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MIT Society of Women Engineers’ journey into virtual connection

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When the student body was sent home last March in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, the MIT Society of Women Engineers (SWE), one of the largest student organizations on campus with over 400 undergraduate and graduate student members, faced its biggest challenge yet — transitioning nearly 70 in-person programming events to an entirely virtual experience.

The group worked tirelessly throughout the summer — when most MIT clubs and organizations were not in session — on ways to adapt and run all of their customary SWE events without jeopardizing the quality of the organization or scrapping programs completely. Members of the group discovered innovative ways to adjust and adapt in order to maintain everything in a virtual setting.

“From the executive team, all the way to our general members, everyone had a positive outlook on our situation and was willing to put in the work.” says Koumani Ntowe, a senior in biological engineering and MIT SWE co-president. “It just shows the impact that this organization has had and how much our members are committed to ensuring it continues to function and run in a virtual semester.”

MIT SWE is comprised of five departments that include campus relations, career development, membership, outreach, and technology. Since 1979, SWE’s mission and goals have been to inspire younger generations about engineering, encourage the notion of diversity in engineering, and to determine and advocate for the needs of women engineers at MIT and the broader community. “We are an organization that is really built on creating connections with people, so it was hard for us to learn how to create these same connections in a more virtual setting,” says Ntowe.

In addition to promoting diversity among women engineers, SWE seeks to introduce students of all ages, from grade school to high school, to STEM fields. While the pandemic and transition to virtual programming has tremendously affected its outreach, it has also given SWE more opportunities to provide greater access to their programs to individuals beyond the Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts, areas.

To welcome new first-year student members this academic year, Ntowe and Jeana Choi, a senior in electrical engineering and computer science and MIT SWE’s co-president, worked together to hand pack over 100 care packages filled with miscellaneous MIT swag to send individuals across the United States. “We wanted to create a friendly and open environment for first-year students who have never stepped foot on MIT’s campus or had a chance to attend Campus Preview Weekend to meet any of the upperclassmen in person,” says Choi.

During the first few weeks of the fall semester, SWE also collaborated with other student campus organizations including Black Women’s Alliance, National Society of Black Engineers, Mujeres Latinas, and Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, to host a series of fun and interactive events, panels, and workshops to engage first-year students. A popular and well-attended event each year is SWE’s resume workshop, where typically first-year students take advantage of one of their first career development opportunities.

Another major event this year was SWE’s 41st Anniversary Celebration, where members had an opportunity to meet and network with companies and nonprofit organizations. With the hard work from SWE’s career development department, there were over 300 student attendees, 30 companies, and a special appearance by MIT Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart and MIT SWE’s faculty advisor Professor Sangeeta Bhatia. “The event was so well-run, and it was the best virtual career fair I have attended where I was able to talk and connect with people from various companies and organizations,” says Elissa Ito, a sophomore in mechanical engineering and SWE member.

A new outreach venture the group has tackled this semester has involved engineering activity kits for elementary and middle school students. The idea is to design and produce pre-made activity kits for students from grades three through eight to have fun, do-it-at-home activities during a time when it may be hard to keep up with school. The initial plan was to create 400 kits, but the idea gained popularity on social media and the group received over 35,000 individual signups. Now, MIT SWE is working on funding and logistics to meet the demands for these kits to send out to as many students as they can. The goal of these activity kits is to get more young people more interested in STEM and engineering.

A major priority of SWE is to raise awareness for women in STEM in the future by creating a supportive community at MIT. Over the summer, MIT SWE conducted a large-scale survey to the undergraduate community to learn about peoples’ perceptions of SWE and suggestions on how to be more inclusive regardless of an individual’s race, gender, or sexual orientation.

“There are so many people with all these new innovative ideas, and being able to converse with them on their visions for the future really puts everything into perspective of how motivated everyone is,” says Choi. “We all value and love the community and want to make SWE a more welcoming place.”

Source: https://news.mit.edu/2021/mit-society-women-engineers-journey-virtual-connection-0104

Biotechnology

Lidia Vasconcelos, Division of Comparative Medicine staffer, dies at age 53

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Lidia Vasconcelos, an area supervisor in the MIT Division of Comparative Medicine (DCM), died of cancer on Jan. 29. She was 53 years old.

“Lidia’s captivating smile displayed her warmth and love for her family, friends, and DCM co-workers,” says James Fox, director of DCM and professor in the Department of Biological Engineering.

