Optical methods have been used for hundreds of years in biology. There is significant (and general) need for making these tried and true methods more accessible & portable as well as to make new optical techniques available to laboratory researchers. MOABC focuses on the integration of optical technology into microscopic and microfluidic systems, a need supported by unique facilities and capabilities that serve as the foundation of a very useful community resource.
Commercial microfluidic systems under development for the past decade have aimed at high margin application niches such as pharmaceutical research and drug discovery. These systems are predominantly disposable microfluidic cartridge-based systems, yet require a bench-top or larger “main-frame” interface. Nearly all the complexity, cost, and reliability limitations are associated with the optics, fluidics, and electronics components in the mainframe. For research and diagnostic platforms to impact broader markets and become widespread tools both inside and outside of the laboratory, the hardware must be simplified and miniaturized. Functions currently performed by peripheral hardware must be integrated directly into the microscale platform. Our long-term goal focuses on reducing macroscale optics and electronics to an “optical lab-on-a-chip” compatible with the fluidics lab-on-a-chip paradigm by developing new methods of biological measurement and manipulation based on microintegrated optics.
In addition to this, researchers in our center are also investigating biopolymer systems for tissue engineering and drug delivery, biosensors, and metabolic engineering. In the body, cells that make up all of our tissues are influenced by many factors, including soluble signals such as chemokines or cytokines, insoluble signals that are components of the extracellular matrix surrounding the cells, the interaction of various populations of cells with each other, and mechanical signals. Additionally, cells make decisions based on their intracellular signaling pathways and their metabolism. By studying these various signals with materials and modeling, we can gain a greater insight for how tissues are formed and maintained, and we can use this knowledge to regenerate damaged or diseased tissues, and also to better understand how diseases start and progress and how they can be treated. We can design sensors to detect a variety of biological processes to better understand what the cells are exposed to in their environment and how they respond.
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