Complex biological organisms can be viewed as hierarchical ensembles of cooperating units with controlling elements that operate at the micro & nanoscale. In these systems, dysfunction at the fundamental cellular and molecular levels is responsible for a variety of diseases including cancer. Another hallmark of these systems is a dependence on microscale fluid vessels (e.g. capillaries, lymphatic vessels) for proper survival and function. Considering the similar scales and fluid environments, engineered micro- and nanofluidic devices appear ideally suited to diagnose, simulate, and probe biological systems.
We are exploiting unique physics, microenvironment control, and the potential for automation associated with miniaturized systems for applications in basic biology, medical diagnostics, and cellular engineering.
Current Research Topics
1. Inertial Microfluidics. By exploiting unique fluid physics at the microscale we are developing passive high-throughput systems for complete cell and particle control. Applications include next generation extreme throughput flow cytometers, passive rare cell isolation, and automated sample preparation.
2. The Mechanics of Cancer and Metastasis. Microfluidic devices allow precision control of the chemical and mechanical environment surrounding cells. We are using these tools to better observe and investigate the process of progression to malignancy and metastasis.
3. Automated Cell Biology. Localization of signaling is fundamental to control of cell behavior. We are developing high-throughput automated tools to quantitatively characterize the effects of nanoscale localization of mechanical and chemical signals. We anticipate this as a transformative tool to investigate, in analogy to engineering systems, the input-output response of cells.
4. Microfluidic Directed Cellular Evolution. Microfluidic technologies may offer advantages in creating new useful selection criteria for cellular evolution. Examples include cell migration speed, proteolytic activity, deformability, shear-stress stability, and osmotic tolerance. Besides gaining an understanding of dominant molecular pathways in controlling these behaviors, the resultant evolved cell populations and genetic modifications may be useful for therapeutic applications.