Bioengineering Welcomes New Faculty Member Cesar de la Fuente

Cesar de la Fuente, PhD

by Sophie Burkholder

The Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania is excited to welcome César de la Fuente, Ph.D., as an Assistant Professor of Bioengineering. De la Fuente, who is also an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Microbiology in the Perelman School of Medicine and was recently named a Penn Presidential Professor, is the principal investigator of the de la Fuente Lab with current projects including the development of computer-made antibiotics, microbiome engineering technologies, and synthetic neuromicrobiology tools.

Dr. de la Fuente has wanted to learn the mysteries of the world around him from a young age, from the origins of life and human consciousness to how diseases can affect the body. His dream of understanding the building blocks of life began to take shape when he enrolled as a graduate student at the University of British Columbia to study microbiology, immunology, and protein engineering. After earning his Ph.D. in these subjects, de la Fuente went on to complete a post doctorate in synthetic biology and computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Recently, MIT recognized Dr. de la Fuente on its “35 Innovators Under 35” list, which honored de la Fuente as one of the world’s top 35 innovators and as a pioneer for his use of technology to improve antibiotics. Furthermore, GEN recently listed Dr. de la Fuente on its “Top 10 Under 40” list of young leaders in the life sciences, noting his development of transformative biotechnologies as a potential solution to antibiotic resistance. De la Fuente refers to this latest research as “Machine Biology,” a crossover of life and technology that “brings together elements of machines in order to computerize biological systems.”

His creativity in the merging of so many domains of science echoes throughout de la Fuente’s general approach to research and academia as well. While he emphasizes a thinking-from-the-ground-up approach, he also feels that “heterogeneous groups make better ideas,” and thus strives to maintain diversity in his lab — currently his entire lab is made up of international students and postdocs. In the future, de la Fuente hopes to extend his love of mentorship to the classroom in a course exploring the intersection of microbiology and synthetic biology, overlapping in a way similar to his research. We can’t wait for all of the innovation and creativity in engineering that de la Fuente will undoubtedly bring to our department.

Bioengineering Welcomes New Faculty Member Sydney Shaffer

Sydney Shaffer, MD, PhD

The Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania is proud to announce the appointment of Sydney Shaffer, Ph.D., as an Assistant Professor of Bioengineering. She shares a joint appointment with Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. Originally from Atlanta, GA, Dr. Shaffer received her B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology, coming to Penn to complete her M.D./Ph.D. work in Bioengineering and the Perelman School of Medicine. After graduating in 2018, she conducted her postdoctoral work at Penn in Cancer Biology with Dr. Junwei Shi.

Dr. Shaffer’s research is is focused on understanding how differences present in single-cells can generate phenotypes such as drug resistance in cancer, oncogenesis, differentiation, and invasion. Our approach leverages cutting-edge technologies including high-throughput imaging, single-molecule RNA FISH, fluorescent protein tagging, CRISPR/Cas9 screening, and flow cytometry to investigate rare single-cell phenomena. Further information can be found at www.sydshafferlab.com.

In addition to her exciting research, Dr. Shaffer will be an enthusiastic new member of the Bioengineering Department community. In the short term, she will be taking over the popular class BE 400 (Preceptorships in Bioengineering) which gives undergraduates the rare chance to shadow renowned physicians over a period of ten weeks. She will also serve as a faculty advisor as well as a mentor to the lucky students in her classes and lab.

Dr. Shaffer says that, “With my research interests and training at the interface of engineering and medicine, I am thrilled to be part of the highly interdisciplinary community of Penn Bioengineering.”

“Sydney has a unique combination of creativity and impact in her work,” says Solomon R. Pollack Professor and Chair Dr. David Meaney. “Her work to untangle the secrets of how single cancer cells can develop resistance to a cancer drug  therefore leading to a return of the cancer  is nothing short of stunning. We are incredibly fortunate to have her on our faculty. ”

New Faculty Joining Penn Bioengineering

We are thrilled to announce the successful recruitment of three (!) new faculty members to the department. We conducted a national faculty search and could not decide on one — we wanted all three of our finalists!  We are very happy that they chose Penn and think we can provide an amazing environment for their education and research programs.

new faculty hughes
Alex Hughes, Ph.D.

Alex Hughes, Ph.D., will join us in the Spring 2018 semester. Dr. Hughes comes to us from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), where he is a postdoctoral fellow. Alex’s research regards determining what he calls the “design rules” underlying how cells assemble into tissues during development, both to better understand these tissues and to engineer methods to build them from scratch

new faculty bugaj
Lukasz Bugaj, Ph.D.

Lukasz Bugaj, Ph.D., will arrive in the Spring 2018 semester. Dr. Bugaj is also coming here from UCSF following a postdoc, and his work is in the field of optogenetics — a scientific process whereby light is used to alter protein conformation, thereby giving one a tool to manipulate cells. In particular, Lukasz’s research has established the ability to induce proteins to cluster ‘on demand’ using light, and he wants to use these and other new technologies he invented to study cell signaling in stem cells and in cancer.

new faculty mitchell
Mike Mitchell, Ph.D.

Mike Mitchell, Ph.D., will also join us in the Spring 2018 semester after finishing his postdoctoral fellowship at MIT in the Langer Lab. In his research, Dr. Mitchell seeks to engineer cells in the bone marrow and blood vessels as a way of gaining control over how and why cancer metastasizes. Mike’s work has already had impressive results in animal models of cancer. His lab will employ tools and concepts from cellular engineering, biomaterials science, and drug delivery to fundamentally understand and therapeutically target complex biological barriers in the body.

In the coming month, we’ll feature podcasts of interview with each of the new faculty members, as well as with Konrad Kording, so be sure to keep an eye out for those.

And to our new faculty, welcome to Penn!