Tinkering with biology

Michael Cho

Michael Cho: “Connection with clinicians is key to success.” Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin

The University Scholars Program, now in its 28th year, honors faculty members for superior research and teaching, along with great promise for future achievements. The award provides $10,000 a year for three years.

It may sound a bit odd, but Michael Cho’s career was inspired by tinkering with vacuum tubes in old TV sets.

“It was beyond fascination to learn how images were created, transmitted and displayed through vacuum tubes,” said Cho, professor of bioengineering. “From my graduate school days, I was pretty sure I wanted to be a professor and continue to tinker with, not vacuum tubes any longer, but with biological systems.”

Cho’s research is in the area of stem cell-based tissue engineering. His accomplishments “have brought national and international visibility to UIC and the department,” wrote Peter Nelson, dean, College of Engineering, in nominating Cho as University Scholar.

Often referred to as regenerative tissue engineering, stem cell-based tissue engineering exploits the regenerative potential of stem cells. “The idea is to engineer tissue-like constructs outside the body and implant them to repair damaged or lost tissue,” Cho said.

While progress has been slow, stem cells will become an integral part of medicine in the near future, he said. “The notion of intervening with stem cells and regenerate tissues and organs is simply fascinating. Ways in which the average citizen can benefit from stem cell research are limited only by our understanding of this complex biological system.”

Bioengineering is the only UIC department based in two colleges, and Cho sees his field as the bridge between medicine and engineering.

“Connection with clinicians is key to success in bioengineering,” he said. “Engineering biomedical devices with clinical significance and usefulness is the goal of any bioengineering research.”

Since 2003, Cho has led the Laboratory of Biomolecular Imaging, one of the most successful and active labs in the College of Engineering, with eight student researchers and more than $6.5 million in external funding. He is also a professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences, where he was an adviser to MD/Ph.D. students whose work led to patent application for artificial corneas.

His University Scholar recognition, he said, “will allow me to tinker with highly risky but highly rewarding ideas which, I hope, will advance my research programs to the next level.”

Other University Scholars:

Vladimir Gevorgyan simplifies complexities

E. Douglas Lewandowski focuses on the heart

Constantine Megaridis changes interactions

Janet Richmond breaks ground

David Ucker tells tales of dead cells

Diana Wilkie pinpoints patients’ pain

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