The overall goal of our research program is to combine the principles of stem cell biology, biomaterial science, molecular and cell biology and tissue engineering to contribute to better understanding of stem cell properties, development of novel stem cell bioprocessing strategies and enabling technologies towards applications in regenerative medicine.
Research Themes: Stem Cell Bioprocessing; Biomaterials; Biomarkers; Pluripotency; Genomic Stability; Cancer Stem Cells; Cellular Reprogramming; Neural differentiation; Cardiovascular Differentiation; Cellular Engineering; Regenerative Medicine.
Current Research Focus: Human pluripotent stem cells (hPSC) that include human embryonic stem cells (hESC) and human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSC) possess dual properties of limitless self-renewal and potential differentiation into multilineage tissue types. These cells have garnered a lot of attention in the public eye, primarily because of their potential uses in (a) cell-based therapies (b) drug development and (c) research tools for basic biology. Stem Cell Bioengineering primarily involves integration between basic biology and engineering design principles. A particular challenge for the bioengineering field involves the development of appropriate microenvironments for efficient survival, self-renewal and uniform differentiation of hPSCs. Ongoing research projects in the Rao research group include (1) propagation systems for generation of chromosomally stable hPSCs, (2) systems biology approaches to quantify and characterize pluripotency, genomic stability and early differentiation, (3) biomaterial-based approaches to engineer microenvironments to determine stem cell fate and (4) in vitro systems for disease modeling. Our lab utilizes interdisciplinary bioengineering approaches towards a mechanistic understanding of stem cell self-renewal, genomic integrity and use of biochemical/biophysical cues to commitment to specialized cell types.