Vasconcelos joined DCM in 1996 and was promoted to area supervisor in 2004. In this role, she worked with a large team to consistently maintain immaculate, state-of-the-art animal facilities, and provided guidance and support to DCM’s 90 animal care technicians and many active researchers.

Vasconcelos’s specific area was the Whitehead Institute animal facility, which has 10 labs and approximately 50 active researchers. “Lidia’s work ethic and professional demeanor made her an extremely valuable asset to all of her DCM colleagues,” says Keith Kun, administrative officer in DCM and one of Vasconcelos’ supervisors. Her work ensured the smooth operation of the facility, from maintaining supplies to direct supervision of 12 animal-care technicians to training new technicians and assistant area supervisors.  

“Lidia was always a dedicated colleague and friend, and she set an example for all to follow. She cared deeply for the welfare of animals under her care. She was always mindful of her co-workers’ morale and well-being, and a staunch advocate for a workplace which promoted inclusiveness and mutual respect,” says Fox.

Vasconcelos is survived by her husband, Paul Vasconcelos, and her children, Kyle and Kayla.

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Source: https://news.mit.edu/2021/lidia-vasconcelos-division-comparative-medicine-dies-0302

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Common bacteria modified to make designer sugar-based drug

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Process paves a road to safe, ethical, and fast drug manufacturing

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Credit: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

TROY, N.Y. — Envisioning an animal-free drug supply, scientists have — for the first time — reprogrammed a common bacterium to make a designer polysaccharide molecule used in pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals. Published today in Nature Communications, the researchers modified E. coli to produce chondroitin sulfate, a drug best known as a dietary supplement to treat arthritis that is currently sourced from cow trachea.

Genetically engineered E. coli is used to make a long list of medicinal proteins, but it took years to coax the bacteria into producing even the simplest in this class of linked sugar molecules — called sulfated glycosaminoglycans –that are often used as drugs and nutraceuticals..

“It’s a challenge to engineer E. coli to produce these molecules, and we had to make many changes and balance those changes so that the bacteria will grow well,” said Mattheos Koffas, lead researcher and a professor of chemical and biological engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “But this work shows that it is possible to produce these polysaccharides using E. coli in animal-free fashion, and the procedure can be extended to produce other sulfated glycosaminoglycans.”

At Rensselaer, Koffas worked with Jonathan Dordick a fellow professor of chemical and biological engineering, and Robert Linhardt a professor of chemistry and chemical biology. All three are members of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies. Dordick is a pioneer in using enzymes for material synthesis and designing biomolecular tools for the development of better drugs. Linhardt is a glycans expert and one of the world’s foremost authorities on the blood-thinner heparin, a sulfated glycosaminoglycans currently derived from pig intestine.

Linhardt, who developed the first synthetic version of heparin, said engineering E. coli to produce the drug has many advantages over the current extractive process or even a chemoenzymatic process.

“If we prepare chondroitin sulfate chemoenzymatically, and we make one gram, and it takes a month to make, and someone calls us and says, ‘Well, now I need 10 grams,’ we’re going to have to spend another month to make 10 grams,” Linhardt said. “Whereas, with the fermentation, you throw the engineered organism in a flask, and you have the material, whether it’s one gram, or 10 grams, or a kilogram. This is the future.”

“The ability to endow a simple bacterium with a biosynthetic pathway only found in animals is critical for synthesis at commercially relevant scales. Just as important is that the complex medicinal product that we produced in E. coli is structurally the same as that used as the dietary supplement.” said Dordick.

Koffas outlined three major steps the team had to build into the bacteria so that it would produce chondroitin sulfate: introducing a gene cluster to produce an unsulfated polysaccharide precursor molecule, engineering the bacteria to make an ample supply of an energetically expensive sulfur donor molecule, and introducing a sulfur transferase enzyme to put the sulfur donor molecule onto the unsulfated polysaccharide precursor molecule.

Introducing a working sulfotransferase enzyme posed a particularly difficult challenge.

“The sulfotransferases are made by much more complex cells,” Koffas said. “When you take them out of a complex eukaryotic cell and put them into E. coli, they’re not functional at all. You basically get nothing. So we had to do quite a bit of protein engineering to make it work.”

The team first produced a structure of the enzyme, and then used an algorithm to help identify mutations they could make to the enzyme to produce a stable version that would work in E. coli.

Although the modified E. coli produce a relatively small yield — on the order of micrograms per liter — they thrive under ordinary lab conditions, offering a robust proof of concept.

