University of Minnesota
Institute of Technology
myU OneStop

Electrical and Computer Engineering

Engineering Better Biomarkers: Discovery, design, and detection of novel disease indicators

David Wood, Ph.D.
Department of Biomedical Engineering
University of Minnesota

As personalized medicine comes of age, it is driving a critical need for indicators that predict disease susceptibility and severity at the individual patient level. Although the search continues for new genes and proteins, there is an opportunity for novel indicators, such as biophysical metrics, that can complement genomic and proteomic markers and that in some cases can link even more closely with disease phenotype. In this talk I will describe a three-tiered approach to developing novel biomarkers that includes platforms for biomarker discovery, design of synthetic in vivo probes, and devices for the quantification of novel disease indicators. First, I will describe the development of a microfluidic platform that has enabled the discovery of the first objective indicator of clinical severity in sickle cell disease. Then, I will briefly outline a high throughput platform for analyzing DNA damage and repair as a biomarker for genotoxicity that is useful in drug development and epidemiology. Finally, I will describe the design of highly multiplexable synthetic biomarkers that are able to probe protease activity in vivo and serve as early diagnostics for a range of diseases. To engineer these new biomarkers, we leverage microtechnology to probe microscale biophysical phenomena and to increase throughput and robustness, nanotechnology that can probe disease in vivo, and fundamental engineering principles of measurement and design. The result is a suite of powerful new tools that should improve the diagnosis, management, and treatment of disease.

David received his B.S. in Physics in 2001 at N.C. State University, and he received his Ph.D. in Physics in 2007 at the University of California, Santa Barbara. For his thesis, he worked with Andrew Cleland on all-electronic biosensors that could be used to detect particles, cells, and molecules in diagnostic applications. David’s postdoctoral work was done at MIT with Sangeeta Bhatia. During his postdoc, David used his background in microfluidics, instrumentation, and quantitative measurements to develop novel disease biomarkers. He developed a high throughput platform for measuring DNA damage and repair, which is currently under commercial development. He also developed the first quantitative biomarker for clinical severity in sickle cell disease. In 2012 his work on sickle cell disease was featured on the cover of Science Translational Medicine. He also developed new technologies for studying cancer metastasis, multiplexed paper diagnostics, and a suite of synthetic biomarkers for disease. His current work focuses on developing benchtop models of human disease, including sickle cell disease and cancer. His lab leverages microfluidics, tissue engineering and biomaterials, and nanotechnology to understand the fundamental mechanisms of disease and to discover new therapies. His lab also develops low cost diagnostics for resource-limited settings. David is a 2009 recipient of the NIH Ruth L. Kirchstein National Research Service Award and a 2012 recipient of the Mazumdar-Shaw International Oncology Fellowship.