Yun Chen, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, focuses her research on developing tools to measure key parameters in mechanobiology, understanding the fundamental biophysical mechanisms that contribute to diseases, and applying knowledge gained from basic mechanobiology research to clinical applications.
While a vast amount of effort has been invested in characterizing the biophysical properties in diseased cells and tissues, most of these efforts are limited to measuring the stiffness, diffusion, and viscosity of samples. Those properties are regarded as consequences of the diseases, rather than the causes. The abnormal biophysical traits can be the causes of the diseases, and her research has been dedicated to uncovering this commonly overlooked causality. Similarly, the unusual biophysical properties associated with diseases have been exploited as diagnosis tools, but few treatments, if any, employ biophysical principles to correct the errant biological processes known as pathology.
Since joining Hopkins in the fall of 2015, she has led a research group making progress on these two uncharted territories. Their goal is to understand how altered biophysics in biological systems contribute to pathological processes in order to develop treatments for diseases. Their efforts include developing measurement tools to quantitatively characterize biophysical phenomena, such as axial stiffness of twisted DNA strands, differential force generation profiles and viscoelasticity of cancer cells compared to their normal counterparts, and identifying the underlying mechanisms for such differences, which can be exploited for disease diagnosis and treatment.
The group’s work has been published in Nature Physics, Biomaterials, Nucleic Acids Research, Biosensors and Bioelectronics, among other publications. Moreover, Chen has secured patents for the biophysical treatments they developed and has attracted industrial investors for contracted research projects and licensing.
Her research group is actively developing biophysical treatments based on previous findings from basic research. For the long-term future, it is Chen’s vision to expand her research program by incorporating quantum mechanics in cell biology studies.
Chen received the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Trailblazer Award and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Young Faculty Award. She obtained her PhD in Biomedical Engineering from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, specializing in applying dynamic, multi-scaled imaging to decipher the complex biophysical and biochemical behaviors of molecules, cells, and tissues.