Technique may help scientists develop new cells to replace diseased tissues
A student’s passion for science, combined with a background in engineering, has led to a research breakthrough that has drawn interest from scientists at Harvard University.
For his ingenuity School of Engineering PhD student Hojatollah Rezaei Nejad, of UBC’s Okanagan campus, has won the Faculty of Medicine’s Friedman Scholarship. The $37,000 award gives Nejad the opportunity to test his engineering applications at Harvard’s Khademhosseini lab as he completes his PhD on the development of microfluidic systems for tissue-engineering applications.
Nejad’s research examines the science of tissue engineering. While at UBC he developed a method to isolate tiny cells and particles on a microchip. His technique uses non-uniform electric fields and once isolated, the cells can be stacked and manipulated in several ways, allowing scientists to engineer new cells.
“What we’ve done at UBC is create an artificial platform that can position the cells the way you want,” Nejad explains. “Then you can very accurately take cells out, stack them together and start to develop tissues.”
It’s the wave of the medical future, especially as people live longer and healthier, thanks to inroads in health sciences. Tissue engineering is emerging as a significant potential alternative solution to organ failure, Nejad says.
The ability to isolate micron-sized particles and cells on a microchip enables researchers to practically redesign how microfluidic platforms are used for many bio-engineering applications, he says.
Currently, there is no shortcut to position living cells. For the past two years Nejad spent countless hours in UBC’s Advanced Thermofluidic Laboratory under the supervision of Assoc. Professor Mina Hoorfar. Nejad will continue the work at the Khademhosseini lab at the Harvard-Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Division of Health Sciences and Technology. Hoorfar says it is one of the best labs in the world and leads the way in tissue-engineering technology.
“The collaboration with the Khademhosseini lab at Harvard will bring us closer to our final goal in applying our platform to a real problem,” says Hoorfar. “In addition to tissue engineering, our novel cell-positioning platform developed at UBC’s Okanagan campus will be implemented for a wide range of applications from isolation of circulating tumour cells from the blood of metastatic patients to detection of pathogens in food and water.”
And bringing Nejad’s research to the Harvard-MIT lab will create a knowledge pipeline of medical and scientific collaboration between the two universities.
“This is a very prestigious lab and it is an opportunity to gain experience, create connections, and collaborate with people and then bring that expertise back to UBC,” Nejad says. “It is a great opportunity to be able to integrate our technology to their platform to promote this research and hopefully develop a useable tissue.”
Nejad’s application can perhaps one day become a simple diagnostic tool where physicians do quick cell tests to determine what virus or illness a patient is suffering from.
Originally from the city of Shiraz in Iran, Nejad started his PhD at UBC Okanagan’s campus in January of 2012 and is expecting to finish his doctoral studies by December 2015.