UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering University of California San Diego
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Graduate Student Develops New Tools for Tissue Engineering

Exploring uncharted territories is a quest that has driven Dirk Albrecht in his research and in life. A product of the Bay Area, Albrecht was first attracted to UCSD as an undergraduate in 1993 because of its stellar reputation and fabulous climate—a perfect backdrop for his interest in biology and his love for kayaking and mountain biking.

“One of the reasons I came to San Diego was because they had such a good bioengineering
program - even 10 years ago,” explains Albrecht. Since making the trip south, Albrecht, now a bioengineering Ph.D. candidate, has evolved into a first-rate researcher. At the 2003 Jacobs School Research Review, he won the grand prize for his poster, which showcased his work on 3D positioning of cells for tissue engineering research.

According to Albrecht, “If we are able to position cells precisely and rapidly within a gel using dielectrophoretic forces, then we can study the cellular microenvironment in much more detail and in a much more controlled way. From that information we hope to understand what is necessary for a particular tissue to develop from isolated cells within a matrix into a functional tissue.”

Albrecht is using his technology to gain a better understanding of knee cartilage, which is commonly damaged in sports injuries and may degenerate over time. This cartilage has very little natural capability for repair. He hopes that new information about cartilage cell interactions will lead to improved tissue engineering therapies, a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying degenerative cartilage diseases, and future treatments to reduce pain and increase patient mobility.

Now in his fourth year of graduate studies, Albrecht works with professors Sangeeta Bhatia and Robert Sah. “The really unique thing about Dirk is that this is a project he essentially created,” says Bhatia. “His involvement spanned everything from the creative concepts, to theoretical modeling to the experimental aspects. It was a real tour de force, and all because of his initiative.”

Albrecht expects to graduate next year and move on to the East Coast for a post-doctoral position and change of scenery before pursuing a career in academia.