Professor, Institute of Bioengineering
École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
Age: 43 at time of award
Published October 2, 2012
Melody Swartz applies principles and methods from engineering and physiology to discover the mechanisms controlling the movement of biologic fluids through tissue and the implications for human health. Her research addresses fundamental questions regarding the chemical microenvironments that bathe solid tissues and the vascular remodeling that regulates them. These studies illuminate the basic processes of organ development and maintenance and, in particular, the immune responses to tumor invasion. Swartz adopts a multipronged approach to these investigations. She has developed in vitro models of tissue vasculature that allow direct manipulation or measurement of key biophysical properties in cellular microenvironments: for example, fluid pressure, flow rates, viscosity, and fluid sheer stresses. Her results indicate that, in addition to cell surface markers and chemical signals, direct mechanical forces can also have an important influence on tissue vascularization. Swartz has supplemented experimental studies with detailed mathematical models of hydrodynamics in the space between cells. Her body of research has important implications not only for normal tissue development and maintenance but also for cancer biology. She recently demonstrated, for example, that some solid tumors can secrete chemical signals that mimic the mechanisms used by lymphatic tissue (such as nodes of the spleen) to differentiate infected or invasive cells from normal ones. This observation suggests a possible mechanism that tumors use to protect against immune response. Drawing from a large toolbox of concepts and methods—including biophysics, cell culture, molecular genetics, engineering, and immunology—Swartz is enhancing our understanding of the dynamic process of tissue vascularization and its implications in normal and pathological conditions such as cancer.
Melody Swartz received a B.S. (1991) from Johns Hopkins University and a Ph.D. (1998) from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She joined the faculty of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in 2003 and is currently a professor in the Institute of Bioengineering and the Swiss Institute for Experimental Cancer Research. Her prior affiliations include Northwestern University (1999–2006), and her scientific articles have appeared in Science, Nature, Annual Review of Biomedical Engineering, and PNAS.
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