“This work is a milestone in engineering and manufacturing of biologics and it opens new avenues in several fields such as therapeutics and regenerative medicine that need a substantial supply of specific molecules whose production is lost with aging and diseases,” said Deepak Vashishth, director of the CBIS. “Such advances take birth and thrive in interdisciplinary environments made possible through the unique integration of knowledge and resources available at the Rensselaer CBIS.”

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“Complete biosynthesis of a sulfated chondroitin in Escherichia coli” was published today in Nature Communications with support from National Science Foundation Grant CBET-1604547. Dordick, Linhardt, and Koffas were joined in the research at Rensselaer by Abinaya Badri, Asher Williams, Adeola Awofiranye, Payel Datta, Ke Xia, Wenqin He, and Keith Fraser. Once published, the paper can be found using DOI:10.1038/s41467-021-21692-5.

About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Founded in 1824, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is America’s first technological research university. Rensselaer encompasses five schools, 32 research centers, more than 145 academic programs, and a dynamic community made up of more than 7,900 students and over 100,000 living alumni. Rensselaer faculty and alumni include more than 145 National Academy members, six members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, six National Medal of Technology winners, five National Medal of Science winners, and a Nobel Prize winner in Physics. With nearly 200 years of experience advancing scientific and technological knowledge, Rensselaer remains focused on addressing global challenges with a spirit of ingenuity and collaboration. To learn more, please visit http://www.rpi.edu.

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Related Journal Article

http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-21692-5

Source: https://bioengineer.org/common-bacteria-modified-to-make-designer-sugar-based-drug/

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Meeting the meat needs of the future

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Credit: Institute of Industrial Science, the University of Tokyo

Tokyo, Japan – Humans are largely omnivores, and meat in various forms has always featured in the diet of most cultures. However, with the increasing population and pressure on the environment, traditional methods of meeting this fundamental food requirement are likely to fall short. Now, researchers at the University of Tokyo report innovative biofabrication of bovine muscle tissue in the laboratory that may help meet escalating future demands for dietary meat.

With global urbanization, the economics of animal husbandry are becoming unsustainable. From an environmental viewpoint, the land and water costs of modern mega-scale livestock farming are untenable, as are the greenhouse gas emissions and the overall toll on the planet. Additionally, ethical concerns against inhuman exploitation of lower species for food are increasingly being voiced.

To address future requirements, tissue engineering of cultured meat is under development at several centers worldwide. However, most biosynthetic meat products are amorphous or granular-like minced meat, lacking the grain and texture of real animal flesh. Mai Furuhashi, lead author, explains their novel process. “Using techniques developed for regenerative medicine, we succeeded in culturing millimeter-sized chunks of meat wherein alignment of the myotubes help mimic the texture and mouthfeel of steak. For this, myoblasts drawn from commercial beef were cultured in hydrogel modules that could be stacked allowing fusion into larger chunks. We determined the optimal scaffolding and electrical stimulation to promote contractility and anatomical alignment of the muscle tissue to best simulate steak meat.”

Lead author, Yuya Morimoto, describes the synthesized product. “Our morphological, functional and food feature analyses showed that the cultured muscle tissue holds promise as a credible steak substitute. Breaking force measurements showed that toughness approached that of natural beef over time. Significantly, microbial contamination was undetectable; this has implications for cleanliness, consumer acceptability and shelf-life.”

“Our method paves the way for further development of larger portions of realistic cultured meat that can supplement or replace animal sources,” claims Shoji Takeuchi, senior and corresponding author. “However, there is a long way to go before lab-grown meat is indistinguishable from the real thing and hurdles concerning consumer acceptance and cultural sensibilities are overcome. Nevertheless, this innovation promises to be a green and ethical alternative to animal slaughter in meeting our need for dietary meat.”

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The article, “Formation of contractile 3D bovine muscle tissue for construction of millimetre-thick cultured steak” was published in Science of Food. at DOI: 10.1038/s41538-021-00090-7.

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Shoji Takeuchi
takeuchi@hybrid.t.u-tokyo.ac.jp

Original Source

https://www.iis.u-tokyo.ac.jp/en/news/3495/

Related Journal Article

http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41538-021-00090-7

Source: https://bioengineer.org/meeting-the-meat-needs-of-the-future/

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Tissue, scaffold technologies provide new options for breast cancer, other diseases

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Credit: Sherry Harbin/Purdue University

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – New technology from Purdue University innovators may help improve tissue restoration outcomes for people with breast cancer and other diseases or traumatic injuries.

