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Research by Caroline Thirukumaran Points to Early Infection Detection

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

The identification of surgical site infections for infection surveillance in hospitals depends on the manual abstraction of medical records and, for research purposes, depends mainly on the use of administrative or claims data. The objective of this study was to determine whether automating the abstraction process with natural language processing (NLP)-based models that analyze the free-text notes of the medical record can identify surgical site infections with predictive abilities that match the manual abstraction process and that surpass surgical site infection identification from administrative data.

Read More: Research by Caroline Thirukumaran Points to Early Infection Detection

Anolik Lab’s publication on the impact of B cell depletion therapy on biomarkers of response in rheumatoid arthritis patients is one of PLOS ONE’s top 10% most cited papers in 2019

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Although B cell depletion therapy (BCDT) is effective in a subset of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients, both mechanisms and biomarkers of response are poorly defined. Here we characterized abnormalities in B cell populations in RA and the impact of BCDT in order to elucidate B cell roles in the disease and response biomarkers. In active RA patients both CD27+IgD- switched memory (SM) and CD27-IgD- double negative memory (DN) peripheral blood B cells contained significantly higher fractions of CD95+ and CD21- activated cells compared to healthy controls. After BCD the predominant B cell populations were memory, and residual memory B cells displayed a high fraction of CD21- and CD95+ compared to pre-depletion indicating some resistance of these activated populations to anti-CD20. The residual memory populations also expressed more Ki-67 compared to pre-treatment, suggesting homeostatic proliferation in the B cell depleted state. Biomarkers of clinical response included lower CD95+ activated memory B cells at depletion time points and a higher ratio of transitional B cells to memory at reconstitution. B cell function in terms of cytokine secretion was dependent on B cell subset and changed with BCD. Thus, SM B cells produced pro-inflammatory (TNF) over regulatory (IL10) cytokines as compared to naïve/transitional. Notably, B cell TNF production decreased after BCDT and reconstitution compared to untreated RA. Our results support the hypothesis that the clinical and immunological outcome of BCDT depends on the relative balance of protective and pathogenic B cell subsets established after B cell depletion and repopulation.

Read More: Anolik Lab’s publication on the impact of B cell depletion therapy on biomarkers of response in rheumatoid arthritis patients is one of PLOS ONE’s top 10% most cited papers in 2019

University of Rochester Plans $240 Million Orthopaedics Campus to Expand Surgical, Outpatient Care

Monday, November 18, 2019

Patients with bone and joint conditions could receive treatment at one of the most comprehensive centers for orthopaedic surgery and outpatient care in the United States upon completion of a medical campus to be built alongside The Marketplace Mall, in a project plan announced today by the University of Rochester.

The UR Medicine Orthopaedics & Physical Performance Center would be the biggest offsite building project in University of Rochester history, covering approximately 330,000 square feet. URMC aims to create an orthopaedics center unlike any other in the Northeast: an expansive facility that would combine ambulatory surgery and other essential orthopaedic services in one convenient spot, with every detail of the building and its surrounding campus designed for patients with painful mobility challenges.

Plans call for repurposing the vacant Sears building as the shell for the new ambulatory surgery center, with new operating rooms and procedure rooms. New construction would create a multi-story tower above the surgery center to house virtually everything a patient might need for diagnosis and treatment of a bone, spine, muscle or joint condition: diagnostic imaging; clinic exam rooms; physical, occupational, and hand therapy; sports medicine facilities; athletic training; injury prevention programs; and nutrition/mind-body wellness services.

Read More: University of Rochester Plans $240 Million Orthopaedics Campus to Expand Surgical, Outpatient Care

Join us for the 9th Annual CMSR Symposium on Thursday, September 26!

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

The Annual Center for Musculoskeletal Research (CMSR) Symposium is a special event held over the course of an entire day each year at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC).

The Symposium is designed to not only showcase the current year's musculoskeletal research, but also provide a platform for trainees to present their data and interact with scientists throughout the URMC community and visiting scientists from other institutions. The events that take place during the Symposium include: a poster session for all trainees in the Center, as well as, trainees outside the Center performing musculoskeletal research, two plenary speaker sessions with 5 trainee presentations, 3 faculty presentations and a visiting keynote speaker presentation. Three trainee travel awards are presented to 2 pre-doctoral and 1 post-doctoral candidates.

Read More: Join us for the 9th Annual CMSR Symposium on Thursday, September 26!

