Archive for the ‘Emerging Investigators’ Category

Emerging Investigator Series – Jonathan Song and Shaurya Prakash

We are delighted to introduce our latest Lab on a Chip Emerging Investigators, Jonathan Song and Shaurya Prakash!

Jonathan Song is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Faculty Member of the Comprehensive Cancer Center at the Ohio State University (OSU).  He received his B.S. in Biomedical Engineering (BME) from Northwestern University and his Ph.D. in BME from the University of Michigan while working in the laboratory of Dr. Shu Takayama.  He completed a post-doctoral fellowship in the laboratory of Dr. Lance Munn in the Edwin L. Steele Laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.  Since 2014, he has been a faculty member at OSU where he leads an interdisciplinary lab that applies microtechnology, principles from tissue engineering, and quantitative engineering analysis for studying the physical dynamics of tumor and vascular biology.  As a faculty member, he has received the NSF CAREER Award, the American Heart Association (AHA) Scientist Development Grant, and the OSU Comprehensive Cancer Center Pelotonia Junior Investigator Award.  His research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), NSF, AHA, American Cancer Society (ACS), and the OSU Institute for Materials Research.

 

Shaurya Prakash is an Associate Professor of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering and Infectious Diseases Institute (IDI) Thematic Program Director (for Prevention, Detection, and Therapies) at The Ohio State University (OSU). He graduated with a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2007 and with a B.S. also in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville in 2001. He has been on the faculty at The Ohio State University since fall 2009 where he directs the Microsystems and Nanosystems Laboratory. His research group focuses on designing, fabrication, and characterization of microsystems and nanosystems for applications in healthcare and engineering biology, water purification, and alternate and renewable energy. The main goals of their research are to: provide a scientific and technological solution to the pressing problems of a rapidly evolving modern society, and educate ourselves, our students, and the community we serve.

Read there Emerging Investigators Series article “Flow dynamics control endothelial permeability in a microfluidic vessel bifurcation model” and find out more about them in the interview below:

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on the role flow dynamics play in endothelial permeability in a microfluidic vessel bifurcation model. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

Jonathan: This is a very nice question.  I have been thinking of flow dynamics and generally blood vessel remodeling and angiogenesis for quite a long time now and how microfluidics is a very powerful approach for probing this biology.  This interest had first crested during my post-doc where I published a paper in 2011 with my post-doc advisor Dr. Lance Munn in PNAS (https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1105316108), which was also highlighted very nicely by Lab on a Chip when this article was first published (DOI: 10.1039/c1lc90131a).  Through this work, I began to fully understand and appreciate how endothelial cells that line intact blood vessels have the capacity to integrate multiple extrinsic signals, both fluid mechanical and biochemical, to determine their angiogenesis fate.

This most recent article is a bit different and I consider a significant technical advancement because of the bifurcating vessel geometry produced by microfluidic system design.  Previous microsystems that I and others had primarily used were mostly straight or parallel channels that do not reconstitute how actual blood vessels branch into two daughter vessels.  My graduate student Ehsan Akbari came up with a clever design that we described in this latest article and enabled the results that we reported.

Shaurya: Over time, my research has evolved in many ways. My first few research articles on microscale reacting gas flows (microcombustion) in millimetre scale channels really started to establish many of the fundamental insights to reacting flows in a new type of configuration. Since then, observing the trends in my work, I see that my research has dealt with developing devices for understanding microfluidic and nanofluidic flows in a variety of configurations spanning a large range of applications from healthcare to energy and water. The goal has always been to develop science to enable new technology for solving problems important to modern society. This particular article on endothelial permeability follows (at least in my mind!) the natural extension of developing novel microfluidic systems and probing fundamental transport characteristics, which in this case happens to be for an important element in biology.

What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment?

Jonathan: Because of my training in microfluidics, I think I will always be excited about developing new systems and applying them to study a specific physiology.  However, at present I am particularly excited in studying the subcellular biophysics that orchestrate changes in endothelial remodeling and angiogenesis.  My lab is part of team along with my co-author on this article (Dr. Shaurya Prakash) and our Ohio State University (OSU) colleague Dr. Carlos Castro that was recently awarded an NIH R01 grant to specifically study this biology.  One of the experimental test beds for these studies is the microfluidic system that was first described in this article.

Shaurya: Our microfluidic platform provides us tremendous flexibility in evaluating bio-chemical-electrical-mechanical aspects of the endothelium. In particular, the ability to systematically evaluate effects of a variety of mechanical, electrical, and chemical stimuli to elicit biological responses from endothelial cells present an exciting avenue for future research that can probably help us to think about how we can truly begin to reach in the domain of ‘engineering biology’.

In your opinion, what is the biggest insight into the mechanisms that control vessel function presented by your research?

Jonathan: I believe it is that the impinging stagnation point flow at the base of our bifurcating microfluidic model (which we term in the article as bifurcated fluid flow or BFF) imparts a vessel stabilizing effect that is nitric oxide (NO) dependent.  This outcome has prompted multiple questions that we wish to pursue in the future that relate to vessel function and vessel maturation.

Shaurya: In this paper, the evaluation of time-dependent changes to endothelial permeability under a variety of systematically controlled local flow conditions (stagnation pressure at bifurcation point, local shear stress, and transvascular flow) showed that the mechanical forces acting on the endothelial cells biochemically-mediate endothelial remodeling processes. Here we reported the first observation of the time-dependent effect of stagnation pressure at the bifurcation point on the permeability thereby introducing stagnation flows at the base of vessel bifurcations as an important regulator of vessel permeability and suggest a mechanism by which local flow dynamics control vascular function in vivo through this in vitro study.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

Jonathan: I do like pretty much all aspects of my lab’s research and appreciate the challenges that are associated with working in interdisciplinary research.  What I do find particularly challenging at times is staying on top of the most cutting-edge literature in both the microtechnology and the biology related to my lab’s work.

