATA[Minds of the New Machines]]> image/jpeg 1520621292 2018-03-09 18:48:12 1520621292 2018-03-09 18:48:12 603588 image <![CDATA[Anticipatory intelligence]]> image/jpeg 1520621446 2018-03-09 18:50:46 1520621446 2018-03-09 18:50:46
<![CDATA[Robots Taking Over Music, With Humans by Their Side]]> 34676 This Friday marks the start of the fifth annual Atlanta Science Festival, kicking off with Rise Up, Robots, a variety show featuring an assortment of robotic performers.

One of those performers will be Shimon, a marimba-playing robot that uses machine learning to develop new and inventive compositions. Shimon was created by Gil Weinberg, professor and founding director of Georgia Tech’s Center for Music Technology.

Many at Tech have heard of Shimon and its ability to improvise jazz melodies. This Friday, though, the musical robot will tread uncharted territory, showcasing a new rock composition composed by Zach Kondak, a graduate student in music technology, who will also play drums and guitar. Joining Weinberg and Kondak will be Richard Savery, also a graduate student in music technology, on saxophone.

“In the past, we have trained Shimon using jazz, classical, and pop, but rock is very new for us,” said Weinberg. “This will be our first time going for a prog-rock piece with a strong mathematical structure.”

Shimon could not always craft original compositions. It was originally programmed to improvise by predicting notes one at a time using probabilistic analysis. In the past few years, though, Weinberg and his team have implemented deep-learning techniques that allow Shimon to improvise longer structure, original melodies.

“Not only can Shimon create music like no human can, it can analyze and combine styles of different performers to create a whole new set of styles. I can tell Shimon to play 30 percent in the style of John Coltrane, 30 percent in the style of Thelonious Monk, and 40 percent in my own style, and Shimon will use all of that learned information to create something new.”

Shimon could have been designed more like a traditional computer – playing compositions via speaker to create a greater assortment of sounds – but Weinberg did not just want his device to play, he wanted it to perform acoustically. He and his team were very intentional about designing a machine that played a physical instrument and could connect with human bandmates.

“With Shimon, we wanted to create a machine that could perform in live settings. Shimon makes expressive gestures, allowing human performers to respond to visual cues that can facilitate more expressive improvisation, creativity, and connection,” said Weinberg.

Some may fear that new technologies like Shimon will make human musicians obsolete, but Weinberg does not believe an actual robot uprising is due anytime soon.

“The risks of artificial intelligence are not what most people think. The most common fear is that robots and artificial intelligence will destroy jobs, but I actually think that they will create more jobs,” said Weinberg. “Everyone used to think that the camera would destroy painting, but it never did. In fact, the camera not only created many new jobs in the new industry of photography, it also pushed realistic paint and sketch art to new styles and movements such as expressionism and impressionism.”

That creativity-spurring disruption, said Weinberg, is just what artificial intelligence can do for music. It’s collaboration with, not displacement by, machines that future human artists will experience.

“Creativity has never been about making something from nothing. The integration of ideas is where creativity happens,” said Weinberg. “Shimon reminds you of a style or an artist, all while being completely new. Our hope is that when you listen to it, something on an emotional level will connect.” That, said Weinberg, is where the creative power of Shimon realizes its full potential to inspire human musicians.

Weinberg hopes to demonstrate this creative collaboration on Friday, as well as in future projects that he and his team are currently developing.

“Now, we can use EEG technology to see how the brain responds when a person plays with humans versus when they play with artificial intelligence,” said Weinberg. “We’re also working on a rock-opera about artificial intelligence in which much of the music will be created by AI itself. We want this opera to be a metacommentary on how this technology is transforming the world.”

Rise Up, Robots will be held at the Ferst Center for the Performing Arts at 7 p.m. on March 9, and will also feature a robotic comedian, a bionic arm, and a robot petting zoo. You can find out more about the event here. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased on the Arts@Tech site. The Atlanta Science Festival will take place throughout the weekend at locations across Atlanta.

]]> amccandlish3 1 1520447500 2018-03-07 18:31:40 1520460435 2018-03-07 22:07:15 0 0 news Shimon, the marimba playing robot, will perform at this Friday's Rise Up, Robots event.

