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News Release

Bioengineering: Research landmarks

The department’s 24 faculty, junior and senior, boast a number of achievements in a wide range of fields, gravitating around genomics, regenerative medicine, diagnostic tools and treatment and prevention. Research landmarks include:

The Omics field

·       Bernhard Palsson, named one of the world’s most influential scientific minds by Thomson Reuters in 2016, studies cellular life by developing experimental and computational models for red blood cells, E. coli and several human pathogens. Last year, Palsson and his team defined the core set of genes and functions that bacterial cells need to sustain life.

·       Kun Zhang developed new techniques to reduce the cost and improve the accuracy of gene sequencing. Probing the genetic make-up of individual cells would help researchers identify and understand a wide range of organisms that cannot be easily grown in the lab from the bacteria that live within our digestive tracts and on our skin, to the microscopic organisms that live in ocean water.

·       Trey Ideker seeks to comprehensively map connections between the many genes and proteins in a cell and how these connections trigger or prevent disease. His current work focuses on DNA mutations that cause cancer.

·       Shankar Subramaniam is a pioneer in the field of large-scale mathematical analysis to determine the metabolic functions of cells based on their genome. Last year, he and his team were able to explain why the flu vaccine is less effective in elderly people.

·       Sheng Zhong is the principal investigator on a $30 million, five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to better understand how DNA is arranged within the cell’s nucleus in four dimensions (three-dimensional space, plus time).

·       Xiaohua Huang is a pioneer and regarded as a key player in the arenas of genomics, bioinformatics and nanotechnology-based molecular devices.

Diagnostic tools

·       Todd Coleman’s research brings together electronics for medical use, machine learning and public health. His team develops multi-functional, flexible bioelectronics and new analytic methods to help patients and medical decision makers.

·       Elliot McVeigh, the former chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Johns Hopkins University who joined UC San Diego in 2015, aims to create a completely new imaging paradigm for cardiac care by developing imaging techniques that give patients and their doctors all the information they need to avoid heart attacks.

·       Andrew D. McCulloch pioneered the development of personalized computer models of the heart that serve to predict the outcome of treatments, which allows physicians to avoid ineffective therapies.  

·       Gert Cauwenbergs developed sensor systems that do not need to be in contact with the body to measure the electrical activity of the heart, brain, muscle and other tissues. Recently, he and colleagues built the first portable, 64-channel wearable brain activity monitoring system that’s comparable to state-of-the-art equipment found in research laboratories.

·       Michael Heller developed techniques to detect and measure fragmented DNA in blood to diagnose cancer extremely early on, a method known as “liquid biopsy.” Recently, he and his team developed a new technology that uses an oscillating electric field to easily and quickly isolate drug-delivery nanoparticles from blood. The technology could serve as a general tool to separate and recover nanoparticles from other complex fluids for medical, environmental, and industrial applications.

Therapy, treatment and prevention

·       Karen Christman has developed a new injectable hydrogel that can repair damage from heart attacks, help the heart grow new tissue and blood vessels, and get the heart functioning closer to a healthy heart. The gels are in clinical trials.

·       David Gough developed a long-term implantable blood glucose sensor that can provide information for better metabolic control in diabetics. The device is currently in clinical trials.

·       Robert Sah arrived at a basic understanding of diseased orthopedic joints that provides a basis for tissue engineering repair strategies. Sah's goal is to pave the way for successful tissue-engineered total joint replacement for people who suffer cartilage damage due to injury or aging.

·       John Watson helped in the development of the cardiac assist device that serves to save the life of desperately ill heart patients. His current mission is to find ways to reduce how long it takes medical technology to move from concept into the clinic.

·       Gabriel Silva pioneered research to restore retinal function restoration in eye disease. He studies the neurobiology of neural signaling at the cellular and cellular network scales to learn more about the mechanisms that underlie neural computation and information processing in the brain.  

·       Jeff Hasty designs and constructs gene circuits for use in living cells that can then be applied to cancer therapy. They use tools from physics and engineering to study the circuits, including microfluidic devices that they design themselves to constrain a bacterial population.

·       Schmid-Schonbein is a pioneer in the effort to understand the function of the smallest blood vessels, or capillaries, and their role in hypertension, diabetes and shock. He discovered a mechanism by which many cell functions fail in metabolic diseases due to breakdown of receptors on the cell’s membrane. He also discovered a mechanism by which the body can destroy itself via its own digestive enzymes (“autodigestion”) and a method to minimize this process in very ill individuals.

·       Pedro Cabrales studies how oxygen and other gases become available in the body, their biological function and how their levels are regulated. Recently, he was part of a team of bioengineers and physicians who showed that waiting 30 seconds between bites and cessation of eating at an early stage of satiety prevented excessive weight gain in children.

Regenerative medicine

·       Chien developed a basic understanding of why atherosclerosis occurs in arteries and how it is influenced by blood flow. He is also collaborating on multiple projects in regenerative medicine to develop a process to identify the best environments in which to grow stem cells.

·       Adam Engler developed a basic understanding about what stem cells require to differentiate into specific cell types for therapy. Recently, this team provided new insights on how hearts “stay young” and keep functioning over a lifetime despite the fact that most organisms generate few new heart cells.

·       Shyni Varghese is a pioneer in the field of bio-inspired materials, stem cells and regenerative medicine. Her work focuses on the interface of biomaterials and stem cells. Her research involves the development and application of biomaterials and engineering tools to understand the impact of interactions in the cell-microenvironment on stem cell differentiation and disease progression.

Media Contacts

Ioana Patringenaru
Jacobs School of Engineering