Fall 2021 | Issue 3
Department of Bioengineering
A Note From the Chair
We enter the 2021-2022 Academic Year with excitement and not a little trepidation. After 18 months of hybrid interactions, will in-person really work? Will we stay safe and healthy? I am optimistic. It is the responsibility of every one of us to be as careful as possible, minimize the chances of transmitting the virus, and respect our colleagues and friend's anxieties and needs. But we can do that. We have proven we can do that. It is time now to return to our lives, our career trajectories, and our dreams. We may have to live with new protocols and new habits. I may have to teach wearing a mask. But our aspirations are undiminished. They may be changed by the opportunities and challenges of the pandemic. But, surely, they are not diminished. We face a world even more in need of Bioengineers that was apparent two years ago.  
The pandemic challenged us to new levels of creativity, in our work, our play and our search for entertainment. Lacking a clear venue in which faculty would get the chance to congratulate graduating seniors, the College had life-sized photographs made of the Chairs and Associate Deans, and they were propped up along the procession route across campus. When I was asked to pose for one of these images I thought it was about the silliest idea I had ever heard. But it turned out to be fabulous. People sent me selfies of themselves with my avatar! And now it resides on the second floor of ISEC, occasionally wandering into different labs and offices, a haunting presence that makes me smile every time I see it.  
In this Newsletter, we outline some of the achievements that the faculty, staff, and students of the Bioengineering Department have made over the past year. Even without the restrictions and risks, this would be a remarkable list; a list of which to be proud. How was your year? Please let us know. We look forward to hearing from you! 

-Lee Makowski, Professor and Chair
Department Facts and Figures
Three Undergraduate Concentrations:
  • Cell and Tissue Engineering
  • Biomechanics
  • Biomedical Devices and Bioimaging

New Combined Major:
Bioengineering and Biochemistry

New Concentration
Computational and Systems Biology

2021 Graduating Class included 98 seniors, 32 MS and 4 PhD
Three MS Graduate Concentrations:
  • Biomedical Devices and Bioimaging
  • Cell and Tissue Engineering
  • Biomechanics

Four PhD Research Areas: 
  • Imaging, Instrumentation, and Signal Processing
  • Biomechanics, Biotransport, and Mechanobiology
  • Molecular, Cell, and Tissue Engineering
  • Computational and Systems Biology
Using Robots to Help Blind and Deaf People Communicate
The robotic arm, built by Samantha Johnson, a bioengineering graduate student at Northeastern, is designed to produce tactile sign language in order to enable more independence for people who, like Lard, are both deaf and blind. Lard is one of the members of the deaf-blind community that is helping Johnson test the robot and giving her feedback on how it could be improved.

“I’m very excited for this new opportunity to help improve this robot,” Lard says, through an interpreter.

Johnson came up with the idea for a tactile sign language robot, which she has named TATUM, Tactile ASL Translational User Mechanism, as an undergraduate student at Northeastern >>
Investigating the Dynamics of Biochemical Systems
ECE/BioE University Distinguished Professor Eduardo Sontag is the PI of a $305K NSF grant for designing “New Techniques for Analyzing the Long-term Behavior of Intracellular Networks.”

This project aims to develop an approach to the computer-aided analysis of biochemical networks and is based on research done in the Sontag Lab by Senior Research Scientist Muhammad Ali Al-Radhawi >>
New Nanosensor Holds Promise for Diagnosingand Treating Neurological Disease
Every movement in the human body—from lifting our arms to our beating hearts—is regulated in some way by signals from our brains. Until recently, scientists often tracked and understood that brain-body communication only after the fact, sort of like listening to a voicemail as opposed to being on a call.

But researchers at Northeastern have developed a new type of nanosensor that allows scientists to image communication between the brain and the body in real time. They now can listen in on the call.

Heather Clark, professor of bioengineering and chemistry at Northeastern, and James Monaghan, associate professor of biology, along with colleagues at Northeastern and researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, developed a DNA-based nanosensor that detects a specific neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, as it’s released and picked up by target cells in living animals>>
Co-op Leads to Two Publications, Three Patents 
While on co-op during the peak of the Coronavirus pandemic, Caitlynn Tov, E’21, assisted in the development of a new mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Tov, who is majoring in bioengineering with a concentration in medical devices, worked in the laboratory of MIT Assistant Professor Giovanni Traverso at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The lab primarily designs ingestible drug delivery implants.

Tov says, “I knew I wanted to get involved with implants for my second co-op because my first co-op was [working on] a consumer product. I wanted exposure to medical devices and I’ve always been interested in implants.”>>
Improving Vein Grafts for Patients with Cardiovascular Diseases
BioE Associate Professor Guohao Dai (PI), ChE Assistant Professors Ryan Koppes (PI), and Abigail Koppes (co-PI) were awarded a $430K NIH grant.

The grant is from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke for “Bioengineer a Humanized Autonomic Neurovascular Innervation on a Chip”>>
Making Her Mark
Xuezhu Cai has a theory about Parkinson’s Disease.

What if the disease is caused by a failure of glymphatic system, the recently-discovered network that drains toxic biological waste produced by brain cells. If this theory is correct, it could lead to earlier diagnosis and intervention that can restore the drainage system before too much damage is done.

“The problem now is that once a person shows motor symptoms of Parkinson’s, it’s already too late,” said Cai, who is earning her PhD in bioengineering and participating in the Experiential PhD program. >>
Understanding microRNA Roles in Stochastic Multistable Networks
BioE Assistant Professor Mingyang Lu and Physics/BioE University Distinguished Professor Herbert Levine, in collaboration with Leonidas Bleris from the University of Texas at Dallas, were awarded a $1.4M NSF grant for “Genome Editing Approaches to Unravel microRNA Roles in Stochastic Multistable Networks.”

One of the fundamental questions in biology is to understand the roles of the gene regulatory networks driving cellular decisions. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small RNA molecules that bind to the mRNA of target genes, acting as regulators of gene expression >>
Take a 'Look Into the Lab'
Ever wondered what happens in our research labs? Want to learn more about a specific faculty member's research?

Check out our new Youtube series "Look into the Lab". You'll never know who we'll feature next. Come check it out!

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Northeastern University Department of Bioengineering | bioe.northeastern.edu