Professor Engelward began her scientific career at Yale University working in the laboratory of Thomas Steitz. She did her doctoral studies in the laboratory of Dr. Leona Samson at the Harvard School of Public Health. In 1997 she joined the faculty at MIT and was one of the founding faculty in the creation of the Department of Biological Engineering. Prof. Engelward’s work is public health-oriented and includes studies of the causes of DNA sequence rearrangements as well as the creation of novel technologies for detecting rare sequence changes in vivo and to measure genomic damage in vitro. The major objective of her work is to reveal the underlying mechanisms that drive genomic instability as a basis for contributing to improved global public health.
Recognizing that homology directed repair modulates disease susceptibility, this laboratory was the first to create a transgenic model in which rare recombinant cell fluoresce. This gave rise to many studies of environmental and genetic factors that modulate the risk of large-scale sequence rearrangements.
The Engelward laboratory has also led the way in the development of a number of technologies that harness micron scale cell arrays. These include the CometChip™ (for DNA damage quantification), the HepaCometChip (for studies of DNA damage in liver cells, especially bulky DNA lesions), the NanoCometChip (for studies of nanoparticle-induced genotoxicity), the EpiCometChip (for studies of global levels of DNA methylation), the MicroColonyChip (for measuring cell growth), and the SpheroidChip (for culturing hepatocyte spheroids). Through collaborations, her approach has also been modified to be compatible with HTS robotics and it has been used to study DNA damage in Plasmodium falciparum. Aspects of her inventions have been adopted by the National Toxicology Program, which tests chemicals in the environment for their carcinogenic potential, a key step toward the reduction of exposure-induced cancer.
Taken together, work in this laboratory is at the interface between biological engineering and environmental health, with the goals of developing novel technologies, applying these technologies to accelerate basic research, and using our understanding of disease processes to inform disease prevention and mitigation.