Susan N. Thomas, PhD, assistant professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, has been named the 2013 Rita Schaffer Young Investigator by the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES). This award is in recognition of high level of originality and ingenuity in a scientific work in biomedical engineering to a faculty member within the first five years of their career.
“I am honored to be recognized by a society so important to the bioengineering and biomedical engineering communities,” said Thomas, who is also program faculty in the Wallace H. Coulter School of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University.
The Rita Schaffer Young Investigator award is given in honor of the former BMES executive director and was established in 2000 to stimulate research careers in biomedical engineering. As the 2013 awardee, Thomas will present at the annual BMES meeting in Seattle and will go on to publish in the Annals of Biomedical Engineering.
Thomas, recognized for her pioneering work in the field of immune-bioengineering, continues to investigate the role of biotransport processes in regulating immune-regulated pathologies, in particular cancer.
Her lab focuses on the role of mechanical force in regulating immune response. In particular she is interested in how fluid flow fine-tunes anti-tumor immunity either by influencing tumor permeability or by regulating cell trafficking through the vasculature. Furthermore, Thomas is working on the development of biomaterial-based technologies that combine classic bio-transport phenomena with cell biology and immunology for novel drug delivery approaches in immunotherapy.
“Immunology is conventionally considered a purely biological science.” Thomas stated. “But both acute and chronic inflammation are accompanied by tissue fluid imbalance, a basic engineering mass balance problem. Understanding how force impacts the ability of the immune system to sense and fight off infection or illness will help us design new approaches to treat disease.”
While her work currently focuses on melanoma and colon cancer, Thomas feels that with further investigation the principles learned are applicable to other cancers.
Thomas received her B.S. cum laude in Chemical Engineering with an emphasis in Bioengineering from the University of California Los Angeles in 2003. She received her Ph.D. in 2008 from The Johns Hopkins University while working as a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow in the Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering Department under the supervision of Konstantinos Konstantopoulos where she studied the influence of fluid flow on blood-borne metastasis. Subsequently, she was a Whitaker Postdoctoral Scholar at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, one of the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology, in the laboratories of Melody Swartz and Jeffrey Hubbell developing nanomaterials for cancer immunotherapy and studying the role of lymphatic transport in immunity.