Laboratory Learning Program 2023 - Cellular Herding: engineering and controlling cellular dynamics (MAE-01)

Research Opportunity Number: MAE-01

Project Title:  Cellular Herding: engineering and controlling cellular dynamics

Project Summary: Three projects areas - specify in your application which area you are interested in. 

Project Area 1: 3D nano-printing of complex materials for biomedicine and general use (1-2 students)

Themes: Microfabrication, CAD, Electron microscopy, medical devices, cleanroom

3D printing is an increasingly common approach to solve (biomedical) problems, and exciting advances in non-linear optics now allow us to print truly arbitrary 3D shapes in a variety of materials (biopolymers, silicone, glass, photoresists) with genuine sub-micron resolution in 3D. Excitingly, we now have one of these nano-printers in our cleanroom, but using it is very much an art-form. Students working on this project will begin by developing nano-scale CAD test structures, test them on the Nanoscribe (2-photon resin printer) using a variety of advanced materials, and quantify performance using advanced electron microscopy, confocal imaging, and material characterization techniques. Once we have developed reliable ‘recipes’, we will begin fabrication of a variety of biomaterial structures as well as nano- and micro-scale structures and mechanisms. This project will begin with rigorous quantitative assessment of CAD input vs. printed output, but will then branch into a variety of applications across sectors (tissue engineering, cell- and micro-robotics, optics, meta-materials, etc.) with significant room for student creativity.

Pre-requisites: Strong CAD skills are beneficial here but not required 

Project Area 2: Mechano/electric programming and control of tissue growth (1-2 students)

Themes: Tissue engineering, biomaterials, materials science

Our lab specializes in mechano-electro-biology. We use electricity and mechanical forces to hack cellular motors to generate forces and we have been able to program tissue healing and organ growth in real-time. Sample projects are summarized below:

  1. Swarm control—use real-time imaging data and closed-loop control of electrical stimuli to optimize living tissue healing. 
  2. Microfluidic bioreactors—develop strategies to efficiently and stably control micro-scale flows in parallel to simultaneously maintain many individual lab-grown organs, or support high-resolution 3D imaging of single tissues. These bioreactors are built using laser cutting, 3D printing, machining, and microfabrication and can be designed and built entirely on the benchtop; making them accessible to a range of backgrounds. 
  3. Next-gen electrochemical materials for bioelectronics—work with MXenes, conductive polymers, and other modern materials to develop more biocompatible and effective electrodes for stimulation of living cells
  4. Robotic platforms to poke/prod tissues—design or hack robotics platforms to precisely and rapidly manipulate living tissues, clinical-grade engineered cartilage, and other cellularized biomaterials. Research here involves stretching/compressing/precisely cutting engineered tissues to study healing and solve problems related to cutting-edge orthopedic surgeries. Students will learn about tissue engineering, bioelectronics, biomicrofluidics, electrochemical interfaces, and microscopy.

Pre-requisites: high-school biology is strongly recommended; coding skills are beneficial

Project Area 3: Wildcards (1-2 students)

Our lab has previously hosted high-school students on impromptu projects such as waterbear biomechanics that resulted in publications! We appreciate that students come in with unique interests and backgrounds and we like to ensure that students can explore new research areas throughout the summer in parallel with their core projects.

This summer, we hope to again have some projects related to waterbears. The ‘waterbear’ (tardigrade) is the smallest known walking animal at 250 µm long with 8 legs that walks under water. Our group has discovered how it does this using a combination of clever materials/mechanisms. We are now exploring how these techniques perform in more complex 3D microenvironments and if there are design lessons we can learn from waterbear biomechanics.

Student Roles and Responsibilities: 

ALL students will be required to learn the basics of cell culture (Biosafety). They will all learn to maintain a standard non-human epithelial cell model (MDCK canine kidney epithelium). These cells are completely harmless but nonetheless require proper Biosafety and sterile technique to work with. Students must do all cellular work with graduate/post-doc/professor supervision for the first two weeks of their training, after which they will be permitted to maintain their own cultures. 

Some students may also work with laser fabrication systems. While the systems we use are typically Class 1 due to extensive interlock and safety features on the instruments (laser cutters, professional confocal systems), laser safety is still recommended. 

Cleanroom/IAS imaging facility: depending on how projects progress on our side ahead of the summer, there may be opportunities for students to do work in the soft lithography cleanroom or using the scanning electron microscopes in the Andlinger building. These instruments have their own training protocols and safety programs established and should require no standard safety courses but are worth noting. 

Additional Considerations:  Our labwork typically occupies a 6+ hr window for high-school students (e.g. 9-3, etc.), but this can be adjusted as needed for students to take into account commute time and special circumstances. However, we do expect students to make every effort to be present M-F as live-cell work requires considerable care and maintenance. 

Department/Institute:  Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering - Cohen Lab

Faculty Sponsor:   Daniel Cohen

Participation Dates: June 10 - August 10, 2023.

Stipend Offered:  0

Number of Internships Available: 0-4

Application Deadline: March 15, 2023, midnight eastern daylight time