Posted November 24, 2014

Mohammad Kiani's research makes a real-world impact

Kevin Cook
With former graduate student Prabhakar Pandian, Mechanical Engineering Professor Mohammad Kiani initiated technology that replicates, on a chip or microscope slide, the blood-brain barrier system that allows or doesn't allow substances, including certain therapeutic drugs, to enter a child’s brain.

Mohammad Kiani held up a microscope slide so that the light streaming through his laboratory windows illuminated a tiny network embedded within the clear plastic.

“Essentially what we’ve done is reproduced an animal’s microvascular network and cellularized it with the same type of cells that exist in the body on this chip,” said Kiani, a professor of mechanical engineering in the College of Engineering who received the 2014 Temple University Faculty Research Award. “This, you can imagine, has all kinds of applications”—from studying basic phenomena such as how white blood cells interact with vessel walls to testing potential drugs.

“If you successfully test a new therapeutic drug in this system, there is a very good chance it will also be successful in animal and human studies,” Kiani said.

In collaboration with Huntsville, Alabama’s CFD Research Corp. and Barbara Krynska, assistant professor of neurology at the Shriners Hospitals Pediatric Research Center in Temple’s School of Medicine, Kiani has used the technology to re-create a “pediatric brain on a chip”—which The Scientist magazine hailed as one of the top 10 innovations for 2013.

Kiani initiated the technology with one of his former graduate students, CFD’s Prabhakar Pandian. Their SynVivo microfluidic chip replicates the blood-brain barrier system that allows or soesn't allow substances, including certain therapeutic drugs, to enter a child’s brain.

Since his arrival from the University of Tennessee to chair the Department of Mechanical Engineering 10 years ago, Kiani’s research has attracted more than $6 million in federal and private funding. That includes support for his other main research, a novel drug delivery system that would use molecular changes caused by previous radiation treatments of malignant tumors to more accurately target cancerous tissue with chemotherapy drugs.

With the university’s assistance, in 2011 Kiani established MedVas Concepts LLC to commercialize the promising research, which is initially being developed to target breast cancer.

Under Kiani’s leadership, the mechanical engineering department thrived. The number of faculty members nearly doubled, undergraduates more than doubled, graduate students more than quadrupled, and research funding increased at least eightfold.

Kiani stepped down as the departmental chair July 1 to concentrate more on both teaching and his research—including a collaboration with Steven R. Houser, director of the School of Medicine’s Cardiovascular Research Center, to engineer new tissue to replace heart tissue damaged by heart attacks.

“When you are doing research as a graduate student or an assistant professor, you’re working on very small-scale stuff and you wonder, ‘Am I doing anything useful, anything that has any implications for the bigger world?’” Kiani said. “I’ve gotten to the point where I can say, ‘Yes, at least some of the stuff that I didn’t think would have any relevance has the potential for addressing some serious issues.’

“It’s a good feeling to know that work I’ve been doing for so many years is having an impact.”

—Bruce Beans