URMC Among Four National Leaders to Host AOFAS Traveling Fellowship Program

Friday, September 13, 2019

The University of Rochester’s Department of Orthopaedics is one of four national leaders to host this year’s AOFAS Traveling Fellowship Program in September. The American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society sponsors this competition, which selects six orthopaedic surgeons from around the world to visit host institutions and learn from their faculty. Surgeons from Egypt, China, South Korea, Brazil and the U.S. visit the University of Rochester on Sept. 15-18.

Benedict F. DiGiovanni, MD, FAOA, Professor of Orthopaedics, is Chair of AOFAS Awards and Scholarship Committee, and notes the prestige of being selected as a host or participant.  “These mid-career Orthopaedic surgeons are highly accomplished foot and ankle specialists in their countries, who have demonstrated significant leadership and research accomplishments, and we are excited to serve as one of the host sites during their traveling fellowship.”

The program is a learning and networking opportunity for a select group of Orthopaedic Surgeons from around the globe who are 45 years old and younger. Participants attend the AOFAS Annual Meeting in Chicago Sept. 12-15.  In addition to the UR Orthopaedic program, traveling fellows will make stops at Loyola University and Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, and Twin Cities Orthopedics in Minneapolis.

Traveling fellows are Mohamed M. Abd-Ella, MD (Egypt); Daniel S. Baumfeld, MD (Brazil); Jun Young Choi, MD (South Korea); Constantine A. Demetracopoulos, MD and Daniel Guss, MD, MBA (United States); and Hui Zhang, MD, PhD (China).

They will observe several Foot and Ankle division surgeons performing cases in the OR, including A. Samuel Flemister, MDJudith F. Baumhauer, MD, MPHIrvin C. Oh, MD, and Orthopaedic Trauma surgeon Gillian Soles, MD. Fellows will also tour the Center for Musculoskeletal Research Lab with Edward M. Schwarz, PhD, and J Edward Puzas, PhD, and share their research and clinical experiences with UR faculty and trainees.

The program’s goal is to build professional relationships, exchange ideas, develop new thinking for research and inspire innovative ways to improve clinical care. Being a host site extends the Department of Orthopaedics’ reputation to surgeons in other parts of the U.S. and world, as well as their home programs.

“It is an honor for the Department of Orthopaedics to host visiting surgeons from around the world,” said Paul T. Rubery, MD, Marjorie Strong Wehle Professor of Orthopaedics and chair of the department. “The University of Rochester’s selection by the AOFAS as a host site is a tribute to the spirit of innovation and collaboration in the Foot and Ankle Division, and the department as a whole. Many thanks to Dr. DiGiovanni and his colleagues for their work in organizing this important visit.”

AOFAS to Recognize Judith Baumhauer with Women’s Leadership Award

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Judith F. Baumhauer, MD, MPH, Professor of Orthopaedics, will receive the Women’s Leadership Award from the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society (AOFAS) at its annual meeting Sept. 12-15 in Chicago.

The award recognizes current and future female leaders in foot and ankle orthopaedic surgery; one honoree is selected each year from the U.S. or Canada and from outside the U.S./Canada. Honorees demonstrate leadership in clinical care as well as research, humanitarian efforts, education, business, and/or philanthropy.

Baumhauer is a Professor and Associate Chair of Orthopaedics and Director of the Clinical BioInformatics Core at URMC. In her newly created Director role, she is working to expand the use of Patient Reported Outcomes and patient generated data in clinical practice and research to improve the quality of patient care at the individual, group and population health levels.

Over the past three decades, Baumhauer has held a number of national leadership roles in Orthopaedics, including president of the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery, the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society, and the Eastern Orthopaedic Society. Baumhauer’s colleagues in the Foot and Ankle surgery division will host approximately 15 research podium and poster presentations at the Chicago meeting.

Earning the national leadership award from AOFAS “is quite an honor,” Baumhauer said, “and it speaks to the institution’s commitment to advance women in medicine by supporting my participation in many leadership opportunities over the years.”

Read More: AOFAS to Recognize Judith Baumhauer with Women’s Leadership Award

JAMA Study by Caroline Thirukumaran Looks at Impact of Bundled Payments on Surgical Outcomes

Friday, August 23, 2019

As health care moves from fee-for-service to bundled payments, the Department of Orthopaedics’ Caroline Thirukumaran, M.B.B.S., M.H.A., Ph.D., is researching the impact that payment reforms have on surgical outcomes, particularly with respect to safety-net hospitals. Her most recent study, published in JAMA, compared monetary penalties and rewards among safety net vs. non-safety net hospitals in 2016 and 2017 under Medicare’s Comprehensive Care for Joint Replacement (CJR) model, a bundled payment plan for hip and knee replacements intended to incentivize health care quality and savings.

