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ChE Mehraeen named Emerging Star by ChERD for polymeric implant research

UIC chemical engineering Associate Professor Shafigh Mehraeen

UIC chemical engineering Assistant Professor Shafigh Mehraeen was named a 2022 Emerging Star by the Chemical Engineering Research and Design (ChERD) journal.

Each year, the ChERD Emerging Stars special issue celebrates the work of 28 scientists and engineers at the early stages of their independent research careers. The journal also promotes the diverse work of chemical engineers.

He received his master’s degree and PhD in mechanical engineering from Stanford University. He has published three books and more than 40 scientific papers so far in his career and has served as a reviewer for several major scientific journals.

Receiving this award, Mehraeen said, was “very encouraging for me and the student who worked on this project because I see that the community is interested to learn more about this.”

His research attempts to understand how to design synthetic polymers with anti-fouling properties, meaning they do not adsorb bacteria and proteins, or get infected in the long run. These polymers can then be used to create flexible materials for medical implants.

Most flexible medical implants are made from synthetic materials that cannot last long in the body because they adsorb bacteria or protein, which leads to infections in the surrounding tissue. Mehraeen added stiff materials used for knee and hip metallic replacements will often be in the body for 10 to 15 years. Researchers have found that more than 50% of patients who receive a knee or hip implants will see failure after 15-20 years.

“One of the reasons we focused on this research is if polymers adsorb water more than anything else, there is less room for protein and other things to get adsorbed on an implant,” Mehraeen said. “If it’s really good at adsorbing water, then the material is likely to repel proteins and would be less prone to infection in the long run.”

Mehraeen added that winning this award shows how his research saves time, labor, and is beneficial to patients and the community.

He and his team used molecular simulations of polymers to understand how water gets adsorbed and how long water stays around the material. They also used simulations to see how they could elongate the process. Mehraeen also hopes to create a new path for computational design of polymers and optimizing polymeric networks or materials that can be used for medical applications.

“Our work is really helpful for researchers because you cannot go to the lab and try every possible polymer that might work because that takes a long time and is costly, so modeling and computation helps narrow down the possibilities and helps researchers try a couple of promising candidates to synthesize rather than thousands,” Mehraeen said.

The work was a result of a collaborative effort including Mehraeen, Gang Cheng, former chemical engineering department director of graduate studies, and UIC PhD student Daniel Christiansen.