Shaurya: In vivo biological responses are incredibly complex. The ability to carefully design devices to elucidate systematically the underlying biophysics through in vitro systems requires bringing together various skill sets and intellectual expertise from microfluidic device design, fabrication, and characterization to appropriate biological models followed by subsequent analysis and modeling. Integrating all these skills and expertise to one platform via an interdisciplinary team is both exciting and challenging.

In which upcoming conferences or events may our readers meet you?

Jonathan: My travel patterns have varied from year to year but I typically attend Experimental Biology (or FASEB) because of my involvement with the Microcirculatory Society.  I also typically attend the Summer Biomechanics, Bioengineering, and Biotransport Conference (SB3) and the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) Annual Meeting.  I have also enjoyed attending the ASME NanoEngineering for Medicine and Biology (NEMB) conference.  I have not been as active in attending some of the disease specific conferences but intend to start doing so.

Shaurya: Our results are shared at many premier meetings like MicroTAS, Hilton Head Workshop, and other related meetings.

How do you spend your spare time?

Jonathan: My wife is trained as a social worker and is a big proponent of heath and wellness.  Thus, we try to stay active.  For example, we like to take our son biking with us.  He is only 2 years-old now so he is secured to seat on the front of my wife’s bike.  Admittedly, we typically just bike to our favorite local coffee shop.  I have also gotten into a little more extensive cycling, driven largely by my involvement with the OSU Comprehensive Cancer Center Pelotonia, which is an annual philanthropic bike race that has raised over $150 million for cancer research since it was started in 2008.  I have rode in every Pelotonia race since I started at OSU in 2014.

Shaurya:  Family time is essential to my success. Sharing my spare time with an incredibly supportive wife, amazing kids (and a wonderful fur-baby, dog) is time well spent. Any residual time after that is taken up by reading and working in my yard tending to my flower beds and lawn.

 Which profession would you choose if you were not a scientist?

Jonathan: Broadly speaking, probably something in in the business world.  However, if that were the case, I do not think I would be enjoying myself as much as I am now.  Working with my students is probably my favorite part of being an academic scientist.

Shaurya: This is a difficult question as being an engineer and scientist has been not just a profession but a way of life in thinking about solving problems that impact modern society. As a professor, I also enjoy teaching and working with young(er) minds to develop thought processes for solving problems. In my own younger days I was a fair athlete and so being a coach that would allow me to contribute to future generations as a mentor, teacher, and role-model to facilitate positive impact on our world would be an alternate life for me.

Can you share one piece of career-related advice or wisdom with other early career scientists?

Jonathan: Invest in ideas that excite you the most.  Also, when pursuing collaborative projects, try to go for the ones that are both highly significant and mutually beneficial for all parties involved.

Shaurya: Choose and work on problems you truly care about – it shows in how the science is done and technology is developed and all the essential pieces behind impactful work like idea and concept development, writing and reading to compare against state-of-art, and eventually advancing the state-of-art. Therefore, pursuing problems that one is truly passionate about is important.

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Emerging Investigator Series – Edmond Young

We are delighted to introduce our latest Lab on a Chip Emerging Investigator, Edmond Young!

Dr. Edmond Young joined the Department of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering at the University of Toronto as an Assistant Professor in January 2013. He received his BASc (2001) and MASc (2003) in Mechanical Engineering at the University of British Columbia, and his PhD in Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Toronto (2008). He was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison from 2009 to 2012, working at the Wisconsin Institute for Medical Research (WIMR). Professor Young’s research interests focus on the development of microscale technologies for cell biology applications, with emphasis on creating engineered models that mimic the cell and tissue microenvironments in both healthy and diseased animals. He received the Governor General’s Gold Medal and the Norman F. Moody Award for academic excellence in 2009, the MIE Early Career Teaching Award in 2015, the Ontario Early Researcher Award and Connaught New Investigator Award in 2016, and has been recognized as an Outstanding Reviewer for Lab on a Chip in both 2016 and 2017.

Read Edmond’s Emerging Investigator series paper “Microfluidic lung airway-on-a-chip with arrayable suspended gels for studying epithelial and smooth muscle cell interactions” and find out more about him in the interview below:

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on lung airway-on-a-chip. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

This is actually our first article on this specific project, and we’re excited to share these results with the Lab on a Chip readership, and others doing lung-on-a-chip research. I can think back to a few articles on thermoplastic microfabrication that our lab published (Guckenberger et al., Lab Chip, 2015; Wan et al., Lab Chip, 2015; Wan et al., JoVE, 2017), which really enabled us to fabricate our current airway-on-a-chip device consistently and repeatably. Developing reliable fabrication methods gave us the confidence needed to do these long-term cultures without constantly worrying about fabrication challenges. Now, our lab can fabricate and keep devices “in stock” well ahead of the biology experiments, and that in itself has been a bit of an evolution in our lab and also in the field.

What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment?

I’m most excited about the ongoing collaborations with engineers and doctors who are interested in using the platform for their own work. The technology still has a lot of room for development, but hearing how the system may be applied to lung research, and potentially other biology questions, is very exciting and motivating.

In your opinion, what is the biggest impact your developed lung airway-on-a-chip could have on our understanding of chronic lung diseases?

