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. Quantitative Cell Biology and Mechanics of Cancer Metastasis. Microfluidic methods to control the surface chemistry, mechanical, and soluble environment are well suited to address questions associated with cell migration and movement. We are particularly interested in the process of cancer metastasis and intravasation.

2. Nonlinear Microfluidics. Nonlinear fluid dynamic effects are usually not considered in microfluidic systems but may provide simple methods to manipulate and sort cells at high-throughputs. We are studying the physical basis of inertial migration of particles and engineering novel portable and robust diagnostic and analysis systems using this phenomenon.

3. 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.