Daniel McGrail

Department: School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Graduate Program: Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Advisor: Michelle Dawson, PhD

Lab Website

Research Summary:

Cues from the microenvironment influence cell behavior by inducing a variety of behaviors such as proliferation, differentiation, and migration. Despite the fact that most cell populations are highly heterogeneous, current techniques to analyze these interactions either rely on pooling millions of cells to get a population average which may not be representative of any single cell, or analyzing very small numbers of single cells that may fail to capture this diversity. I am developing techniques to analyze thousands of cells with single-cell resolution which can then be applied to an array of problems ranging from basic science to drug screening, cell characterization, and quality control.  

Results from my previous studies have shown that probing the intracellular mechanical properties can predict in vivo function better than typical molecular markers. Moreover, we showed that this was from an accumulation of a poorly functioning subpopulation, not a homogenous decrease in cell function. A growing body of work has also demonstrated that the mechanical environment a stem cell is grown in can control a host of processes including proliferation rates, migration, and even differentiation into specific lineages. The idea of controlling cell function by simply altering the culture environment is hugely preferable to using expensive growth factors or harmful chemicals when scaling up these processes. Building on these ideas, my current work is focused on developing a high-throughput method to probe single cell mechanical interactions with their local microenvironment and how this correlates with functional parameters. We hypothesize these results will lead to improved methods for stem cell characterization, and the fundamental understanding of these mechanisms could also improve methods for stem cell culture and differentiation. 



Daniel attended Georgia Tech for his undergraduate degree in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, graduating in 2012 with highest honors. During this time he began working with Michelle Dawson, PhD, exploring how the microrheological properties of mesenchymal stem cells control their function. His work in the Dawson lab during his undergraduate years at Georgia Tech resulted in two publications and numerous presentations. Daniel is now a first year ChBE PhD student and is working on scaling-up the methodologies he developed during his successful undergraduate career.