Semcer Lab Launches as a Hub of Interdisciplinary Biomedical Research
The state-of-the-art tissue engineering lab adds more than 3,000 square feet of new research space and lies at the heart of the collaborative Center for Healthcare Innovation
Stevens Institute of Technology biomedical engineering professor, chemistry and chemical biology affiliated professor and newly appointed Center for Healthcare Innovation (CHI) director Hongjun Wang sees the new Semcer Lab as not only a launchpad for groundbreaking biomedical research, but also a literal and metaphorical hub of opportunity for advancing Stevens' future — both for its student population and for the university itself.
Constructed as part of the university's newest state-of-the-art research and teaching facility, the Gateway Academic Center, the Semcer Lab modernizes and expands available lab and research space on campus by more than 3,000 square feet.
This multidisciplinary tissue engineering lab was established thanks to a generous gift from alumnus Frank J. Semcer, Sr. '65 and his wife, Mary Jane Semcer. Semcer, Sr. is chairman and CEO of MICRO, an international contract manufacturer of medical devices and other precision equipment for the healthcare, automotive, aerospace and electronics industries. He is also a member of the Stevens Board of Trustees.
Located on the third floor of Gateway's north building, the Semcer Lab features a 3D tissue culture lab, a dedicated room for DNA amplification, a chemical cove and a seating area for students. The lab can accommodate approximately 20 researchers.
The Semcer Lab incorporates Wang's Tissue Reconstruction Lab, previously located in McLean Hall, which focuses primarily on multifunctional tissue and organ formation, multiscale biomaterials design, regenerative engineering and nanomedicine in cancer.
The expansive space holds opportunities to broaden this scope as well, Wang said.
"These facilities have become the new home of my group, but there is also an opportunity to hire an additional active researcher to make the lab even more impactful," he said. "With one more principal investigator, we can make this a joint lab effort."
Wang describes the lab's facilities as "very strong," estimating the value of its current research equipment at approximately $1.0 million.
The tissue culture lab is equipped with 3D cell culture bioreactors, as well as both commercial and custom 3D bioprinters, the latter of which Wang's Lab built themselves, for the fabrication of tissue and tissue scaffolding.
Additionally, the Semcer Lab holds a comprehensive collection of biological characterization equipment, Wang said, including a real-time PCR system and a flow cytometer.
"I also have a good collection of equipment for tissue embedding, sectioning and histology staining, and a microscope to visualize the stained sections of the tissue and the organs," he said. "We also have capabilities of doing some microfabrication."
The multifaceted nature of the lab and its facilities, said Wang, supports its mission as a center for interdisciplinary research. The lab was designed, in fact, with cross-collaboration in mind.
"That's why some of the lab's set-up is for biological characterization," he explained. "Students will gain a lot of engineering exposure, like getting hands-on experience in [tissue] designing and fabrication. But on the biology side, they will also learn how to characterize."
"Students will have a chance to work with not only engineering students, but we can also have science students be part of this effort," he added. "Because it's interdisciplinary, this lab has great opportunities to bring students together to learn across disciplines, strengthen their talents and work together in an exciting direction."
Although primarily a research lab, the Semcer Lab, Wang noted, also opens up more expansive learning opportunities for students at all levels — including undergraduates, for whom access to such advanced research is not often available.
"This lab is better for the student experience. I think that's critical," he said. "It will not only propel research excellence, but also give undergraduate students opportunities to really get to know what is state-of-the-art in tissue engineering — in the field itself and in the art of the field."
Wang emphasized that these kinds of "eye-opening" experiences are the perfect training ground for the students' future endeavors. By offering such opportunities early on, he said, the Semcer Lab will help shape not only the student's future careers, but also the way they approach the profession.
"We built this lab as a platform to train students to become future leaders with an interdisciplinary mindset. By working with team members with different talents and different backgrounds, they will already have good exposure to interdisciplinary efforts and become engaged and committed to this direction," he said.
Wang feels now is the perfect time to showcase the Semcer Lab's capabilities as it coincides with his recent appointment as CHI director at the beginning of June. Previously, Wang was founding chair of the biomedical engineering department, a position which he held for more than four years.
The Semcer Lab, he suggested, lies at the heart of his vision for a more expansive, more meaningful CHI, taking what was previously a looser, more "virtual" collaboration center and turning it into a literal, physical one.
"CHI was created to promote and distinguish Stevens in healthcare-related research. Like the Semcer Lab, I see it as a hub that brings faculty with multidisciplinary backgrounds onboard to nurture cutting-edge interdisciplinary research — not only in the School of Engineering and Science, but also across the campus," he said.
As this central hub, CHI in general and the Semcer Lab in particular, Wang said, will bring together researchers from across the campus and beyond to benefit faculty, students and the community alike.
"The Semcer Lab will be a place to catalyze more interdisciplinary research. The focus is on multiscale tissue engineering, but it's a very broad field. It can engage different researchers in the future working on this domain from basic science, stem cell research, regenerative medicine, up to the application side."
"We have an outstanding track record already. In my vision for CHI, I see it as the connection with our faculty internally, but also building a strong connection with external industrial partners, other institution partners and clinical partners and even potentially private foundations and maybe federal agencies in the future."
Wang would also like to see CHI launch new efforts in commercialization, focusing not only on fundamental research but translational as well.
"We are a technology school. The things we are doing have to basically be translated to become impactful for society," he explained. "So that's exactly the things I'm thinking the Center could be used for."
Wang hopes to see the Semcer Lab's opening as a first but significant step in a larger journey of launching new initiatives and collaborations that will meaningfully impact healthcare and medicine, placing Stevens at the forefront of research while always prioritizing that interdisciplinary mindset.