Preparing Boys for Life
Biomedical engineering and Organs on a Chip: lessons from the annual Gwinn Lecture

Held March 16, the annual Gwinn Lecture featured Dr. Megan McCain, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering, stem cell biology, and regenerative medicine at the University of Southern California.

She addressed Upper School students on her unconventional career path and the future of treating heart disease. "Biomedical engineering seeks to determine how we can use engineering to help human health," explained McCain. "In other words, how can we apply science and math to solve biological problems? Examples of biomedical engineering range from making prosthetics and robotic arms, to studying neurons in a dish and understanding how they propagate electrical signals, to editing the DNA within ourselves to change the types of genes and proteins that our cells express."

Organs on Chips are new platforms for studying diseases and screening drugs...You'll continue to see these micro-scale mimics of human tissue being used for pharmaceutical screening and personalized medicine.

McCain has focused her research on identifying safe and cost effective ways to treat heart disease, the leading cause of death in the U.S. The heart doesn't regenerate like other organs, making it difficult to test treatment options and to understand how the damage created by heart disease affects surrounding healthy cells. Her solution is Heart on a Chip, a type of tissue engineering that allows researchers to better understand heart disease and to develop better drugs. "Current model systems, through rats and mice, do not mimic the human body," stated McCain. "Cell culture is the most common method of research; you remove cells, grow them in a dish, and experiment with them. The problem is that the cells aren't in their native environment; they don't receive normal chemical signals or have typical interaction with other cells. With Heart on a Chip, we are able to model native organs, use human cells, and isolate individual factors. This method has a high throughput and is very cost effective." By using a patient's own cells to engineer a Heart on a Chip, researchers can determine the effectiveness or toxicity of various drugs specific to that patient's body. Heart on a Chip is being replicated with other organs, making it possible to link organs together to imitate an entire human body. "Organs on Chips are new platforms for studying diseases and screening drugs," said McCain. "You'll continue to see these micro-scale mimics of human tissue being used for pharmaceutical screening and personalized medicine."

Dr. Megan L. McCain earned a bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering from Washington University in St. Louis in 2006. She completed her doctoral studies in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard University, which included one year abroad in the Department of Physiology at the University of Bern, Switzerland. While a graduate student, McCain was the recipient of an American Heart Association Predoctoral Fellowship and the Derek Bok Certificate of Distinction in Teaching. She received her Ph.D. in engineering and applied sciences in 2012 and continued at Harvard University as a postdoctoral fellow at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. McCain is an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Southern California. This annual science lecture was established by Byrd and Molly Gwinn in memory of their son, Will Gwinn '86, who achieved the highest academic honors at The Haverford School and died of leukemia in his junior year. The Gwinns established a prize and lectureship in his memory to bring a distinguished scientist each year to address Upper School students.