2018-03-07T00:00:00-05:00 2018-03-07T00:00:00-05:00 2018-03-07 00:00:00 Two other guests will feature alongside Weinberg. Heather Knight, assistant professor of robotics at Oregon State University, will showcase the robotic comedian Data. Stewart Coulter, Engineering Manager at DEKA, will provide a demonstration of the LUKE arm – a bionic, prosthetic arm that communicates directly to the wearer’s brain.

A robot petting zoo will occur directly before the performances. Here, participants can interact with animal-like robots created by Georgia Tech: a salamander, a mudskipper, and a sea turtle. They will feature alongside an assortment of other robotic creatures, including R2-D2.

Austin McCandlish

603439 603439 image <![CDATA[Shimon Rise Up Robots]]> image/jpeg 1520446117 2018-03-07 18:08:37 1520452876 2018-03-07 20:01:16 <![CDATA[Arts@Tech]]> <![CDATA[Atlanta Science Festival]]> <![CDATA[More Georgia Tech Events at the Atlanta Science Festival]]> <![CDATA[Tasty, Scary, Punky Ways to Enjoy Science]]>
<![CDATA[Wang Appointed as IEEE SSCS Distinguished Lecturer]]> 27241 Hua Wang has been named as a Distinguished Lecturer for the IEEE Solid-State Circuits Society for a two-year term, effective January 1, 2018 through December 31, 2019. He is an assistant professor in the Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE).

Wang leads the Georgia Tech Electronics and Micro-System (GEMS) lab, which focuses on innovating integrated circuits and hybrid micro-systems to address future wireless communication, radar, imaging, and health care applications.

The three areas in which Wang will present lectures include:

• Broadband, Linear, and High-Efficiency Mm-Wave Power Amplifiers – The Unreasonable Quest for “Perfect” 5G Mm-Wave Power Amplifiers and Some Reasonable Solutions

• Merging Antenna Designs with Electronic Circuits – Multi-Feed Antennas Based Mm-Wave Front-Ends in Silicon for On-Antenna Power Combining, Active Load Modulation, and Full Duplex Operations

• Using Moore’s Law to Break Eroom’s Law? – Multimodal CMOS Cellular Interface for High Throughput Drug Screening and New Drug Development

A member of the ECE faculty since 2012, Wang holds the Demetrius T. Paris Junior Professorship. Some of his most recent awards include the DARPA Young Faculty Award (2018); IEEE Microwave Theory and Techniques Society Outstanding Young Engineer Award (2017); Georgia Tech Sigma Xi Young Faculty Award (2016); and the NSF CAREER Award, Lockheed Dean’s Excellence in Teaching Award, and Georgia Tech ECE Outstanding Junior Faculty Member Award (all received in 2015).

Wang is an associate editor of the IEEE Microwave and Wireless Components Letters and serves as a technical program committee and steering committee member for the top conferences in his field. He serves as the chair of Atlanta’s IEEE Circuits and Systems Society/Solid-State Circuits Society (SSCS) joint chapter, which won the IEEE SSCS Outstanding Chapter Award in 2014.

]]> Jackie Nemeth 1 1520439584 2018-03-07 16:19:44 1520439584 2018-03-07 16:19:44 0 0 news ECE Assistant Professor Hua Wang has been named as a Distinguished Lecturer for the IEEE Solid-State Circuits Society for a two-year term. 

2018-03-07T00:00:00-05:00 2018-03-07T00:00:00-05:00 2018-03-07 00:00:00 Jackie Nemeth

School of Electrical and Computer Engineering


274201 274201 image <![CDATA[Hua Wang]]> image/jpeg 1449244112 2015-12-04 15:48:32 1475894964 2016-10-08 02:49:24 <![CDATA[Hua Wang]]> <![CDATA[Georgia Tech Electronics and Micro-System Lab]]> <![CDATA[School of Electrical and Computer Engineering]]> <![CDATA[Georgia Tech]]> <![CDATA[IEEE Solid-State Circuits Society]]>
<![CDATA[Butera Named as IEEE EMBS Distinguished Lecturer]]> 27241 Robert J. Butera has been named as a Distinguished Lecturer for the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (EMBS) for a two-year term, which began on January 1, 2018 and will end on December 31, 2019.