Thirukumaran is an assistant professor in the department’s Center for Musculoskeletal Research; with funding from a $1.5 million, 4-year NIH grant awarded in 2017, she’s researching the potential for federal payment reforms to exacerbate disparities in care.

“Joint replacement surgeries represent the largest surgical volume and expenditure for Medicare, so it is constantly looking at ways to improve quality and optimize cost of care,” she said. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services introduced the Comprehensive Care for Joint Replacement Model (CJR) in April 2016 to improve coordination and quality of care for joint replacements. Thirukumaran evaluated Medicare data to assess the performance of hospitals in the first two years of the CJR. Safety-net hospitals have a higher proportion of socially vulnerable patients, who tend to have worse outcomes regardless of the quality of care they receive. The study found that in the early CJR years, safety-net hospitals were more likely to receive penalties and less likely to consistently earn rewards, compared to non- safety-net hospitals. Co-authors on the study include Yue Li, Ph.D., professor in Public Health Sciences; Laurent G. Glance, M.D., professor in the department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine, and Public Health Sciences; Xueya Cai, Ph.D., research associate professor in Biostatistics and Computational Biology; and Yeunkyung Kim, Health Services Research and Policy PhD candidate.

“We evaluate how payment and delivery reforms in medicine change hospital behaviors and how that impacts surgical outcomes for people from different racial groups and socioeconomic levels,” she said. Specifically, her research looks at CJR, “a very unique program from Medicare – one of the few programs it has mandated for 800 hospitals around the nation in its initial years.”

Medicare and the Department of Health and Human Services have instituted panels in recent years to see if their bundled payment contracts need adjustments for social risk factors. Research such as Thirukumaran’s, which pinpoints discrepancies in care, helps make the case for payment adjustments to safety-net hospitals. “It’s the first time hospital-level disparities have been shown to appear in CJR,” she said. “But there have been concerns about other bundles.”

URMC does not participate in CJR, but as hospitals around the country and payors move from fee-for-service to value-based payments, research that evaluates the quality and fairness of access to care will continue to be important to safety-net hospitals and health centers across the nation, Thirukumaran said.

These Mentors Make a Difference for First-Generation, Minority Students

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Five University of Rochester faculty mentors are the inaugural recipients of a new mentorship award from the University’s David T. Kearns Center for Leadership and Diversity.

The David T. Kearns Faculty Mentoring and Teaching awards “recognize outstanding faculty members who excel at mentoring and teaching low-income, first-generation, and/or underrepresented minority students who participate in Kearns programs,” says Anthony Plonczynski-Figueroa, director of operations for the Kearns Center. “All of these faculty members have shown an especially strong commitment to these students.”

The other faculty members—Maya Abtahian, an assistant professor of linguistics; Mark Buckley, an associate professor of biomedical engineering; and Douglas Kelley, associate professor of mechanical engineering—are being recognized for their work with the center’s pre-college programs: Upward BoundUpward Bound Math/Science, and Talent Search.

Buckley began working with the Kearns Center in 2014 and was the first faculty member to host a high school “STEMtern” – Upward Bound Math/Science students who complete six-week mentored research projects. Buckley has mentored seven Upward Bound students in research positions. Two of the students later enrolled at the University as undergraduates and another two presented their research at the National Society of Black Engineers annual  convention. Buckley  is also an active mentor with the McNair, REU, and Xerox programs for undergraduates.

Read More: These Mentors Make a Difference for First-Generation, Minority Students

Study Points to Stabilization of TRAF3 Protein to Fight Age-Related Bone Loss

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

A new study led by Brendan Boyce, M.B.Ch.B.., professor of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine and the Center for Musculoskeletal Research and Zhenqiang Yao, MD., Ph.D., assistant professor of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine suggests that age-related osteoporosis could be prevented or treated through pharmacologic stabilization of the protein, TNF receptor-associated factor 3 (TRAF3).

The collaborative study was published in Nature Communications after five years of work by Boyce and fellow URMC researchers who note the need to better understand the mechanisms through which osteoporosis occurs in order to develop new drugs that can be given to help prevent or reverse the disease.

The study notes that the process by which young, healthy peoples’ bones are naturally rebuilt, deteriorates as people age or go through menopause. Increased inflammation, or inflammaging, leads to an increase in bone-degrading osteoclast cells and a reduction in bone-forming osteoblasts, resulting in osteoporosis.

