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Lehigh’s areas of expertise are well-suited to the needs of advanced biomedical research. The university’s spectroscopy and microscopy facilities are world-renowned for their ability to characterize the properties and behaviors of materials at the nanoscale. The newly restructured Emulsion Polymers Institute has first-class labs for synthesizing and characterizing polymers and colloids. The Center for Optical Technologies and Sherman Fairchild Center for Solid-State Studies contain labs that are ideal for the fabrication of microelectronic devices capable of sensing and manipulating cells, molecules and nanoparticles.
|Lehigh materials scientist Sabrina Jedlicka and mechanical engineer John Coulter modify nanoscale substrates with protein-derived peptides to promote the adhesion and differentiation of adult stem cells.|
Biomedical research efforts now underway at Lehigh and at Mayo are highly complementary. At Lehigh, computer scientists are automating the analysis of MRIs and other medical images with novel computational and data-processing tools. Chemical engineers are developing nanomaterial hybrids of DNA with carbon nanotubes, while chemists are sequencing single DNA molecules with magnetic “tweezers” using massively parallel dynamic force spectroscopy. Electrical engineers are applying bioMEMS (microelectromechanical systems) to study lung cells and, separately, developing arrays of microelectrodes to monitor electrical activity in neuronal networks. Physicists use laser “tweezers” to manipulate and study cells, and materials scientists and mechanical engineers are learning to control the differentiation of adult stem cells.
At Mayo, a team of biomedical engineers is developing wearable monitors to gather patient data for studies in endocrinology and obesity, as well as orthopedics and neurology. Wireless devices communicating with the monitors will process data and transfer it to an upstream network. The project requires solving, and integrating, issues related to the flow and analysis of information, the reliability of data, the detection of anomalies, and the privacy and security of data traversing through a network. The Mayo group is collaborating with an electrical engineer at Lehigh (see page 2) who has expertise in wireless communications networks.
Ubiquitous, 24/7 care
Solving challenges like these, say the Lehigh-Mayo researchers, will enable healthcare networks to reach patients in any location at any time, thus cutting costs by reducing patient travel times and hospital visits.
In one proposed collaboration, Mayo’s Sieck and Lehigh’s Kothare will investigate the implantation of chips and microdevices that could restore function to patients with Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, cerebral palsy and other neurodegenerative conditions. The issues involved are deepbrain stimulation, brain-computer interfaces, computational modeling and control theory. Under the educational component of the Lehigh-Mayo partnership, a Mayo student would study control theory at Lehigh while a Lehigh student would learn at Mayo how to apply control theory to patients undergoing neuro-rehabilitation therapy.
|A hand-held HIV diagnostic device (top left). A microelectrode array chip (above) cultures hypothalamic neurons from mice, while dielectrophoretic quadrupole electrodes (above left) trap and compress a cell.|
In another proposed joint project, Mayo researchers are exploring vibroacoustography, an imaging method used in radiology that produces speckle-free images of tissues while offering a low-cost alternative to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Mechanical engineers at Lehigh will contribute expertise in large-scale numerical analysis, including finite element analysis, which clarifies the results of lab experiments by improving the characterization of the material properties of biological tissues. Finite element analysis, say the researchers, “can provide valuable insights into the mechanical response of tissues that are unobtainable by any other technique.”
The overall goal of all the Lehigh- Mayo partnership goes beyond developing new devices, systems and therapies to propose a fundamentally new approach to medical care.
“The discoveries in biology in the last half-century,” says Jagota, “have changed the way we look at the world. Now it’s incumbent on us to develop systems that can handle the complexity of biological processes and generate efficiencies.”