Understanding the mechanisms by which mechanical forces regulate the development and healing of connective tissues and the pathogenesis of disease is becoming one of the foremost problems at the intersection of biomechanics and cell biology—it has spawned the field of mechanobiology. In our lab we use precisely engineered, two-dimensional and three-dimensional constructs as model systems to study the effects of external internal (cell-generated) forces on cell behavior, matrix biochemistry, and the biomechanics of soft tissues and biomaterials. We have developed many innovative systems to modulate the cells’ mechanical environment by applying external multiaxial strain fields, creating compliant tissue boundary conditions, and controlling the surrounding matrix stiffness. We also study the mechanics of soft tissue for augmentation and repair. To date, tissue systems studied include skin, heart valves, coronary and carotid arteries, myocardium, lung, small intestinal submucosa, and sternum. At the undergraduate level, I enjoy relating the fundamentals of biomechanics to students both in the classroom and through authentic laboratory experiences, mentoring students in the lab, and advising capstone design teams. At the graduate level, I derive great pleasure from seeing my doctoral and master’s students transform into independent researchers, teaching tissue mechanics and tissue engineering, and writing grant proposals. I also enjoy interacting with the community and mentoring middle school students and their teachers, in both our laboratory and their classrooms.
The Worcester Business Journal is the latest to report on research by Kristen Billiar, professor and head of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, who hopes to close an important gap in the understanding of physical factors that help regulate the life and death of cells in our bodies, and the important roles they play in the development of a wide range of disorders. Co-principle investigators include Nima Rahbar, associate professor of civil & environmental engineering, and Qi Wen, associate professor of physics.