Don't Go with the Flow - Improve It

stephen graves

Steven Graves expands biomedical engineering research and education

Finding 50 things in a sea of one billion is no easy task. But Steven Graves is up to the challenge. If he succeeds, he could help change lives. Graves, associate director of the Center for Biomedical Engineering and associate professor of chemical and nuclear engineering, is developing new flow cytometers, instruments that measure the properties of single cells within a larger sample of billions of cells.

To do that, he’s creating an affordable high-throughput flow cytometer that screens blood samples for rare cells, including circulating cancer tumor cells. These cells can be good indicators of therapeutic efficacy for some cancers.

Graves is creating highly parallel flow cytometers that can analyze hundreds to thousands of times more cells and solution than traditional instruments. “The more cells we can look at, the more information we can gather,” says Graves. The result could be a more effective, less expensive way to analyze blood samples and he says that would be extremely useful. “In the American medical system, there is a real need to reduce the cost of medical diagnostics,” he says.

Graves’ approach is in part based on using sound waves to control cells in a flow cytometer, which concentrates particles so they can be analyzed longer and enables use of less expensive instrument components. He is also exploring several applications for the technology and flow cytometry in general, including studying proteases related to diseases including HIV, West-Nile, and cancer, as well as helping marine biologists measure plankton levels in seawater.

Educating Future Biomedical Engineers

Graves is also the director of the Biomedical Engineering Graduate Program. The BME program prepares MS or PhD students for successful careers in the growing field. The current program has 20-30 students and is actively seeking more interested students from any engineering discipline or those from other quantitative sciences.

“The UNM BME program offered me the opportunity to take courses directly related to my research and provided new avenues for collaborating with faculty,” says biomedical engineering doctoral student Christina Salas. “Biomedical research is inherently collaborative and this program lets students conduct research with engineers, scientists, physicians and other medical staff to help solve clinical problems with engineering solutions.”

To meet the demand for biomedical engineering, the program is becoming more multidisciplinary and is trying to foster economic development in the state. Graves says, “Biomedical engineering is becoming more important to our country and humanity because it’s about applying scientific and engineering principles to solutions that directly impact human health.”

Plenary Speaker for the International Society for Advancement of Cytometry – 2011

Distinguished Patent Award for “Ultrasonic Analyte Concentration and Application in Flow Cytometry,” Los Alamos National Laboratory

Invited Speaker for the Gordon Research Conference on the Physics and Chemistry of Microfluidics – 2013