I am currently a lecturer in the Bioengineering Department at UC Berkeley, where I teach bioinstrumentation and run a summer microfluidics REU program called BioChIP. I recently completed my PhD in Luke Lee's Lab. Broadly speaking, I'm interested in developing tools for cell biology which leverage microfabrication and automation technologies. As an undergraduate in Electrical and Computer Engineering at NC State University, I started the Underwater Robotics Club, where I led a group of students to design, fund, and build autonomous submarines.
Precision Tools for Cell Biology
Cell biology, with its insatiable thirst for ever greater degrees of precision and quantitation, is an awesome playground for new technology development. We are very good at visualizing cells--light and electron microscopy, along with a vast array of molecular labeling techniques, have given us profound insights into the structural dynamics of cells at the micro and nano scales. However, there are very few tools which enable us to interact dynamically with cells and control cellular stimuli at the single-cell or sub-cellular length scales. Many interesting phenomena depend on a cell's microscale environment, and being able to precisely define environmental parameters such as cell localization, chemical gradients, matrix topography, and mechanical cues, enables us to ask new kinds of biophysical questions. Microsystems allow the cellular microenvironment to be precisely defined and dynamically controlled, and they allow many parallel conditions to be tested simultaneously. Such systems could give us new insights into a diverse array of processes including stem cell pluripotency, cell fate determination, development, and cancer. Beyond their use as tools for enabling cell biology, microsystems enable us to subject cells to new kinds of selection pressures and specifically isolate populations of cells based on complex phenotypes such as electrophysiology, cell motility, or mechanoresponsive behaviors. Such tools could be applied to evolve novel, useful functions in biological systems.
Enabling the Cell Therapy Pipeline
Regnerative medicine is a rapidly emerging field with the potential to revolutionize the way we treat various degenerative diseases including cardiomyopathy and diabetes. Stem cells, which can be expanded indefinitely and differentiated into any cell type in the body, are at the core of many proposed regenerative therapies. As we gain more insight into the fundamental mechanisms governing stem cell fate, the question of scalability arises: how do we translate our laboratory techniques to industrial scale processes for therapeutic application? The emergence of regenerative medicine calls for an entirely new industry focused on an entirely new therapeutic product: mammalian cells. As with the pharmaceutical pipeline, the cell therapy pipeline will require new technologies to cost-effectively and safely expand, differentiate, purify, characterize, and preserve cells and tissues. Microfabricated systems have a role to play in this pipeline. Microfluidic cell culture systems can ensure identical culture conditions across thousands of parallel stem cell colonies during expansion and differentiation. These culture systems could be combined with flow cytometry/cell sorting tools to provide feedback for quality control, resulting in a well-characterized population of cells.
Point-of-Care Diagnostics for Resource-Poor Settings
There is a critical need in the developing world for new diagnostic technologies. Early, accurate diagnosis of infections would dramatically impact the global disease burden by ensuring that the most effective treatment is administered up-front, reducing waste and curbing the spread of disease. Unfortunately, most diagnostic technologies were developed for well-funded laboratory settings. PCR genotyping, for example, requires a great deal of expertise in sample preparation, expensive instrumentation (a thermocycler), a sterile environment, and substantial infrastructure (plastic consumables, centrifuge, refrigeration, clean water, and electricity). So despite the growing consensus on the diagnostic utility of pathogen genotyping for many diseases, these assays are simply out of reach for most of the world. Nowhere is the need more severe than with Tuberculosis, where multi-drug resistance is a growing problem and the long incubation time of the pathogen makes it a very debilitating and time consuming treatment process. Microfluidic disposables, combined with low-cost automated instruments, can substantially reduce the cost and expertise required for running genetic amplification assays, enabling rapid point-of-care pathogen identification.