Studying Centrifuges in Biomedical Engineering

Who knew that centrifuges could be so important to the latest advances in biomedical engineering and pharmaceutic innovation? After their visit to Prof. Megan McCain's lab, 67 students from Orthopaedic Medical Magnet High School now know that centrifuges are a major tool used in tissue systems research and why that is important.

This is the third year in a row that Ortho teacher Nathan Brown has partnered with Prof. McCain to teach his physics students about engineering, medicine, and science communication by focusing on centrifuges. Each spring, Mr. Brown brings his students to Prof. McCain's Laboratory for Living Systems; Prof. McCain has already been to the Ortho campus to talk about her research and the value of living systems research for finding innovative drug solutions to common diseases, especially for the heart.

Prof. McCain explains the group's research this way

To develop safe and effective cures for human diseases, we need reliable models of human tissues to establish the underlying biology and screen drugs. However, existing model systems, such as rodents and conventional cell culture approaches, fall short in recapitulating critical features of native human tissues and providing easily-accessible functional outputs. To address this need, we engineer micro-scale mimics of native healthy and diseased human tissues that provide meaningful physiological outputs and are scalable for downstream applications, such as drug screening. We focus primarily on cardiac and skeletal muscle.

The Ortho students rotate between three stations to learn how the lab uses centrifuges: they receive an overview of the various model systems for studying human biology (R), they test their hypotheses about cell separation by spinning down various compounds (middle photo), and they also learn about cell mixing. Most importantly, they interact with Prof. McCain and the many post-doctoral scholars and Ph.D. students in the lab, learning not only about biomedical engineering but also asking how these engineers first got impassioned about researching biomedicine. 

Next week, these students will be presenting their projects on centrifuges to the members of Ortho's Advisory Board, who are mid-career professionals in a variety of fields. The students' firsthand experience with centrifuges should make them better able to communicate how centrifuges are used in different situations and why they are an important tool in biomedical engineering.


Dr. Megan Rexius-Hall, a post-doctoral scholar in the lab (L), Prof. Megan McCain (center), and Ortho teacher Nathan Brown (R). Ph.D. student Andrew Petersen (not pictured) also devoted his morning to working with the Ortho students.


Ph.D. student Davi Lyra-Leite shares some recently centrifuged samples to Ortho students to examine; Joycelyn Yip, another Ph.D. student, speaks to a student in the back. Both Davi and Joycelyn are in the top photo as well.


Nathan Cho, Ph.D. student, with fellow Ph.D. student Jeffrey Santoso (not pictured), explains model systems for studying human biology to students.

Published on March 21st, 2018

Last updated on March 27th, 2018