Existing treatments that prevent bone destruction offer long term solutions, but many patients are reluctant to take them because they fear side effects of the drugs, while bone forming drugs can be administered only for short periods to help patients suffering from chronic osteoporosis.

The paper shows that the protein, TGF-beta, which is released in increasing amounts from bone during aging, causes breakdown of TRAF3 in osteoblast precursor mesenchymal progenitor cells. This leads to a reduction in the number of osteoblasts and less bone repair and indirectly to increased numbers of osteoclasts and more bone destruction.

By stabilizing TRAF3 levels in bone cells through new drugs, the authors provide a novel mechanism for how treatments may offer a more long-term solution for patients. This is especially crucial as more people live longer and are exposed to a greater risk of fractures and early death.

Lemonade Stand Supports Efforts to Cure Childhood Cancer

Friday, June 21, 2019

For the 10th year in a row, Danielle Benoit, associate professor of biomedical engineering, and mentees from her lab will hold their fundraiser in support of Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation and its efforts to cure childhood cancer. You can donate online or drop by the lab’s lemonade stand from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, June 22, at the Rochester Public Market, 280 Union Street North or from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday, June 23, at the Brighton Farmers Market,1150 Winton Road South.

CMSR Faculty Gregg Nicandri Named Chief Medical Information Officer

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

On July 1, Gregg Nicandri, M.D., will become our next Chief Medical Information Officer (CMIO), responsible for representing faculty interests in IT decision making and prioritization. See what’s on his mind – and what may be on yours – during this important change for UR Medicine providers.

Read More: CMSR Faculty Gregg Nicandri Named Chief Medical Information Officer

CMSR Faculty Jennifer Anolik Authors Study on Rheumatoid Arthritis in Nature Immunology

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

A key to treating rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and other autoimmune diseases may be found in identifying “activated” cells inside the target tissue – tissue from the joint itself.

A paper published in Nature Immunology details the results of a study looking at cell populations that contribute to RA, a common disease with chronic inflammation in the joint lining tissue or synovium. Jennifer H. Anolik M.D., Ph.D., professor of Medicine and associate chair for Research in the Department of Medicine, is one of four senior authors of the paper, “Defining inflammatory cell states in rheumatoid arthritis joint synovial tissues by integrating single-cell transcriptomics and mass cytometry.”

While previous RA studies focused on analyses of blood samples, this is the first time researchers have comprehensively evaluated the immune cells and joint cells that interact to produce the inflammation and tissue damage seen in RA. The researchers applied single-cell RNA sequencing, mass cytometry, bulk RNA sequencing and flow cytometry to B cells, T cells, monocytes and fibroblasts from the joint tissue. Single-cell sequencing enabled researchers to identify 18 unique cell populations in the joints based on gene-expression patterns. Some of the cell types were seen in large numbers in samples from people with RA. These included both certain immune cells and other cells like fibroblasts, which build connective tissue in the joints.

One of the unique immune cell populations identified in the RA joints included activated B cells.  These findings extend Anolik’s prior RA research demonstrating a key role for B cells in joint damage and bone erosion by pinpointing a specific population of B cells in the tissue that may be particularly pathogenic. “This study gives us a unique window into rheumatoid arthritis that we never had before,” Anolik said. “We now have the tools to obtain joint biopsies and thoroughly dissect their cellular and molecular composition using state-of-the-art technology.”

Phase 1 of the study included 36 people with RA and 15 others with osteoarthritis, for comparison, from ten U.S. and international clinical sites. A much larger group of 100 RA patients and 200 lupus patients will participate in the ongoing Phase 2. A longer-term goal of this study is to better understand how cell populations in individual patients, including the activated B cells, predict treatment response.

Jennifer Anolik Authors Study on Rheumatoid Arthritis in Nature Immunology

Thursday, May 23, 2019

A key to treating rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and other autoimmune diseases may be found in identifying “activated” cells inside the target tissue – tissue from the joint itself.

A paper published in Nature Immunology details the results of a study looking at cell populations that contribute to RA, a common disease with chronic inflammation in the joint lining tissue or synovium. Jennifer H. Anolik M.D., Ph.D., professor of Medicine and associate chair for Research in the Department of Medicine, is one of four senior authors of the paper, “Defining inflammatory cell states in rheumatoid arthritis joint synovial tissues by integrating single-cell transcriptomics and mass cytometry.”

