New BME Professor to Study Microenvironment Influences on Cellular Behavior

Wendy Liu, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomedical engineering, joined UC Irvine in July as a faculty member in The Edwards Lifesciences Center for Advanced Cardiovascular Technology. Liu conducts research on both the fundamental and translational levels of tissue engineering and biomaterials, specifically how they relate to the treatment of cardiovascular diseases.

At the fundamental level, Liu studies how the microenvironment influences cellular behavior, particularly how cells adhere to the underlying substrate and neighboring cells, and the mechanical forces present, by looking at physical cues in the microenvironment. Her work combines the use of microfabrication technologies, synthetic biomaterial systems, and molecular approaches to investigate these different parameters. She is particularly interested in how the microenvironment controls cell proliferation, differentiation and inflammation. By applying this knowledge of the microenvironment to tissue engineering and biomaterials, Liu hopes to develop tools that will help researchers better understand cardiovascular diseases on a cellular level and create better materials for disease treatments.

Using what is observed about how cells respond to their microenvironment, Liu is working to develop materials and scaffolds that have a controlled host response after implantation into the body. Liu seeks to create biomaterial surfaces that mitigate the foreign body response by utilizing materials with mechanical and biochemical properties that mimic the native cellular microenvironment. Many current cardiovascular disease treatments are made of metals that elicit an immune reaction (ex. stents, pacemakers, heart valves, etc.), but Liu is attempting to develop coatings that reduce this response, as well as polymers that will dissolve in the body. Using this polymer to make stents, physicians can insert a stent that will address the disease, enable healing and then dissolve once the body’s tissue has healed, an improvement over the current practice of implanting metal stents in patient arteries.

Liu is currently working with conventional materials, but plans to fine-tune their physical and chemical properties in her new laboratory in the Edwards Lifesciences Center. Using bioluminescent and fluorescent in vivo imaging tools, Liu examines the biomaterials for compatibility, and is also developing better tools to visualize specific cellular processes that are involved in the function and integration of these biocompatible materials.

Liu received a B.S. degree in materials science and engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a Ph.D. degree from Johns Hopkins University in biomedical engineering.