Accolades

DeNardis from CFO’s office to chair board of cancer organization

Peter DeNardis, who works in Planning & Analysis in the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, has been appointed chair of the board of trustees of the International Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia Foundation — an organization devoted to education, patient support and research of a rare form of lymphoma.

DeNardis, who was diagnosed with the disease in 2003, will become chair of the international nonprofit cancer organization on Dec. 1.

“When first diagnosed in 2003, I immediately turned to the internet to find out about my rare cancer with the strange name,” he said in a news release from the organization. “Fortunately, it didn't take long to find the IWMF, and the resource it provides for WM patients and caregivers.

“With each relapse and unusual health issue, the IWMF community has been there for me and my family to guide us and provide comfort and support. Like many others around the world, we've been able to take advantage of the ever-expanding services and information provided under the guidance of the IWMF Board Chairs, Board members, and staff. I consider myself fortunate to have the opportunity to give back to the IWMF and carry the torch to light the way for other WMers facing life with WM.”

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University Interfaith Office receives Youth Core award

The University Interfaith Office was recognized with the Racial Equity and Interfaith Cooperation Award from the Interfaith Youth Core, a national nonprofit organization whose “We Are Each Other’s” campaign aims to support interfaith leaders responding to the current national crises.

The office was recognized for “Interfaith in Living Color,” an idea proposal that Emiola Oriola, director of the Office of Interfaith Dialogue and Engagement, hopes will emphasize the complexities of people’s lives and how identities intersect.

“The goal is to have people submit short written stories with pictures, similar to the ‘Humans of New York’ projects on Facebook and Instagram,” Oriola said. “The project is meant to highlight the nuances in our identities, the why to our what, and bring context to content.”

The program is planned to begin Monday, Jan. 18, 2021 — coinciding with the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday — and will continue through February’s Black History Month. In addition to being shared on social media, the stories will be archived on a website, and participants will be entered into a raffle to win prizes from the office.

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SCI researcher Malihe Alikhani wins grant to support underrepresented students

Malihe Alikhani, assistant professor of computer science in the School of Computing and Information, recently received a Google ExploreCSR grant to support students from underrepresented groups to pursue graduate studies and research careers in computing.

Since 2018, the exploreCSR awards have supported universities in designing and hosting research-focused workshops during the academic year that expose students from underrepresented groups to computing research methodologies, career pathways and exploratory problems.

Alikhani’s research interests are in natural language processing (language technology), cognitive science and human computation.

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Portfolio company to join LifeX Labs Incubator program

LifeX Labs recently announced that a new portfolio company, Duo Oncology, will be joining its Incubator program. Duo Oncology is developing ultra-small nanoparticles that can carry multiple agents deep into established tumors. The company is developing its lead product, DUO-207, for pancreatic cancer, lung cancer and other hard-to-treat tumors. 

The LifeX Labs Incubator program serves as a springboard for transformational startup companies in Pittsburgh and the surrounding regions through a series of curated services, affordable office and lab space, and industry and investor networks to launch and grow new ventures. LifeX Labs is supported by the University of Pittsburgh and the Henry L. Hillman Foundation.

“We are looking forward to having Duo Oncology join our ever-growing ecosystem. They are creating a product that is trying to solve a significant challenge in cancer therapy. This company has the possibility to save lives impacted by cancer, as their product, which helps therapies reach cancer cells, is unlike any other technology,” said Evan Facher, interim CEO of LifeX Labs and director of Pitt’s Innovation Institute.

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Company has ‘largest IPO’ out of any Pitt spinout

Oncorus, a company spun out of the University of Pittsburgh, recently initiated an initial public stock offering, raising nearly $90 million as it enters clinical trials on its oncolytic virus cancer therapy. That amount is being called the “largest IPO of a Pitt spinout” by the University’s Innovation Institute.

The technology for the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company was licensed from Pitt from the lab of Joseph Glorioso, professor of microbiology and molecular genetics in Pitt’s School of Medicine. Glorioso was one of the founders of Oncorus and is chair of the company’s scientific advisory board. The company, founded in 2016, had previously raised approximately $140 million in private investment.

“It’s great. It’s a substantial amount of money,” Glorioso said. “It’s really based on not only the technology within the company being tested in patients, but also other technologies that are very exciting and will be used to treat people with cancer.”