While previous RA studies focused on analyses of blood samples, this is the first time researchers have comprehensively evaluated the immune cells and joint cells that interact to produce the inflammation and tissue damage seen in RA. The researchers applied single-cell RNA sequencing, mass cytometry, bulk RNA sequencing and flow cytometry to B cells, T cells, monocytes and fibroblasts from the joint tissue. Single-cell sequencing enabled researchers to identify 18 unique cell populations in the joints based on gene-expression patterns. Some of the cell types were seen in large numbers in samples from people with RA. These included both certain immune cells and other cells like fibroblasts, which build connective tissue in the joints.

One of the unique immune cell populations identified in the RA joints included activated B cells.  These findings extend Anolik’s prior RA research demonstrating a key role for B cells in joint damage and bone erosion by pinpointing a specific population of B cells in the tissue that may be particularly pathogenic. “This study gives us a unique window into rheumatoid arthritis that we never had before,” says Anolik. “We now have the tools to obtain joint biopsies and thoroughly dissect their cellular and molecular composition using state-of-the-art technology.”

Phase 1 of the study included 36 people with RA and 15 others with osteoarthritis, for comparison, from ten U.S. and international clinical sites. A much larger group of 100 RA patients and 200 lupus patients will participate in the ongoing Phase 2. A longer-term goal of this study is to better understand how cell populations in individual patients, including the activated B cells, predict treatment response.

“With RA patients, there is no way to know who will or will not respond to a particular therapy,” adds Anolik. “A more personalized approach will provide a higher likelihood of success, and our findings of novel inflammatory cell populations represent exciting new targets for therapies to treat RA and potentially other autoimmune diseases. The single-cell analysis approaches of target tissue developed here offer tremendous potential for understanding other human diseases as well.”

This work represents a large-scale collaboration among government, industry, nonprofit organizations and academic investigators called the Accelerating Medicines Partnership (AMP). The AMP is funded by the National Institutes of Health and focuses on gene expression and signaling in tissues where disease is active, yielding tools to accelerate drug discovery for RA, lupus, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

CMSR Graduate Student Maureen Newman Awarded Outstanding PhD Dissertation

Friday, May 17, 2019

Each year Arts, Sciences & Engineering announces Outstanding Dissertation Awards in each of it four divisions.

This year’s recipients are:

Courtney Ball of psychology for “Differential Associations among Affective and Cognitive Empathy and Moral Judgments across Middle Childhood” and Gleason Judd of political science for “Essays on Democratic Institutions,” co-winners in the Social Sciences.

Adam Stauffer of history for “‘Is there any such thing as a California literature?’ Literary Culture and Regional Identity in Nineteenth Century California,” winner in the Humanities.

Maureen Newman of biomedical engineering for “Bone-targeted Polymer Delivery of Osteoanabolics for Bone Regeneration,” winner in the Applied Sciences and Engineering.

Thomas Nevins of physics for “Fronts and Filaments: Methods for Tracking and Predicting the Dynamical Effects of Advection on Excitable Reactions” and Cara Brand of biology for “The Evolutionary Genetics of Recombination and Segregation in Drosophila,” co-winners in the Natural Sciences.

Commendations were awarded to:

Rui Luo of optics for “Nonlinear Nanophotonics in Lithium Niobate” and Nicholas Knopf of English for “Disability, Disease, and Dissent: Embodiment as Critique of British and American Empire from the Stamp Act Crisis to Manifest Destiny.”

Read More: CMSR Graduate Student Maureen Newman Awarded Outstanding PhD Dissertation

CMSR Faculty Jennifer Anolik Named Associate Chair for Research in the Department of Medicine

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

As part of a restructuring to further develop its core research and academic missions, the Department of Medicine has created two new leadership positions. Stephen Hammes, M.D., Ph.D., has been named vice chair for Research and Academic Affairs, and Jennifer Howitt Anolik, M.D., Ph.D., is the associate chair for Research. Both of these appointments were effective April 1,2019, pending approval by the Office of the Provost.  

Read More: CMSR Faculty Jennifer Anolik Named Associate Chair for Research in the Department of Medicine

Danielle Benoit ‘Embodies the Spirit’ of Teaching and Mentorship

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Benoit in the lab

Danielle Benoit, an associate professor of biomedical engineering who has provided research experiences for more than 80 undergraduates in her lab, is the second recipient of the College Award for Undergraduate Teaching and Research Mentorship. (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

Danielle Benoit says it’s “an outstanding opportunity for everybody involved” when undergraduates do research in her lab.

