Shayn Peirce-Cottler, PhD, is a proud ’Hoo (Eng. ’02) and a professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Virginia and co-founder of the UVA Center for Advanced Biomanufacturing. Recently she earned the rank of Fellow of the Biomedical Engineering Society. She was one of just 27 leaders to be honored this year for exceptional achievements and significant contributions in the field of biomedical engneering.
Big Goals for Advancing Biomedical Research
Healthy living and disease recovery are big, expansive goals. The key to both, however, may be very small. Microcirculation small.
Peirce-Cottler's research focuses on capillaries, tiny blood vessels that transport everything from water and oxygen to glucose and carbon dioxide.
“These vessels are in every single tissue in the body and are a contributing factor in a multitude of diseases,” Peirce-Cottler notes. “If your capillaries are healthy, so are you. If we can rebuild and redirect healthy capillaries to a heart muscle after a heart attack, to a foot wound post-surgery, to an eyeball after an injury—we can improve and speed up recovery.”
You could say research and engineering are in Peirce-Cottler’s blood. With a civil engineering professor as a father, she grew up in his lab and around his graduate students. Fast forward to 2019, and Peirce-Cottler’s UVA lab is celebrating its 15th birthday and collaborations that span across Grounds—including doctors, surgeons, basic scientists, nurses, graduate students, and engineers—on a wide variety of research and discoveries.
"UVA is Goldilocks-sized. It’s not so big that you can’t find the people you need to work with. It’s not so small that people you want to work with aren’t here.""
Shayn Peirce-Cottler, Ph.D., Professor of Biomedical Engineering
Her lab specializes in developing and using computational models to study multi-cell biological systems. It’s difficult to find an organ or health condition that Peirce-Cottler’s work hasn’t impacted: eye injuries, the heart and cardio conditions, skin, joints, the pancreas, diabetes, cancer, muscular dystrophy, the brain, and neurodegeneration, to name a few. “Regeneration of vessels, tissues, organs— that’s my overarching passion,” Peirce-Cottler says.
“Regenerative medicine strives to reset our bodies to essentially heal the way they healed when we were kids. Pain was minimal, the process was quick, and there was little-to-no resulting scar tissue.”
Peirce-Cottler is a key member of a collaborative UVA team made up of researchers and clinicians in the College of Arts & Science’s Department of Chemistry, the School of Engineering’s Department of Biomedical Engineering, and the School of Medicine’s Department of Plastic Surgery and Chronic Wound Care Clinic.
Together, they developed a smartphone-based camera system that records dynamic tissue oxygen levels at a wound site. This type of imaging is crucial for foot wounds in diabetic patients, many of whom suffer from poor blood circulation in the legs. Oxygen levels are invisible to the eye, so the mapping allows doctors to better monitor these patients and potentially save their limbs.
“UVA is Goldilocks-sized,” Pierce-Cottler notes. “It’s not so big that you can’t find the people you need to work with. It’s not so small that people you want to work with aren’t here."
Citation from the Biomedical Engineering Society
"Dr. Peirce-Cottler has pioneered the use of agent-based computational modeling in combination with experiments to elucidate novel molecular and multi-cellular mechanisms that regulate and intersect the processes of microvascular growth and remodeling, inflammation, and fibrosis. She has deployed this hybrid approach to study cellular dynamics during wound healing and tissue regeneration and in diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and muscular dystrophy.
"This work has led to the discovery of novel therapeutic approaches that target the microcirculation, inflammatory cells, and fibroblasts in order to promote functional tissue regeneration and mitigate fibrosis. She is currently the Past-President of The Microcirculatory Society and previously served as the Chair of the National Institutes of Health Modeling and Analysis of Biological Systems Study Section."