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Major Research Thrusts

Major Research Thrusts

Point-of-care systems for detection of circulating biomarkers


Our goal for this project is to develop point-of-care diagnostic tools based on liquid biopsy to improve the chance of early detection, treatment, and prevention of a disease. Although we are mainly interested in detection of circulating cancer biomarkers including exosomes, microRNAs and Cell-free DNAs (cf-DNAs) from biofluids, we have other projects that directly benefit from our technologies including the detection of environmental DNA (eDNA) from a crude sample and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in forensic science. 

Cancer is among the leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide, yet about 46% of patients forsake routine screening because of the costly, invasive and uncomfortable nature of these procedures including tissue biopsy. As a result, there is a significant need in basic and clinical research to develop a liquid biopsy, a blood test for circulating cancer biomarkers. To address this shortcoming, we are developing an electrokinetic-based device composed of a highly sensitive sensor integrated with microfluidics for rapid isolation of exosomes from biofluids and detection of the exosomal microRNAs (ExRNAs) with high selectivity and multiplex capabilities. 

Characterization of Exosomes based on their biophysical properties

 

Our goal is to develop a new class of bio-electronic devices with sub-100 nanometer scale resolution and high selectivity to foster a fundamental understanding of sub-cellular compartments, specifically their biophysical properties and functionalities in a controlled microenvironment. We are mainly interested in extracellular vesicles (exosomes) with diameters ranging from 30–100 nm. Exosomes (EVs) are secreted from all cells and have recently drawn a great deal of attention because of their high abundance in all bodily fluids and their enriched and highly stable gene regulatory content. Thus, exosomes can be used as drug-delivery vehicles with a minimal immune response for targeted therapy in personalized medicine. Besides exosomes, our technology will open up a new paradigm for studying the biophysical properties of other biological entities with similar length scales including viruses, lysosomes, and mitochondria, making it generalizable to studies investigating the role and composition of pathogens in infectious diseases and organelles in developmental biology and degenerative diseases.

Engineering smart nanofiber scaffolds for regenerative medicine and organoid technology

The recent advancement in stem cell-derived organoid systems provides a compelling new class of 3D self-organized multi-cellular tissue models for high throughput drug screening, disease modeling, and transplantation for personalized medicine. In collaboration with faculty at Center for Stem Cell and Organoid Center (CuSTOM) at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital https://www.cincinnatichildrens.org/research/divisions/c/CuSTOM, we are developing miniaturized engineering tools including organic-based sensors, actuators, and scaffolds with applications on stem cell niche engineering and monitoring the biophysical and biochemical signals of living organoids. 

In another collaborative effort, we are designing biocompatible and functionalized nanofiber polymers fabricated using the state of the art electrospinning technology (Fluidnatek LE-50), located at IBL, to develop novel methods for nerve regeneration.