Feature Stories

Vital Collaboration: Life Science and Engineering

Professor of Biomedical Engineering Treena Arinzeh

NJIT’s experts in biology and biomedical engineering are collaborating with colleagues in medicine as well as fields ranging from chemistry, physics and mathematics to every branch of engineering.

This work, which will be advanced by nearly $100 million in grants announced by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, has great potential for healing and improving the quality of life.

One of NJIT’s biotechnology clusters relates to regenerative medicine — transforming our own cells to repair and replace that which we have lost to injury, illness or congenital disease. Biomedical engineer Treena Arinzeh creates tissue, tendon and bone replacements using non-embryonic stem cells. She and biomedical researcher Michael Jaffe have developed patented technology for biological scaffolds that promote cell growth and differentiation. Cheul Cho uses stem-cell derived hepatocytes to make vascularized liver tissue for cell-based therapy and drug toxicity screening. Biomedical engineering colleague Alice Lee produces scaffolds for regenerating lung tissue in vitro. This cooperative breakthrough work will redefine transplant surgery by eliminating the need for donor organs and the problems of tissue rejection.

Physicist Cristiano Dias’ research contributes to molecular understanding of proteins from a computational perspective in which physics meets chemistry, biology, and computer science. His work leads to the rational design of drugs and offers hope for intervening in the processes that lead to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. In chemistry, Edgardo Farinas engineers proteins using directed evolution and rational approaches to discover novel biocatalysts, create de novo enzymes and engineer new metabolic pathways in bacteria.

Bryan Pfister recreates a natural form of axon growth that occurs in growth from embryo to early adulthood through a unique stretching apparatus. The work aims to develop techniques for repairing traumatic injuries to spinal cord and other nerve tissue. Mathematical biologists Jorge Golowasch and Farzan Nadim apply computer modeling to understand neurological processes that elucidate complex animal behaviors studied by biology colleagues like Eric Fortune and Simon Garnier.

NJIT researchers are among the leaders helping the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry adapt to novel drug formulations and an increased need for cost efficiencies in production. A multidisciplinary team led by Rajesh Davé partners in NSF’s Engineering Research Center for Structured Organic Particulate Systems developing new manufacturing technologies for nanoparticulate-based drugs. Costas Gogos and Ming Young of the Polymer Processing Institute adapted traditional plastics-processing technology to lead in the emerging field of pharmaceutical hot melt extrusion. They use their pilot-scale facilities to help the pharmaceutical industry create new formulations with greater bioavailability.

Micro- and even nano-electronics are revolutionizing medical device technology. Reginald Farrow and Gordon Thomas invented a brain shunt that combines microfluidics and passive wireless technology to eliminate costly, repetitive surgeries needed to replace conventional shunts used to treat hydrocephalus resulting from spina bifida and traumatic brain injury. Biomedical engineer Tara Alvarez and mathematician Sunil Dhar are designing a portable system for diagnosing mild traumatic brain injury that shares technology from another collaboration producing a noninvasive approach for detecting glaucoma. Chemist Zafar Iqbal teamed with Farrow to create a nano-fuel cell that derives power from sugars in the bloodstream with enough energy to maintain pacemakers and other implanted devices. Another nanotechnologist, Electrical Engineering Professor Haim Grebel, has harnessed graphene networks of molecular dimension to create affordable detection systems that can discriminate subtle structural differences such as exist between human and avian viruses, thus providing important tools to detect and respond to potential mass-casualty outbreaks.   

Bharat Biswal, a biomedical expert in brain imaging, helped create the 1,000 Functional Connectomes Project. The project created an open dataset mapping brain functions of 1,400 participants that has been downloaded more than 50,000 times by researchers across the globe. Electrical engineer Atam Dhawan has pioneered multispectral imaging for improved melanoma detection and used his imaging background to help Albert Dorman Honors College student Kevin Ly invent an ear cuff that uses optical techniques to measure blood glucose levels for diabetics — with no needle stick and real-time, wireless data streaming.

NJIT’s Rehabilitation Engineering Group builds on fundamental neuroscience and engineering research to create new technologies for stroke and spinal-cord injury. Professor Mesut Sahin has developed an interface between a patient’s brain and a computer so that paralyzed individuals can control their wheelchairs, and another new concept is for light-activated microelectrical stimulators for wireless activation of the central nervous system. Richard Foulds and Sergei Adamovich are developing novel approaches to technology-assisted rehabilitation for individuals with neurological disorders to exploit the inherent plasticity of the brain to improve prospects for recovery.