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LRDC scientists receive $900,000 grant to study robots in math classrooms

Erin Walker (pictured), associate professor in the School of Computing and Information and research scientist in the Learning Research and Development Center, has been named principal investigator for a $900,000 National Science Foundation grant to study the use of robots in middle school math classrooms.

Co-principal investigators on the grant are Diane Litman, professor of Computer Science and senior scientist in the LRDC; Timothy Nokes-Malach, associate professor of Psychology in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and research scientist in the LRDC; and Adriana Kovashka, assistant professor in SCI.

Walker and colleagues will investigate the use of robots to support collaborative learning. When students work together with an intelligent tutoring system such as a robot, they are able to learn more and explain their reasoning while also building on each other’s ideas. Walker and colleagues will investigate if the robot’s gaze or gestures, combined with dialogue, can promote middle school students' collaborative interactions and lead to more math learning. The main goal of the project is to gain a better understanding of how robots can be integrated effectively in learning environments.

Walker also has recently received a Google AI 2020 Award for Inclusion Research with colleague Leshell Hatley, of Coppin State University in Baltimore. In this work, Walker and Hatley are collaborating on a project to develop a dialogue system for a culturally responsive robot.

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Dimiter Stanchev Dimitrov named ‘Science Superhero’

Dimiter Stanchev Dimitrov, director of the Pitt Center for Antibody Therapeutics, was recently named one of 10 “Science Superheroes” by MediFind.

Dimitrov was recognized on the list as one of the first to discover neutralizing antibodies for the original SARS coronavirus in 2003. In the ensuing years, his team discovered potent antibodies against many other infectious diseases. His lab recently isolated the smallest biological molecule to date that completely and specifically neutralizes the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which is the cause of COVID-19.

The antibody center is housed within the Division of Infectious Diseases at Pitt and is a key component of the UPMC Immune Transplant and Therapy Center.

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Heather Lyke elected president of Women Leaders in College Sports

Pitt Athletic Director Heather Lyke has been named president-elect of the Women Leaders in College Sports organization. Lyke will serve on a three-year executive track beginning this year.

Founded in 1979, Women Leaders in College Sports is the only nationally recognized collegiate professional membership organization whose mission is to develop, connect and advance women leaders working in intercollegiate athletics. With more than 3,500 members, the organization promotes the growth, leadership and success of women as athletics administrators, conference commissioners, professional staff, coaches and student-athletes.

In a release naming Lyke president-elect, along with new members of its board of directors and nominating committees, the organization highlighted Lyke’s leadership of Pitt Athletics, including her recruitment of new head coaches, rebranding of the University’s athletic marks and logos and unveiling of Pitt Studios.

Lyke served on the Women Leaders board of directors from 2014-2018.

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Margaret Rosenzweig wins nursing award for academic and clinical work

Margaret Rosenzweig, a two-time alumna and distinguished service professor in the School of Nursing, is the 2020 recipient of the Friends of the National Institute of Nursing Research’s President’s Award.

The award is given annually to a researcher who engages both academia and clinical practice partners.

Rosenzweig has been principal investigator on 15 studies addressing cancer survivorship, symptom management, end of life care and disparities among women with breast cancer. Her work has contributed to the understanding of racial differences in the completion of breast cancer treatment and the identification of geographic risk for higher breast cancer mortality.

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Statistics’ Joshua Cape awarded NSF grant to study immigration and U.S. job market

Joshua Cape, assistant professor of Statistics in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, together with collaborators at Johns Hopkins University, has received a $550,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for the proposal “Methods and Applications for Massive One-mode and Bipartite Social Networks.”

The NSF grant will enable Cape and his colleagues to develop new methods and modeling capabilities for large-scale network data. Using datasets from the Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics program at the U.S. Census Bureau, the project will examine the influence of immigration on the U.S. job market over time. The transdisciplinary research team consists of principal investigator Angelo Mele, co-principal investigators Lingxin Hao, Carey E. Priebe — all from Johns Hopkins University — and Cape.

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SHRS appoints four new associate deans

The School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences recently named four faculty to new associate dean positions in an effort to address major school-wide initiatives.

  • David Beck, assistant professor and chair of the Department of Physician Assistant Studies, will take on an additional role as associate dean for interprofessional studies.

  • M. Kathleen Kelly, associate professor in the Department of Physical Therapy, will assume responsibilities as associate dean for academic outreach and advising. 

