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Summer 2011

Bioengineering Center Serves as Hub for Collaboration

With generous support from the K.H. Hofmann Foundation, the UCSF Center for Bioengineering and Tissue Regeneration opened on the Parnassus campus in July 2010, under the direction of Associate Professor Valerie Weaver, Ph.D.

"This is a center for transdisciplinary research, integrating basic cell biology and clinical perspectives with skills and concepts from the physical sciences," Weaver, a biochemist who joined the faculty in 2006, said. "We hope to serve as a bridge."

Weaver's lab investigates how intrinsic and extrinsic mechanical forces mediated by the extracellular matrix and cellular cytoskeleton influence molecular mechanisms to affect diverse processes such as stem cell fate and cancer pathogenesis.

Valerie Weaver

She recently published a paper in Cell reporting that increased linking in the extracellular matrix is associated with tumor stiffness, and that inhibiting cross-linking prevented cancer development.

Her many collaborations with other UCSF investigators include discovering how force modulates cardiovascular, mandible and hematopoietic stem cell differentiation; working with fetal surgeons to better understand lung dynamics and the physical and mechanical loading problems associated with congenital diaphragmatic hernia; and helping develop novel materials to assist with wound healing.

Bridging Life and Physical Sciences

Weaver is also collaborating with UC Berkeley physicist Jan Liphardt, Ph.D., bioengineers Sanjay Kumar, M.D., Ph.D., and Gerard Marriott, Ph.D., UCSF bioengineer Tejal Desai, Ph.D., and bioinformatics expert Hana El-Samad, Ph.D., to apply physics concepts and engineering approaches to develop novel approaches to cancer diagnostics, prognosis and therapy.

Liphardt and Weaver were recently awarded a five-year, $15.6 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to form the Physical Sciences-Oncology Center. The group includes over 50 physicists, bioengineers, mathematicians and bioinformatics experts as well as researchers from the clinical and biological sciences.

The center includes space for 20 researchers, imaging rooms with atomic force, traction force and fluorescent microscopes, and a biomaterials room.Weaver envisions the center as a resource for the entire research community.

"We’re training people from UCSF as well as other universities, and can then link them with other investigators with complementary expertise," Weaver said.

Symposiums and Workshops

On Sept. 8, 2010, the center hosted a daylong symposium for 75 scientists from the National Cancer Institute, UCSF, UC Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and other institutions, including Stanford.

In addition to seminars and discussion groups, concurrent workshops were held to familiarize breast cancer advocates and biologists with physical sciences approaches to studying cellular and tissue behavior, such as demonstrating the use of atomic force to probe the mechanical properties of breast tissue, and teaching physicists, cancer advocates and bioengineers about histology.

Weaver and her colleagues are planning more workshops in the future.

"UCSF is the place to do this, because it has such a history of collaborative efforts," Weaver said. "Dr. Nancy Ascher and the K.H. Hofmann Foundation were visionaries to support the creation of the center, which permits truly crossdisciplinary research to be conducted."

Weaver said, "Being in a position to bring together and train this talented group of young scientists in this beautiful and constructive space is a real privilege. I have high hopes that by acting as a bridge between the life sciences and physical sciences, the center will facilitate new experimental directions and yield some new exciting research findings."

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