Carnegie Mellon University
July 06, 2022

Biology Welcomes New Faculty

By Kirsten Heuring

Jocelyn Duffy
  • Associate Dean for Communications, MCS
  • 412-268-9982

Carnegie Mellon University's Department of Biological Sciences welcomed two new faculty members, En Cai and Zheng Kuang. Both professors, who began last fall, are passionate about their research and are excited to share their knowledge with Mellon College of Science students.

En Cai

Cai specializes in T-cell research. She uses cutting-edge imaging techniques to discover how T-cells' activation and inhibition mechanisms respond to the outside environment. Her aim is to understand how to specifically activate T-cells to target cancer cells.

"Sometimes T-cells fail to attack cancer cells, and that is because the tumor environment makes them unable to do that," Cai said. "We want to understand how the environment has an effect on T-cells and how we can restore this mechanism."

In her previous research, Cai found that T-cells have microvilli, finger-like protrusions formed on their surfaces, that reach out into the environment and communicate with cells carrying antigens as well as other T-cells. She said she hopes to collaborate with other labs at CMU on the research and apply a wide range of skillsets and knowledge, such as tissue engineering, high throughput imaging processing and feature recognition.

"Our lab is using a multidisciplinary approach to understand the immune system and how the immune system helps us to be healthy," Cai said. "If somebody is interested in that type of research, I'm very happy to work with them. I hope that my lab will have a lot of different expertise from immunology, biology, chemistry, physics and biophysics."

Along with her lab work, she will teach Data Analysis for Biological Sciences for fall semester 2022. This course will teach first-year biology Ph.D. students how to apply computational tools, such as Python and MATLAB, to their research interests.

Zheng Kuang

Kuang investigates how bacteria in the gut's microbiota, which regulates a range of functions from the immune system to metabolism, can affect the circadian rhythms that are synchronized with the 24-hour sleep-wake cycle.

"We are trying to figure out whether a single species of bacteria is able to rescue the rhythms or it's really the community of bacteria that can influence the oscillations," Kuang said. "It seems that we can identify some types of bacteria as sufficient to rescue the circadian rhythms, so that's really exciting. It provides us with a very useful tool for understanding the underlying mechanisms."

As someone with a mixed background of biology, statistics and computer science, Kuang is excited about the interdisciplinary possibilities at CMU.

"In terms of research, I believe that it is very important to integrate different techniques to understand some interdisciplinary questions," Kuang said. "When you put these different things together, you have a unique niche to study questions and to really distinguish yourself from other people."

Kuang taught Quantitative Genetics this past spring. The course introduces the fundamental principles of genetics and how those principles apply to human diseases. The course is open for undergraduate students and graduate students, including people outside of biology. Kuang said he hopes that the students from all disciplines will apply biological techniques or ideas learned in the course in their own disciplines.

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