Published: Dec. 3, 2020 By

The AB Nexus Research Collaboration Grant program announced its inaugural round of grants totaling $625,000 for novel research projects integrating expertise from the CU Anschutz and CU Boulder campuses. The projects selected—five new collaborations and three projects that build on existing collaborative work—represent a broad range of research themes related to basic science and translational approaches. Here are the projects involving students or faculty from the College of Engineering and Applied Science. 

Control-theoretic design of data-driven policies for containing transmission of infectious diseases

Emiliano Dall'Anese


Although several studies have modeled the spread of the pandemic at the national or at the state level and investigated the effects of different containment strategies, limited work has taken into account the spatial evolution and dynamics of epidemics and pandemics. The goal of this project is to develop a unified framework that explains the spread of a pandemic based on the mobility patterns between regions, states, or countries, and leverages control-theoretic tools to develop coordinated regional interventions to limit or prevent future outbreaks. This project will first develop a Susceptible-Exposed-Infectious-Recovered (SEIR) dynamical model that can effectively capture mobility patterns between connected communities; based on this networked model, the project will then leverage advances in data-driven control and online optimization to design control policies that incorporate societal objectives (such as maximizing the allowed economic activities), while ensuring that infection spread can be contained.

The team includes as PIs Assistant Professor Emiliano Dall’Anese from the Department of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering and Andrea Buchwald, a research associate at the Center for Innovative Design and Analysis at CU Anschutz. Assistant Professor Jorge I. Poveda from the Department of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering is a co-PI on the project. The team also includes Gianluca Bianchin – a postdoc at CU Boulder – and a graduate student at CU Anschutz.

Next-Generation Imaging Biomarkers for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Corey in the lab with studentsNeu in the lab with students.

This project aims to establish a method for in vivo, functional assessment of cartilage in rheumatoid arthritis, and support a new paradigm targeting cartilage biomechanics and structure as specific indicators of joint damage and repair. This work will provide research communities with a clinical tool to functionally study emerging and already available biological therapies for inflammatory diseases of the joint, and that predict treatment response. It will also provide new imaging biomarkers to evaluate the efficacy of repair in animal and human trials in vivo and foundational data for structure-function relationships in healthy and diseased cartilage.

The team includes as Co-PIs Professor Corey P. Neu from the Paul M. Rady Department of Mechanical Engineering and Professor Larry W. Moreland in the Division of Rheumatology within the School of Medicine at CU Anschutz.

Stroke Risk Assessment for Improved Left Ventricle Assist Device Therapy in Heart Failure Patients



A Left Ventricle Assist Device (LVAD) is the primary treatment for advanced heart failure patients. However, the chance of stroke remains the most dreaded complication of the therapy, occurring in anywhere between 11 to 47% of patients receiving an implantation. One challenge in improving the treatment outcome is that factors that influence post-implant stroke in LVAD patients are not well understood pre-implant. This new collaboration will address this by developing a clinically validated in silico approach for a priori quantitative hemodynamics and stroke risk assessment in patients implanted with an LVAD. Successful research outcomes will enable significant improvements in LVAD treatment planning and outcomes, and benefit patient health by potential reduction of stroke risks post-therapy.

The team includes Assistant Professor Debanjan Mukherjee from the Paul M. Rady Department of Mechanical Engineering and Associate Professor Jay Pal from the Division of Surgery-Cardiothoracic within the School of Medicine at CU Anschutz.

Biophysical Cues Governing Growth Plate Organization: A Computational & Experimental Approach

Bryant working in the labBryant working in the lab.

The growth plate is a dynamic tissue found near the ends of children’s long bones and is responsible for longitudinal bone growth. This project will develop the first growth plate organoid that recapitulates a key structural determinant in the growth plate – the columnar organization of cells – which is required for normal growth in children. This project will establish a presently unknown link between the origin of mechanical forces and cellular organization, laying the foundation for future studies on the coordination of biochemical and mechanical cues on growth plate development. This highly interdisciplinary team will combine novel tools in biology, materials, and multi-scale mathematical models to tackle this complex problem. Once developed, this organoid will allow for deeper study of bone growth and genetic diseases affecting growth plate development and will have regenerative medicine relevance in children with growth plate injuries and growth disorders.

The team includes as PIs Professor Stephanie J. Bryant from the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering and Associate Professor Karin A. Payne from the Division of Orthopedics within the School of Medicine at CU Anschutz. Co-PIs include Professor Franck J. Vernerey from the Paul M. Rady Department of Mechanical Engineering, Professor Robert R. McLeod from the Department of Electrical, Computer and Electrical Engineering and Professor Michael Zuscik from the Division of Orthopedics within the School of Medicine at CU Anschutz.

Patient-specific On-demand Pre-surgical Planning Models via 3D Printing

A 3D printed organ model A 3D printing mechanically-realistic planning model that is patient-specific

High fidelity – material realistic – tissue-simulants can be quite valuable for surgeons during training or when working with patients. Created by converting volumetric scan data into a tangible and unique high-resolution representation via 3D-printing, tissue-simulants can give patients a better understanding of their procedures – improving clinical outcomes and reducing recovery times. Additionally, medical students using these representations have significant improvements in assessments of anatomy comprehension. While the advantages have led to rapid growth in the adoption of this method, there are several key limitations of the 3D printing workflow in use today. One is that existing 3D-printed materials used do not capture the feel of natural tissue. Another is that existing 3D-printed models are rigid and do not provide any compliance or ability to appropriately train or rehearse the surgery. Meanwhile, converting data from volumetric medical imaging to models that can be 3D-printed currently requires time-consuming human labor and judgement, making it expensive. To address these gaps in the near-term, this proposal will develop new data-driven models to predict the mechanical properties of 3D-printed tissue simulants from their voxel-based multi-material microstructures. It will also synthesize new 3D-printable materials by leveraging our existing work in developing individual materials to create as-printed heterogeneous mixtures from multiple printing channels that allow new materials with spatially-varying properties to be synthesized from existing individual materials via computational design.

The team includes Assistant Professor Robert MacCurdy from the Paul M. Rady Department of Mechanical Engineering, Clinical Design Researcher Nicholas Jacobson from the School of Engineering, Design, and Computation at CU Denver, Professor Jeffrey W. Stansbury from the Department of Craniofacial Biology with the School of Dental Medicine within the School of Medicine at CU Anschutz, and Associate Professor Simon Kim from the Division of Urology within the School of Medicine at CU Anschutz.