Carver Trust funds new Microscale Biofabrication Lab at Illinois

4/24/2017

Laura Schmitt

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Bioengineering Department recently received nearly $500,000 from the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust to develop an innovative, hands-on laboratory and instructional course to teach fundamental principles in forward-design of microscale biofabrication. An emergent field, biofabrication combines biological and solid-phase materials to create diagnostic, therapeutic, and tissue engineering devices and tools that are profoundly impacting biology and medicine.

As micro and nanoscale biofabrication has advanced over the last 20 years, and with the recent explosion in 3D bio-printing approaches, researchers and industry are now using the techniques to develop tissue and organ replacements, lab-on-a-chip devices that quickly and accurately detect disease or pathogens, and 3D environments to replace animal models for drug screening.

According to Bioengineering Head Rashid Bashir, the new Microscale Biofabrication Lab and course will cover diverse topics in materials biocompatibility, bioplotting for arrayed devices, microcontact printing, microfluidics, and 3D bio-printing.

“Thanks to the investment made by the Carver Trust, our students will be among the first in the nation to learn experimental techniques for forward design of cell- and tissue-scale biological systems and their underlying theory in a project-based learning environment,” said Bashir, the Grainger Distinguished Chair in Engineering and Interim Vice Dean of the Carle Illinois College of Medicine.“Our students will be trained in the wet- and dry-lab technologies used by industry today.”

Students will become proficient in a variety of microscale biofabrication methods, including photolithography to make chemically or physically-specific structures and microfluidic devices, micro-contact printing to inexpensively and rapidly grow cells in precise shapes and patterns, surface modification to render inert surfaces like silicon dioxide into biologically functional surfaces that bind to nucleic acids, and 3D printing to place polymers, proteins, and cells in precise patterns and multiple dimensions.

In addition, students will learn how to measure and analyze microscale materials using state-of-the-art tools like transmission and fluorescence optical microscopes, scanning electron and atomic force microscopes, and functional molecular and cellular assays.

Hundreds of bioengineering undergraduate students will benefit from the course and lab in the coming years. The course and lab will also provide first-in-class opportunities for education and research to students enrolled in the new Carle Illinois College of Medicine, Bioengineering senior design students, and students from other engineering disciplines.  

In addition to Bashir, Bioengineering faculty who contributed to the proposal to develop the unique laboratory course include Pablo Perez-PineraAndrew SmithKris KilianJenny Amos and Marcia Pool. The laboratory course will be unique from but also complement the long-standing electronic device fabrication course offered by the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and the MEMS Device fabrication course offered by the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering.

“The lab will complement a larger strategy across the campus to develop unique educational and research laboratories and facilities for forward engineered and synthetic design of biological and chemical entities ranging from molecules, cells, tissues, and organs,” said Martin Burke, Professor of Chemistry and Interim Associate Dean of Research in the new Carle Illinois College of Medicine. “We applaud the department of Bioengineering for advancing this new frontier in education across our campus.”

The Microscale Biofabrication Lab, which will be located in the Digital Computer Laboratory (DCL) building—current home of the Bioengineering Department—is one of the latest equipment-focused investments by the Carver Charitable Trust at the University of Illinois. In 2016, the Carver Trust also funded an advanced DNA sequencing system and projects to study mechanisms of gene regulation in beneficial microorganisms of the human digestive tract.

The Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust in Muscatine, Iowa, is one of the largest private foundations in the state of Iowa; it supports biomedical and scientific research, scholarships, and programs addressing the educational and recreational needs of youth. The Trust, which was established through the will of Roy J. Carver,  began grantmaking in 1987. Mr. Carver, a Muscatine industrialist and philanthropist, graduated from the University of Illinois in 1934 with a degree in engineering. 

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For more information contact: Laura Schmitt, Bioengineering communications (lschmitt@illinois.edu)