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Pathak receives CAREER Award from National Science Foundation

The movement of cells, both alone and in groups, controls how our bodies function in health and diseases such as cancer. While this movement is a complex process, there are many questions about how this happens.
Amit Pathak

With an esteemed five-year, $500,000 Faculty Early Career Development Award (CAREER) from the National Science Foundation, Amit Pathak, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, plans to take a multi-disciplinary approach to better understanding the cell migration process. By combining cell biology, computer simulation, micro-fabrication and biomaterials, Pathak expects to learn how mechanical properties of the body’s tissues regulate how cells move, both individually and in groups, which will lead to new strategies to engineer the movement of cells. His project is titled “History-Dependent Cell Motility in Heterogeneous Microenvironments.”

CAREER Awards support junior faculty who model the role of teacher-scholar through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organization. Pathak is the 22nd faculty member in the School of Engineering & Applied Science to receive the award.

In addition to the research, Pathak plans to work with graduate and undergraduate students, as well as elementary, middle and high school students to teach how engineering-based approaches are often well suited to study complex biological processes. He plans to use a robotic cell-crawling exhibit and corresponding lessons for high-school students. In addition, he plans to make his computer simulations and videos showing cell motility available to local high school science teachers.

Pathak's research interests include biomechanics, biomaterials, mechanobiology of the cell and interactions between cells and extracellular matrices. He works to understand how numerous parameters that define three-dimensional extracellular matrices, such as stiffness, porosity and fibrous microstructure, all interactively affect cell motility through subcellular mechanisms. His lab uses a multidisciplinary approach that includes fabricating new matrix platforms, developing advanced measurement tools in cell biology and constructing predictive computational models.

In October 2014, Pathak was awarded a three-year, $180,000 New Investigator grant from the Edward Mallinckrodt, Jr. Foundation. He was one of eight recipients from 165 applicants. He is the first nominee and recipient from the School of Engineering & Applied Science in the history of this award.

Pathak joined Washington University as assistant professor in January 2013 after completing a postdoctoral fellowship in bioengineering at the University of California, Berkeley. He earned a doctorate in 2008 at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay.

The School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis focuses intellectual efforts through a new convergence paradigm and builds on strengths, particularly as applied to medicine and health, energy and environment, entrepreneurship and security. With 91 tenured/tenure-track and 40 additional full-time faculty, 1,300 undergraduate students, more than 900 graduate students and more than 23,000 alumni, we are working to leverage our partnerships with academic and industry partners — across disciplines and across the world — to contribute to solving the greatest global challenges of the 21st century.