IMPACT Fall 2016

There were eight IMPACT Awards given for research projects that ran from January, 2017 to January 14, 2018.

Communication in Robotic Assisted Surgery: Detailed Analysis to Understand Communication Success, Repair and the Consequences of Miscommunication

  • Bisantz, Ann, Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering
  • Higginbotham, D. Jeffrey, Department of Communicative Disorders and Sciences


Successful communication among surgical team members is critical to ensuring safe patient outcomes. Robotic Assisted Surgery (RAS) is a new technology in which instruments are inserted into a patient through ports and controlled via a tele-robotic interface by a surgeon who is sitting at a console across the room. RAS has introduced new communication challenges. The surgeon no longer has direct visual access to the operating table, the patient, and other staff. This can lead to miscommunication, frustration, and challenging conversations between the surgeon and the remaining team. While communication gaps have been consistently linked to human error in surgery, studies on team communication during robot-assisted surgery (RAS) have been extremely sparse and have not provided a detailed understanding regarding the strategies team members use to communicate successfully and recognize and repair potential misunderstandings. Pilot data has indicated that surgical team members use verbal, non-verbal gestures, and gestures made via the robotic instruments to communicate during RAS. The proposed work will apply an ethnomethodological, micro-analytic framework to study video and audio recordings of team interactions in RAS in order to better understand communication strategies and relate them to surgical processes. Results have implications for the design of better surgical communication protocols, improved RAS training, RAS technology design, and ultimately, safer patient care during RAS.


Mixed Matrix Membranes Comprising Polymers and Metal-Organic Polyhedra for Olefin/Paraffin Separation

  • Cook, Timothy, Department of Chemistry
  •  Lin, Haiqing, Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering


The separation of olefin (alkene) and paraffin (alkane) compounds provides key building blocks to the petrochemical industry. Traditional membranes employ rigid polymer matrices doped with plasticizers and silver salts. During operation, these materials swell under the effects of sorption of the feed stream and degrade upon reaction of the silver ions. Mixed-matrix membranes (MMMs) are an emerging class of materials that leverage the physiochemical properties of polymers with small molecules and/or nanomaterials for separations. These MMMs address the current pitfalls associated with traditional membranes and enable an orthogonal optimization of the properties of the polymer matrix and molecular dopant, in this case metal-organic polyhedra (MOPs). Herein we propose ether-rich polymer matrices whose separation properties will be further enhanced by the presence of metal-organic polyhedra derived from facile coordination-driven self-assembly synthetic methods. The proposed discrete metallacages afford better homogeneity and uniform (monodispersed) pores over analogous frameworks. The resulting MMMs circumvent metal-ion decomposition through stabilization in a molecular scaffold that has been selected to leave open sites for interaction with substrate. Seed funding will provide resources to demonstrate our ability to construct MMMs from polymers and coordination cages, establish the permeability of relevant pure gases through these materials, and quantitatively evaluate mixed-gas separation using ethylene/ethane and propylene/propane feed streams. Initial results will provide the basis for competitive proposals for externally funded agents, such as DOE and NSF.

Socio-spatial networks and language use in a rural and multilingual Africa context

  • Good, Jeff, Department of Linguistics
  • Ling, Bian, Department of Geography


The study of worldwide linguistic patterns has revealed important connections between language and spatial distribution. For instance, language density tends to be higher near the equator, and grammatical convergence among languages with a spatial connection is observable even at the continental level. However, most investigations of language and space have been built on simplified assumptions. Typically, they overlay a set of polygons on a map and assign a single language to each. This approach not only ignores significant differences across land areas but also fails to acknowledge that languages may be spoken over discontinuous areas interspersed with other languages, a situation which is especially common in parts of the world characterized by extensive multilingualism.

This project will address these shortcomings through a new collaboration between researchers in the Departments of Linguistics and Geography. Sociolinguistic data collected as part of an investigation of the language dynamics of a linguistically diverse region of Cameroon will be processed so that its linguistic-spatial patterning can be explored. In particular, social network and language use data will be integrated into a Geographic Information System to test hypotheses about connections between language and space that have otherwise proven difficult to examine rigorously, such as how degrees of competence in multiple languages may be correlated with different kinds of social and spatial relationships. This study will, therefore, lay the groundwork for an approach to the study of language and space that is based on much more realistic models than found at present.

