Michael L. Smith, Ph.D.

Associate Chair for Undergraduate Programs Associate Professor, (BME, MSE)

Associate Chair for Undergraduate Programs
Associate Professor, (BME, MSE)

  • Primary Appointment Associate Professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering
  • Education Ph.D., Biomedical Engineering, University of Virginia
    M.S., Biomedical Engineering, University of Virginia
    B.S., Mechanical Engineering, University of Memphis
  • Additional Affiliations Division of Materials Science & Engineering
    Member, Center for Nanoscience and Nanobiotechnology
    Member, Molecular Biology, Cell Biology & Biochemistry Program
  • Honors and Awards NSF CAREER Award, 2012 – 2017
    Member of American Society for Matrix Biology, Biomedical Engineering Society, & Materials Research Society
  • Areas of Interest Mechanotransduction via the extracellular matrix; fibronectin; engineered cell culture platforms for regulating and measuring cell behavior in vitro.
  • Research Areas The form and function of cells and tissues is regulated by various properties of their local microenvironment such as rigidity and cell shape. In vivo, these properties are defined by the extracellular matrix (ECM) and adjacent cells. During dynamic processes such as development, these properties regulate ECM turnover and remodeling in addition to cell movement, proliferation, and contractility. This newly remodeled matrix and altered tissue shape then redefines the local microenvironment, thus further enjoining the cell response in an iterative, closed loop which leads to the coordinated self assembly of higher order structures. The ECM is more than a passive mechanical element in this process since it presents an array of binding sites for cells and cell signaling molecules. Furthermore, cell contractile forces stretch some components of the ECM, for example fibrillar structures composed of the protein fibronectin (Fn), into non-equilibrium conformations that have altered signaling properties. This can occur through protein unfolding, thus exposing amino acids with cell signaling functions that are normally buried in the equilibrium fold of the protein. Understanding how these microenvironmental properties regulate cell fate should increase the clinical efficacy of tissue engineering scaffolds that depend upon both biochemical and physical cues. Alternatively, engineered cell culture platforms might permit long-term maintenance of cell phenotype in vitro, thus permitting diagnostic research on the laboratory bench that might otherwise require animal experimentation. However, much remains to be learned about how these properties converge to direct cell fate in vivo. Predictions derived from reductionist systems often break down in more complicated environments. Broadly speaking, my lab focuses on quantifying the relationship between environmental cues and ECM production, elucidating the mechanisms by which Fn tension and unfolding alters its cell signaling capacity, and finally engineering culture environments to control the form and function of the ECM. These goals are accomplished using an interdisciplinary toolbox including a spectroscopic approach for quantifying strain within Fn matrix fibrils and microfabricated cell culture environments.


Affiliation: Affiliated Faculty (MSE), Primary & Affiliated Faculty (BME), Primary & Affiliated Faculty (MSE)