Understanding the Tissue Microenvironment with Tiny Technologies

Human tissues are composed of mixtures of cells that cooperate in a healthy microenvironment to perform the necessary functions of that organ. In contrast, altered microenvironments are a hallmark of disease. While cell-specific processes such as those controlled by a cell's genes certainly influence the balance between health and disease, our focus is on interactions between cells and their microenvironment that occur on the length scales of receptor interactions (10 nm) to multicellular interactions (100 µm). We leverage engineering tools that have been created by the semiconductor community to speed rates of computation through miniaturized manufacturing capabilities. These micro-and nanotechnology tools, by virtue of their spatial resolution, enable the precise synthesis, interrogation, and perturbation of tissue microenvironments. Thus, we aim to dissect the role of the tissue microenvironment in both health and disease using engineering tools. Specifically, we focus on tissue microenvironments of clinical importance in liver biology and cancer, and we seek to translate our findings into new therapies for patients.

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In order to achieve these goals, we collaborate with investigators at MIT, Harvard, and other institutions. Our lab is located on the 4th floor of the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT and is equipped with state-of-the-art facilities. We are cross-appointed to the Institute for Medical Engineering & Science, and the departments of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science and Heath Sciences and Technology, Harvard-MIT. We are also members of the Ludwig Center for Molecular Oncology, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Microsystems Technology Laboratory (MTL), the Center for Environmental Health (CEHS), and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.