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Biomaterials for In Vitro Disease Models

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Thursday, December 7, 2023, 10 am

This is a past event.

Chemical Engineering Seminar

Dr. Maria F. Gencoglu

Clinical Diagnostics Group
Bio-Rad Laboratories


Dr. Gencoglu has always been fascinated with disease history and medical breakthroughs. During her research life, she has focused on infectious diseases, cancer diseases and reproductive health. This seminar focuses on antiviral compounds for viral infectious diseases, since most drugs are used to treat symptoms rather than the infection; ovarian cancer (OvCa), since it is poorly understood and lacks treatments; and finally, describing droplet digital PCR (ddPCR) technology for noninvasive prenatal testing (NIPT). Many diseases are caused by pathogenic viruses. The most effective methods to prevent and treat viruses are vaccines and antiviral compounds, respectively. This seminar will focus on antiviral compounds. Osmolytes, which are natural compounds (TMAO, glycine) reduced the infectivity of a model virus, porcine parvovirus (PPV) by 4 logs (99.99%). Mechanism of action for osmolytes were determined to be disruption of virus capsid assembly. As a faculty, she is planning to design more elaborate infectious disease models to study viral infection processes, and the mechanism of action of antivirals. This type of model can be used as a screening platform for new antivirals, and to generate quick responses for emerging viruses.

On the other hand, non-infectious diseases such OvCa have taken the lives of millions of people. The limited availability of clinical treatments for OvCa could be a result of poor predictions on standard tissue culture polystyrene (TCPS) in vitro models. TCPS does not capture the tumor microenvironment (TME), composed of stroma cells and extracellular matrix (ECM). Cancer cell aggregates (spheroids) were encapsulated in a 3D hydrogel that mimics the ECM of advanced OvCa. The 3D hydrogel is an improved in vitro drug testing platform to study the OvCa drug response, and it helped us identify possible drug candidates, such as Mafosfamide. Even closer to the TME than 3D models are 3D co-culture models (cancer-stroma cells), since they can emulate tumor progression. As a faculty, she is planning to demonstrate that cancer-stroma cell and stroma cell-ECM interactions influence drug response on OvCa in 3D co-culture models.

Finally, In Bio-Rad, Maria has been developing NIPT diagnostic products using ddPCR technology. NIPT detects aneuploidies (e.g. Down Syndrome) in fetal cell-free DNA (cfDNA) as early as 8-10 weeks of gestational age. ddPCR can detect target DNA sequences with a precision that can differentiate between euploid and aneuploid cfDNA present in plasma samples of pregnant women.


Dr. Maria Gencoglu was born and raised in Bogota, Colombia. I obtained my BS degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Los Andes. I came to the States in 2010 to pursue higher education. I obtained my PhD degree in 2014 from the Chemical Engineering Department at Michigan Tech. I continued my journey in academia in University of Massachusetts Amherst, and I worked as a postdoc from 2015-2018. I was an assistant Professor of Practice in University of the Pacific’s Department of Bioengineering from 2020-2021. In June 2021, I joined the Clinical Diagnostics Group in Bio-Rad Laboratories, and since then I have been developing molecular diagnostics products using PCR technologies.

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