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Wesley Legant, PhD, is a UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center program member and Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Pharmacology.

Assistant Professor, Biomedical Engineering and Pharmacology
UNC-Chapel Hill
Cancer Cell Biology

Area of Interest

The long-term goal of my research is to synergistically combine advances in optical microscopy, quantitative computational algorithms, and three-dimensional (3D) in vitro cell culture systems to study the biochemical and biophysical mechanisms that drive cell migration. In particular, I am driven to apply these technologies to better understand glioblastoma invasion in the brain. I have an established track record of overcoming technological barriers in each of these areas that uniquely positions me to investigate cell migration in 3D. In my graduate work at the University of Pennsylvania, I developed microfabricated in vitro cell cultures to quantitatively measure forces and protein localization from tissue-engineered skin and cardiac models. During my final year as a graduate student, I worked on a collaborative project at ETH in Zurich using these systems to study extracellular matrix remodeling and fibronectin protein conformation. In a separate project, I combined synthetic biomaterials with finite element modeling to perform the first quantitative sub-cellular resolution measurements of the forces exerted by cells within three-dimensional matrices. However, I realized that studies of cells in 3D were severely limited by the capabilities of commercially available microscopes. To address this challenge, I undertook post-doctoral training at HHMI Janelia Research Campus, where I pioneered novel fluorescence microscopy techniques and computational algorithms with a focus on live-cell, light sheet, and super-resolution modalities. The systems that we developed are faster, more sensitive and less phototoxic than conventional widefield and confocal microscopes and have been licensed for future commercialization by a major microscope manufacturer. In addition to instrument design, I have worked jointly on many collaborative projects to apply these methods to diverse biological systems. These efforts have produced 20 co-authored peer-reviewed publications, with several more currently in preparation. In addition to scientific work, I have pursued teaching and outreach. In graduate school, I took additional coursework in teaching methods for undergraduates, was a graduate teaching assistant, and mentored undergraduate students in the lab. At Janelia, I have organized workshops and established an online forum to aid other groups in replicating our technologies. To date, over 100 groups have executed a research license with HHMI to access these resources and build instruments within their own labs. My experience and contributions at the interface of engineering and biology uniquely positions me to build a research program that is fluent in both fields and to successfully complete the project proposed in this Packard Fellowship application. As of January 1, 2018, I have begun as a jointly appointed Assistant Professor in the departments of Biomedical Engineering and Pharmacology the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (UNC). UNC is highly collaborative, has an outstanding biomedical research program. Working within this environment, I will build a lab that spans engineering and cell biology, that develops new technologies, and applies them to make fundamentally new observations of biological systems.

Awards and Honors

  • Calvin M. Woodward Fellow (1/2 tuition, 4 years at Washington University in St. Louis), 2002-2005
  • Valedictorian and Graduation Speaker (Washington University in St. Louis), 2006
  • Newcomb Cleveland Prize for most outstanding research article in the journal Science, 2015

Find publications on PubMed

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