It is our vision that one day mathematics and computation will be capable of reliably predicting, manipulating and optimizing biomedical systems for the advancement of medicine, drug development, biotechnology and productive and sustainable stewardship of the environment.
Pursuing this vision, the goal of our lab is to understand small biological systems in great detail. We work toward this goal by performing studies that target the fine-tuned synergism between genes, proteins and metabolites, and investigate the resultant, usually very effective functioning of healthy cells and organisms in comparison to those that are mutated or diseased. Milestones along the way are insights into the rationale for the intricate design and operation principles that govern biological systems.
The work in our lab is strictly mathematical and computational, but we collaborate with several superb experimental groups that provide us with data and appreciate our modeling efforts as tools for explanation and hypothesis generation.
Biomechanics and mechanobiology of cell adhesion and signaling molecules of the immune system and the vascular systems:
Our interests lie in the adhesion and signaling molecules of the immune system as well as those involved in platelet adhesion and aggregation. We are primarily focused on early cell surface interaction kinetics and their primary signaling responses, as these are critical in determining how a cell will ultimately respond upon contact with another cell. The majority of our work ranges from single molecule interaction studies using atomic force microscopy, molecular dynamics simulations, or biomembrane force probe assays to single cell studies using micropipette adhesions assays, fluorescence imaging techniques, or real-time confocal microscopy. These assays focus on the mechanics and kinetics of receptor-ligand binding and their downstream signaling effects within cells. T cell receptors, selectins, integrins, and their respective ligands are some of the cell surface molecules currently under investigation in our lab. Understanding the initial interaction between molecules such as these and their subsequent early signaling processes is crucial to elucidating the response mechanisms of these physiological systems. Ultimately, our research strives to help better understand the mechanisms within these systems for possible medical applications in autoimmunity, allergy, transplant rejection, and thrombotic disorders.
My research program is at the forefront of the nascent area of neuromechanics, and pioneers new understanding of how movement intention translates to action through the complex interplay between the nervous system and the musculoskeletal system. Our basic science findings have facilitated advances in understanding movement disorders and in identifying mechanisms of rehabilitation. We focus on complex, whole body human movements such as bipedal walking, standing balance, which have strong clinical relevance, as well as skilled movements involved in dance and sport. By drawing from neuroscience, biomechanics, rehabilitation, robotics, and physiology we have discovered exciting new principles of human movement. Using computational and experimental methods, we have been able to take electrical neuromotor signals from the body and link changes in neural sensorimotor mechanisms to functional biomechanical outputs during movement. Our novel framework is being used by researchers across the world to understand both normal and impaired movement control in humans as well as animals as well as to develop better robotic devices.
My lab’s research is rapidly expanding to include a wide variety of sensorimotor disorders including Parkinson’s disease, stroke, spinal cord injury, lower limb loss, depression, and normal aging. We collaborate with several physical therapy researchers who are developing novel gait rehabilitation interventions for Parkinson’s disease, stroke, and spinal cord injury to understand how to understand and optimize treatment outcomes. We are examining the effects of lower limb loss on gait and balance with implications for improved prosthesis design. We are exploring psychomotor metrics to help optimize deep brain stimulation treatment for Parkinson’s and depression. We are also studying highly skilled behaviors seen in dancers and athletes to inform development of rehabilitation strategies as well as devices to improve gait and balance. To understand the neural basis of the movements we measure, we are recording brain activity during balance control to see how neural mechanism controlling movement change with impairment and rehabilitation. We are also developing a new foundational understanding and computer simulations of how muscle proprioceptive sensors provide information to the brain and nervous system for movement that have translational impact in informing the mechanisms underlying impairments such as sensory loss after cancer treatment, spasticity, and other balance disorders.
Our laboratory conducts research into how information about the outside world is encoded by the patterns of spiking neurons in the sensory pathways of the brain. We combine experimental and computational approaches to better understand and control aspects of the neural code. Specifically, we focus on the visual and somatosensory pathways at the junction between the sensory periphery and sensory cortex. Our experimental approaches include multi-site, mutli-electrode recording, optical imaging, behavior, and patterned stimulation. Our computational approaches include linear and nonlinear model estimation, information theory, observer analysis, and signal detection and discrimination. Our long-term goal is to provide surrogate control for circuits involved in sensory signaling, for pathways injured through trauma or disease.
Biomechanics, mechanobiology, glaucoma, ophthalmology, osteoarthritis, regenerative medicine
Biomechanics and mechanobiology, glaucoma, osteoarthritis, regenerative medicine, intraocular pressure control, optic nerve head biomechanics.
We work at the boundaries between mechanics, cell biology and physiology to better understand the role of mechanics in disease, to repair diseased tissues, and to prevent mechanically-triggered damage to tissues and organs. Glaucoma is the second most common cause of blindness. We carry out a range of studies to understand and treat this disease. For example, we are developing a new, mechanically-based, strategy to protect fragile neural cells that, if successful, will prevent blindness. We are developing protocols for stem-cell based control of intraocular pressure. We study the mechanobiology and biomechanics of neurons and glial cells in the optic nerve head. We also study VIIP, a major ocular health concern in astronauts. Osteoarthritis is the most common cause of joint pain. We are developing paradigms based on magneto-mechanical stimulation to promote the differentiation and (appropriate) proliferation of mesenchymal stem cells.
Dr. LaPlaca’s broad research interests are in neurotrauma, injury biomechanics, and neuroengineering as they relate to traumatic brain injury (TBI). The goals are to better understand acute injury mechanisms in order to develop strategies for neuroprotection, neural repair, and more sensitive diagnostics. More specifically, the lab studies mechanotransduction mechanisms, cellular tolerances to traumatic loading, and plasma membrane damage, including mechanoporation and inflammatory- & free radical-induced damage. We are coupling these mechanistic-based studies with –omics discovery in order to identify new biomarker candidates. In addition, Dr. LaPlaca and colleagues have developed and patented an abbreviated, objective clinical neuropsychological tool (Display Enhanced Testing for Cognitive Impairment and Traumatic Brain Injury, DETECT) to assess cognitive impairment associated with concussion and mild cognitive impairment. An immersive environment, coupled with an objective scoring algorithm, make this tool attractive for sideline assessment of concussion in athletic settings. Through working on both basic and clinical levels she is applying systems engineering approaches to elucidate the complexity of TBI and promoting bidirectional lab-to-clinical translation.
Disruptive technologies enabled by nanoscale materials and devices will define our future in the same way that microtechnology has done over the past several decades. Our current research centers on the design and synthesis of novel nanomaterials for a broad range of applications, including nanomedicine, regenerative medicine, cancer theranostics, tissue engineering, controlled release, catalysis, and fuel cell technology.
We are design and synthesize/fabricate novel nanomaterials that could serve as: 1) theranostic agents for cancer and other diseases; 2) multifucntional probes for cellular tracking; 3) smart capsules for site-specific, on-demand delivery; and 4) scaffolds for the repair or regeneration of tissues.