Princess Imoukhuede, an assistant professor of bioengineering, is not just an interdisciplinary collaborator; she is an interdisciplinary scientist, combining expertise in systems biology, bioengineering, and computational modeling to understand cancer and cardiovascular disease.
“I like to get my hands on a lot of different things,” said Imoukhuede, who is a member of the Regenerative Biology and Tissue Engineering theme. “My lab merges experiment with computation to better understand biological processes and methods of targeting disease.”
Imoukhuede’s research on the formation of blood vessels is akin to controlling war zone supply routes. Her lab is working to increase the number of routes funneling supplies to main operating bases, like the brain and heart, while cutting off supply routes to enemy camps, like tumors and cancers.
She is currently developing models that will provide researchers and clinicians with a “Google Earth perspective” on the widespread impacts of blocking certain routes while developing others.
“My lab is trying to use all the skills we can to fully characterize this complexity,” Imoukhuede said. “We want to be able to tailor the therapy to the individual patient so that fewer and fewer people are in the position that many patients are in right now.”
To achieve this goal, Imoukhuede’s lab partners with mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, clinicians, and many other types of experts.
“I think the future really lies in this type of interdisciplinary approach where people have the expertise to not just look at things in one way, but to work with others who have very different perspectives,” Imoukhuede said. “By putting our heads together, we have the ability to answer these tough questions.”
“The take home message from this research is that there are a lot of people who care about these very difficult questions,” Imoukhuede said. “But it is hard to say what the take home message is for a cancer patient. A patient is going through this—a patient is dealing with this on a day-to-day basis. I hope that more than anything, they know that we not only care about making their lives longer by a couple months—that, of course, is important because the time you spend with your family is very important—but we are looking towards helping people survive this disease.”
Imoukhuede was born and raised in Illinois. She attended the Illinois Math and Science Academy, where she participated in research at the Midwestern College of Pharmacy. She went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a doctorate in bioengineering from the California Institute of Technology. Before returning to her home state, she was a postdoctoral researcher in biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins University.
This article originally appeared in the December 2014 Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology newsletter.