Purdue researchers, along with fellowship-trained breast surgeon Carla Fisher of Indiana University School of Medicine, teamed up with Purdue startup GeniPhys to develop and perform preclinical studies on a regenerative tissue filler.

This is a first-of-a-kind, in situ scaffold-forming collagen. When applied as a filler for soft tissue defects and voids, it shows promise for accelerating and improving tissue restoration outcomes. The team’s work is published in Scientific Reports.

“It would assist in maintaining the quality of life and emotional well-being of millions of breast cancer survivors each year worldwide,” said Sherry Harbin, a professor in Purdue’s Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering.

The innovators in Harbin’s lab designed and patented the collagen polymer used for this technology. A video of the technology is available here. Harbin founded GeniPhys, a Purdue startup focused on the commercialization of the collagen polymer technology.

“Such an approach may also benefit other patient populations in need of soft tissue restoration or reconstruction, including children with congenital defects, individuals with difficult-to-heal skin ulcers, individuals suffering from traumatic injuries and cancer patients requiring resection of tumors within tissues other than breast.”

A National Science Foundation SBIR Phase I award to GeniPhys supported the preclinical validation studies performed by the team, which included biomedical engineers from Purdue’s Weldon School and a fellowship-trained breast surgeon from Indiana University School of Medicine. Jeannie Plantenga and Abigail Cox from Purdue’s College of Veterinary Medicine also were part of the team.

The regenerative tissue filler, when applied to breast tissue voids, such as those associated with breast conserving surgery, restored breast shape and consistency and supported new breast tissue formation over time, including mammary glands, ducts and adipose tissue. The filler also helped avoid wound contraction and scar formation, which can be painful for patients and contribute to breast deformities.

This filler represents a highly purified liquid collagen protein, that when brought to physiologic conditions by mixing with a proprietary buffer, can be applied to tissue voids. The liquid collagen conforms to patient-specific void geometries and then undergoes a self-assembly reaction to form a fibrillar collagen scaffold like those that make up the body’s tissues.

This scaffold has soft tissue consistency and persists, where it induces a regenerative healing response.

“This tissue filler represents the first planned medical product developed using our innovative collagen polymer technology,” Harbin said. “This collagen polymer supports custom fabrication of a broad range of collagen materials for various applications including tissue restoration, therapeutic cell and drug delivery, or enhancement of tissue-implantable devices interfaces.”

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The innovators worked with the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization to patent the technology. The researchers are looking for partners to continue developing and commercializing their technology. For more information on licensing and other opportunities, contact Sherry Harbin at harbins@purdue.edu.

About Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization

The Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization operates one of the most comprehensive technology transfer programs among leading research universities in the U.S. Services provided by this office support the economic development initiatives of Purdue University and benefit the university’s academic activities through commercializing, licensing and protecting Purdue intellectual property. The office is located in the Convergence Center for Innovation and Collaboration in Discovery Park District, adjacent to the Purdue campus. In fiscal year 2020, the office reported 148 deals finalized with 225 technologies signed, 408 disclosures received and 180 issued U.S. patents. The office is managed by the Purdue Research Foundation, which received the 2019 Innovation and Economic Prosperity Universities Award for Place from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. In 2020, IPWatchdog Institute ranked Purdue third nationally in startup creation and in the top 20 for patents. The Purdue Research Foundation is a private, nonprofit foundation created to advance the mission of Purdue University. Contact otcip@prf.org for more information.

About Purdue University

Purdue University is a top public research institution developing practical solutions to today’s toughest challenges. Ranked the No. 5 Most Innovative University in the United States by U.S. News & World Report, Purdue delivers world-changing research and out-of-this-world discovery. Committed to hands-on and online, real-world learning, Purdue offers a transformative education to all. Committed to affordability and accessibility, Purdue has frozen tuition and most fees at 2012-13 levels, enabling more students than ever to graduate debt-free. See how Purdue never stops in the persistent pursuit of the next giant leap at purdue.edu.

Writer: Chris Adam, cladam@prf.org

Source: Sherry Harbin, harbins@purdue.edu

Media Contact
Chris Adam
cladam@prf.org

Original Source

https://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2021/Q1/tissue-filler,-scaffold-technologies-provide-new-options-for-patients-with-breast-cancer,-other-diseases.html

Related Journal Article

http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-81771-x

Source: https://bioengineer.org/tissue-scaffold-technologies-provide-new-options-for-breast-cancer-other-diseases/

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