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Tracking the Secret Lives of Stem Cells

Image-tracking technology produces bounty of data on cell behavior

Time-lapse microscopy is one of the microbiologist’s most powerful tools for revealing the behavior of stem cells, those tiny building blocks of the human body that hold promise for treating diseases. So powerful are these modern microscopes, in fact, that they can generate huge amounts of time-lapse imagery in less time than it takes to say “mitosis.” But to validate the findings, researchers must wade through and organize volumes of data. And that creates a pesky bottleneck.

Now, Dr. Andrew Cohen and his team at Drexel’s College of Engineering have developed new cell-tracking programs that combine rapid algorithms with easy visual verification, and they have made the programs available to other researchers. Their methodology — image-tracking that allows humans to validate data, correct errors and improve the algorithms along the way — builds a vast, rich data set, allowing scientists to ask important questions about cell behavior.

Life made visible at its very origins. Software made open to the public. Drexel research makes a difference.

This Disease Will Self Destruct in 5...4...3...2...

Exploding parasites spell progress in the battle against drug-resistant malaria

The mosquito-borne malaria parasite kills nearly 500,000 children every year. As the parasite continues to spread and evolve, the best drugs that we have to fight it are losing potency. If humanity is to gain the upper-hand in the battle against this global menace, we need new weapons, fast.

A team of Drexel University College of Medicine researchers, led by Dr. Akhil Vaidya, has discovered a new class of chemicals to combat malaria. These compounds — pyrzaoleamides — block the parasite’s ability to maintain normal sodium levels in its cells, causing the organism to swell and burst. Their work is a continuation of more than 50 years of malaria research at Drexel, all aimed at better understanding and combating this deadly disease.

When tiny bugs pose huge threats to public health, Drexel researchers race to even the odds in humanity’s favor.

Bringing the Dead (Spots) Back to Life

Smart Antennas That Help WiFi Fly

A wireless “dead spot” is the worst, and not just for those of us working out of a home office or planning a Netflix movie night. That spotty signal can compromise the quality of healthcare at a hospital, squander corporate productivity, and in military missions, even cost lives.

Now dead spots are a thing of the past, thanks to the engineering feats of Dr. Kapil Dandekar and his team of research revolutionaries of Drexel University’s College of Engineering. Over a 10-year period, Dandekar and his students designed reconfigurable antennas capable of self adjusting, thus maximizing performance and bandwidth efficiency. Their discoveries have since been commercialized and can now be found in industry-leading wireless network products.

Are you getting a signal here? Drexel is the place where ideas and hard work truly can change the world.

Connecting the (Quantum) Dots

Crystals That Bring TV to Life Help Cancer Surgeons See the Big Picture

When it comes to removing cancerous tumors, thoroughness can be a matter of life and death. If a single cancer cell remains in the body after surgery, the entire tumor can regenerate. Drexel University researchers want to give surgeons a better look at their microscopic adversaries. They’re using some of the same technology that makes brilliant HDTV pictures to illuminate lingering cancer cells.

Dr. Wan Shih of the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems and Dr. Wei-Heng Shih of the College of Engineering have developed a dye made of quantum dots, nanocrystals that glow when exposed to light, and special proteins that cling to cancer cells. Now, instead of sending an excised tumor off for testing — which can take days — a surgeon can simply dip it in the dye and look for glowing spots — the telltale sign that there are more cancer cells to remove.

Sometimes lifesaving solutions are right in front of us. Drexel researchers are helping us see them more clearly.

Clearing the Way to Better Health

Nanobots in Our Bloodstream

Heart disease is one of the biggest health problems facing the world today. Medicine’s best treatments, angioplasty and open-heart surgery, are successful in just 60 percent of cases. Dr. MinJun Kim believes we can do better.

Kim, of Drexel University’s College of Engineering, is pioneering a revolutionary way to clear out blocked arteries—one that you might recognize from a science fiction novel. The mechanical engineer will be sending swarms of microscopic magnetic swimmers into the bloodstream to attack the plaque that hinders circulation and endangers lives. Like tiny Transformer robots, the individual particles link together to form a formidable blockage-busting drill that can swim through arteries and corkscrew through anything in its way. The procedure is expected to significantly improve the success rate for treatments of cardiovascular diseases.

