Research in Biomedical Engineering

Doing research in the Ashton Lab.

Research Focus Areas

Biomedical engineering is multidisciplinary, bringing together expertise in engineering, physics, materials science, computation, biology, and medicine to increase our understanding of diseases, improve diagnosis, and develop treatments that benefit human health. Research in our department covers a spectrum of conditions, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, orthopedics, neurology, vision, and regenerative medicine.

The fields of biomaterials and tissue engineering combine elements of cellular and molecular biology, materials science, and engineering. Research in the area of biomaterials can range from creating drug-delivering nanoparticles that improve disease treatment to developing 3D tissue substitutes using scaffolds that are engineered from proteins native to the human body. Our tissue engineering faculty employ a diverse range of approaches to create living tissue environments that may be used to restore the function of a damaged organ or uncover biological mechanisms related to tissue development and disease.



Paul Anderson, Weibo CaiPadma GopalanHongrui JiangRod LakesRegina MurphySean PalecekEric ShustaSusan ThibeaultLih-Sheng (Tom) Turng,

Biomechanics applies engineering mechanics for understanding biological processes and for solving medical problems at systemic, organ, tissue, cellular, and molecular levels. Research efforts in biomechanics include the mechanics of connective tissues (ligament tendon, cartilage and bone), as well as orthopedic devices (fracture fixation hardware and joint prostheses), vascular remodeling (normal and pathological mechanics of pulmonary hypertension), muscle mechanics with injury and healing, human motor control, neuromuscular adaptation (with age, injury, and disease), microfluidics for cellular and subcellular applications, cellular motility and adhesion. Biomedical engineers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison use biomechanics for applications as diverse as studying the fundamental viscoelastic behavior of connective tissues preventing repetitive motion disorders in manual work, and understanding and preventing mechanical compromise in tissues in response to healing, changes in loading (from exercise, bed rest, etc.), aging, disease, and biochemical factors.


Peter AdamczykNadine ConnorWendy CroneMarlowe EldridgeKreg GrubenSusan Hagness, Tim HallBryan Heiderscheit, Corinne HenakJack JiangRod Lakes, Peter Muir, Kristen PickettRobert Radwin, Scott Reeder, JoAnne Robbins,  Alejandro Roldan-Alzate, Mary Sesto, Tomy Varghese

Biomedical imaging designs and enhances systems for non-invasive imaging of cellular, tissue and organ structure for basic science and translational applications. Though the field has traditionally concentrated on anatomical imaging for diagnostic information (e.g., MRI, CT, and PET), it is increasingly recognized that multiscale approaches using optical microscopy are essential to elucidate the cellular and tissue composition needed for superior diagnostics and also for functional and therapeutic applications. Integration of engineering, physics, and computer technology principles in conjunction with the expertise of clinical collaborators are required to achieve these advanced capabilities.


Kevin Eliceiri, Sean Fain, Aaron Field, Thomas Grist, Susan Hagness, Rock Mackie, Charles Mistretta, Scott Reeder, Daniel van der Weide, Tomy Varghese

Cellular engineering is an interdisciplinary field in which the principles of engineering and life sciences are used to study or manipulate biological processes at a cellular or molecular level. Stem cell engineering is a particular area of emphasis for many in BME, melding engineering and developmental biology to investigate and regulate the process of cellular differentiation.


Regina MurphySean PalecekEric ShustaDaniel van der WeideJohn Yin

Bioinstrumentation is the application of electronics and measurement principles and techniques to develop devices used in diagnosis and treatment of disease. Examples include brain-computer interface, implantable electrodes, sensors, tumor ablation, and other medical devices.


Kevin Eliceiri, Susan Hagness, Rock Mackie, Bruce Thomadsen, Daniel van der Weide

Neuroengineering is a multidisciplinary field that involves the use of engineering technology to study the function of various neural systems. Research at UW-Madison is primarily focused on interfacing with the nervous system in one of two ways:

  1. Neuroimaging – the development of novel non-invasive imaging methods for studying or diagnosing neurological injury and disease.
  2. Neural interface – the development of implantable technology and materials for neuroprosthetic and rehabilitation applications or basic neuroscience studies.


Elizabeth FeltonAaron FieldDaniel van der WeideTom Yin


Systems biologists rely on both quantitative experiments and computational modeling to understand how the molecular components of cells (such as genes and proteins) determine higher-level behaviors (proliferation or migration, for example). Ultimately, systems biology can be used to identify drug targets, develop personalized therapies, and determine design principles to control cellular behavior or optimize production.



