Illinois Wesleyan University

Illinois Wesleyan Alumni, Professor Patent Holographic Patterning Invention

April 22, 2003

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. - A new invention for patterning biomaterial systems has been patented by Illinois Wesleyan alumnus Bill Murphy, whose collaborators include his former faculty adviser, Gabriel Spalding, and Matthew Dearing, a 2000 Illinois Wesleyan graduate.

Murphy, a 1998 graduate who majored in physics and mathematics, is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Chicago. The patent, Mineral and Cellular Patterning on Biomaterial Surfaces," was granted on April 1. Murphy received a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, and two colleagues there are also collaborators on the patent.

"It has been a nice opportunity to combine some basic physical concepts with applied systems for biotechnology," said Murphy. "One of the most beneficial things about this, from my perspective, is that it meshes basic physics, chemistry and biology, so it is highly multidisciplinary."

The technology that Murphy has invented extends the ability to use light for tissue engineering -- to pattern proteins, cells, and minerals in three dimensions rather than simply along two-dimensional surfaces. That permits the creation of a biomaterial in which the position of each cell type relative to another is pre-programmed and controlled, a key advance towards the regeneration of complex tissues such as spinal cord or liver.

"We can begin to ask questions like what effect does an initial cell pattern have on the ultimate structure of a regenerated tissue? Or what effect does the interaction of particular cell types have on tissue development," said Murphy.

While tissue regeneration is the principal application for which the technology can be used, Murphy notes that there are other possibilities, including the creation of three-dimensional materials for biosensing.

Both Murphy and Dearing worked in the Laboratory for Mesoscopics and Quantum Microscopies that Spalding directs at Illinois Wesleyan. Dearing is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in physics at Cornell University.

Spalding is completing a one-year sabbatical leave at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, where he is establishing a collaborative program with that university's Optical Trapping Group. He returns to Illinois Wesleyan in the fall, bringing with him a host of ideas for further research into holographic optical micro-manipulation, to be taken up by current undergraduates.

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