Big breakthroughs sometimes come in small packages. Drexel’s research goes to the heart of the problems facing society.

Wax On, Water Off.

Introducing a revolution in power plant cooling.

The process of cooling thermoelectric power plants cycles through roughly 40 percent of all freshwater taken from rivers and lakes across the United States. In light of recent droughts and damaged ecosystems, scientists and engineers are coming together to innovate for the betterment of our civilization and environment.

Dr. Ying Sun of Drexel University’s College of Engineering is leading a team that has created a new technology that replaces water used to cool power plants with a far more effcient alternative: wax. Paraffin wax can be used to absorb and disperse heat four times more efficiently than water. This innovation, pioneered by Drexel researchers, could help keep the nation’s surface water in lakes and rivers, while improving the output of power plants.

Drexel’s groundbreaking technology is leading the way toward more sustainable energy production and a safer future for our environment.

Eureka! We've Found You.

Big ideas are born here.

We hear stories about people having “Aha!” moments. These moments provide solutions to problems you didn’t know you had. But did you know that achieving such a moment is a neurological process that has now been mapped to a precise origin in the brain? That’s right, ideas really do have a birthplace.

Thanks to groundbreaking insight research by Dr. John Kounios of Drexel University’s College of Arts and Sciences and longtime collaborator Dr. Mark Beeman of Northwestern University, the precise location in the brain where an idea pops into awareness has been discovered. Knowing that there are events in the brain that lead up to an “Aha!” moment; scientists will be able to explore the influence of genetics and other factors on creativity.

At Drexel, big ideas spark big breakthroughs that are changing the world.

Putting STEM education into motion.

Gearing up from an early age.

High costs. Unusable interfaces. Existing instructional robots aren’t exactly fun for any student, teacher or school district involved—that is, if they’re provided at all.

Dr. Pramod Abichandani of Drexel University’s College of Engineering wanted to bring the sense of child-like wonder back to robotics. His team’s solution is LocoRobo, a low-cost teaching aid that’s accessible enough to teach even kindergartners the skills of programming. Advanced users can take advantage of the machine’s full suite of capabilities.

LocoRobo takes Drexel’s experiential education and STEM roots and puts them right into the elementary school classroom—giving young students the chance to apply math, physics, mechanics, electrical engineering and programming to set their LocoRobos in motion.

Ladies and gentlemen, please keep your cell phones on.

A disruptive technology that doesn’t interrupt.

What happens when the power of a live musical performance collides with the technology of a smart device? Stares and mutters, usually.

But Dr. Youngmoo Kim, founder of Drexel University’s Expressive and Creative Interaction Technologies (ExCITe) Center, knew music and technology could work together in concert. Partnering with the world-renowed Philadelphia Orchestra, his team created LiveNote, a rich mobile experience that allows patrons to immerse themselves in the performances—through interactive slides about musical, emotional and historical highlights, context and translations.

LiveNote both deepens and preserves the musical experience—it’s thoughtfully built and tested to create minimal impact on its environment but high impact for the concertgoer. It’s yet another opus from a place that turns the world’s problems into exciting opportunities.

From concept to console.

Moving ideas into the hands of patients.

Far too many academic discoveries live only as a lab model or within a journal. But how about getting them to those who can truly benefit? Enter Drexel University’s Coulter-Drexel Translational Research Partnership Program.

A Drexel team led by Dr. Margaret O’Neil of the College of Nursing and Health Professions and Dr. Paul Diefenbach of the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design knew they had something special with a concept called Kollect. Together, the researchers created a video game for young cerebral palsy patients that combines physical therapy goals with a popular body-controlled game console that the children already love to play.

Now, through the Coulter program, O’Neil and Diefenbach’s team is working to bring their idea for “stealth health” to the marketplace — making it one of more than 40 Drexel projects to have received extensive business mentorship and grants from the partnership.

Opportunity in the emergency room.

Mending the deeper wounds — beyond the physical trauma.

When a victim of violence comes into an emergency room or trauma center, it’s a critical moment—when a person can choose to retaliate or to heal.