Brian PflegerJennifer ReedJohn Yin

Affiliated Research Centers

Lab students label a petri dish at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery (WID).
The Wisconsin Institute for Discovery (WID) was created in 2010 to explore new ways of generating innovation in science and engineering. Since opening in 2010, the Institute has been awarded and administered more than $22 million in grant funding from a variety of foundations and agencies to continue pursuing research collaborations with the Morgridge Institute for Research, the University of Wisconsin–Madison, the State of Wisconsin, and more.

Jan Huisken, director of medical engineering at Morgridge Institute for Research holds a plastic tank with 4 zebra fish.
The Morgridge Institute for Research (MIR) is a private, nonprofit research institute working in partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Madison to improve human health through innovative, interdisciplinary biomedical discoveries, spark scientific curiosity and serve society through translational outcomes.

Biomedical Engineering Associate Professor, Wan-ju Li, talks to students in his lab.

The Wisconsin Institutes for Medical Research (WIMR) has embraced a new way of doing science since its opening in 2008. In this new mode, traditional research silos become obsolete, as basic, translational and clinical scientists—in cancer, imaging, neuroscience, surgery, and cardiovascular and regenerative medicine—work together to move discoveries quickly from bench to bedside and into the community.

In addition to its three interdisciplinary research towers, WIMR neighbors the UW Health Sciences Learning Center, the UW Schools of Pharmacy and Nursing, and the UW Hospital and Clinics and American Family Children’s Hospital—making it well-positioned for easy interactions between WIMR scientists, their health sciences colleagues, practicing clinicians, and the patients whose lives they hope to improve.

Frank Rath, left, a faculty associate in the College of Engineering, and Bruce Thomadsen, professor of medical physics, look through the opening of a piece of radiotherapy treatment equipment at the Carbone Cancer Center.

The University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center is recognized throughout the Midwest and the nation as one of the leading innovators in cancer research, quality patient care, and active community involvement: it is the only comprehensive cancer center in Wisconsin, as designated by the National Cancer Institute.

UWCCC’s location in the Wisconsin Institutes for Medical Research (WIMR) allows researchers to work with scientists from other disciplines, speeding the transfer of cutting-edge science to patients.

Molecular Biosciences Training Grant Program faculty trainer, Audrey Gasch, talking to a student.

Technological innovations have revolutionized the scale and detail with which biological systems can be explored. With that revolution comes a new demand for scientists who transcend biological and computational sciences to seamlessly integrate complex datasets into quantitative and predictive models of biological systems.

To address this need, the Quantitative Biology Initiative (QBI) at UW-Madison is training the next generation of scientists who will work at the interface of computational, statistical, and quantitative biology. The QBI represents a university-wide initiative that brings together students and faculty from diverse departments and utilizes an exceptional level of inter-departmental collaboration at UW-Madison to provide students outstanding training opportunities in interdisciplinary, collaborative research.

Kevin Eliceiri, Director and Principal Investigator of the Laboratory for Optical and Computational Instrumentation (LOCI) sits in front of equipment.

The Laboratory for Optical and Computational Instrumentation (LOCI) is a biophotonics instrumentation laboratory stemming from the research activities of its director and founder, Kevin Eliceiri, and LOCI collaborators. Their mission is to develop advanced optical and computational techniques for imaging and experimentally manipulating living specimens.

New and improved imaging instrumentation and optical-based experimental techniques are being developed. These projects are driven by demands arising from the scientific studies of external collaborators and the principal investigators and opportunities that arise with the emergence of new technology. Instrumentation development is undertaken in a form that is both accessible and beneficial to the scientific community.

Anita Bhattacharyya, a senior scientist at UW-Madison's Waisman Center.

Since the first successful culturing of embryonic stem cells from non-human primates in 1995, and later with the isolation of the world’s first human embryonic stem cells, the University of Wisconsin–Madison has been a leader in the companion fields of stem cell research and regenerative medicine.

The UW–Madison Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Center (SCRMC) provides a central point of contact, information, and facilitation for all stem cell research activities on campus. The center’s mission is to advance the science of stem cell biology and foster breakthroughs in regenerative medicine through faculty interactions, research support, and education.

Lab member at the McPherson Eye Research Institute (MERI) looks at a cat’s eye.

The McPherson Eye Research Institute (MERI) is a multi-disciplinary community of scholars working to gain critical knowledge about the science and art of vision and apply it to the prevention of blindness.

Founded by Drs. Daniel M. Albert and Alice McPherson in 2005, MERI brings the extraordinary diversity and strength of vision research at UW-Madison under one umbrella. It has quickly become one of the world’s foremost multi-disciplinary vision research centers, with more than 150 members in 35 UW-Madison departments and affiliated non-UW institutions. Through basic and clinical science research of the eye and visual system, our researchers have made significant advances in the preservation and restoration of vision, basic vision research, advanced technologies, and education and outreach.