I think the biggest impact will be learning about the differences in biological responses of the various in vitro and ex vivo airway models, against which we plan to benchmark our model. The promise of organ-on-a-chip technology lies in its ability to mimic human tissue more accurately, and if our model can continue to advance as planned, we envision making new observations with our device that could not have been made with conventional models. And if we do find interesting differences, it will build on the growing evidence that traditional platforms such as 2D Transwells for coculture do not properly recapitulate the in vivo microenvironment. Many scientists will need to rethink their approach to in vitro experiments (if they haven’t done so already), and decide what models are most representative and most useful.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

The most challenging aspect of my research overall is trying to keep pace with the field. It is a rapidly evolving area of research with many amazing scientists and engineers making important contributions. Research takes time and patience, so another constant challenge is managing students who are just learning about the effort, resilience, and patience needed to make something work in research. But it’s well worth it when you see the results, both in terms of the research and in terms of student development.

In which upcoming conferences or events may our readers meet you?

I’ll be in Whistler from May 9-11, 2018 for an Emerging Technologies Conference, back in Toronto to co-chair the Ontario-on-a-Chip Symposium from May 24-25, 2018 (Lab on a Chip is our sponsor this year!), and plan to be at microTAS 2018 in Taiwan.

How do you spend your spare time?

I play a little tennis (seasonally in Toronto’s climate), but my latest source of amusement when I have spare time is my 11-month-old daughter Amelia. When she’s old enough, I will surely convince her to get into tennis (and hockey) so that her dad can live vicariously through her athletic pursuits! And if she happens to fall in love with research, I’d be pleased with that too.

Which profession would you choose if you were not a scientist?

I considered being an architect when I was younger, and I still get excited when I hear of the latest buildings and structures around the world that are being built. I like the technical engineering aspects of it, of course, but I also like how they define the skyline of big cities, and how art, culture, and engineering all come together in some of the world’s most beautiful architecture.

Can you share one piece of career-related advice or wisdom with other early career scientists?

Surround yourself with great people. That applies to your friends, mentors, colleagues, and importantly, your students. And let them all challenge you so that your ideas are pressure-tested.

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Emerging Investigator Series – Ashleigh Theberge

We are delighted to introduce our latest Lab on a Chip Emerging Investigator, Ashleigh Theberge!

Ashleigh Theberge is an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at the University of Washington and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Urology at the University of Washington School of Medicine. She received her BA in Chemistry at Williams College and her PhD in Chemistry at the University of Cambridge, UK with Wilhelm Huck. During her graduate work, she was a Visiting Scientist with Andrew Griffiths at the Université de Strasbourg, France. Her graduate research focused on droplet-based microfluidics for chemical synthesis and analysis. She completed her postdoctoral fellowship in Biomedical Engineering and Urology with David Beebe, William Ricke, and Wade Bushman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In 2014, she was awarded an NIH K Career Development Award from the NIDDK in Urology. She joined the faculty at the University of Washington in 2016. Her group develops new microscale culture and analysis methods to study cell-cell, cell-extracellular matrix, and host-microbe interactions, with a focus on inflammation in urologic diseases and asthma.

Read Ashleigh’s Emerging Investigator series paper “Upgrading well plates using open microfluidic patterning” and find out more about her in the interview below:

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on upgrading well plates using microfluidic patterning. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article? 

My research has changed dramatically since my first article, which focused on chemical synthesis in droplet-based microfluidics. The common thread in both articles is manipulation of fluids on the microscale, but almost everything else is different! While my graduate work focused on chemical applications of microfluidics in conventional closed microfluidic channels, I now work on methods for studying cell signaling in biological systems using primarily open microfluidic channels. For example in this most recent article, the “walls” of the “channel” are comprised of the floor of the well plate, a plastic insert, and two free air-liquid interfaces.

What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment?

I am excited about our group’s fundamental work advancing fluid manipulation in open microfluidics using capillary flow. On the applications side, I am excited to be exploring signaling in ever-more complex cellular systems, including “multikingdom” systems where we study the chemical signals exchanged between host and microbe. I am also happy to work with a fantastic group of students who are taking our group in new directions both biologically and technologically.

In your opinion, what is the biggest advantage of the presented patterning device over the current systems?

Our method enables biologists to easily “upgrade” any existing assay developed in conventional well plates to a co- or multiculture assay. Well plates are the most common cultureware used for cell-based assays, and our device is a simple plastic insert that fits within the well and enables the user to pipette hydrogels (such as collagen, Matrigel, or synthetic gels) to make biocompatible partitions that enable segregated cell culture and maintain soluble factor signaling through the gel wall. Our device enables biologists to use a familiar off-the-shelf platform (well plates) and culture cells on surfaces that have been optimized by decades of industry experience with tissue culture treated surfaces. Since our device uses “open microfluidics,” it does not require bonding of multiple layers and can be fabricated in a single step via injection molding to scale up production.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

A challenge is the interdisciplinary of our work; but this is also what I love about it. Much of our work involves new methods to isolate and study chemical signals from complex cultures – falling under the category of analytical chemistry or bioengineering. But we also focus heavily on disease mechanisms, delving deeply into biology, and our work in the fundamentals of open microfluidics is at the interface of physics and chemistry. Our work also touches on applied aspects of microscale device fabrication, traditionally falling under mechanical engineering, such as our recent paper in press at Lab on a Chip entitled “Fundamentals of rapid injection molding for microfluidic cell-based assays.”

In which upcoming conferences or events may our readers meet you?

I regularly attend microTAS and the Gordon Research Conference on Microfluidics. I also plan to attend the IEEE EMBS Micro and Nanoengineering in Medicine Conference and biological conferences related to our group’s focus areas (microbiome, urologic research, etc.).

How do you spend your spare time?

I try to spend spare time outdoors and enjoy sailing, open water swimming, and climbing. I also like to travel – both to explore different cultures and also wilderness such as the Yukon Territory, Patagonia, and national forest land nearby in Washington.

Which profession would you choose if you were not a scientist?