The areas in which Butera will present lectures include bioelectric medicine, electrophysiology, nerve stimulation, computational neuroscience, and the maker movement and problem-based learning.

A member of the Georgia Tech faculty since 1999, Butera is the associate dean for Research and Innovation in the College of Engineering. He is a professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) and holds a joint appointment in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering. 

Prior to joining the Dean’s Office, Butera led the Neural Engineering Center from 2014-2016 and served as founding faculty director of the Grand Challenges Living Learning Community from 2012-2015. He is a member of the Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience and is a faculty member in the Interdisciplinary Bioengineering Graduate Program; he served as the program’s director from 2005-2008. 

Butera is a Fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and he is the vice president for publications for IEEE EMBS.

]]> Jackie Nemeth 1 1520281105 2018-03-05 20:18:25 1520281560 2018-03-05 20:26:00 0 0 news ECE Professor Robert J. Butera has been named as a Distinguished Lecturer for the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (EMBS) for a two-year term, which began on January 1, 2018 and will end on December 31, 2019. 

2018-03-05T00:00:00-05:00 2018-03-05T00:00:00-05:00 2018-03-05 00:00:00 Jackie Nemeth

School of Electrical and Computer Engineering


603296 603296 image <![CDATA[Robert J. Butera]]> image/jpeg 1520281193 2018-03-05 20:19:53 1520281193 2018-03-05 20:19:53 <![CDATA[Robert J. Butera]]> <![CDATA[School of Electrical and Computer Engineering]]> <![CDATA[Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering]]> <![CDATA[Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience]]> <![CDATA[Interdisciplinary Bioengineering Graduate Program]]> <![CDATA[College of Engineering]]> <![CDATA[Georgia Tech]]> <![CDATA[IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society]]>
<![CDATA[Comparison Shows Value of DNA Barcoding in Selecting Nanoparticles]]> 27303 The first direct comparison of in vitro and in vivo screening techniques for identifying nanoparticles that may be used to transport therapeutic molecules into cells shows that testing in lab dishes isn’t much help in predicting which nanoparticles will successfully enter the cells of living animals.

The new study demonstrated the advantages of an in vivo DNA barcoding technique, which attaches small snippets of DNA to different lipid-based nanoparticles that are then injected into living animals; more than a hundred nanoparticles can be tested in a single animal. DNA sequencing techniques are then used to identify which nanoparticles enter the cells of specific organs, making the particles candidates for transporting gene therapies to treat such killers as heart disease, cancer and Parkinson’s disease.

The traditional technique for identifying promising nanoparticles examines how the particles enter living cells kept in lab dishes. To compare the new and old screening techniques, the researchers added barcoded nanoparticles to living cells in lab dishes, and injected identical barcoded nanoparticles into living animal models. They found almost no correlation between the nanoparticles identified as promising in the lab dish tests and those that actually performed well in the mice.

“DNA barcoding has the potential to advance the science of selecting nanoparticles for delivering gene therapies,” said James Dahlman, an assistant professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University and the study’s principal investigator. “Using this technique, companies and academic labs could pick out promising nanoparticles much more efficiently. That could accelerate the rate at which nanoparticle-based therapies move into the clinic, while reducing the amount of animal testing required.”

The research, which is supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Cancer Research Institute, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, was reported February 28 in the journal ACS Nano Letters. The research was conducted by scientists from the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University.

Genetic therapies, such as those made from DNA or RNA, face challenges because of the difficulty in delivering the nucleic acid to the right cells. For the past two decades, scientists have been developing nanoparticles made from a broad range of materials and adding compounds such as cholesterol to help carry these therapeutic agents into cells. But the development of nanoparticle carriers has been slowed by the challenges of testing them, first in cell culture to identify promising nanoparticles, and later in animals. With millions of possible combinations, identifying the optimal nanoparticles to target each organ has been overwhelming.

Using DNA strands just 58 nucleotides long to uniquely identify each particle allows researchers to skip the cell culture screening altogether – and test a hundred or more different types of nanoparticles simultaneously in just a handful of animals. 

“If you wanted to test 200 nanoparticles in the traditional way, you would need 600 mice – three for each type of nanoparticle,” said Dahlman. “Using the DNA barcoding technique, which we call Joint Rapid DNA Analysis of Nanoparticles (JORDAN), we are able to do the testing in just three animals.”

