Interview: Prof. Albert Folch, Bioengineering at UW

blankAlbert Folch received his BSc in physics from the University of Barcelona (UB), Spain, in 1989. In 1994, he received his Ph.D. in surface science and nanotechnology from the UB’s Physics Dept. During his Ph.D. he was a visiting scientist from 1990–91 at the Lawrence Berkeley Lab working on AFM under Dr. Miquel Salmeron. From 1994–1996, he was a postdoc at MIT developing MEMS under the advice of Martin Schmidt (EECS) and Mark Wrighton (Chemistry). In 1997, he joined the laboratory of Mehmet Toner as a postdoc at Harvard’s Center for Engineering in Medicine to apply soft lithographic methods to tissue engineering. He has been at Seattle’s UW BioE since June 2000 where he is now a full Professor, accumulating over 6,700 citations (averaging >82 citations/paper over his whole career). His lab works at the interface between microfluidics, cancer, and neurobiology. In 2001 he received an NSF Career Award and in 2014 he was elected to the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE) College of Fellows (Class of 2015). He serves on the Advisory Board of Lab on a Chip since 2006. Albert Folch is the author of four books, including “Introduction to BioMEMS”, a textbook now adopted by more than 77 departments in 17 countries (including 40 universities in the U.S. alone). Since 2007, the lab runs a celebrated outreach art program called BAIT (Bringing Art Into Technology) which has produced seven exhibits, a popular resource gallery of >2,000 free images related to microfluidics and microfabrication, and a YouTube channel that plays microfluidic videos with music which accumulates ~133,000 visits since 2009.

Professor will be speaking during our upcoming Seattle event

Jenny: When was the first encounter you had with 3D printing? What was that experience like? What were you thinking at that moment?

Albert: A student showed me a brochure from Protolabs (Fineline Prototyping at that moment) that had a picture of a 3D-printed microfluidic device in it. I did not know that 3D-printers were capable of that resolution! It opened my eyes.

Jenny: What inspired you to start your journey in 3D printing (bio-fabrication/bio-printing)?

Albert: The convenience (digital design+automated fabrication) and low cost. As soon as we tried it, we never went back to molding!

Jenny: Who inspired you the most along this journey in 3D printing (bio-printing/bio-fabrication)?  

Albert: My student Anthony Au, who did very creative designs for microfluidics and literally changed the way we do microfluidics in the lab.

Jenny: What motivates you the most for your work?

Albert: I like the feeling of learning new things every day and being on the edge of knowledge.

Jenny: What is/are the biggest obstacle(s) in your line of work? If you have conquered them, what were your solutions?

Albert: My lab has two sides, 3D printing (technology) development and cancer assays.

On the technology side, the biggest obstacle right now are the machines: the highest-resolution ones for microfluidics (Dilase3D, 5 micron resolution over a 10 cm x 10 cm area) are too expensive (~$200,000) to be widespread, although we have one here at UW, and can only print in one material at a time. We wish they were down to $10,000 and could print in several materials.

On the cancer side, given that we have learned that cancer is a disease that evolves differently in every individual, we need personalized treatments. We need assays that detect cancer early (for prevention) and treatments that stop cancer when it has spread (metastasis). Right now there are very few treatments for metastatic disease, so I think we should try new strategies because the old tenet that metastasis results from an accumulation of random mutations is not credible.

Jenny: What do you think is (are) the biggest challenge(s) in 3D Printing/bio-printing? What do you think the potential solution(s) is (are)?

Albert: Materials and resolution.

Jenny: If you are granted three wishes by a higher being, what would they be?

Albert: Infinite wisdom and absolute happiness – don’t need a third one!

Jenny: What advice would you give to a smart driven college student in the “real world”? What bad advice you heard should they ignore?

Albert: Listen to their own drive! And likewise, do not listen to advice from older people who have lived different lives, live your own passion for learning and you will be the best at what you love to do, or at the very least you will be happy doing it.

Jenny: If you could have a giant billboard to promote a message to millions and even billions of people in our community (i.e. healthcare 3D printing and bio-fabrication), what message would that be?

Albert: The giant billboards exist (LinkedIn/Facebook/YouTube) but I can’t think of anything that would be of interest to so many people at a time unless we can announce that we have cured cancer or something equally important.

Jenny: What were/was the best investment you made in 3D printing/bio-printing/bio-fabrication?

Albert: A used Ilios printer I bought from a guy down in Portland and with which we started all our biocompatible resin work – great open-source printer!

Jenny: What were/was the worst investment you made in 3D printing/bio-printing/bio-fabrication?

Albert: I forgot 🙂

Jenny: What was/is the biggest risk you took in your career?

Albert: Leaving Barcelona, my hometown

Jenny: What do you enjoy in your spare time? What are you passionate about outside of your work/3d printing?

Albert: Soccer.

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Photo credit: Folch Lab

Jenny: What is your favorite quote? Why?

Albert:  I have 3 quotes on top of my desk, and they all emphasize the same motto that there is more to Science than simply accumulating knowledge:

“Imagination is more important than knowledge” (Albert Einstein)

“Research is to see what everyone has seen and think what nobody has thought” (Albert Szent-György)

“There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why – I dream of things that never were, and ask: why not?” (Robert Kennedy)

Jenny: What does the word “3DHEALS” mean to you? =) 

Albert: “3D-Printing can help healthcare”

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