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University of Illinois at Chicago Office of Public Affairs (MC 288)
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September 21, 2000 Contact: Bill Burton (312) 996-2269; burton@uic.edu


The last decade has seen the dramatic development of biomedical technologies ranging from biohybrid grafts - implants that contain living and nonliving materials - to sophisticated drug delivery systems that target therapy to a precise location in the body, protect the device from attack by the body's defenses, and release the drug in response to a signal. Hybrid implant materials and devices of this sort are called BioMEMs, where MEMs is an acronym for micro-electromechanical systems.

Tejal Desai, assistant professor of bioengineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago, will describe several examples of such bioengineered therapeutic systems in a plenary lecture Sept. 25 at the BioMEMs & Biomedical Nanotechnology World 2000 conference in Columbus, Ohio.

"Constructs that incorporate micro- and nanoscale features - features that are millionths or even billionths of a meter in size - in a well controlled and engineered manner can significantly affect cellular and subcellular function," Desai says.

One of the examples Desai will present in her overview is a micro-textured tissue scaffold for growing heart cells in culture. The flexible silicone surface has pegs and grooves that look like the striations in heart muscle and make the cardiac cells feel much more at home and behave much as they do in the body. Desai has produced prototype labware for mechano-biological studies of heart cells in which the cultured cells can be subjected to stretching forces similar to those in a beating heart.

Another example of therapeutic BioMEMs that Desai will discuss are cell encapsulation devices with nanometer-sized pores that can protect implanted cells or components from large molecules like antibodies while allowing small molecules like hormones and nutrients to freely pass through. Such devices, which have long been dreamed of for implanting pancreatic islet cells in diabetic patients or neurosecretory cells in Parkinson's or Alzheimer's patients, are now being fabricated in Desai's laboratory by micro-machining silicon to create precisely controlled micro- and nano-architectures.

"The interfacing of chip technology with therapeutics has great potential for use in health care and biotechnology," Desai says.

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