MR4 1124
​MR4 1115
P.O. Box 800759
Charlottesville, VA 22908
Research Summary


Brian Helmke researches the relationship between cell mechanics and cell function using new tools in materials science and molecular biology, with a focus on cardiovascular disease.

Living cells and tissues adapt to their environment by altering structure, gene and protein expression, and biochemical functions. For example, endothelial cells lining the artery wall at the blood tissue interface experience fluid mechanical forces that vary with time and location along the artery. However, the mechanisms by which cells transduce mechanical stimuli into biochemical signals are not well understood. Our laboratory employs a multidisciplinary biomedical engineering approach to understand the relationship between intracellular mechanics and cell function.


B.S.E., Bioengineering, University of Pennsylvania, 1992

B.S.Econ., The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, 1992

Ph.D., Bioengineering, University of California, San Diego, 1996

"Our lab employs a multidisciplinary biomedical engineering approach to understand the relationship between intracellular mechanics and cell function."

Brian P. Helmke

Selected Publications

Polarized actin structural dynamics in response to cyclic uniaxial stretch., 2015; Cellular and molecular bioengineering. 8(1) 160-177. Huang L, Helmke BP
Integration of acoustic radiation force and optical imaging for blood plasma clot stiffness measurement., 2015; PloS one. 10(6) e0128799. Wang CW, Perez MJ, Helmke BP, Viola F, Lawrence MB
Cellular and Molecular Bioengineering: A Tipping Point., 2012; Cellular and molecular bioengineering. 5(3) 239-253 Brown G, Butler PJ, Chang DW, Chien S, Clegg RM, Dewey CF, Dong C, Guo XE, Helmke BP, Hess H, Jacobs CR, Kaunas RR, Kumar S, Lu HH, Mathur AB, Mow VC, Schmid-Schönbein GW, Skoracki R, Wang N, Wang Y, Zhu C
A Semi-Automatic Method for Image Analysis of Edge Dynamics in Living Cells., 2011; Cellular and molecular bioengineering. 4(2) 205-219. Huang L, Helmke BP,
Short-Term Shear Stress Induces Rapid Actin Dynamics in Living Endothelial Cells., 2010; Molecular & cellular biomechanics : MCB. 5(4) 247-258. Choi CK, Helmke BP
A stretching device for high-resolution live-cell imaging., 2010; Annals of biomedical engineering. 38(5) 1728-40. Huang L, Mathieu PS, Helmke BP
Micropatterned structural control suppresses mechanotaxis of endothelial cells., 2008; Biophysical journal. 95(6) 3066-78. Lin X, Helmke BP
Mapping the dynamics of shear stress-induced structural changes in endothelial cells., 2007; American journal of physiology. Cell physiology. 293(5) C1616-26. Mott Re, Helmke BP
Peroxynitrite inhibits myofibrillar protein function in an in vitro assay of motility., 2007; Free radical biology & medicine. 44(1) 14-23. Snook Jh, LI J, Helmke BP, Guilford WH
Designing a nano-interface in a microfluidic chip to probe living cells: challenges and perspectives., 2006; Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 103(17) 6419-24. Helmke BP, Minerick AR
Assessment of contractility of purified smooth muscle cells derived from embryonic stem cells., 2006; Stem cells (Dayton, Ohio). 24(7) 1678-88. Sinha S, Wamhoff BR, Hoofnagle MH, Thomas J, Neppl Rl, Deering T, Helmke BP, Bowles DK, Somlyo AV, Owens GK
Mechanisms of mechanotransduction., 2006; Developmental cell. 10(1) 11-20. ORR AW, Helmke BP, Blackman BR, Schwartz MA

Courses Taught

BME 2101 Physiology I
BME 3240 Biotransport
BME 4641 Bioelectricity
BME 4550 Mechanobiology


Harold S. Morton Jr. Undergraduate Teaching Prize 2020

Featured Grants & Projects

Current Lab Projects Several tools are used for investigating cellular mechanotransduction. Expression of green fluorescent protein (GFP) fused to cytoskeletal or other proteins makes it possible to visualize endogenous intracellular structures, and fluorescence probes enable detection of intracellular signaling molecules such as nitric oxide. High-resolution optical sectioning microscopy, deconvolution, and 3-D image restoration provide quantitative spatial and temporal information. Quantitative image analysis tools analyze intracellular movement, molecular interactions, and biochemical response. Nanotechnology-based structures control mechanical stimuli at the length scale of individual protein structures near the cell surface. Engineering nanoscale spatial cues into the cell’s local environment will enable rational design of cell phenotype for regenerative medicine and tissue engineering. Thus, projects in our laboratory bring together a joint biomedical engineering, materials science, and molecular biology approach to understanding cellular physiology.