Automated Digital Image Analysis of Microscopic Renal Structures for Early Diagnosis of Proteinuric Renal Disease

  • Sarder, Pinaki, Department of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences
  • Yacoub, Rabi, Department of Medicine
  • Tomaszewski, John, Department of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences
  • Wang, Jianxin, Department of Ophthalmology


Proteinuria is the manifestation of a heterogeneous spectrum of renal diseases that involves excessive loss of blood serum proteins to the urine. Damage to the renal micro-compartments, including renal glomeruli, occurs and manifests with proteinuria and may eventually lead to kidney failure. Kidney biopsies are often required to diagnose proteinuria-associated renal disease. The traditional approach to diagnosing proteinuria includes semi-quantitative visual inspection of glomerular structural damage in the renal biopsy. This process is approximate, often uncertain, time-consuming, and can produce inconclusive results, especially in early disease stages. In contrast, computational histopathological image analysis can precisely define glomerular structural changes in early proteinuria, improve diagnoses by coupling valuable information with the traditional histological examination method and open new windows to developing therapeutic approaches to slow disease progression. The investigators have developed computational methods to analyze histological images of the heterogeneous renal microscopic architecture in proteinuria. Preliminary data suggest that these methods can quantify glomerular features in histological images of healthy murine renal tissue more efficiently than traditional manual methods. In this proposal, performance of these computational methods to estimate early digital biomarkers in murine diabetic nephropathy (DN) and classify pathological stages in human DN renal biopsies will be evaluated. The innovation lies in the development of precise, accurate, and reproducible computational strategies for quantitative image analysis of renal pathology. Automated detection of microscopic structural changes in kidney tissue will lead to a standardized and more objective diagnosis of proteinuric renal diseases by discovering digital biomarkers hidden within numerical glomerular structural distributions.

Broadly wavelength-tunable flexible light-emitting diodes with phosphorene

  • Seo, Jung-Hun, Department of Materials Design and Innovation
  • Gan, Qiaoqiang, Department of Electrical Engineering
  • Einarsson, Erik, Department of Electrical Engineering and Department of Materials Design and Innovation


The demand for wavelength-tunable and flexible light-emitting diodes (LEDs) is growing rapidly due to the myriad potential applications such as optical data communication systems in wearable electronics, or attachable or in vivo biomedical devices for bio-imaging and wound healing. In this proposal, we aim to develop flexible LEDs in which the emission spectrum can be tuned from red to near infrared (NIR). Known as the NIR window, this spectral range is particularly useful for optical communication and biomedical applications. To realize wavelength tunability, a unique characteristic of a newly developed two-dimensional (2D) semiconductor material, phosphorene, will be utilized in the LED active layer. Phosphorene is a single layer of black phosphorus, and recent theoretical studies have revealed that the bandgap of phosphorene can be modulated by applying mechanical strain. As a result, the emission spectrum of phosphorene can be tuned from 860 nm to 1640 nm. The proposed LEDs are comprised of phosphorene/hexagonal-boron nitride multi-quantum wells sandwiched by transparent graphene electrodes. A stack of atomically thin 2D materials will be integrated using a novel transfer printing method, which is a simpler and more cost effective fabrication process to stack 2D materials with extremely clean interfaces. Furthermore, in order to overcome poor photon-conversion efficiency typically observed in optoelectronics based on 2D materials, we will implement a sophisticated, ultrathin, broadband nanocavity reflector. In addition to providing a better fundamental understanding of strain-induced changes to electronic structure, we expect that the proposed LEDs will be a significant step toward realizing future wearable electronics and biomedical devices.

