Interview with Mohsen Akbari: 3D Printing Microfluidics

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Dr. Mohsen Akbari is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and the Director of the Laboratory for Innovations in Microengineering (LiME) at the University of Victoria. In addition to his professorship, he is a member of the Center for Advanced Materials and Related Technologies (CAMTEC), member of Center for Biomedical Research (CBR), investigator at International Collaboration on Repair Discoveries (ICORD), Associate Member of Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health and the co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer at 4M Biotech. Dr. Akbari obtained his Ph.D. from Simon Fraser University and his postdoctoral training at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He is the recipient of several awards, including the NSERC Postdoctoral Fellowship Award, Michael Smith Foundation Idea to Commercialization Awards, BC Innovation Council Research Award, Kaiser Foundation Award, and recognized as a Canadian Rising Star in Global Health by Grand Challenges Canada. Dr. Akbari’s research lies at the interface of cellular biology, biomaterials, and microtechnologies and aims to develop innovative approaches for disease modeling and drug delivery. He currently holds funding from CIHR, NSERC, CFI, BC Cancer Foundation, and the Department of National Defense. He is a Guest Editor of Micromachines and Gels and a member of the Board of Directors of the Canadian Society for Mechanical Engineering. His research findings have been published in 90 peer-reviewed journal papers and book chapters with an h-index of 35 and over 5300 citations. His work has been featured on the cover of 11 Journals and reported in media such as CBC News, Time Colonist, BBC News, Google News, Science Daily, The Telegraph, and Fortune. Mohsen will be speaking at our upcoming event focusing on Microfluidics, Technology, Commercialization.

Jenny: When was the first encounter you had with 3D printing?

Mohsen: I first used 3D printing during my postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences. We used 3D printed microfluidic bioreactors for cell culture applications. The ability to create complex 3D structures rapidly was fascinating and opened an array of opportunities for my research. Back then, I was thinking about trying new designs that were not otherwise possible using other manufacturing methods and use that capability to advance the field of tissue engineering and drug delivery. 

Jenny: What inspired you to start your journey in 3D printing/biofabrication?

Mohsen: Several pioneering studies performed by Jennifer Lewis, Ali Khademhosseini, and Antony Atala’s groups were have inspired me to use this enabling technology in the field of tissue engineering.

Jenny: Who inspired you the most along this journey?

Mohsen: My two ex-mentors Dr. David Juncker from McGill University and Ali Khademhosseini from Harvard Medical School inspired me the most. Indeed, there are many other giants in the field whom I always looked up to and learned from them. Prof. Bob Langer, Jeff Karp, Nicolas Peppas, David Mooney, Jennifer Lewis, Antony Atala, and Albert Folch.   

Jenny: What motivates you the most for your work? 

Mohsen: What motivates me the most is to create innovative and translational solutions to some of the grand challenges in health and train the next generation of researchers with an entrepreneurial mindset. I strive to address those challenges to bridge the gap between sickness and wellness. 

Jenny: What is the biggest obstacle in your line of work?  

Mohsen: The biggest obstacle in my line of work is to bring the technologies developed in my lab from bench to bedside. Numerous time-consuming and expensive steps have to be taken before any product can be used in the clinic. This is the nature of my line of research. I have tried to adjust my expectations and develop more realistic milestones.

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

Mohsen: 3D printing and bioprinting are emerging. The widespread use of these technologies in the medical field requires addressing challenges associated with 1) finding suitable materials that are biocompatible and cell friendly, 2) printing speed and 3) regulatory approvals. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. A multidisciplinary approach that involves researchers, clinicians, patients, members of industry, and regulatory bodies is required to overcome these challenges.  

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

Mohsen:

  • Happiness for all
  • Education for all
  • No wars

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

Mohsen: My advice: be patient, be persistent, ignore negative people. 

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