Former students Tim Felong ’14, Amanda Chen ’14, and Janet Sorrells ’17 will all vouch for that.

“I wouldn’t be in medical school right now if it weren’t for Danielle’s mentorship,” says Felong, now at the University at Buffalo’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

Chen, a graduate research fellow in biological engineering at MIT, says, “Danielle’s lab was one of the biggest reasons why I chose to pursue a graduate degree. She gave me the opportunity to work on an independent project, publish a first-author paper, present at conferences, and more.”

And, “the more time I spend in academia the more amazed I am with how Dr. Benoit managed to keep up with so many things,” says Sorrells, now a graduate research fellow in bioengineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “I’m very thankful for everything I learned from her.”

Benoit, an associate professor of biomedical engineering, is this year’s recipient of the College Award for Undergraduate Teaching and Research Mentorship at the University of Rochester.

The award, first presented last year, is funded by chemistry alumnus Frederick Lewis ’68 (PhD) and his wife, Susan Rice Lewis. It salutes tenured faculty members in Arts, Sciences & Engineering who teach large, introductory classes as well as advanced seminars and independent study projects, and who mentor research experiences, especially those that involve laboratory training in the sciences and engineering. (Read more about this new award recognizing faculty for their mentorship. )

The award will be presented to Benoit at the Undergraduate Research Exposition on April 19 at the Welles-Brown Room of Rush Rhees Library.

Benoit “embodies the spirit of this award through her dedication to undergraduate learning through classroom teaching, research experiences, and mentoring,” says Diane Dalecki, chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering. “The research training and mentoring that undergraduates receive from Professor Benoit primes them for continued success as graduate students and throughout their professional careers.”

For example, several of the undergraduate students from her lab, including Chen and Sorrells, have received prestigious National Science Foundation graduate research fellowships to support their graduate studies.

Teaching at ‘multiple levels’

Benoit, who joined the University of Rochester in 2010, develops therapeutic biomaterials for tissue regeneration and targeted drug delivery. For example, she and her collaborators developed a device that selectively delivers drugs to sites of bone resorption to heal fractures and treat osteoporosis. She has also pioneered the development of hydrogel-based engineered extracellular matrices for bone and salivary gland tissue regeneration.

She has been lead, corresponding, or co-author of more than 70 papers in top journals; has received numerous grants, including an NSF CAREER award; has garnered nine approved or pending patents; and was recently elected a fellow of the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering.

She has provided research experiences for more than 80 undergraduates in her lab.

“For me, part and parcel of being a faculty member here is to teach on multiple levels, not just in the classroom but also in the lab, where I can teach undergraduate and graduate students alike the best, cutting-edge research practices,” Benoit says.

Students say the benefits of working in the Benoit Lab extend beyond the research skills they learn.

“Danielle has always been my go-to mentor for all sorts of advice – moral, social, intellectual – and was a powerful advocate for me if I ever found myself in a challenging situation,” Chen says.

Felong says he especially appreciated the “culture” of the lab, which was more like a “family environment. She takes the time to really get to know her students—their interests and hobbies. She hosts biannual parties, where you get to interact with her energy-packed, fun family. I think this openness and mutual appreciation for life inside and outside of work is really motivating for many people my age. I know it was for me.“

Seeing the potential in students

In addition to mentoring students in her lab, Benoit teaches courses including Advanced Biomaterials, Controlled Release Systems, Research Methods, and, starting this spring, Cell and Tissue Engineering, which is the capstone course for biomedical engineering majors with concentrations in that subfield.

She also developed and taught for eight years a biomaterials course, required of all biomedical engineering majors, that typically enrolls about 70 students. She designed the laboratory components of the course so they would dovetail with a biomedical computation and statistics course students take at the same time.

“Students complete laboratories in biomaterials one week, and then analyze data they collected by applying statistical approaches from the other course the following week,” Dalecki says. “This is an excellent pedagogical approach for students to understand how concepts they’re learning in different classes combine to enhance their skills as an engineer.”

Sorrells served as a teaching assistant for the biomaterials course under Benoit. She says Benoit brought the same level of “engagement” to the course that she brings to her lab. “She collected student feedback often and took it very seriously, trying different things to see how to best educate students and equip them with skills like scientific writing and knowledge of biomaterials.”

Benoit also supervises a senior design team each year, meeting with teams at least weekly, guiding them in their design and engineering, and mentoring them on teamwork and project management.

