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Michelle Khine is known for her playful approach to science. She used a toy – Shrinky Dinks – to invent a method of quickly and cheaply developing custom microfluidic chips for researchers to use in their labs. Now she and her student researchers are inventing toys to inspire kids to not only conduct science, but also become inventors themselves.
The associate professor of biomedical engineering, most recently named one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business 1000, issued a challenge to the graduate students working in her laboratory. “Many of the students in my lab serve as Rocket Science Tutors, so they are working with kids already,” says Khine. “I wanted them to think about how to get children interested in becoming inventors.”
UC Irvine’s Chang Liu has created an engineered living cell with a second DNA replication system that mutates independently of and without harming the cell’s original genome. This parallel replication cell works like a two-lane highway -- with a fast lane and a slow lane -- for direct evolution in a lab setting. With it, biomedical engineers will be able to rapidly evolve a huge array of biomolecules with custom desired functions. Liu and his research group published their work in the March issue of Nature Chemical Biology.
The Children’s Heart Foundation has awarded Kheradvar $200,000 over two years to support a hybrid tissue-engineered heart valve. Kheradvar and his research team are developing a patient-specific heart valve prosthesis with self-regenerating capacity. “This approach to engineering heart valves holds promise for combining the mechanical valves’ long-term durability advantages with biological valves’ self-regenerating capacity and improved biocompatibility and hemodynamics,” explains Kheradvar, a Fellow of the American Heart Association.
Allergan has awarded Michelle Digman a $787,000 grant to study how a subunit of botulinum neuro-toxin affects cells and tissue on a molecular level. An assistant professor of biomedical engineering, Digman’s research expertise involves using optical microscopy tools to track molecules and microscopic particles in living cells and tissues. She is a co-investigator of UC Irvine’s Laboratory for Fluorescence Dynamics, an NIH Biotechnology Resource for the development of fluorescence microscopy.
With this grant, she will be using fluorescent imaging to track the transport and diffusion of the toxin in living cells, to better understand any biochemical and physiological changes that occur. She will also study metabolic changes in tissue at the point of injection.
“Botulinum neuro-toxin is used in a variety of clinical treatments including neuromuscular diseases, epilepsy and pain-related illnesses,” says Digman. “This study is important on a clinical level and will provide valuable information in the development of future therapies for pain-related disorders.”
Around 860 people attended the 2013 Fall Design Review, including students, faculty, staff, alumni and industry representatives. There were 80 student teams showing work, and about a dozen industry representatives joined the faculty to provide feedback and judge the projects.
The fall design review is the first chance for engineering senior students to present their design project goals to a wider audience. Ideas ranged from a portable DNA extractor and a cellphone microscope to an unmanned aerial vehicle, a magnetic tweezers to move stem cells in the lab and a robotic arm attachment for a wheelchair, among many others.
“This is a great experience for all of our students to show their design plans in the fall quarter,” says Professor Michael McCarthy. “I encourage everyone to return for the Winter Design Review in March to see how these projects progress."
Malaria kills a child somewhere in the world every minute. This life-threatening disease, caused by parasites transmitted through infected mosquitoes, can be prevented and cured if detected and treated early. But malaria afflicts primarily the poor, who often do not have ready access to healthcare and who tend to live in malaria-prone rural areas in dwellings that offer few barriers against mosquitoes.
This type of global health challenge inspired biomedical engineering students at UC Irvine who participated in Calit2’s Multidisciplinary Design Program.
The program engages undergraduates campuswide in research teams co-mentored by at least two faculty members from different schools. Under the guidance of biomedical engineering professor William Tang, and public health professor Dele Ogunseitan, two student teams designed portable, low-cost, rapid-diagnostic devices using microfluidic technology. One team’s device detects malaria; the other’s, HIV.
A few students from each team were selected to travel abroad to the very places grappling with these diseases. The expeditions, supported by a $25,000 gift from Edwards Lifesciences, provided the ultimate field research experience.
Professor H. Kumar Wickramasinghe is among 143 innovators to be named a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI) for 2013. Wickramasinghe is a UC Irvine professor and the Henry Samueli Endowed Chair in electrical engineering and computer science, with joint appointments in biomedical engineering and chemical engineering and materials science.
Being named a NAI Fellow is distinction accorded to academic inventors who have demonstrated a highly prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development, and the welfare of society.
Wickramasinghe, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, is a well-respected pioneer in nanotechnology. He currently holds 94 patents. Some of his most significant inventions and contributions to the nano field include the development of the vibrating mode atomic force microscope (AFM), the magnetic force microscope, the electrostatic force microscope, the Kelvin probe force microscope, the scanning thermal microscope, and the apertureless near-field optical microscope. Most of these scanning probe microscopes are standard instruments used today for nano-scale characterization.
"I am humbled and honored to be among this distinguished group of Nobel Laureates and National Medal Prize winners,” says Wickramasinghe. “The greatest thrill I get is to see some of my inventions translated to practice and in use all over the world."