Disruptive technologies enabled by nanoscale materials and devices will define our future in the same way that microtechnology has done over the past several decades. Our current research centers on the design and synthesis of novel nanomaterials for a broad range of applications, including nanomedicine, regenerative medicine, cancer theranostics, tissue engineering, controlled release, catalysis, and fuel cell technology.
We are design and synthesize/fabricate novel nanomaterials that could serve as: 1) theranostic agents for cancer and other diseases; 2) multifucntional probes for cellular tracking; 3) smart capsules for site-specific, on-demand delivery; and 4) scaffolds for the repair or regeneration of tissues.
My research program is at the forefront of the nascent area of neuromechanics, and pioneers new understanding of how movement intention translates to action through the complex interplay between the nervous system and the musculoskeletal system. Our basic science findings have facilitated advances in understanding movement disorders and in identifying mechanisms of rehabilitation. We focus on complex, whole body human movements such as bipedal walking, standing balance, which have strong clinical relevance, as well as skilled movements involved in dance and sport. By drawing from neuroscience, biomechanics, rehabilitation, robotics, and physiology we have discovered exciting new principles of human movement. Using computational and experimental methods, we have been able to take electrical neuromotor signals from the body and link changes in neural sensorimotor mechanisms to functional biomechanical outputs during movement. Our novel framework is being used by researchers across the world to understand both normal and impaired movement control in humans as well as animals as well as to develop better robotic devices.
My lab’s research is rapidly expanding to include a wide variety of sensorimotor disorders including Parkinson’s disease, stroke, spinal cord injury, lower limb loss, depression, and normal aging. We collaborate with several physical therapy researchers who are developing novel gait rehabilitation interventions for Parkinson’s disease, stroke, and spinal cord injury to understand how to understand and optimize treatment outcomes. We are examining the effects of lower limb loss on gait and balance with implications for improved prosthesis design. We are exploring psychomotor metrics to help optimize deep brain stimulation treatment for Parkinson’s and depression. We are also studying highly skilled behaviors seen in dancers and athletes to inform development of rehabilitation strategies as well as devices to improve gait and balance. To understand the neural basis of the movements we measure, we are recording brain activity during balance control to see how neural mechanism controlling movement change with impairment and rehabilitation. We are also developing a new foundational understanding and computer simulations of how muscle proprioceptive sensors provide information to the brain and nervous system for movement that have translational impact in informing the mechanisms underlying impairments such as sensory loss after cancer treatment, spasticity, and other balance disorders.
Our laboratory conducts research into how information about the outside world is encoded by the patterns of spiking neurons in the sensory pathways of the brain. We combine experimental and computational approaches to better understand and control aspects of the neural code. Specifically, we focus on the visual and somatosensory pathways at the junction between the sensory periphery and sensory cortex. Our experimental approaches include multi-site, mutli-electrode recording, optical imaging, behavior, and patterned stimulation. Our computational approaches include linear and nonlinear model estimation, information theory, observer analysis, and signal detection and discrimination. Our long-term goal is to provide surrogate control for circuits involved in sensory signaling, for pathways injured through trauma or disease.
Dr. LaPlaca’s broad research interests are in neurotrauma, injury biomechanics, and neuroengineering as they relate to traumatic brain injury (TBI). The goals are to better understand acute injury mechanisms in order to develop strategies for neuroprotection, neural repair, and more sensitive diagnostics. More specifically, the lab studies mechanotransduction mechanisms, cellular tolerances to traumatic loading, and plasma membrane damage, including mechanoporation and inflammatory- & free radical-induced damage. We are coupling these mechanistic-based studies with –omics discovery in order to identify new biomarker candidates. In addition, Dr. LaPlaca and colleagues have developed and patented an abbreviated, objective clinical neuropsychological tool (Display Enhanced Testing for Cognitive Impairment and Traumatic Brain Injury, DETECT) to assess cognitive impairment associated with concussion and mild cognitive impairment. An immersive environment, coupled with an objective scoring algorithm, make this tool attractive for sideline assessment of concussion in athletic settings. Through working on both basic and clinical levels she is applying systems engineering approaches to elucidate the complexity of TBI and promoting bidirectional lab-to-clinical translation.