I would enjoy having a leadership role in a company or organization. I like brainstorming ideas to develop a vision for large projects and working in teams toward a common goal – be it a product, a discovery, or a process. I decided to be a scientist because the scientific method provides an opportunity to rigorously explore questions, but there are many complex problems outside of science that require exciting new strategies and the cohesive effort of many minds to solve.

Can you share one piece of career-related advice or wisdom with other early career scientists?

One strategy that has been helpful for me is to be persistent in looking for opportunities to support projects that I care about. As an undergraduate researcher, I designed my own project that required augmenting our department’s gas chromatograph. I was able to secure the funds by talking with different offices on campus (dean’s office initiatives, student project grants, etc.); I was turned down many times but even those experiences helped me to refine my explanation of the project to have a more compelling conversation with the next person I approached. As an undergraduate summer intern working for Merck, my department did not have funds to send me to a conference to present my work, so I asked the human resources department to fund my trip as a way to promote the intern program as well as present my science; they agreed. In graduate school, I set up an international collaboration in order to develop the expertise required to pursue a multidisciplinary project that I had designed. So for early career scientists, I think it is key to remember that there are many opportunities (even if they are not always obvious at first), and facing road blocks or being turned down several times doesn’t preclude a successful outcome.

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Emerging Investigator Series – Wilbur Lam

We are delighted to introduce our latest Lab on a Chip Emerging Investigator, Wilbur Lam!

Wilbur A. Lam, MD, PhD is an Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Pediatrics at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University and has a unique background as a physician-scientist-engineer trained in pediatric hematology/oncology and bioengineering. Dr. Lam’s interdisciplinary laboratory, located at both Emory and Georgia Tech, includes engineers, biologists, biophysicists, chemists and physicians. Our laboratory serves as a unique “one-stop shop” in which we develop in vitro microsystems to study hematologic processes in both health and disease and then immediately bring those technologies to the patient bedside. More specifically, the Lam laboratory’s research interests involve the development and application of microsystems to enable research in pathologic biophysical blood cell interactions that occur in diseases such as sickle cell disease and thrombosis, as well as further translating those systems into novel therapeutics and diagnostic devices.

Read Wilbur’s Emerging Investigator series paper “Probing blood cell mechanics of hematologic processes at the single micron level” and find out more about him in the interview below:

 

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on probing blood cell mechanics of hematologic processes. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

As a bioengineer and a physician specializing in paediatric haematology, my initial goals for our lab were really twofold: 1) to leverage microscale technologies to apply cell mechanics principles towards investigating clinically relevant biologic processes and 2) to convince the medical and clinical haematology fields that physical phenomena such as shear stress and the mechanical properties of the microenvironment can directly mediate the biologic processes of blood cells and pathophysiology of blood diseases such as sickle cell disease and thrombosis. Over the last few years, I think our lab and other groups have accomplished that and we’re now concentrating on not only the basic science questions of blood cell mechanics but how to apply the microtechnologies we develop as potential diagnostics and even therapeutic systems for patients with blood diseases.

What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment?

Along those same lines, we’ve been at this game long enough to see some of our microtechnologies translate to my patients with blood diseases, which we find pretty exciting. For example, we just received FDA clearance for a point-of-care anaemia diagnostic our lab developed. We also have several other blood cell mechanics-based microtechnologies that are in our lab’s translational pipeline we’re pretty excited about. For instance, we’ve developed a microfluidic system that can assess platelet contraction forces at the single cell level and we’re now trying to determine whether that system can be used to diagnose patients with bleeding disorders, a clinical interest of mine. At the same time, we’re also trying to leverage that mechanical phenomenon of platelet contraction as a “Trojan Horse” strategy of targeted drug delivery for haemophilia, which we find to be pretty sci-fi and exciting. Moreover, using fairly simple microfluidic devices, we determined that intravenous hydration, a standard first-line therapy for sickle cell disease, may have beneficial as well as deleterious effects on red cell mechanics, which could potentially alter how we treat this disease. We’ve also developed technologies that can enable the translation of other technologies including a microfluidic device that can improve the transduction efficiency of lentiviruses for gene therapy and CAR T-cell therapy, which are both making significant clinical impacts right now. That said, we still remain very interested in the basic science of blood cell mechanics, which is evidenced by this current paper of ours, and we have active projects including but not limited to investigating leukocyte mechanics and are developing new microfluidic strategies to study and model bleeding.

In your opinion, what is the biggest potential impact the results of this research will have on blood disorder diagnostics?

I think impact of our research regarding blood disorder diagnostics can be measured in several ways. First, we obviously want to positively affect and help as many patients and people as possible, which is why we’re clearly excited about the recent FDA 510K clearance of our point-of-care anaemia diagnostic. For that project, we’re currently planning our manufacturing and distribution strategy with different partners to commercialize and disseminate this technology in the US and abroad to impact as many people globally as we can. In addition, we can also measure impact on a more personal level. One of the reasons why our lab has been fortunate enough to be able to recruit the best graduate students and postdoctoral fellows is because of our unique setup in which our lab is located both on the engineering side at Georgia Tech as well as the clinical side at Emory University and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, where I am a practicing physician. I’ve truly been blessed to work with the best and most talented students and postdocs in the field of bioengineering and I think they enjoy the fact that they can design a device and literally see it be used on a real live patient within a relatively short time frame. This is great for my patients as well, who are able to witness firsthand how medical technology develops and the potential of how it can improve their own lives in the near future. So, in essence, our lab has developed a “basement-to-bench-to-bedside” approach in which we design and develop microtechnologies to not only study disease but also directly translate these to the patients I care for and even conduct clinical assessments and trials for those devices – all under one roof. By the way, if your readers can help me come up with a better word than “basement” while still maintaining the alliteration as well as the overall message of the phrase, my lab and I will be extremely grateful.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

Like many other bioengineering laboratories among your readership, successful design and development of a novel micro/nanoscale technology is only half the battle. Then you have to do the actual experiment to demonstrate its utility and hope it delivers some type of value. This can be frustrating at times, as our projects can take twice as long as average, but the hope is that our impact will be doubled as well.

