Dave is studying the mechanisms that enable cells to receive and react to chemical and mechanical signals, such as cell adhesion molecules and cyclic strains. These signals carry information that tells cells to alter their behavior by changing their level of proliferation or area of specialization. Sometimes the message being sent is to promote tissue growth: sometimes it’s to attack diseased cells. Dave is working to understand the conditions under which these signals develop: how much of a particular mechanical or chemical factor is needed, at what location, and at what time. The results of these studies will help him design new materials and devices that mimic the conditions needed to send specific orders to the body’s cells. His current projects focus on therapeutic angiogenesis, regeneration of musculoskeletal tissues, and cancer therapies. In 2009, Dave’s team developed the first vaccine ever to eliminate melanoma tumors in mice. It is a tiny bioengineered disc filled with tumor-specific antigens that can be inserted under the skin where it activates the immune system to destroy tumor cells. While typical tissue engineering involves growing cells outside the body, his novel approach reprograms cells that are already in the body.
Dave is the Robert P. Pinkas Family Professor of Bioengineering at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. He plays an active role in the major biomedical and chemical engineering professional societies, serves as an editorial advisor to several journals and publishers, organizes and chairs leading conferences and symposia, and participates on several industry advisory boards.