Stem cell biology, bioengineering, biomaterials
The Engler lab's research is focused on how cell behavior is directed by the extracellular matrix (ECM), a 3-dimensional (3D) fibrillar scaffold to which cells adhere. Investigations in the lab revolve around how the mechanical and biochemical properties of this 3D ECM direct the differentiation of human mesenchymal and embryonic stem cells into specific cell types, the development and patterning of the heart, and the adhesion strength of cells. Specifically, the lab has shown that the influence of the mechanical properties of the ECM is enough to drive stem cell maturation into neuron, muscle, and bone. Current studies of this process involve determining what the spatial and temporal display of these ECM cues is in vivo and subsequently mimicking these changes in vitro using novel biological and synthetic polymer systems, such as diblock copolymers. By better recreating the natural microenvironment for these cells using increasing numbers of cellular cues, Engler and his team hope to improve our ability to regulate and more completely drive stem cell maturation into fully matured cell types. Several diseases that alter the mechanical properties of muscle tissue, such as heart attacks and Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), are also studied, focusing on the therapeutic use of stem cells and 'pre-committed' cells to treat these diseases with new, "smart" synthetic scaffolds. Also see website http://ecm.ucsd.edu/.
Adam J. Engler is a professor of Bioengineering at UC San Diego. His research focus is stem cell research, with an emphasis on how adult and embryonic stem cell differentiation is controlled by the extracellular matrix. Engler earned his B.S.E. degree in bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania, and a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and applied mechanics. Engler then moved to Princeton University's Department of Molecular Biology as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow, funded by the National Cancer Institute. Dr. Engler is the 2008 recipient of the Rupert Timpl and Rita Schaffer Young Investigator Awards from the International Society for Matrix Biology and the Biomedical Engineering Society, respectively, for his lab's work on the mechanical regulation of stem cell differentiation by the extracellular matrix.