Cellular engineering is a discipline in which researchers attempt to understand and control cell structure and function.
This includes both basic and applied research, and deals with cells ranging from simple bacteria to complex human tissue (e.g., nerve cells). This type of work is often interdisciplinary, involving not only engineers and biologists but other scientists as diverse as physicians and physicists.
Either the cell or its environment can be engineered, to generate cells that produce new compounds (medicines or biofuels for example) or systems in which cell response to its environment can be studied.
Faculty in our department are using cellular engineering approaches to study a number of different types of cells. In one project, students use atomic force microscopy to determine the stiffness of filamentous fungal cell walls, and a novel fragmentation assay to study the physical strength these cells. This research has application in a broad array of applications ranging from the production of biofuels to the development of novel antifungal therapeutics. In another project, students are studying how human cells respond to the proteins that trigger Alzheimer's disease. This research may lead to new approaches for treating this aliment, which afflicts over five million in the U.S. alone. Projects are underway that investigate mechanisms of adhesion of Staphlococcus aureus to components of the cardiovascular system in a shear flow environment which are leading to the discovery of new ways of prevention of these life threatening infections. In addition, faculty and students are developing novel tools to investigate cell-material interactions that may pave the way for the development of new biomedical devices.