Professor Engelward began her scientific career at Yale University working in the laboratory of Nobel Laureate, 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.
DNA damage is known to drive mutations and cell toxicity, both of which promote cancer and aging. Recent results also suggest that DNA damage may modulate disease progression following infection. Research in the Engelward laboratory centers on the interplay between DNA damage and its downstream consequences, with the goal of understanding the underlying mechanisms that drive cell toxicity, mutagenesis, and ultimately disease.
Progress in science depends on having the appropriate technology to ask the important questions. 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.
While studies using mouse models have been very informative, the Engelward laboratory also wanted to develop better ways to study DNA damage and repair in humans. To study DNA damage and repair in human cells, an approach was envisioned for high throughput analysis of DNA damage in human cells. In collaboration with the laboratory of Dr. Sangeeta Bhatia, a traditional DNA repair assay called the 'comet assay' was modernized by exploiting microfabrication techniques. The resulting DNA damage and repair platform provides better reproducibility and greatly increased throughput. This new technology is being used for many applications, including studies of environmental epidemiology.
While most of the efforts of this laboratory have been focused on cancer and aging, the Engelward laboratory have recently turned their attention to infection. Infection with many agents, including influenza, can give rise to a pronounced inflammatory response. Therefore, they have initiated studies to determine the extent of influenza-associated DNA damage, to explore the role of DNA repair, and to develop ways of mitigating disease.
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.