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Subra Suresh, Ph.D.

Department of Materials Science and Engineering
Ford Professor of Engineering
Head of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering
Professor of Biological Engineering

Room 8-309
617-253-3320 (phone)
617-253-0868 (fax)


Subra Suresh is the Ford Professor of Engineering and Head of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT. He also holds joint appointments as Professor in MIT`s Biological Engineering Division and Department of Mechanical Engineering. He received his Sc.D. from MIT in 1983. Prior to joining the MIT faculty in 1993 as the R. P. Simmons Professor, he was Professor of Engineering at Brown University. His current research focuses on experimental and computational studies of the mechanical responses of single biological cells and molecules and their implications for human health and diseases.

Professor Suresh is a member of the US National Academy of Engineering, serving presently as the Vice Chair of its Materials Section Peer Committee, and a Foreign Fellow of the Indian National Academy of Engineering. His recent honors include the Gordon Moore Distinguished Scholar award from CalTech, the Brahm Prakash Visiting Professorship from the Indian Institute of Science, selection by the Institute for Scientific Information as one of the most highly cited researchers in Materials Science, the Clark B. Millikan Visiting Professorship at CalTech, the TFR Swedish National Chair in Engineering from the Royal Instiute of Technology, Stockholm and the Distinguished Alumnus Award from Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. Professor Suresh has been elected a fellow of The Minerals, Metals and Materials Society, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the American Ceramic Society, and the American Society for Materials International, and an Honorary Member of the Materials Research Society of India

Research Summary

Current studies include changes to mechanical properties of human red blood cells invaded by Plasmodium falciparum malarial parasite, and mechanical assays of human pancreatic epithelial cancer cells. The Suresh lab applies principles of mechanics to the biology and biophysics of human disease. In the development of disease, biochemical factors or foreign organisms cause changes in molecular structure of human cells. Research in the Suresh lab focuses on how these molecular changes affect mechanical responses of the cell. The lab uses nanotechnology to systematically measure mechanical properties of biological systems in response to the onset and progression of disease. In both of these cases, the changes in intracellular structural rearrangements lead to global changes in mechanical deformability of the cell. Possible connections between the cellular/subcellular structural changes and disease development are explored. It is this deformability that promotes development of the diseases and is an important marker of disease progression.

Red Blood Cell Mechanical Changes Resulting from Malaria Infection
In the development of malaria, the parasite, Plasmodium falciparum invades the human red blood cell and affects the deformability and adhesion capabilities of the cell. Mortality in these cases is generally caused by blockage of small blood vessels. The research in the Suresh lab involves collaborations with engineers, biologists and medical colleagues, and it revolves around measurement of the deformability and its connection to development of the parasite inside the cell. They use continuous force- displacement variations as measured by optical tweezers or other direct mechanical assays to study different stages of parasite development. Optical tweezers or optical trap technology uses a laser beam, focused by a highquality microscope objective, to trap silica particles attached to a living cell. The deformability is measured by calculating the force required to move the particle with the laser beam and determine a force versus deformability diagram as a function of cellular changes introduced over time by the parasitization. With these measurements, they have built 3D models that extend from the molecular level to the whole cell level. They are working with researchers at the Institut Pasteur in Paris to clone the parasite, knockout one protein at a time and measure the contribution of that missing protein to the mechanical properties of the infected cell. With the resulting models, the lab, along with its team members, is striving to understand the biology of malarial infection and ultimately, develop therapeutics to combat this common disease.

Mechanical Basis for Cancer Metastasis
Mechanical cell deformability is hypothesized to also play a role in pancreatic cancer metastasis. Experiments with pancreatic cells, treated with specific bioactive lipids implicated in metastatic development, indicate that the elasticity (or deformability) and viscoelastic energy dissipation actually increase upon treatment. This change in the Panc-1 epithelial pancreatic cancer cells could be considered to increase the migration probability of tumor cells through size-limited pores.

Selected Publications

  • Suresh, S. "Graded Materials for Resistance to Contact Deformation and Damage," Science 292, 24472451, 29 June 2001.
  • Freund, L. B. and Suresh, S. śThin Film Materials?, Cambridge University Press , published December 2003.
  • Bao, G., and Suresh, S. "Cell and Molecular Mechanics of Biological Materials," Nature Materials , 2, 715725, November 2003.
  • Dao, M., Lim, C. T., and Suresh, S. "Mechanics of the Human Red Blood Cell Deformed by Optical Tweezers," Journal of the Mechanics and Physics of Solids, 51, 22592280, December 2003.
  • Suresh, S., Spatz, J., Mills, J. P., Micoulet, A., Dao, M., Lim, C. T., Beil, M. and Seufferlein, T., "Single-cell Biomechanics and Human Disease States: Gastrointestinal Cancer and Malaria." Acta Biomaterialia, 1(1), 15-30, January 2005.
  • Mills, J.P., Qie, L., Dao, M., Lim, C.T., and Suresh, S., “Nonlinear elastic and viscoelastic deformation of the red blood cell induced by optical tweezers.”, Mechanics and Chemistry of Biosystems, 1 (3), 169-180, September, 2004.
  • Van Vliet, K. J., Bao, G., and Suresh, S., "The Biomechanics Toolbox: Experimental Approaches to Living Cells and Biomolecules", Acta Materialia, 51, No. 19, 5881-5905, December 2003.

Last Updated: April 16, 2008