  • Thomas Platt, vice chair of the Division of Community Health Services and associate professor and director of Pitt’s Emergency Medicine program, has been named associate dean for academic partnerships.

  • Bernard Rousseau, professor and chair in the Department of Communication Science and Disorders, will serve as the associate dean for equity, inclusion and community engagement.

For each faculty leader’s role, visit the school’s page.

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Pitt researchers to study gender-integrated training in military settings

The Neuromuscular Research Laboratory/Warrior Human Performance Research Center at the University of Pittsburgh was recently awarded $2 million from the U.S. Marine Corps to study gender-integrated recruit training.

The multi-institutional collaborative study will analyze combinations of gender-integrated training and make recommendations for models that integrate genders to the greatest extent possible while continuing to train Marines to established standards. Specifically, the study will address the sociological and physical training effects of increased gender integration and consider training models which maintain the same level of discipline, physical fitness, attention to detail and camaraderie.

“The Academic Study of U.S. Marine Corps Gender-Integrated Recruit Training will utilize a multistage mixed-method study design and address multidisciplinary evaluation questions through both a social science and human performance lens,” said co-principal investigator Mita Lovalekar, who is an associate professor in Pitt’s Department of Sports Medicine and Nutrition in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. “Our study will also assess musculoskeletal injury patterns between male and female recruits during entry level training which will extend upon our prior work identifying the financial and medical costs for these injuries and the negative impact on military readiness.”

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Wells Competition awards three healthcare startup teams

Three entries to the 10th annual Michael G. Wells Competition, hosted by the University of Pittsburgh’s Innovation Institute, won $5,000 prizes for their work toward healthcare innovation.

The winners included BioBulwark, a mesh implant that provides long-lasting prevention of infection superior to currently popular organic chemical coatings; Biocarpet, an endovascular device that can be shaped by heat to treat peripheral arterial disease occurring in small and complex anatomies, including lesions occurring across joints; and OPS, an endovascular device that provides oxygenated blood flow to critical abdominal organs to maintain organ health for transplant harvesting.

The competition usually awards grand prize winners $20,000, second-place winners $10,000 and third-place winners $5,000. The competition’s namesake, Michael G. Wells (pictured), said the decision to distribute prize money equally came from the judging panel determining that these teams could benefit from money and time to move their ideas along. Wells also said prize money that wasn’t given out will be awarded to teams early next year who have shown “demonstrable progress” in their respective projects.

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Web app for surgical, anesthetic scheduling wins Kuzneski Cup

ChangeOR took home the grand prize for the fifth annual Kuzneski Innovation Cup, hosted by the University of Pittsburgh’s Innovation Institute.

The project is a multi-platform web application that allows for the efficient delivery of real-time surgical and anesthetic scheduling information. The research is being led by Evan Lebovitz, an assistant professor in the Pitt’s Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine, and Mark E. Hudson, UPMC Richard J. Kuwik endowed professor in the same department.

Second place was awarded to AI Smiles, an additive-manufactured denture that dramatically reduces cost, appointments and waste in dental settings. Third prize was awarded to NanoNares, a platform technology for pharmaceutical companies that develop respiratory drugs which experience high failure rates in clinical trials.

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Joel Philistin named new financial wellness program director

The Office of Admissions and Financial Aid (OAFA) and Student Affairs have jointly named Joel Philistin their financial wellness program director. Philistin started in the newly created position in September.

“Financial wellness represents being equipped with the knowledge, skills and resources to make informed financial decisions. The financial decisions that college students make today can impact them well beyond graduation. Our program goal is to give our students the tools to build a strong financial foundation for now and after graduation,” Philistin said.

Philistin came to Pitt from the College of the Mainland in Texas, where he served as a financial literacy educator and financial aid advisor from 2018 to 2020. There, he relaunched the college’s financial literacy program with an emphasis on classroom workshops and increasing financial aid applications; over two years, the number of students who applied for financial aid at the college increased by 3 percent.

Philistin also worked at Houston Community College where he helped develop an award-winning student loan debt series and launched several initiatives, including a food scholarship program and Hurricane Harvey emergency grant. Prior to his work in higher education, Philistin worked in the banking industry, first as a teller and then assistant branch manager, before earning a master’s degree in public administration with a focus on non-profit management.

Randall McCready, executive director of financial aid in OAFA, hopes the new position will engage students to learn more about their finances especially during a time of great economic uncertainty.