Perhaps the ultimate measure of a good teacher is the ability to inspire, motivate, and serve as a role model.

“Danielle suggested that I apply for the Research Initiative Award for Undergraduates, which is much like a grant application,” Felong says. “I never would have thought that I had a shot at winning that grant, but I applied and ended up getting it.” Benoit, as well as Andrew Shubin ’16 (PHD), ’18M (MD), the graduate student with whom Benoit paired Felong in her lab “saw potential in me that I didn’t see in myself.”

Chen says she “often reflects on mentorship behaviors that I hope to build into my own management style – now as I work with undergraduate trainees (at MIT), but also in my future career. And I find myself often thinking back to my experiences in Danielle’s lab.”

Faculty recognized for excellence in biomedical engineering

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Group Shot

From left, Catherine Kuo, Danielle Benoit, and Amy Lerner have each been inducted as fellows of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering. (University photos)

Three biomedical engineering faculty members at the University of Rochester–Danielle Benoit, Catherine Kuo, and Amy Lerner–have been inducted as fellows of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE).

“Three new fellows in one year is fantastic,” says Diane Dalecki, chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering. “We are so proud of all three of our recipients, for their innovative research, teaching excellence, and outstanding service to their field and to our University.”

Members of AIMBE are employed in academia, industry, clinical practice, and government. AIMBE’s College of Fellows is comprised of the top two percent of medical and biological engineers. A total of 156 fellows–chosen for outstanding contributions in research, practice, or education–were formally inducted at the AIMBE annual meeting in Washington, D.C., on March 25.

Danielle Benoit, an associate professor of biomedical engineering and chemical engineering, was elected for her “outstanding contributions to the design of ‘smart’ materials to treat diseases, control cell behavior, and answer fundamental biological questions.”

A member of the faculty since 2010, Benoit develops therapeutic biomaterials for tissue regeneration and the targeted delivery of therapeutic drugs. For example, she and her collaborators developed a device that selectively delivers drugs to sites of bone resorption to heal fractures and treat osteoporosis. She has also pioneered the development of hydrogel-based engineered extracellular matrices for bone and salivary gland tissue regeneration.

Catherine Kuo, an associate professor of biomedical engineering and orthopaedics, was elected for her “innovative contributions to understanding mechanical regulation of embryonic development to inform tissue engineering and regenerative medicine strategies.”

Kuo joined the Rochester faculty in 2015 and directs a multidisciplinary research team in developing novel strategies to regenerate adult tissues from stem cells inspired by embryonic development. She and her students have discovered that adult stem cells behave like embryonic cells when cultured in biomaterials that are engineered to mimic embryonic tissue. These adult stem cell-regenerated tissues can then be implanted in the body to replace diseased or injured tissues that have limited capacity to heal.

They have also discovered how embryo movements, like kicking, directly regulate the development of musculoskeletal tissues. These studies have led to the discovery of therapeutic molecules that can be used with physical rehabilitation to promote healing of adult musculoskeletal tissues, such as tendons, after injury.

Amy Lerner, an associate professor of biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering, was elected for her “outstanding contributions to orthopaedic biomechanics, engineering design education, and diversity engineering and academia.”

Lerner was a soft goods design engineer for ILC Dover’s program that made Shuttle space suits for NASA before joining the University in 1997. Her research has focused on gender and ethnic differences in anatomy, the role of the meniscus in pressure distributions, and the effects of obesity on risks for knee osteoarthritis.

She is academic director of the Center for Medical Technology and Innovation, a Department of Biomedical Engineering master’s program in medical device design that partners students with clinicians at the Medical Center. Lerner also directs the department’s senior design program, which engages teams of students in “real-world projects” for companies, community agencies and Medical Center clinicians.

Lerner also co-chairs the University’s Commission on Women and Gender Equity in Academia, which received a 2018 Presidential Diversity Award for its work to improve diversity and inclusion. Lerner received the University’s Georgen Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in 2016.

Grant Marks Two Decades of NIH Support for Muscular Dystrophy Research

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Deposits of toxic RNA (red) are seen here inside muscle cell nuclei (blue) from an individual with myotonic dystrophy

The University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) has received $8 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to support pioneering research on muscular dystrophy. The grant, which is a renewal of URMC’s Paul D. Wellstone Muscular Dystrophy Cooperative Research Center, will fund ongoing work to investigate the genetic mechanisms and progression of this complex multi-system disease, research that has led scientists to the threshold of potential new therapies for myotonic dystrophy.

