Taking cancer cells out of circulation and other feats of biomechanical engineering

July 30, 2014

It might seem unlikely for a mechanical engineer to receive research funding from the American Heart Association (AHA), but in 2013 Weiqiang Chen, one of the newest members of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, was awarded a pre-doctoral fellowship from the respected organization.

Chen, a recent graduate of the University of Michigan and a vital member of that school's Integrated Biosystems and Biomechanic Lab (IBBL), caught the attention of the AHA because of his work on developing a new microfluidic platform for monitoring the immune system of heart patients after cardiac bypass. Explaining that post-operative infection poses a serious risk for such patients, Chen says, "That project is a good example of how engineers and doctors can collaborate across disciplines. You have probably heard the term translational medicine, which refers to the process of 'translating' research into practical tools and treatments for patient care. Engineers and doctors are working together to get discoveries from [lab] bench to [patient] bedside as quickly as possible."

Chen, who also won a Baxter Young Investigator Award, has been engaged in several other studies as well. Among the most celebrated of these has been the IBBL's discovery that a glass plate with nanoscale topography can be used to capture and examine the circulating tumor cells that carry cancer through the bloodstream. The system, which is effective regardless of the cells' surface proteins or size, will allow researchers to isolate live circulating from blood samples in order to study them in unprecedented detail—an ability that may one day lead to improved diagnostic tools.

Chen has also attracted attention for his part in developing a cutting-edge method of cultivating that allows scientists to quickly and accurately predict differentiation (the process by which the cells morph into other types of ). The discovery—which involves building a stem-cell scaffold whose stiffness can be controlled mechanically rather than chemically—is expected to open up myriad possibilities for regenerative therapies and drug treatments. (The scaffolding is made of polydimethylsiloxane, an elastic polymer that also happens to be a key component in Silly Putty.)

He expects to continue his bioengineering research here and is excited about the opportunities for collaboration that the school provides. "There are many faculty members I'm looking forward to working with from across the university," he says. "I'm eager to get started."

Explore further: New insights on conditions for new blood vessel formation

Related Stories

New insights on conditions for new blood vessel formation

June 25, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—Angiogenesis, the sprouting of new blood vessels from pre-existing ones, is essential to the body's development. As organs grow, vascular networks must grow with them to feed new cells and remove their ...

Research lends new insights on conditions for new blood vessel formation

July 3, 2014
Angiogenesis, the sprouting of new blood vessels from pre-existing ones, is essential to the body's development. As organs grow, vascular networks must grow with them to feed new cells and remove their waste. The same process, ...

Stem cell researcher targets the 'seeds' of breast cancer metastasis

July 11, 2014
For breast cancer patients, the era of personalized medicine may be just around the corner, thanks to recent advances by USC Stem Cell researcher Min Yu and scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical ...

Many breast cancer patients don't get treatment for heart problems

June 3, 2014
Only a third of older breast cancer patients saw a cardiologist within 90 days of developing heart problems, in a study presented at the American Heart Association's Quality of Care and Outcomes Research 2014 Scientific Sessions.

Recommended for you

Major study of genetics of breast cancer provides clues to mechanisms behind the disease

October 23, 2017
Seventy-two new genetic variants that contribute to the risk of developing breast cancer have been identified by a major international collaboration involving hundreds of researchers worldwide.

Microbiologists contribute to possible new anti-TB treatment path

October 23, 2017
As part of the long effort to improve treatment of tuberculosis (TB), microbiologists led by Yasu Morita at the University of Massachusetts Amherst report that they have for the first time characterized a protein involved ...

New study shows how cells can be led down non-cancer path

October 23, 2017
As cells with a propensity for cancer break down food for energy, they reach a fork in the road: They can either continue energy production as healthy cells, or shift to the energy production profile of cancer cells. In a ...

Proton therapy lowers treatment side effects in pediatric head and neck cancer patients

October 23, 2017
Pediatric patients with head and neck cancer can be treated with proton beam therapy (PBT) instead of traditional photon radiation, and it will result in similar outcomes with less impact on quality of life. Researchers from ...

Big Data shows how cancer interacts with its surroundings

October 23, 2017
By combining data from sources that at first seemed to be incompatible, UC San Francisco researchers have identified a molecular signature in tissue adjacent to tumors in eight of the most common cancers that suggests they ...

Symptom burden may increase hospital length of stay, readmission risk in advanced cancer

October 23, 2017
Hospitalized patients with advanced cancer who report more intense and numerous physical and psychological symptoms appear to be at risk for longer hospital stays and unplanned hospital readmissions. The report from a Massachusetts ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.