Research & Innovation

New Seminar Series Aims to Foster Interdisciplinary Research

The FoSTER Seminar Series aims to keep Stevens science and engineering research community up to speed in foundational research pillar advancements and inspire collaboration

Dr. Kam W. Leong
Dr. Kam W. Leong giving the inaugural seminar in Edwin A Stevens Hall. CREDIT: Stevens.

The future of research is full of collaboration.

That was the theme of the inaugural Frontiers of Science, Technology, and Engineering Research (FoSTER) seminar series at Stevens Institute of Technology's Charles V. Schaefer Jr., School of Engineering and Science (SES) on March 6.

Held in the historic Edwin A. Stevens Hall and hosted by professor and Department of Biomedical Engineering chair Hongjun Wang, the inaugural FoSTER seminar was a great example of the series’ mission, according to SES associate dean for research and professor Henry Du, who spearheaded creation of the series: "The aim of the FoSTER Seminar Series is to keep the SES community abreast of the foundational research pillars, including biomedical engineering and biological innovations, and to foster multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary collaborations within the school and larger research community."

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The inaugural speaker was Dr. Kam W. Leong of Columbia University. An esteemed researcher creating innovative biomaterials for drug delivery and regenerative medicine, Leong gave a seminar titled, "Design of Therapeutic Biomaterials for Inflammatory Modulation" where he not only shared cutting edge biomedical research, but also paved the way for future collaboration.

"I hope this talk is the first of many future interactions and collaborations," Leong said. "It really is a pleasure and honor to be able to come here and share our work with you."

Leong spoke about utilizing the body’s own white blood cells to reduce harmful inflammation for rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and other chronic diseases—including cancer. "When cells die, they release nucleic acid outside the cell, and many of those molecules are danger signals to our system," he said. Those danger signals set the body’s immune system into motion, triggering white blood cells to break down those molecules which can cause excess or painful inflammation. But rather than letting white blood cells attack or "scavenge" those molecules, Leong and his colleagues at Duke University decided to use that scavenging idea and reverse it to combat inflammation.

One application involved injecting polymers into inflamed bone and tissue cells and showed 50 percent reduction of symptoms after ten minutes in rodent lab experiments. The next used chitosan, a sugar obtained from shellfish, to minimize toxicity in high doses of the scavenger material and better treat bones and tissues in mice afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis. The third used the scavenger model to reduce inflammation caused by chemotherapy in cancer treatments to pre-chemo levels.

All of these applications, as Leong himself pointed out, were helpful to SES researchers working in gene therapy, drug development and nanomedicine. They are also optimal for combination therapies, making them ideal opportunities for multidisciplinary collaboration.

Leong closed by pointing out all the questions raised by his research and inviting the SES audience to discuss them in the Q&A section—which they happily did. "I bring up these questions not because I have all the answers, but as a way to hopefully begin future collaborations," Leong said.

And SES is hopeful about potential collaborations, both with Dr. Leong and future FoSTER researchers.

"I am pleased to see the good turnout of faculty colleagues and graduate students from many departments at the inaugural seminar by professor Leong," said Du, "an internationally renowned pioneer in biomedical and biological innovations."

Dr. Kam W. Leong and Henry Du. CREDIT: Stevens
Dr. Kam W. Leong and Henry Du. CREDIT: Stevens

Kam W. Leong is the Samuel Y. Sheng Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Columbia University. He received his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of Pennsylvania. After serving as a faculty in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine for nearly 20 years, he moved to Duke University in 2006 to study the interactions of cells with nanostructures for therapeutic applications. After moving to Columbia University in September 2014, he continued to work on nanoparticle-mediated nonviral gene delivery and immunotherapy. He also works on the application of nanostructured biomaterials for regenerative medicine, particularly on understanding cell-topography interactions and on the application of nonviral vectors for direct cellular reprogramming and genome editing. He has published ~380 peer-reviewed research manuscripts with >44,000 citations, an h-index of 110, and holds more than 60 issued patents. His work has been recognized by a Young Investigator Research Achievement Award of the Controlled Release Society, Distinguished Scientist Award of the International Journal of Nanomedicine, Clemson Award for Applied Research of the Society for Biomaterials, and Lifetime Achievement Award of CASNN. He is the editor-in-chief of Biomaterials, a member of the U.S. National Academy of Inventors, and a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering.