Marjan Rafat wins Biomedical Engineering Society Cellular and Molecular Bioengineering Young Innovator Award

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Marjan Rafat, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, biomedical engineering and radiation oncology, has received the Young Innovator Award from the Cellular and Molecular Bioengineering division of the Biomedical Engineering Society. The CMBE Young Innovator Award is a distinguished honor for young faculty in the biomolecular engineering field.

Marjan Rafat (Vanderbilt University)

“This national award is a major recognition for Professor Rafat and her team—as well as for the School of Engineering and Vanderbilt University,” said Krish Roy, Bruce and Bridgitt Evans Dean of Engineering and University Distinguished Professor. “Professor Rafat’s research, at the interface of engineering, cancer and immunity, could profoundly benefit outcomes for many cancer patients. This award underscores the excellence and peer recognition of our young faculty and their tremendous impact on society.”

Rafat’s research integrates engineering and cancer biology concepts to understand how healthy tissues interact with cancer cells in driving tumor recurrence and metastasis. By investigating the intricate relationship of tumor cells, normal tissues and the immune system, the Rafat lab is revealing how physical, chemical and biological cues contribute to cancer metastasis and relapse after therapy. At Vanderbilt, Rafat is working to create in vitro models that mimic tumors and tissues as well as bio-inspired hydrogel materials. Specifically, the investigations revolve around three key areas:

  1. Understanding how radiation and surgery affect the migration patterns of tumor and immune cells in normal tissues
  2. Analyzing the molecular profiles of normal tissues affected by therapy-induced damage
  3. Investigating changes in the biomechanical properties of the tumor microenvironment and surrounding normal tissues after therapy

“I am grateful to be part of the 2023 CMBE Young Innovator cohort and for the opportunity to share my lab’s work at the BMES annual meeting,” Rafat said. “I am honored to be recognized for our interdisciplinary research at the interface of engineering and cancer biology. My gratitude extends to my mentors, colleagues and the Biomedical Engineering Society for their support—as well as my students, whose hard work enables our research advances.”

Ultimately, these studies hold the potential to revolutionize the development of more effective cancer therapeutics.

“Marjan was selected as a CMBE Young Innovator for her pioneering research to create in vitro models of cancer recurrence and metastasis,” said Alisa Morss Clyne, a BMES leader and engineer at the University of Maryland. “The research represents a big step forward in understanding how cancers recur following treatment and could be used to monitor cancer patients for recurrence after radiation therapy.”

Rafat’s research has been funded by the National Cancer Institute, the Breast Cancer Alliance, the Concern Foundation, the American Cancer Society and METAvivor. At Vanderbilt, Rafat is a faculty affiliate of the Vanderbilt Institute of Nanoscale Science and Engineering.

Rafat will present her latest research on breast cancer recurrence at the Biomedical Engineering Society 2023 Annual Meeting this October. She will detail the research described in her latest publication, “Irradiated Mammary Spheroids Elucidate Mechanisms of Macrophage-Mediated Breast Cancer Recurrence,” published in the journal Cellular and Molecular Bioengeering in August.