In which upcoming conferences or events may our readers meet you?

I attend the annual American Society of Hematology and International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis meetings as I serve on the scientific committees for both of them. I also frequently attend the annual Biomedical Engineering Society and MicroTAS meetings as well.

How do you spend your spare time?

I answer interview questions for scientific blogs! Seriously, I’m a huge fan of pop culture and pop music. I even have a lifetime subscription to Rolling Stone, which I’ve been starting to regret in recent years as I’ve grown older as the covers of that magazine have progressively gotten more risqué (or maybe that’s just my perception as whatever semblance of hipness and coolness I ever had is exponentially decreasing with time). I also still pick up my guitar every now and then – especially when I’m procrastinating writing a grant or submitting grades.

Which profession would you choose if you were not a scientist?

I find that when most people are asked this question, they give an idealized answer, so I’ll do the same. I’d like to say that I’d be a successful songwriter/musician as I’ve played guitar in bands from my teenage years until my first faculty position (during my clinical training, I played in an all-paediatrician band named “Booster Shot”). However, to be frank, I really wasn’t that good and seriously doubt I could have made it as a professional musician. So, I think the realistic answer is that my most likely alternative profession would be that of a disgruntled sales associate at a Guitar Center somewhere or working as a roadie for artists a fraction of my age and whom I most likely would have despised. So, it’s good that this science and medicine thing worked out…

Can you share one piece of career-related advice or wisdom with other early career scientists?

Hone your writing skills, start early and keep practicing. I am constantly amazed at how much of my time is devoted to writing and how important that skill is to be a successful scientist. Whether it’s writing or editing papers, lectures, or grants, I find I actually spend most of my time writing. In retrospect, this makes sense as communication really is the currency of science, but there’s no way my younger self would believe me if I were to travel back in time to let him what was ahead of him. I’ve had many young people tell me they want to go into science specifically because they dislike writing, which is obviously a misperception I’m quick to point out. In fact, one joke (and not a very good one, admittedly) I often share with my students is that as a scientist, I actually write really bland non-fiction for a living and for a very small audience, and when I’m grantwriting, I’m only writing to an audience of three people.

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Emerging Investigator series – Pouya Rezai

We are delighted to introduce our latest Lab on a Chip Emerging Investigator, Pouya Rezai!

Dr. Pouya Rezai is an emerging investigator in the fields of microfluidics and Lab-on-Chips (LoC). He received his PhD in Mechanical Engineering from McMaster University in 2012. Dr. Rezai was an NSERC Visiting Fellow at Public Health Agency of Canada before joining York University in July 2013 as an Assistant Professor. He is the Graduate Program Director of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at York University and the Editor of the Canadian Society for Mechanical Engineering (CSME) bulletin. The overarching goal of his research program is to expand fundamental understanding of the interactions between fluids and nano- to micro-scale biological substances in their micro-environments and to employ this knowledge to devise efficient microsystems for facilitating research and development in human health-related applications

Read Pouya’s Emerging Investigator series paper “A microfluidic device for partial immobilization, chemical exposure and behavioural screening of zebrafish larvae” and find out more about him in the interview below:

 

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on a microfluidic device to partially immobilise Zebrafish Larvae for behavioural screening. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

I started my work on organisms-on-a-chip with the C. elegans worm model. Our work was initially focused on C. elegans response to electric field in microchannels, a phenomenon called electrotaxis. We then became interested in using electrotaxis as a tool to screen movement of worms under exposure to chemicals. Recently, we have become interested in not only electrotaxis, but also chemotaxis of C. elegans and other model organisms such as Drosophila melanogaster and Danio rerio in lab-on-chips. We have developed multiple microfluidic devices for neurobehavioral screening of these organisms. Our goal is to continue working on the same models at the behavioural level but also focus on their cellular responses to stimuli. Our long term objective is to use our organism-on-a-chip devices for drug screening and toxicology studies in collaboration with academia and industry.

What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment?

Two major aspects of my work as a professor excites me the most. First and foremost is being able to teach and train young students in the fields of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering that I am passionate about; and second is having the opportunity to apply my knowledge as an engineer directly to human health related issues. Due to the interdisciplinary nature of our research, I find the collaborative aspects of our work very rewarding for me and my trainees.

In your opinion, what is the biggest benefit of immobilising Zebrafish Larvae for analysis over the conventional droplet-based technique?

The most significant benefit is achieving higher sensitivity in quantifying subtle movement behavioural phenotypes of zebrafish in an easier and faster way. In droplets, you either need an expert to monitor movement manually or complex setups for tracking larvae’s movement in the droplet. With our technique, minimally trained personnel can quickly gain the ability to assay zebrafish movement under exposure to various chemicals.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

We develop devices for live organisms with the capability of making voluntary decisions while in the chip. One does not encounter this challenge with cultured cells or molecules. Decision-making generates opportunities to study sensory-motor responses at the whole-organism level, but also produces a wide variety of challenges in designing microfluidic devices and quantification of the desired biological processes. Another challenge is the general trend in the field to move towards biological models that better mimic human diseases and disorders. This has generated significant momentum towards the use of human-derived cells in biomimetic microfluidic devices. However, I still think there are many unanswered questions that can be addressed by small scale organisms.

In which upcoming conferences or events may our readers meet you?

The International Conference on Miniaturized Systems for Chemistry and Life Sciences (MicroTAS) is my favorite conference to go to every year. Some other events that we attend are the MEMS and Transducers conferences.

How do you spend your spare time?

