Professor Kamm began his career at Northwestern University earning a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He subsequently earned both a Master’s and a PhD in Mechanical Engineering at MIT. Since 1978, he has been a professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT. Professor Kamm was one of the founding members of the Biological Engineering department when it was created in 1998.
An overriding objective of the Mechanobiology Lab is to elucidate the fundamental nature of how cells sense and respond to mechanical stimuli, and to employ the principles revealed by these studies to seek new treatments for neurological disease and cancer, and to develop tissue constructs for drug and toxicity screening.
Both experimental and computational approaches are employed in a manner that encourages the constant interplay between the two for purposes of model validation, direct measurement of critical parameters, and identifying new hypotheses to be tested through experiment.
The Kamm research group works on five broad areas: Biological Machines/Microfluidics, Angiogenesis/Vasculogenesis, Neurological Diseases, Cancer, and Simulation and modeling.
Over the past 10 years, the Mechanobiology group has developed various microfluidic platforms for mimicking the three dimensional microenvironment and investigating the role of mechanical stimuli, such as interstitial flow, cyclic strain, and ECM stiffness gradients, on cellular processes including cell migration, angiogenesis, and differentiation. Recently, they have drawn upon their understanding of mechanobiology to direct the function of multicellular systems. For example, the angiogenesis model was extended to build functional vascular networks in vitro, and stem cells were differentiated into cardiomyocytes through application of strain. As the complexity of synthetic modules is increased towards building biological machines, mechanics will play a more significant role, particularly in the engineering of neurons and myocytes for sensing and actuation. The Mechanobiology group will employ mechanical engineering as a tool to address this complexity while simultaneously extending our understanding of mechanotransduction.
Formation of new blood vessel from an existing branch, by a regulated process known as angiogenesis, governs vascular patterning in the body and determines the distribution of nutrients and oxygen supply. Angiogenesis has essential roles in development, reproduction and repair but also occurs in tumor formation and in a variety of diseases. The Kamm lab studies the angiogenic process by computational modeling across multiple scale and by in vitro microfluidic experiments that mimics in vivo biophysical and biochemical microenvironment. They have shown that angiogenic endothelial cells seeded in contact with collagen gel can be induced to form nascent angiogenic sprouts in microfluidic which later develop into a vascular network.
Tumor invasion has received considerable attention as a critical step in metastatic disease for developing new cancer drugs. Current understanding of the role of biophysical and cellular microenvironment in tumor invasion is limited, because of the lack of appropriate in vitro and in vivo models. The Mechanobiology Lab has adapted their previous microfluidic platforms for studying the role of the endothelium on tumor intravasation and the effects of interstitial flow on tumor cell migration, along with the development of new hard plastic devices for commercial transition.
Most recently, the Lab has embarked on modeling various types of neurological disease including ALS and Alzheimer’s disease. Both models are used to study the fundamental disease processes, with a longer-term aim of providing platforms for drug screening. These microphysiological systems are of increasing interest to the biotech and pharmaceutical industries and have led to new research projects funded by industry.
Computational models aide with data interpretation and experimental design, and simulations can prove insight into biological mechanisms in instances where experiments are not feasible. Modeling and simulation are integral parts to the Mechanobiology Lab, and they have developed models spanning length scales from single molecules to cell populations. Furthermore, these models are not independent; the lab employs course-graining techniques to allow models developed at small length scales to inform larger scale models. For example, the bulk properties of a material have been estimated by course-graining simulations of the constitutive atoms, providing a quantitative link between the chemical composition and mechanics of biomaterials.