Cells as Smart Materials: Dissecting and Reverse-Engineering Mechaniobiological Units

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Thursday, March 3, 2016 - 4:30pm

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Living cells are capable of processing a variety of mechanical signals encoded within their microenvironment, which can in turn act through the cellular structural machinery to regulate many fundamental behaviors. In this sense, cells may be regarded as "smart materials” that dynamically and locally modulate their physical properties in response to environmental stimuli. I will discuss our recent efforts to understand and control these living materials, and to create new, bio-inspired materials that mimic sequence/structure/function relationships of cytoskeletal networks. Key areas of emphasis will include: (1) Understanding and targeting biomechanical regulation of tumor infiltration in the brain; (2) Applying materials and genetic strategies to probe the timing of mechanosensitive stem cell fate decisions; and (3) Engineering stimulus-sensitive intrinsically disordered protein brushes based on neuronal cytoskeletal networks.


Sanjay Kumar earned a B.S. in Chemical Engineering (1996) from the University of Minnesota, and both an M.D. (2003) and Ph.D. in Molecular Biophysics (2003) from Johns Hopkins University as a fellow of the NIH Medical Scientist Training Program. From 2003-2005, he served as an NIH research fellow at Children's Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School. He was appointed Assistant Professor of Bioengineering at UC Berkeley in 2005 and eventually promoted to Full Professor in 2014. He has been the Associate Chair of Bioengineering since 2015 and previously directed the UC Berkeley - UCSF Master of Translational Medicine and Bioengineering PhD Programs. He is also a Faculty Scientist in the Biological Systems & Engineering Division of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Dr. Kumar and his research group have been fortunate to receive a number of honors, including the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), The NIH Director's New Innovator Award, The Arnold and Mabel Beckman Young Investigator Award, the NSF CAREER Award, the Stem Cells Young Investigator Award, and the Hellman Family Faculty Fund Award. He is an elected Fellow of the AIMBE.