Time is the most precious thing in the world. The nature of an academic job requires a significant dedication of time to professional development, especially at the initial stages of your career. Is this a correct path that we have taken? Let’s not get there for now!
Like many of my colleagues who are my role models and mentors, I rarely have any spare time to be spent on my hobbies. But the most important activity that I enjoy doing, and I wish I could do much more, is to spend quality time with my lovely family. After this, I enjoy nature and listening to good music.

Which profession would you choose if you were not a scientist?

I would pursue the entrepreneurship path and start my own business to help resolve a pressing health related issue.

Can you share one piece of career-related advice or wisdom with other early career scientists?

One of the most influential factors during my professional career has been the opportunity to have excellent mentors and role models who have guided me throughout my postgraduate studies and academic career. The leaders in the field and their path to success have been very inspiring to me in the recent past. I recommend early career scientists to reach out to their communities and seek professional advise on their research and teaching activities.

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Emerging Investigators series – Milad Abolhasani

We are delighted to introduce our latest Lab on a Chip Emerging Investigator – Milad Abolhasani!

Milad Abolhasani is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at North Carolina State University. He received his B.Sc. (2008) and M.A.Sc. (2010) degrees in Mechanical Engineering from Sharif University of Technology and the University of British Columbia, respectively. He then obtained his Ph.D. degree (2014) from the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering in collaboration with the Departments of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at the University of Toronto. Prior to joining NC State University, he was a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Chemical Engineering at MIT (Jensen group, 2014-2016), where he developed a modular flow chemistry strategy for in-situ mass transfer and kinetic studies of single/multi-phase chemical processes including bi-phasic cross-coupling reactions and colloidal synthesis and ligand exchange of semiconductor nanocrystals. Dr. Abolhasani‘s research interests include the development of microfluidic technologies tailored for solution-phase processing of energy harvesting nanomaterials and for fundamental studies of transport mechanisms involved in CO2 capture, recovery, and utilization in green chemistry (enabled by switchable solvents). Over the course of his doctoral and postdoctoral research, Dr. Abolhasani received numerous fellowships and awards including NSERC Postdoctoral Fellowship, CSME 2014 Best Graduate Student Paper Award, Bert Wasmund Graduate Fellowship in Sustainable Energy Research, and Russell A. Reynolds Graduate Fellowship in Thermodynamics.

Read his Emerging Investigators paper “Automated microfluidic platform for systematic studies of colloidal perovskite nanocrystals: towards continuous nano-manufacturing” and find out more about his research in the interview below:

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on studying colloidal perovskite nanocrystals. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

Well, my first research article as a graduate student (published in Lab on a Chip) was focused on the development of an inexpensive approach for rapid determination of thermodynamic characteristics of gas-liquid reactions using an image processing technique. Since then, I’ve expanded my expertise in multi-phase microfluidic systems with a focus on integrated systems with in-situ spectroscopy and/or in-line analytical characterization capabilities for material- and time-efficient studies of various physical/chemical processes. Few examples of such processes include homogenous catalytic reactions, partition coefficient of pharmaceutical compounds, colloidal synthesis of semiconductor nanocrystals, and hydrophilicity switching of switchable solvents. Despite different applications, the common theme among all multi-phase microfluidic technologies that I’ve developed so far has been the focus on realizing the early promise of microfluidics on minimizing the reagents volume used for each experimental condition while maximizing the amount of data obtained. My latest article builds on my experience in integrated microfluidic systems and in-situ spectroscopy techniques to study the effect of early stage mixing times on the optical properties of in-flow synthesized colloidal perovskite nanocrystals.

What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment?

Development of microfluidic technologies to contribute towards the next generation of energy-efficient and solution phase-processed photovoltaics.

In your opinion, what is the biggest advantage to using colloidal organic/inorganic metal-halide perovskite nanocrystals for photovoltaics over the current materials?

From materials perspective, hybrid organic/inorganic perovskite nanocrystals are inexpensive and can be manufactured using solution-phase processing techniques. In addition, these shiny nanocrystals possess high surface defect tolerance, high and broad absorption coefficient, high quantum-yield, and long charge carrier lifetime and diffusion length. Combining the superior physicochemical properties of colloidal perovskite nanocrystals with precise band-gap engineering and unparalleled experimental parameter control offered by multi-phase microfluidic platforms make them a promising candidate for the next generation photovoltaics and LED displays.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

Learning about details of different steps involved in manufacturing thin-film solar cells. It is challenging but fascinating to learn.

In which upcoming conferences or events may our readers meet you?

I am currently conducting this interview from MicroTAS 2017 conference in Savannah, GA. I will be attending the Annual AIChE meeting in Minneapolis, MN, between Oct 29 – Nov 3.

How do you spend your spare time?

Catching up with our favorite TV shows (TWD and GOT) with my wife

Which profession would you choose if you were not a scientist?

I would most probably choose to become an architect. I was (and am) always fascinated by “futuristic looking buildings” around the world such as Galaxy Soho in Beijing and Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp. The level of attention to details and precision in engineering are just mind-blowing.

Can you share one piece of career-related advice or wisdom with other early career scientists?

In my opinion, focusing on one long-term visionary project that fits your research interests and expertise should be the main goal of a junior faculty. There are so many interesting problems around you, but there is probably only ONE big-impact problem that would truly fit your background which you (hopefully) can solve within your precious pre-tenure adventures.

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Emerging Investigators series – Ian Wong

We are delighted to introduce our latest Lab on a Chip Emerging Investigator – Ian Wong!