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Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center receives NSF grant for nerve cell research

The Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, a joint research effort by the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, recently received a $750,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, which will continue a lab-computer collaboration that accurately simulates communications between nerve cells and muscle cells. Stephen Meriney, professor of neuroscience in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, is a principal investigator of the project.

The project has immediate applications in treating a type of neurological disease called Lambert-Eaton Myasthenic Syndrome (LEMS). It also offers fundamental insights into how nerve cells communicate with muscle cells in health and disease. LEMS is a neurological disease in which a person’s immune system attacks calcium channels, leading to a weaker communication between nerve and muscle, which causes weaker muscle contractions and an inability of patients to move and function normally.

In earlier work, scientists at the center and Pitt simulated the role of the calcium channels of the nerve-cell membrane in communication between nerve and muscle cells in frogs and mice. The work faithfully reproduced the nerve-to-muscle signaling differences seen in those species.

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More than 700 students participate in Pitt HR's annual Disability Mentoring Day

The Office of Human Resources held its annual Disability Mentoring Day in mid-October at Beaver Area High School.

The office partners with other University areas to provide mentoring to local high school students with disabilities. It focuses primarily on items like resume writing and interviewing. The office normally hosts the event on campus each year, with visits to Panther Central and Pitt Police, but this year it was held virtually.

Participants included 29 employers and more than 700 total students. They came from the city of Pittsburgh, the counties of Allegheny, Washington and Westmoreland, and 40 school districts.

“Our Pittsburgh region has always shown remarkable participation in this event, which has — and continues to get — high marks,” said Tom Armstrong, recruiter for veterans and individuals with disabilities in Pitt’s Office of Human Resources.

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Provost Cudd delivers presidential address to law and social philosophy association

Provost Ann Cudd delivered the presidential address at the October 2020 biannual conference of the American Section of the International Association for Philosophy of Law and Social Philosophy. The meeting, which focused on the topic of “Education, Inclusion and Justice,” gathered scholars from around the world for three days of intensive discussions.

Association membership includes philosophers, legal theorists, political scientists and economists with interests in probing issues about justice, society, the economy and democracy.

Cudd’s address was titled “After the Apocalypse: The Future of Higher Education.”

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Changfeng Tai receives $10.5 million DARPA award

Changfeng Tai, associate professor of urology and pharmacology in the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, was awarded $10.5 million from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop a medical device that would help people who suffered spinal cord injuries.

Through the five-year award, Tai and his team will develop a fully implantable, wirelessly controlled and chargeable stimulator to restore three visceral functions including bladder, bowel and sexual functions for people with spinal cord injuries. Restoring these visceral functions remains a top priority for functional recovery in people with spinal cord injuries, and can dramatically improve the quality of life and prevent potential kidney failure caused by bladder-sphincter dyssynergia. The device would act similarly to how a pacemaker helps the heart pump blood, except it would be inserted under the skin in the lower back.

“This award is significant in the progress of this device,” said Tai. “The hope is that this will one day ease the burden that people with disabilities related to spinal cord injuries face every day, including military veterans. We will work with our collaborators to build a system that will allow for human clinical trial use.”

DARPA is a research and development agency of the United States Department of Defense responsible for the development of emerging technologies for use by the military. The award is part of DARPA’s BG+ program.

Four engineering faculty received CAREER awards in 2019-20

Four faculty in the Swanson School of Engineering received Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) awards from the National Science Foundation during fiscal year 2019-20, bringing to 15 the number of the school’s faculty who have received the awards since 2016.

According to NSF, the CAREER Program is its most prestigious award in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.

The 2020 recipients include:

Takashi D-Y Kozai, assistant professor of bioengineering, received $437,144 for Uncovering the Impact of Traditional and Novel Chronic Stimulation Modalities on Neural Excitability and Native Neuronal Network Function.

Sangyeop Lee, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, received $500,000 for Machine Learning Enabled Study of Thermal Transport in Polycrystalline Materials from First Principles.

Jason Shoemaker, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering, received $547,494 for Enabling Immunomodulatory Treatment of Influenza Infection using Multiscale Modeling.

Feng Xiong, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, received $500,00 for Scalable Ionic Gated 2D Synapse (IG-2DS) with Programmable Spatio-Temporal Dynamics for Spiking Neural Networks.

For more information about the research projects, go to the Swanson School of Engineering’s website.