UW Bioengineering faculty member Cole DeForest joined the core faculty in January 2019 as joint assistant professor of chemical engineering and bioengineering. He brings expertise in applying synthetic chemistry and materials science to the department’s biomaterials, protein engineering and regenerative medicine research.
Dr. DeForest joined the UW in 2014 as an assistant professor of chemical engineering and as an adjunct assistant professor in bioengineering. He is also a core faculty member of the UW Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine.
As a classically trained chemical engineer, much of his research has focused on the development of novel polymer-based hydrogel scaffolds for use in regenerative medicine and tissue engineering applications.
More recently, his group has taken on additional bioengineering-based approaches, developing user-programmable biomaterial strategies to reversibly control the dynamic back-and-forth interactions between a cell and its extracellular matrix, the cell’s microenvironment made up of a dense mesh of proteins that both stimulate and respond to surrounding cells. Though such complex communication is known to affect cell gene expression, determine tissue fate, and fundamentally, control whether normal tissues stay healthy or become diseased, being able to mimic or understand the specifics of such signaling remains a current challenge.
“My research program at the UW establishes multidisciplinary methodologies to mimic, exploit and quantify biology’s 4D complexity, ultimately paving the way to new therapeutic targets and treatments of disease through a fundamentally transformed knowledge of basic cell physiology,” he says.
If they can control what, how and when microenvironmental signals communicate with a cell, they can drive key cell functions: differentiation, movement, growth and death, Dr. DeForest says. This has long been a goal in tissue engineering, but conventional techniques have fallen short in many ways.