Research

Across the life sciences at WPI faculty and graduate students are working to advance the understanding of living organisms and to translate discoveries into new therapies, devices, and products that will help prevent and cure disease, address environmental challenges, improve the effectiveness of health care and elevate the human condition.

Brochure for the Life Sciences & Bioengineering Center at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Among the major research focus areas in the life sciences at WPI today are:

Regenerative Biosciences and Engineering, Stem Cell Biology and Neuroprosthetics

WPI faculty in Biology and Biotechnology, Biomedical Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and the Bioengineering Institute, with affiliated faculty from the University of Massachusetts Medical School are engaged in a variety of projects. Teams are developing bioengineered scaffolds on which soft tissue can be grown, laying the groundwork for growing new tissues, even whole organs, from a patient's own  cells; genetically engineering new devices and drugs for stroke victims; developing new methods for reprogramming adult cells to act more stem-cell-like and heal wounds,  re-grow skeletal muscle and other tissues; engineering adult bone-marrow-derived stem cells to repair damaged cardiac tissue; working on the next generation of prosthetic limbs that behave more naturally, integrate with the nervous system, and respond to signals from the brain.

Tissue Mechanics, Mechanobiology, Biomaterials

WPI faculty in Biology and Biotechnology, Biomedical Engineering, the Bioprocess Center, and the Bioengineering Institute, with affiliated WPI faculty from Mathematical Sciences and faculty from the University of Massachusetts Medical School are working to understand how mechanical forces—stretching, for example—affect, or can be necessary for, proper growth and healing of connective tissue; understanding three-dimensional aspects of cell-matrix interactions that regulate wound healing; developing engineered analogs for the repair of soft and hard tissue injuries; developing biopolymers that can absorb heavy metals from polluted waters.

Biophysics

WPI is an emerging leader in the growing field of biophysics, bringing together lab-bench experimentalists and mathematical theorists to work together and explore the systems contained within the cell. WPI faculty from Biology and Biotechnology, Chemistry and Biochemistry and Physics and Mathematics are collaborating to use molecular modeling and experimental validation to search for new cancer therapies, study electric fields that may herald the onset of Alzheimer's disease, understand metal ion transport across membranes and create predictive mathematical models to understand the basic process of cell growth.

Plant Systems and Biofuels

WPI faculty in Biology and Biotechnology and Chemistry and Biochemistry are uncovering techniques plants employ to defend themselves against pathogens and developing techniques for enhancing the production and recovery of valuable chemicals made by plants.  WPI faculty are also exploring processes for development of cellulosic ethanol, algal derived biodiesel, and using advanced engineering and bioreactor designs to produce therapeutic proteins from plant cultures.

Genetics and Pathogenesis

WPI faculty from Biology and Biotechnology are studying the genetic mechanisms a tiny nematode uses to evade its host's immune system; uncovering chemical signals that switch fungi from a benign to a pathogenic state.  Fungal infections are notoriously difficult to treat; new drugs that exploit these chemical signals may work far better than current medicines; a better understanding of nematode-pathogen interactions may lead to ways to prevent and cure infections  which affect about a quarter of the human population. Faculty in Chemical Engineering are exploring the molecular mechanisms bacteria use to adhere to surfaces and form biofilms that lead to infection; this knowledge could also help design preventative measures for conditions ranging from urinary tract infections to ulcers.

Biological Imaging and Sensing

WPI faculty from Biomedical Engineering and the Bioengineering Institute, with affiliated faculty from Electrical and Computer Engineering and Mechanical Engineering departments are working to develop noninvasive optical sensors that can monitor vital signs and transmit them wirelessly; new devices and advanced signal processing algorithms to detect cardiac arrhythmias; robotic devices that use MRI imagery to guide surgical procedures and portable 3-D ultrasound devices and software tools for diagnosing injuries in the field.

Nanoscience and Technology, Molecular Sensors and Microfluidics

WPI faculty from Chemistry and Biochemistry, Chemical Engineering, and the Bioengineering Institute are working to creating devices with surfaces that have precisely engineered physical and chemical properties for sensing and other applications; studying bacteria at the molecular level to learn how to prevent harmful biofilms from forming on medical devices. Tiny devices with engineered channels and pores may become implantable labs that can monitor blood chemistry and transmit the results as needed.

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Last modified: October 25, 2012 09:53:56