This page is dedicated to understanding some of the research that current Tufts undergraduates and graduates are working on in the biomedical field. Each project is summarized to get a feel for how Tufts BME’s are influencing the world around them and see what these people are actually involved in. Stay tuned for more research posts as the year goes on!
Jaclyn Foisy: Tissue Engineering/ Regenerative Medicine
For the majority of my time at Tufts, I have done research in the lab of Professor Kuo, who focused on Tissue Engineering/Regenerative Medicine. I worked for 2 years with Ava Sanayei and several graduate students and post-docs who were aiming to gain a better understanding of how embryonic tendon cells have scarless healing abilities. We started by characterizing physical differences between embryonic and postnatal (representing the adult phenotype that heal with significant scarring and decreased functionality) tendon cells. Differences included proliferation rate, gene transcription, and protein production, focusing on genes and proteins that have been implicated in being involved in the healing process. Following this, we worked on developing a mechanical bioreactor that would be able to apply a static load to embryonic tendons so that the mechanical properties of these tiny tendons could be determined. The device was designed in Solidworks and assembled using 3D printed acrylic pieces along with stainless steel screws. Finally, we needed a method to analyze the accuracy of the device (was it actually putting the amount of strain on the tendon that we told it to?). To accomplish this, we developed a Matlab program that could analyze a video of a tendon being stretched by the bioreactor and optically determine the strain being applied to the tendon at any point in time.
For my senior design project, I joined a team in Professor Kaplan’s lab that is working to better characterize the progression of cyst formation in Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD). Specifically, I am investigating the role of Ift88, a protein related to the cilia production, by using a transgenic cell line that has an inducible knockdown of Ift88. This project has included culturing the cells, knocking down the protein in half the samples, and then using fluorescence staining, H&E staining, and immunohistochemistry to compare the samples that lost the protein to the controls that did not undergo the knockdown. Preliminary results are showing that the samples that were knocked down form significantly different cystic structures than the controls.
Matlab Related Research Project: Zach Loewenstein
For the signal-processing portion of my individual research I am doing work in the Black Lab under the supervision of Lauren Baugh and Monique Foster; two graduate students from the Black Lab. Most of professor Black’s research has to do with the heart and how important physical stimuli are to the highly specialized tissues of the heart, even on a cellular level. For this particular project I’m working with a partner, Rosemary Soucy, to develop an algorithm that will allow us to visually measure the conduction speed through muscle tissue. Our Matlab program will also project a branching network over the video to show the directionality of his electrical activity. Lauren and Monique two have provided us with microscope video of muscle cells contracting in response to an electrical stimulus in the presence of a voltage sensitive fluorescent dye. The dye causes each cell to glow as it contracts because of the change in membrane potential that mediates the contraction. We were able to isolate the contracting cells in the image, and used our algorithm to monitor the changes fluorescence of the cells inside the approximately fixed locations of the cells in the field of view. Based on this we will be able to determine when cells contract relative to their neighbors. This will enable us to determine the speed that cells are triggering their neighboring cells to contract, and whether the branching pattern of this stimulation has any consistent organization. The purpose of this project is to develop visual methods for these types of measurements and to make complicated analysis of heart tissues simpler. This will make experiments in the Black Lab easier and more efficient.
This project was very different from most of the other work I’ve done at tufts because it was totally centered around Matlab. All of the data we used had already been collected, so the only part of the project I worked on was coding the algorithm. It was challenging to get comfortable with Matlab over the course of a few weeks, but the algorithm we’ve developed has been successful so far, and the coding has been a challenging and interesting change of pace.
Improved Wound Healing Through Electrical Stimulation
Yuki Ito (E16) and Watson Gifford (E15) are currently studying cutaneous wound healing on in vitro human skin equivalents (HSEs) to improve the overall wound healing process. They co-culture the HSEs with a silk scaffold soaked in fat with collagen, fibroblasts, and keratinocytes seeded on top of it. The three layers of the HSEs mimic the epidermal, dermal, and hypodermal layers of human skin in order to have as accurate a model of study as possible.
To induce a faster wound healing process with less scar tissue formation, they are developing an electrical stimulation (ES) device. This electrical stimulation device is a biocompatible device made of gold and parylene that applies a controlled electric field across wounds in order to enhance the cell’s natural bioelectrical signals. By adding an exogenous electric field to this otherwise slow process of wound healing, they plan to learn more about the process of wound healing in general. The long-term goal of their project is to allow people such as diabetics, chronic wound patients, and severe burn victims to heal their wounds that they could not otherwise heal themselves.