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Andrea Frank
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Kimberly Hammad-Schifferli
Esther and Harold E. Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Biological Engineering

What are you working on?

I’m working on a way to control biomolecules by using nanoparticles as antennas. If you think of a cell, it is a big, wet bag of proteins all mixed up together. Controlling the individual proteins in there is quite diffi cult. Our technique will allow us to effectively and easily switch biomolecules on and off. This binary approach will allow us to pinpoint which particular gene is causing a sickness. This will enable new methods for disease diagnosis and therapy. There has never been anything like this. It is a new area.

What diseases are you targeting?

We aren’t targeting any diseases right now. We’re still very much in the early stage. We’re doing proof of principle systems, studying how it works. Then, eventually, we’re going to work on using this technique to control disease.

What is the size of these antennas?

They have to be nanometer sized. They have to be the size of a protein so they can go inside a cell.

Have there been any considerable changes in your fi eld that affect your research today?

That is an interesting question because I’ve jumped fi elds a lot. I was trained as a chemist. I started out in chemistry as an undergraduate here at MIT. Now, I’ve moved into mechanical and biological engineering. I would say that the fusion of engineering with biology has made this work possible. Prior to that synthesis between the disciplines, people didn’t really think about how to engineer biological systems. Now scientists are trying to do that. This has happened very recently. If people hadn’t begun thinking about things in this way, we wouldn’t be where we are. We came along at the right time.

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Andrea Frank