Dr. Ted Corbin of Drexel University’s College of Medicine and Dornsife School of Public Health established Healing Hurt People, a youth intervention program that connects trauma victims with health care, counseling, mentorship, case management and safer environments in order to stop the cycle of violence.

Healing Hurt People’s comprehensive and compassionate approach has been recognized as a model for hospital-based violence intervention programs, which are rapidly gaining traction across the United States.

Twisting the logic on ankles.

Challenging old assumptions.

Because ankle replacement surgeries have a high failure rate, most orthopedic surgeons don't even attempt them. This might just be because nobody thought to question the textbook.

Dr. Sorin Siegler of Drexel University's College of Engineering recently discovered that the ankle's pivot bone is actually a truncated cone with an apex that moves away from the center of the body—not toward it, as taught for generations. Siegler's revelation is resulting in the most body- accurate ankle replacement ever designed.

The Drexel model in action: to question rather than accept at face value, to be endlessly inquisitive and to always seek the truth. Because even the most established theories, opinions and views of our world can turn out to be incorrect when put to the test.

A cup that counts.

A measured approach to patient care.

Caregivers in hospitals and nursing homes want to be confident that their patients are getting the nutrition they need. But an overstretched health care system makes proper monitoring a challenge.

That's why a team at Drexel University, led by Dr. Rose Ann DiMaria-Ghalili of the College of Nursing and Health Professions, invented the Smart Cup—a device that automates the recording and monitoring of nutritional liquid intake. A regular disposable cup is inserted into the Smart Cup base, where sensors measure time, volume and spillage. Clinicians are sent an alert if patients don't consume the prescribed amount.

When Drexel researchers confront a problem, they don't simply accept it. They challenge current practices and look for solutions. And with outcomes like the Smart Cup, their efforts are often brimming with success.

Highly conductive to the imagination.

Clay that can carry a current.

A bold and creative new world of product design calls for less and less space for batteries and supercapacitors—and yet demands more energy storage and longer lifetimes.

Out of this need, materials scientist Dr. Michel Barsoum, along with his colleague Dr. Yury Gogotsi and their partners at Drexel University's College of Engineering, discovered a new, high-capacity electrode material called MXene. Adding water transforms it into a clay-like substance that can be shaped in any way that's needed — even rolled into a thin or thick film. It's also easier and safer to produce than traditional electrode material.

Discoveries like MXene help shape a new future by eliminating current constraints on what's possible—and inspiring designers and engineers to create what they could once only imagine.

Seeing the full spectrum.

Addressing autism throughout the chain of life.

Over the next decade, nearly half a million people with autism will enter adulthood in the United States. Drexel University's Dr. Paul Shattuck knows the nation's support systems aren't prepared for this.

While most autism research focuses on the very young, the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute is the first research center in the world that focuses on how society can take action—across organizations and within communities—to improve outcomes across people's lifespans.

Through Shattuck's Life Course Outcomes Program, we'll be able to finally gather and explore population-level data and create knowledge about what kinds of programs and policies actually enhance total quality of life.

Until now, cancer research has fallen flat.

A new model for creating and studying cancer cells.

Tumors in the body look and behave very differently from the flat cancer cells traditionally grown for research in a petri dish.

That's why Drexel University College of Engineering's Dr. Wei Sun has developed a 3D printer that creates living tumors. Using cervical cancer cells mixed with a hydrogel substance, Sun and his team are growing sphere-shaped tumors that can give scientists a more accurate measure of how cancer treatments work within the body.

Sun's work continues with the hope that it will help cancer researchers develop new drugs and customized therapies.

Setting entrepreneurs on fire.

It's what Dragons do, after all.

Christopher Gray is the "Million Dollar Scholar" who found 1.3 million dollars in scholarships as a high school senior – more than enough for his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees. After three long months of sorting through hundreds of inefficient databases for scholarships, Gray wanted to exponentially shorten the process for others from months to minutes.

Now, through an innovative new approach to experiential learning in Drexel University's Close School of Entrepreneurship, Gray is spearheading an expansion of his highly popular Scholly mobile app as the CEO of his own company. Just another example of Drexel students' ideas – on fire.

Haute couture meets haute technology.

Opposites attract.