Healthcare robotics, assistive robotics, mobile manipulation, human-robot interaction, intelligent systems that perceive and act.
Our research seeks to advance the capabilities of real robots so that they can provide valued assistance to people in unstructured environments. We work with semi-autonomous mobile robots that physically manipulate the world. Healthcare serves as an important motivating application area for most of our research. Our projects involve research into human-robot interaction, autonomous mobile manipulation, machine perception, machine learning, and haptics.
Vascular Mechanobiology and Nanomedicine, Role of mechanosensitive genes, miRNAs and epigenetics in atherosclerosis, RNA-based therapeutics, nanomedicine, endothelial mechanobiology
From Mechanobiology to RNA-based Therapeutics and Nanomedicine: Dr. Jo and his lab study how mechanical force associated with blood flow regulates vascular biology and cardiovascular disease, especially atherosclerosis, aortic valve (AV) calcification, and abdominal aortic aneurysms. His lab developed a mouse model of flow-induced atherosclerosis and in vitro shear stress systems to understand the role of flow in endothelial cells and atherosclerosis. Using the animal model, his lab discovered numerous mechanosensitive genes (mRNAs and microRNAs) that are regulated by disturbed flow and their role in atherosclerosis and AV calcification. Recently, his lab has shown that disturbed flow regulates mechanosensitive genes by controlling epigenomic DNA methylation patterns and that inhibition of a key enzyme DNMT by 5-Aza-deoxycytidine can prevent atherosclerosis in mice. His lab has begun taking steps to translate these animal studies toward the clinic by developing better gene and drug therapies using nanotechnology-based delivery approaches and better therapeutic strategies.
Tissue Mechanics Lab (TML) is working to improve the treatment of cardiovascular disease by applying a unique combination of state-of-the-art computational simulations with rigorous experimental evaluation. In the TML, techniques such as planar biaxial testing, tissue fatigue testing, vessel inflation testing, steady and pulsatile cardiac flow testing, and examination of tissue microstructure are used to quantify the mechanical properties of living tissue. This information is then implemented into dynamic solid and fluid simulations. These simulations are being used to better understand how the cardiovascular system works, and how the body interacts with implantable devices.
Immunoengineering, biomaterials, drug delivery, gene delivery, cancer, immunotherapy, tissue engineering, stem cells, regenerative medicine
The overall goal of our research endeavor is the development of new biomaterial-based strategies for gene/drug delivery and stem cell engineering. Towards this, my laboratory focuses on three major directions: (a) design and development of novel delivery systems for nucleic-acid based immunotherapy and cancer chemotherapy (b) engineering complex microenvironments to study and manipulate stem cells and understand their behavior in biomimetic, three-dimensional conditions and (c) developing novel engineering tools and high throughput methods to generate functional T cells and Dendritic cells from stem cells.
Dr. Ke's research is highly interdisciplinary combining chemistry, biology, physics, material science, and engineering. The overall mission of his research is to use interdisciplinary research tools to program nucleic-acid-based "beautiful structures and smart devices" at nanoscale, and use them for scientific exploration and technological applications. Specifically, his team focuses on (1) developing new DNA self-assembly paradigms for constructing DNA nanostructures with greater structural complexity, and with controllable sizes and shapes; (2) developing new imaging or drug delivery systems based on DNA nanostructuresl; (3) exploring design of novel DNA-based nanodevices for understanding basic biological questions at molecular level; (4) developing DNA-templated protein devices for constructing artificial bio-reactors.
For cancer-related research/application, Dr. Ke will focus on using DNA/RNA nanostructures as drug delivery vehicles. He is also interested in using DNA/RNA nanostructures to study cancer cell biology at molecular level.