“The mission of the URMC Wellstone Center is to promote research that leads to effective treatments for muscular dystrophy,” said Charles Thornton, M.D., a professor in the URMC Department of Neurology and director of the URMC Wellstone Center. “This new funding will enable us to continue a research program that has been forged from a true partnership between bench scientists, clinical researchers, and patients and their families.”

URMC is home to one of six NIH-designated Wellstone Centers in the nation. URMC was selected in the first cycle of funding when the program was launched 16 years ago and is the only Wellstone Center that has been continuously funded since the program’s inception. With the current award, URMC has received a total of $29.8 million in NIH funding to study the disease since 2003.

The URMC Wellstone Center focuses on myotonic dystrophy, a disease that can be lethal in infants and adults and is characterized by progressive disability. Researchers at URMC have been studying myotonic dystrophy for more than 30 years and their work has transformed our understanding of the biological mechanisms of the disease. The new funding will support a long-standing collaboration between researchers at the University of Rochester and RNA scientists at the University of Florida.

Approximately 40,000 Americans have myotonic dystrophy, which is one of the most common forms of muscular dystrophy. People with the disease have muscle weakness and prolonged muscle tensing (myotonia), which makes it difficult to relax muscles after use. Eventually many patients have difficulty walking, swallowing, and breathing.

Read More: Grant Marks Two Decades of NIH Support for Muscular Dystrophy Research

Novel Insights into Why Depleting B Cells is Effective in the Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

It has been known for years that B cells, immune cells that originate in the bone marrow, are important in Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). A recent Nature Communications publication from co-senior authors Lianping Xing, Ph.D., and Jennifer Anolik, M.D, Ph.D., demonstrates surprising accumulation of B cells close to areas of arthritic bone loss in RA and suggests that these B cells inhibit the formation of new bone after it has been damaged in RA, which enhances our understanding of why certain therapy provides relief, thus paving the way for better treatment.

This discovery is important because it will help to drive the development of new treatments for RA. “Joint damage is a critical adverse outcome in RA that limits function and productivity and is thought to be related to an imbalance between bone resorbing cells (osteoclasts) and bone forming cells (osteoblasts). A better understanding of the cellular and molecular mechanisms that contribute to this imbalance in RA is critical to developing better therapies to avert damage,” explained Anolik, associate professor of Medicine, Microbiology and Immunology, and Pathology & Laboratory Medicine.

Unlike historic treatments, which were palliative and managed the symptoms of the disease, current therapies including targeted biologics aim to slow disease progression. Eliminating B cells through a process called B Cell Depletion Therapy (BCDT) has been shown to slow disease progression, though this paper is the first to provide a possible answer why.

Read More: Novel Insights into Why Depleting B Cells is Effective in the Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis

3D Printing Used to Create Human Organ Replicas to Practice Robot-Assisted Surgery

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Ahmed Ghazi, a urological surgeon at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, uses 3D printing to create non-functional human organs, which surgeons can use to practice robot-assisted surgery. For relatively simple procedures, such as removing a spleen, there is little need for such practice. But more complex procedures, such as excising a tumour, can vary wildly from patient to patient. As Ghazi notes, “Tumours are not in textbooks.”

Ghazi starts with 3D computer-assisted tomography scans of the patient’s tissue, then feeds the data into the commercial medical modelling software Mimics, from Materialise in Leuven, Belgium, and Meshmixer, a free tool from Autodesk in San Rafael, California, to create 3D models. He then prints those models as hollow plastic moulds using an FFF printer, inserts blood-vessel replicas that will connect to a fake-blood pump, and injects the mould with a hydrogel that will solidify into an object with organ-like stiffness. The resulting structures are realistic enough for surgeons to practice their procedures with real-world consequences, including bleeding.

Ghazi says that he and his team use these models for up to four surgery cases a week. In each case, they create two copies of the models and pick the most accurate representation. And they’re training other doctors to apply the technology in fields such as heart and liver surgery. “This is definitely something that’s catching on a lot more,” Ghazi says.

But imperfections remain. The moulds produced by FFF printers often feature tiny ridges and pits, says Ghazi. Such defects are often too small to see with the naked eye, but are plainly visible to the robotic camera, which could affect the surgeon’s experience. Ghazi’s solution is to spread a layer of room-temperature wax over the inside of the mould, which fills in the ridges and pits, thus smoothing out the final product. “Those little things make a difference,” he says.

Read More: 3D Printing Used to Create Human Organ Replicas to Practice Robot-Assisted Surgery