Foam has major advantages such as an easy, low cost fabrication process that produces micro and nano-fluidic channels as well as locally high concentration of biochemicals. There is a strong need to validate the potential value of this approach, and more research efforts are being made to develop long-term stable, biocompatible foams. Once the physicochemical and biochemical stability issues of foam are solved, Choi predicts that bubble architectures will provide alternative methods to conventional silicon-based devices and to widely-used bioreactors.
Choi further explains, “The ultimate goal of our efforts is to use the aqueous channels of foam as a low cost and convenient way to create a sub-cellular structure, providing a platform for integrating cellular metabolism and engineering of biofunctional systems within the bubble architecture. Cells can be cultured and cellular metabolisms can be replicated in the foam, i.e. out of traditional biochemical reactors.
For example, biological organisms such as viruses, yeasts, bacterial/mammalian cells, and artificial organelles can easily be housed and multiply within aqueous channels of foam. This technology can be used to produce biological products such as proteins, vaccines, peptides, and pharmaceutical molecules as well as to construct biocomputers (the use of systems comprised of biologically derived molecules, like DNA and proteins, to perform computational calculations involving storing, retrieving, and processing data) through inter/intra-cellular communications in the foam.”
Choi received his MS in bioengineering and biomedical engineering from UCLA in 2006. He went on to earn his PhD in the same field from UC in 2007. From 2009 to 2010, Choi was a post-doctoral fellow at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He came back to UC to serve as a research assistant professor in 2010. To date, he considers his most significant research achievement to be the reconstruction of a mitochondrial adenosine triphosphate (ATP) synthesis process from the bacteriorhodopsin/ATP synthase reconstituted polymer vesicles.
Choi has always had a fascination with living organisms and their ability to carry out certain life processes with optimal functionality. He describes, “As living organisms represent a good model for engineers to learn from, I had a belief that many technical problems could be solved if we apply the ideas of nature or utilizing natural materials to control life processes. A crucial step for the construction of innovative systems is to understand how the natural components function, how to functionalize materials, and where to apply it. Throughout my academic and research career, I kept this in my mind, which provided motivation to study diverse fields such as materials science and engineering, biomedical engineering, chemical engineering, and environmental engineering.
Currently, the methods, approaches, and foam formulations of bubble technology that Choi and Montemagno invented are in the process of being patented. Choi and his colleagues’ recent revelations will undoubtedly lead to more patents and more breakthroughs. Choi reflects, “We owe our research performance to UC’s outstanding environment, producing highly skillful researchers and encouraging interdisciplinary collaboration. I was lucky to have found excellent undergraduate students through UC’s co-op program. This research project would have been impossible without the help of Charles Ebersbacher, my undergraduate student in the biomedical engineering program.”
Inspired by the skills and talents of his undergraduate students, Choi plans to continue his research looking for new nanobiological systems in the future as well as serving as an advisor to students.
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