Jerome Schultz, Ph.D, Biomedical Research Engineer
Glucose Sensors and More
By Diane and Joe Devanney
Over the last decade or so, a quiet revolution, unnoticed by much of the public, has developed as biology and technology have merged. A major entity supporting this revolution is the Center for Biotechnology and Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, headed by Dr. Jerome Schultz, who has gained a reputation for being on the cutting edge of biotechnical advances. As a biomedical engineer, he has developed techniques with potential to help millions of people worldwide, perhaps most notably diabetics.
A host of credentials reflect Schultz's international experience and stature in this field. After earning B.S. and M.S. degrees in chemical engineering from Columbia University, he received a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin in 1958. After some years at Laderle Laboratories, where he worked in the research division, Schultz joined the University of Michigan's Department of Chemical Engineering, where he was responsible for research in applied microbiology, biomaterials, and membrane separations. From 1977 until 1985, Schultz served as chairman of the department. From 1985 until 1987, he worked as deputy director of the Program for Engineering Research centers at the National Science Foundation, and in 1987, he joined the University of Pittsburgh as director of the new Center for Biotechnology and Bioengineering.
Biosensors have long ranked among the major interests of Schultz, who has recently developed a sensor that may eliminate or greatly reduce the need for diabetics to rely on needles for blood glucose checks. The concept takes the form of an implantable sensor consisting of a porous tube in the dermis layer of the skin. Carbohydrate beads covered with a dye staff the tube, and inside the beads is a fluorescent protein derived from concanavalin A. As glucose from surrounding tissue enters the tube, it binds with the protein, freeing it from the beads. Once outside the beads, the protein fluoresce green when exposed to light, and the intensity of the green fluorescence correlates to the glucose level in the tissues.
Although it's not ready for human trials, Schultz reports the sensor has recently made significant progress, and none too soon. "The reason we've focused so much on glucose sensors," he says, "is because diabetes is such a serious problem in the United States. Blindness, nerve damage, and loss of touch are some of the effects. A study done about ten years ago by the National Institutes of Health required participants to have their blood sugars tested frequently, the so-called DCCT trial. The group was followed for several years. They found that the serious complications resulting from diabetes were significantly lessened if blood glucose and resulting insulin intake was regularly monitored. This sensor can eventually help people avoid serious complications and keep the costs for everyone down."
Schultz also makes the point that for children with diabetes, "these sensors can be a big help for both the kids and their parents. With children, the monitoring of sugar levels can be tricky because the children are often very active. Sometimes problems for parents occur because when the children sleep, their blood sugar may drop precipitously, putting them in danger of a coma. This sensor could provide an alarm that can take the stress off parents."
Biosensors, however, are far from Schultz's only area of interest. He is also noted for achievements in the study of immobilized enzymes, hematopoietic cells, pharmacokinetics, and tissue engineering, among other subjects. Immobilized enzymes play a major role in the development of new biochemicals. "After bioengineers learned how to manipulate microbes for antibiotics and the like," Schultz notes, "they realized whole living cells were really not needed. Instead, the necessary enzymes could be extracted from the cells, purified, and attached to other materials as catalysts. Today, the applications of enzymes are coordinated with the methods of organic chemistry to create the correct conformation of active drugs across a wide range of functionalities. My research was focused on how to immobilize and predict the behavior of enzymes in a new environment."
Hematopoietic stem cells comprise undifferentiated cells the body stores, usually in bone marrow, to regenerate and replace blood components. Many people may recognize this topic from recent media references to cloning. Since Schultz's wife is an immunologist, he had a particular interest in this field. "I was trying," he states, "to grow stem cells outside the body. The idea was to develop a method to store them and, when needed, to signal them to grow into specific cell types such as red blood cells or platelets. Currently, however, research is focusing on using the body's own cells."
Moving on to the next of his other interests, Schultz defines pharmacokinetics as "the study of how drugs get into the blood and various organs and at what rates. At issue is the prediction of what organs will be impacted at diverse speeds. In essence, we want to selectively target for drugs to enter specific cells. If there is a case of cancer of the ovaries, for example, we want to put the drug into that location of the body. My engineering analysis showed that drugs permeate different tissues at different rates. We developed methods that could be used to both predict and control these rates."
Schultz is especially fond of describing the challenging work now underway in tissue engineering. He observes, "Much of the more difficult work here involves organs such as the liver, which have many functions and diverse cells. For functional tissues like the liver, all these different cells must be in precise positions near each other, like placing eggs in an egg carton. Everything must be carefully positioned. What helps in this respect are ongoing developments in nanotechnology, which will allow a the formation of a matrix that hopefully will allow the cells to signal to each other and grow normally."
Nanotechnology, incidentally, is a new development that to Schultz was unpredictable back in the 1950s and 1960s. "The whole capability resulting from computer chip technology has carried over into bioengineering. The same adaptation happened in the automotive industry. In fact, much of what I do relies on the fabrication of miniature devices that derives from the same technology used for sensors in modern cars."
When asked about future trends, Schultz has thoughts on applications of bioengineering advances in sensors. "There is a trend to personal monitoring." He observes, "Kits can be purchased at the drug store that range from pregnancy tests to cholesterol. 'Wellness' is the buzzword. One of the directions for biosensors is to allow people to personally maintain their own health, and the idea is to make devices that people can use themselves."
In addition, Schultz relates, "We see in clinical practice a strong trend to 'point of care' technologies. This means that, while sitting in a doctor's office, you can obtain needed information within five minutes instead of sending out tests and waiting days for results. This immediate, on-site response can be accomplished through biochemical and sensor technology. The same items may well apply to the home market and home care."
Although not as widely visible as the information revolution that has occurred in the last decade, the recent revolution in bioengineering and biochemistry gives every indication that it will soon be just as important in the lives of every American. Schultz should rank among the leaders and pioneers of this revolution for awhile, as his contributions show no signs of stopping.
Distinguished University Professor of Bioengineering and Medicine
Professor of Chemical Engineering
Director of the Center for Biotechnology and Bioengineering
Phone: (412) 383-9700
Fax: (412) 383-9710
Office: BIOTC 407
Ph.D. (Biochemistry), University of Wisconsin, 1958
Dr. Schultz joined the University of Pittburgh in 1987 as Director of the newly established Center for Biotechnology and Bioengineering. In the ensuing years, he developed the Program in Bioengineering which has evolved into the Department of Bioengineering. Prior to joining the University, Professor Schultz held positions as Deputy Director, Division of Cross-Disciplinary Research at the National Science Foundation and Chairman of the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Michigan.
The primary focus of Dr.
Schultz's research has been biosensors; however, his scientific interests
cover a broad range of related areas of interest including.
Culture of hematopoietic cells
Facilitated diffusion in membranes
Restricted diffusion in membranes
Transport processes in tissues
Biomedical Engineer and Diabetics
By Diane and Joe Devanney