Ian Y. Wong is currently an Assistant Professor of Engineering and of Medical Science at Brown University. He completed an A.B. in Applied Mathematics from Harvard University in 2003, Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering with Nick Melosh at Stanford University in 2010, and postdoctoral training at Massachusetts General Hospital with Mehmet Toner and Daniel Irimia in 2013. He has been recognized with an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, a Damon Runyon Cancer Research Fellowship, the Brown University Pierrepont Prize for Outstanding Advising, as well as a Biomaterials Science Emerging Investigator. His research interests include the development of miniaturized technologies to investigate cancer cell invasion, phenotypic plasticity and drug resistance. Moreover, his group engineers unconventional fabrication techniques for printing and patterning nano/bio materials.

Read his Emerging Investigators paper “Stereolithographic printing of ionically-crosslinked alginate hydrogels for degradable biomaterials and microfluidics“, watch the associated video and find out more about his research in the interview below:

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on stereolithographic printing of ionically-crosslinked alginate hydrogels. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

I give complete credit to my graduate student, Tom Valentin, who came up with this approach to light-based 3D printing via ionic crosslinking – and then actually got it to work. In retrospect, my Ph.D. thesis focused on biomolecular self-assembly based on ionic interactions, so it’s serendipitous that my current research has circled back to some of these concepts.

 What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment?

My lab integrates biomaterials, microfluidics, and computer vision to investigate cancer cell migration and drug resistance. Our first few papers set down the foundations for these different technologies, but now we’re starting to put these pieces together to gain some fascinating insights into cancer biology.

 In your opinion, what is the biggest advantage of stereolithographic printing of hydrogels over other printing techniques?

 Conventional light-based 3D printing of soft materials is based on covalent crosslinking, which results in strong but irreversible bonds. Our demonstration of light-based patterning using reversible ionic crosslinks should enable smart and “biomimetic” properties such as self-healing and stimuli-responsiveness. These properties have been previously demonstrated in bulk hydrogels, but remain relatively nascent for 3D printed structures.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

I work at the interface of engineering and cancer biology, and I find that it takes a lot of effort to bridge between these two communities and become fluent in both disciplines. Moreover, there are twice as many things that can go wrong with the experiments! Nevertheless, it has been extremely worthwhile to see how our technologies could potentially make an immediate and highly meaningful impact.

In which upcoming conferences or events may our readers meet you?

I will be attending BMES this October in Phoenix, AZ.

How do you spend your spare time?

Whenever possible, I enjoy dining out with my wife. I also enjoy cycling, which helps to burn off all those calories

Which profession would you choose if you were not a scientist?

I’ve always been interested in entrepreneurship, and this is something I will likely revisit once my lab and technologies become more established.

Can you share one piece of career-related advice or wisdom with other early career scientists?

Early career scientists are constantly pulled in many directions and have limited time to commit to anything. Nevertheless, I try my best to spend a lot of time with my students and postdocs early on. Such mentoring helps trainees transition towards independence and can also catch problems before they become serious, so it is incredibly worthwhile in the long run.

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Emerging Investigators series – Steve Shih

We are delighted to introduce our latest Lab on a Chip Emerging Investigator – Steve Shih!

Steve Shih completed his BASc in Electrical Engineering from Toronto and then went to University of Ottawa to complete his Master’s degree in Chemistry. He then returned to Toronto to complete his Ph.D in Biomedical Engineering in Aaron Wheeler’s laboratory.  He then spent two years at UC Berkeley and at the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) as a postdoctoral researcher and worked closely with collaborators Jay Keasling and Nathan Hillson.  He learned pathway engineering of microbes for biofuel production using synthetic biology tools and published four papers related to this research.  As of January 2016, he became an Assistant Professor at Concordia University in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering with appointments in the Department of Biology and the Center for Applied Synthetic Biology.  His current research entails combining new microfluidic platforms with synthetic biological tools to solve challenges in the health, energy, and medical fields.

Read his Emerging Investigators paper “Image-based Feedback and Analysis System for Digital Microfluidics” and find out more about his research in the interview below:

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on an image-based feedback system for digital microfluidics How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

Wow it has evolved immensely! I started off as a naïve graduate student dabbling in the field of NMR and using that technique to determine structures of membrane proteins. My first paper described how we used computational and experimental techniques to optimize the determination of membrane protein structures. I learned so much in the field of chemistry and molecular biology, especially coming from an engineering background.

Now my research is in microfluidics and I am using this technique to solve some challenging biological problems.  Although the topics are completely different – the techniques that I learned previously has helped to find interesting solutions to engineering problems.  I am always excited to dabble in new and exciting fields and integrating traditional fields with the new.

What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment?

I just recently started my lab and there are so many exciting new projects. My lab is currently working on integrating microfluidics and automating processes related to synthetic biology. Synthetic biology has evolved towards engineering new organisms to produce vast quantities of valuable products, such as biorenewable fuels. This promise (and among many others) has been inspired by biologists that believe genetic engineering of biological cells can be more like the engineering of any hardware. However, challenges loom at multiple steps in the process and our lab is using microfluidics that will overcome these (or least some) challenges.

In your opinion, what is the biggest advantage of this technology and how will this impact digital microfluidics?

I am very excited about this paper because it is the first time that imaging techniques for feedback has been applied to digital microfluidics. One of the biggest challenges with digital microfluidics is the reliability of droplet movement – i.e. an application of a potential does not always equate to a droplet movement. This problem is exacerbated when we are multiplexing droplet movement – more droplets will fail during operation. We have developed a method in which we can individually detect all the droplets on the device using image-based techniques. This is a huge advantage since we only require applying a feedback mechanism to only those droplets that failed in movement while it does not delay the movement of other droplets that translated successfully on the device. This optimizes the time a droplet rests on an electrode and can minimize other effects that prevent droplet movement (e.g., biofouling).

What do you find most challenging about your research?