The study examined nanoparticle entry into endothelial cells and macrophages for the in vitro study, and the same type of cells from the lung, heart and bone marrow for the in vivo component. The two cell types are important to a broad range of organ systems in the body and play active roles in diseases that could be targets for nucleic acid therapies. The study compared how the same 281 lipid nanoparticles delivered the barcodes in lab dishes and living animals.

“There was no predictive capability between the lab dish tests and the animal tests,” Dahlman said. “If the in vitro tests had been good predictors, then particles that did well in the dish would also have done well in the animals, and particles that did poorly in the dish would also have done poorly in the animals. We did not see that at all.”

The research team, led by co-first authors Kalina Paunovska and Cory D. Sago, also studied how nanoparticle delivery changes with the microenvironment of specific tissue types. For that, they quantified how 85 nanoparticles delivered DNA barcodes to eight cell populations in the spleen, and found that cell types derived from myeloid progenitors tended to be targeted by similar nanoparticles.

Researchers are interested not only in which nanoparticles deliver the therapeutics most effectively, but also which can deliver them selectively to specific organs. Therapeutics targeted to tumors, for example, should be delivered only to the tumor and not to surrounding tissues. Therapeutics for heart disease likewise should selectively accumulate in the heart.

The single-strand DNA barcode sequences use in the technique are about the same size as antisense oligonucleotides, microRNA and siRNA being developed for possible therapeutic uses. Other gene-based therapeutics are larger, and additional research would be needed to determine if the technique could be used with them.  

Once the promising nanoparticles are identified with the screening, they would be subjected to additional testing to verify their ability to deliver therapeutics. To avoid the possibility of nanoparticles merging, only structures that are stable in aqueous environments can be tested with this technique. Only nontoxic nanoparticles can be screened, and researchers must control for potential inflammation generated by the inserted DNA.

“Nucleic acid therapies hold considerable promise for treating a range of serious diseases,” said Dahlman. “We hope this technique will be used widely in the field, and that it will ultimately bring more clarity to how these drugs affect cells – and how we can get them to the right locations in the body.”

In addition to those already mentioned, the research team included Christopher M. Monaco, Marielena Gamboa Castro, Tobi G. Rudoltz, Sujay Kalathoor, Daryll A. Vanover and Professor Philip J. Santangelo of the Coulter Department; William H. Hudson and Rafi Ahmed of the Emory Vaccine Center and Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Emory University, and Anton V. Bryksin of the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience at Georgia Tech. 

This research was supported the NIH/NIGMS-sponsored Cell and Tissue Engineering (CTEng) Biotechnology Training Program (T32GM08433), the NIH/NIGMS-sponsored Immunoengineering Training Program (T32EB021962), the Cancer Research Institute Irvington Fellow program supported by the Cancer Research Institute, the Cystic Fibrosis Research Foundation, the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, and the Bayer Hemophilia Awards Program. This study was also supported with funding from the National Institutes of Health GT BioMAT Training Grant under Award Number (5T32EB006343). This work was performed in part at the Georgia Tech Institute for Electronics and Nanotechnology, a member of the National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure, which is supported by the National Science Foundation (Grant ECCS-1542174). The content of this news release is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the sponsoring organizations.

CITATION: Kalina Paunovska and Cory D. Sago, et al., “A direct comparison of in vitro and in vivo nucleic acid delivery mediated by hundreds of nanoparticles reveals a weak correlation,” (Nano Letters 2018). https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.nanolett.8b00432

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]]> John Toon 1 1520269604 2018-03-05 17:06:44 1520269881 2018-03-05 17:11:21 0 0 news The first direct comparison of in vivo and in vitro screening techniques for identifying nanoparticles that may be used to transport therapeutic molecules into cells shows that testing in lab dishes isn’t much help in predicting which nanoparticles will successfully enter the cells of living animals.

2018-03-05T00:00:00-05:00 2018-03-05T00:00:00-05:00 2018-03-05 00:00:00 John Toon

Research News

(404) 894-6986

603263 603266 603264 603263 image <![CDATA[Cell with nanoparticles]]> image/jpeg 1520268370 2018-03-05 16:46:10 1520268370