Drexel University student Kristy Jost – fashion designer turned materials engineer — developed a way to knit supercapacitors into smart garments. This breakthrough earned Jost a $5 million research grant from the U.S. Department of Defense. Her unparalleled perspective stems from an undergraduate co-op at Drexel's Westphal College of Media Arts & Design and College of Engineering.

The Drexel Co-op program is more than real-world work; it compels students to fashion their own career pursuits – which in this case, will change the world.

Destruction is a beautiful thing.

Especially when it saves millions of lives.

A recent discovery at Drexel University is making HIV prevention a reality. Scientists from Drexel's College of Medicine and College of Engineering have worked together to create a new molecule that tricks HIV cells into self-annihilating. This will result in dramatic improvements in the global fight against HIV.

Drexel's research is the foundation of groundbreaking discoveries that destroy boundaries – and blaze new paths.

A 29-story game of Pong?

From playing on walls to breaking them down.

Professor Frank Lee, founder of Drexel University's Entrepreneurial Game Studio, set the Guinness World Record in 2013 for Largest Architectural Video Game Display, recreating the classic arcade game Pong on a 437-foot wall of Philadelphia's Cira Centre.

Drexel's Game Studio does more than just break records – it develops interactive games to help children with autism learn crucial skills that will allow them to become functional, contributing adults. It's these types of fun and games that make Drexel a haven for civically minded researchers.

The global authority on mind reading.

Unlocking the secrets inside.

What do they all have in common? Drexel University's fNIR medical device, which allows researchers to measure cognitive brain activity in real-time.

Drexel is the fNIR global authority. Our interdisciplinary research turned a bulky $1 million station into a simple and portable $30,000 headband. By embracing collaboration, Drexel continues to unlock endless possibilities – for fNIR, and for countless other research projects in the medical and scientific fields.

A picture's worth a thousand statistics.

Seeing hunger through a different lens.

The national dialogue on hunger and poverty needs more than a conventional academic approach. That's why Drexel University professor Mariana Chilton founded "Witnesses to Hunger"—a research and advocacy program of Drexel's Center for Hunger-Free Communities that empowers mothers and caregivers who experience hunger and poverty firsthand. By documenting their own experiences through photos and video, they actively participate in Drexel's research on food insecurity and its effects on child development. Together, Drexel and the Witnesses are shaping policies to break the cycle of poverty.

It's just another example of how Drexel is thinking forward: finding viable, real-world solutions to society's greatest problems.

Taking the driver's seat.

The confidence to navigate any terrain.

Daniel Pinto's co-op in the Kono District of Sierra Leone—once the epicenter of the country's former civil war—charged him with an important task: helping to break the region's dependence on diamonds.

Daniel worked with Palm 2 Palm, an initiative that buys palm fruit from local farmers and processes it into palm oil to be sold at the local marketplace. From riding a motorbike through miles of bush roads to negotiate contracts with local farmers, to setting up an accounting system and managing the 15-person factory, Daniel helped to create a new, sustainable economy in the region.

Thanks to the new School of Economics in the LeBow College of Business, this adventurous idealist has all the tools to drive the world to a better place.

Teaching an old dinosaur new tricks.

Big dinosaur. Even bigger opportunity.

When you discover the largest measurable dinosaur—whose skeleton is nearly complete—there's no shortage of research possibilities.

To figure out how the new species Dreadnoughtus schrani and its fellow titanosaurs were able to walk the earth, Drexel University paleontologist Dr. Kenneth Lacovara and his team are bringing new ideas to a field that hasn't changed much in 150 years.

Using 3D laser scanners, Lacovara's team is able to digitally curate the fossils and create new biomechanical and robotic models to uncover the truth of how these animals existed. And because the digital bones don't take up physical space, scientists and museums around the world are able to receive perfect copies and gain new insights into the limits of life on our planet.

650

Inventions and 194 U.S. patents issued since 2011

52nd

Among academic institutions worldwide with 42 U.S. patents earned in 2014 between Drexel University and Drexel University College of Medicine

43

Life-saving research projects since 2006 have received $6 million from the Coulter-Drexel Translational Research Partnership

2013

Drexel received full accreditation from AAHRPP for ethical standards in research