3D bioengineered cell sheet for cardiac regeneration in myocardial infarction

  • Suzuki, Gen, Department of Medicine
  • Lee, Te-chung, Department of Biochemistry


Paracrine factors including growth factors, cytokines and microRNAs secreted from injected adult stem cells contribute to cardiac regeneration in infarcted myocardium. However, therapeutic benefits of adult stem cells in patients with infarcted myocardium are modest at most. The main reason for disappointing results is that paracrine effects are transient due to the low retention of injected stem cells in the heart. Therefore, a new method of treatment needs to address prolonging paracrine secretion as well as optimizing cell retention. We recently created cardiosphere-based cell sheets by using an automated 3D bioprinting system. Cardiospheres derived from heart biopsies are expressing paracrine factors that exceed levels in monolayers of cardiosphere-derived cells (CDCs). Since cardiosphere-based cell sheets are thin, flexible and maintain the secretion of paracrine factors, they can be deployed within a coronary stent. We hypothesize that intraluminal delivery of cell sheets into coronary arteries can affect the prolonged release of paracrine factors and enhance cardiac regeneration in infarcted myocardium. In the proposal we determine 1) whether cell sheets are safe and feasible to deploy within a coronary stent and 2) whether intraluminal cell sheets are superior to intracoronary CDC infusion in terms of scar reduction and functional improvement. To test this, we will use preclinical swine models and implant cell sheets within stents in the infarct related artery for 1-month. Data will be compared to animals injected with CDCs and placebo. If successful, intraluminal implantation of cell sheet will become a new regenerative approach for ischemic heart disease.

Investigation of Global Lipid Analysis and Metabolism in Neutrophil Function and Chronic Disease

  • Visser, Michelle, Department of Oral Biology
  • Atilla-Gokcumen, G. Ekin, Department of Chemistry
  • Scannapieco, Frank, Department of Oral Biology
  • Maddi, Abhiram, Department of Periodontics and Endodontics


Periodontal disease is a chronic inflammatory condition leading to tooth loss and serious systemic complications, representing a major health and economic burden. Neutrophils are key protective innate immune cells that eradicate bacterial pathogens through directed migration to sites of infection. Lipids, grouped into eight major classes, are cellular compounds that play structural and signaling roles in multiple cellular processes. Treponema denticola, an understudied pathogen associated with periodontal disease, impairs neutrophil function through manipulation of phosphoinositide (PIP) modifying enzyme activity, diminishing production of the PIP lipid family. We hypothesize that global lipid changes, specifically PIPs and sphingolipids, occur during neutrophil chemotaxis and that bacterial exposure during chronic disease modulates these changes. Accordingly, we will examine 1) lipid profiles during neutrophil chemotaxis and following exposure to T. denticola and 2) activity of PIP modifying enzymes in oral neutrophils and gingival tissue during periodontal disease. We aim to acquire preliminary data to generate new hypotheses for a larger project detailing links between lipids, neutrophil function and periodontal disease. We anticipate this proposal will establish novel roles for lipids in neutrophil chemotaxis and gain understanding of how pathogens manipulate lipid metabolism to dampen the protective immune response. Translational study of human clinical specimens will identify lipid pathways crucial to periodontal disease. Examination of lipid changes in oral neutrophils provides a novel, highly relevant tool for measure of clinical manifestation. Knowledge of lipids and their regulatory pathways involved in normal neutrophil function and manipulation during disease provides prospective development of novel biomarkers and therapeutic targets.

Synaptic changes following prolonged noise exposure associated with tinnitus

  • Xu-Friedman, Matthew, Department of Biological Sciences
  • Dent, Micheal, Department of Psychology


Tinnitus is a major problem for people who are exposed to loud noise for prolonged periods at work or during travel. Most of the focus on this topic has been on the effects of traumatic noise. However, loud, non-traumatic noise is a widespread risk factor that is neglected. These lower levels of noise trigger adaptations within the brain that cause signals arriving from the ear to be too powerful, raising the concern that they could contribute to tinnitus. The overall goal of this proposal is to study the mechanisms underlying this poorly-studied form of tinnitus, in order to develop treatment strategies. This requires an animal model, and mice are ideal because they are amenable to experimental and genetic manipulation. Assessing tinnitus in mice has usually involved the startle reflex, which is susceptible to motivational and acuity changes, thereby undermining the conclusions that can be drawn about tinnitus. Instead, a new approach will be developed to assess tinnitus in mice using operant conditioning, which avoids such complications. In parallel, the cellular correlates of tinnitus will be studied using electrophysiology and electron microscopy. These experiments are unique in providing understanding of an understudied risk factor for tinnitus, as well as the cellular changes that contribute to tinnitus.  This proposal was originally submitted to the Department of Defense Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program. The reviewers were significantly enthusiastic about the study, but all cited a need for preliminary data to validate the approach, which this proposal seeks to address.