Everything, but this is why I love my inter-disciplinary research field since it involves so many different aspects. Some examples are trying to understand the underlying mechanisms of breast cancer to resolving issues of integrating synthetic biology techniques at the microscale.

In which upcoming conferences or events may our readers meet you?

I will be attending MicroTAS this year in Savannah and two of my students will be presenting posters. I will also be attending the 4BIO gene editing and synthetic biology conference at London, UK in December, where I will be giving a talk to describe some our microfluidic work with synthetic biology.

How do you spend your spare time?

Spare time is so rare among new professors. But I spend most of my time chasing my kids and trying to excite them for what is to come…

Which profession would you choose if you were not a scientist?

This is a tough question. I really love my job as an educator and everything else that comes with it. But if I had to choose something else, I think I would be a sports broadcaster on ESPN. I love sports and I am an avid fan of tennis and basketball. It would be my dream to commentate a Roger Federer game or to call a Toronto Raptors game.

Can you share one piece of career-related advice or wisdom with other early career scientists?

Failure is inevitable. I failed so many times during my career and it is all part of the learning process. Young scientists should embrace failure and learn as much as they can from it – don’t be afraid of it! They do not realize that failure is where new innovation and ideas come from. I definitely would not be where I am today if it was not for failure.

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Emerging Investigator Series – Leidong Mao

We are delighted to bring you the first interview for our Emerging Investigators Series in Lab on a Chip!

Leidong Mao is currently an Associate Professor and a distinguished faculty fellow in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering of College of Engineering at the University of Georgia, USA. He received his B.S. degree in Materials Science from Fudan University, China in 2001 and his Ph.D. degree in Electrical Engineering from Yale University, USA in 2008. He was a recipient of the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award from the US National Science Foundation in 2012, and the Young Scientist Award at the international conference on magnetic fluids in 2013. His current research interests include developing novel microfluidic technologies for biology and biomedical sciences. Examples of the projects in his lab include label-free cell separation technology that can isolate extremely rare circulating tumor cells from patient blood for cancer research and clinical applications, studies of circadian rhythm of single cells and their mechanism of synchronization, and diseases-on-chip models such as stroke-on-a-chip and glioma-on-a-chip. In addition to the research activities, he developed an interdisciplinary research and education program since 2014 for undergraduate students in nanotechnology and biomedicine, through a Research Experiences for Undergraduate (REU) grant from the US National Science Foundation.

Read his Emerging Investigators paper Label-free ferrohydrodynamic cell separation of circulating tumor cells and find out more about his research below:

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on the separation of circulating tumour cells. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

My first paper as a graduate student studied the mechanism of ferrofluid actuation under a traveling magnetic field through modeling and simulation. On the surface, there seems to be a drastic change between the first paper and this recent paper. However, there was similar thinking behind these two projects – building models and systematic optimization were valued in both cases. Nonetheless, this recent paper involved a lot of cancer research, thanks to my fantastic collaborators.

What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment?

Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are very interesting to study but difficult to isolate. I am excited about the high recovery rate and biocompatibility of our technology, and the prospect that it may be integrated with other technologies for a more efficient way to separate intact CTCs from patient blood.

In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge for the separation of CTCs from blood?

This is a complex problem. High throughput, high recovery rate, high purity and excellent biocompatibility are four important criteria in CTC separation. Being able to meet all four criteria is challenging for a single technology, whether it is label-based or label-free.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

Learning biology as an engineer. For me, it is challenging but fun.

In which upcoming conferences or events may our readers meet you?

Microtas 2017 in Savannah Georgia, USA

How do you spend your spare time?

Spending time with my family.

Which profession would you choose if you were not a scientist?

Never a question to me, this is what I wanted to do.

Can you share one piece of career-related advice or wisdom with other early career scientists?

It helped me a lot when I started as an Assistant Professor to have a few highly motivated graduate students.

 

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Emerging Investigator Series for Lab on a Chip

Starting in 2017, Lab on a Chip will be running an Emerging Investigator Series to showcase some of the best work in the field of miniaturisation at the micro- and nano-scale, being conducted by early-career researchers. The Series will ongoing, with articles being published once they are accepted and collated online.

There are many benefits for Emerging Investigators contributing to the series, with articles being featured in an online collection and receiving extensive promotion. This includes a special mention in journal contents alerts and an interview on the journal blog. Published articles will also be made free to access for a limited period. Furthermore, the continuous format is designed to allow more flexibility for contributors to participate in the venture without the restriction of submission deadlines.

We’ve received great feedback from previous Emerging Investigators, including this quote: “Being part of the Emerging Investigators issue was an honor and helpful to my career.  Thanks again for including me” (2012 Emerging Investigator)

Read the articles included in the collection so far at – rsc.li/loc-emerging-investigator

To represent the whole of the Lab on a Chip community, the Series will have three international Series Editors with a broad range of expertise: Editorial Board members, Dino Di Carlo (UCLA, USA), Yoon-Kyoung Cho (UNIST, South Korea) and Piotr Garstecki (IPC PAC, Poland)

 

To be eligible for the new Emerging Investigator Series you will need to have completed your PhD (or equivalent degree) within the last 10 years, although appropriate consideration will be given to those who have taken a career break or followed a different study path, and have an independent career. If you are interested in contributing to the Series please contact the Editorial Office (loc-rsc@rsc.org) and provide the following information:

  • Your up-to-date CV (no longer than 2 pages), which should include a summary of education and career, a list of relevant publications, any notable awards, honours or professional activities in the field, and a website URL if relevant;
  • A title and abstract of the research article intended to be submitted to the Series, including a tentative submission date. Please note that articles submitted to the journal for the Series will undergo the usual peer review process.

Keep up to date with the latest papers added to this Series on our twitter feed (@LabonaChip) with the hashtags #EmergingInvestigators #LabonaChip

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