Melissa Knothe Tate, Ph.D.
Professor and Paul Trainer Chair of
Biomedical Engineering
University of New South Wales
NSW, Australia

Mapping the Mechanome: Multiscale Approaches to Decipher Mechanisms of Stem Cell Mechanoadaptation

Twenty-five years ago, we learned that genes hold the keys to unlocking the fate of individual cells as well as complex multicellular constructs called people. Today we know that epigenetics, or changes in gene expression or phenotype due to factors other than preprogramming of the DNA, trumps genomics. My R&D program helps to decipher how mechanical signals, intrinsic to life on Earth, modulate the adaptation and specialization of cells to their environment during prenatal development as well as engineering and manufacture of tissues and materials. Novel imaging methods as well as multiscale computational and experimental models allow my research team to probe nascent anisotropic mechanical properties at length scales of the cytoskeleton (comprised of proteins, sub-cell scale), cell and multicellular construct (tissue). Through elucidation of Nature’s mechanobiological engineering paradigms, mechanical cures can be exploited to prevent defects during development as well as to generate tissues in the laboratory and in the surgical operating room. These insights may also provide intriguing clues into the emergence of multicellular structure and conferral of anisotropic mechanical properties in evolution of single cell organisms to evolution of multicellular skeletal structures. Ultimately, in our aim to engineer emergence, we are developing the tools and reference data sets to build smart, adaptive materials and next generation implants and devices, using Nature’s paradigms. Finally, I will highlight how the “path less traveled” may facilitate the discovery of new approaches and disruptive technologies, enabling transcontinental and transdisciplinary research teams to tackle the toughest research questions.


Dr. Knothe Tate joined the nascent field of orthopaedic mechanobiology more than two decades ago, as a student at Stanford University, where she earned dual B.S. degrees in Biological Sciences and Mechanical Engineering (1988) and trained in the lab of Professor Dennis Carter. Thereafter, she transferred her research and academic pursuits to the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zürich, Switzerland, where she earned a Dipl. Masch. Ing., 1994 in Mechanical Engineering and a Ph.D. degree (Dr. sc. techn. ETH, 1998) in Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering. In 1998, she was awarded the Georg Fischer Prize for the most outstanding dissertation at the ETH Zürich. For several years, Dr. Knothe Tate headed the Bone Mechanobiology Research Group at the AO Research Institute in Davos, as well as the Computational Mechanobiology Research Group at the Institute of Biomedical Engineering in Zurich. In 2000, Dr. Knothe Tate spent her first sabbatical as Visiting Professor at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine Department of Orthopaedics. In January 2001, Dr. Knothe Tate joined the Depts. of Biomedical Engineering and Orthopaedic Surgery at the Cleveland Clinic, where she received several awards for innovation in the R&D sector. In July 2004, joined the faculty of Case Western Reserve University, where she was the first joint Professor of Mechanical & Aerospace and Biomedical Engineering. In 2013 she was recruited to become the Inaugural Paul Trainor Chair of Biomedical Engineering at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

Dr. Knothe Tate has been elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (2010), American Society of Mechanical Engineers (2013) and Biomedical Engineering Society (2013). In addition, she has earned prestigious awards from the Society for Mathematics and Biology, the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation, as well as The Christopher Columbus Foundation, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. Since her 2011 sabbatical year, Dr. Knothe Tate also cultivated innovation through outreach and teaching activities with Inuit youth in Nunavut (Canada), Harvard University undergraduate students, as well as graduate students from University of Paris Est and Case Western Reserve University. Dr. Knothe Tate’s has placed a priority on cultivation of talent among her trainees, who have earned numerous awards and have gone on to lead their own independent research and development groups around the world. Dr. Knothe Tate has been invited to participate in and to organize conferences for the National Academy of Engineering, the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, as well as the Humboldt Foundation in Germany. She has published over 65 peer reviewed manuscripts and numerous book chapters. Dr. Knothe Tate has protected, patented and licensed a number of orthopaedic technologies at the interface of materials, mechanics and biology. One of these technologies was recently featured in MIT’s Technology Review. Knothe Tate acts as a consultant and expert witness through her private consulting firm, Mechanobiologics International and as Chief Innovation Officer to bioz, a company she recently co-founded through an Australian innovation seed funding award.

WHEN: Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014  4:10 PM