The National Institute of Health recently awarded $11.5 million to a group of five scientists, led by Chair of the Biomedical Engineering department Richard Waugh.

The group will pursue collaborative research of the mechanical interactions of white blood cells, and the disruption of those interactions which cause diseases.

“There are many diseases, including diabetes and vascular disease, that are now being understood to result from the inflammatory response gone wrong,” Waugh said. “By understanding the basic mechanisms by which cell adhesion in inflammation is regulated and controlled, we hope to generate new ideas for prevention and treatment of the wide variety of diseases associated with inflammation.”

In their individual laboratories, the five research leaders will concentrate on different aspects of neutrophils, a specific type of white blood cell that searches for distress signals generated in infected or inflamed tissue.

“[Neutrophils] cause the cells that line the blood vessels (endothelial cells) to present adhesion molecules on their surface,” Waugh said. “Neutrophils have matching adhesion molecules on their surface, so when they contact the endothelial cells in inflamed tissue they stick and start to roll along the surface. If additional signals are received, other adhesion molecules interact to stop the neutrophil on the wall of the vessel and cause it to migrate or crawl into the tissue where it destroys the pathogen.”

Assistant professor of biomedical engineering Michael King uses computer simulations of blood flow and flow experiments that involve adhesive proteins called “selectins.”

“I started my research career in fundamental fluid mechanics,” King said. “I found that work fascinating and rewarding, but now working in the area of blood cell adhesion my research takes on an additional dimension since we have the potential to impact public health and benefit humanity.”

In addition, professor of biochemistry and biophysics Philip Knauf will explore the transport of ions across membranes and professor of pharmacology and physiology Ingrid Sarelius will research adhesion expression in the living vasculature.

Meanwhile, David Hammer of the University of Pennsylvania will work on the basic mechanisms that cause cells to roll and stick to blood vessels.

“The team of scientists was assembled because of their complementary expertise and common interest in this problem,” Waugh said. “The collaborative research environment at Rochester is a big plus for all research programs. Scientists here are generally willing and eager to help colleagues when they feel they can shed light on a question or help with a procedure.”

Welzer can be reached at

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