Correlating the Structure and Function of Tissues and Organs

Date(s) - 01/16/2018
11:15 am

Lakiesha Williams, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Mississippi State University

The hierarchical, highly complex nature of biological materials make studying the mechanics of injury difficult. Upon impact, these biological materials experience a complex cascade of events that may minimize their potential for recovery. When evaluating the changes to the mechanical properties of these materials, it is critical to characterize the tissue microstructure at each length scale. Changes in the microenvironment of biological systems can alter their intended function at the macroscale level. The Human Body Simulation (HBS) research group is working to answer the following questions: Is it feasible to quantify soft tissue damage at multiple length scales while measuring irreversible structural changes? and Do these measurements help us to understand the real time physiological responses of the microenvironment to damage? We developed these approaches by studying simplified systems such as the parallel fibered composite structures of muscle and tendon. Our team has moved toward studying increasingly complex systems such as brain, liver, and lungs by correlating structure and function in these organs. This length scale approach to studying the mechanics and damage in biological materials may inform the development of diagnostics and therapeutics as well as aid in and the design of safety countermeasures.

There is great opportunity in adapting concepts from nature to develop novel protective systems that protect against damage to tissues as a result of high impact. Understanding how nature solves problems and designs systems is beneficial in enhancing the design of man-made materials. Our group uses parallel techniques as used in the soft tissue studies to evaluate how natural systems protect themselves. This knowledge enables us to decipher how best to equip for injury protection. I will present an overview of work from the HBS team and our investigations of structure-property relationships of soft tissues. We will also examine the structure of materials in nature that can be used for developing novel protective devices for tissues and organs.


Dr. Lakiesha Williams is an associate professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering and director of the Human Body Simulation (HBS) research team at Mississippi State University (MSU). Her academic background is in biomedical engineering with a research focus on fundamental biomechanics. Williams team uses experimental and computational tools to study the hierarchical structural changes of biological tissues that result from mechanical damage. One of Williams goals in studying tissue mechanics is to identify and correlate structural change thresholds and feature changes that lead to irreversible functional changes in the tissues. Her team uses this data to inform design of protective gear for soldiers and athletes. Williams also works in MSU’s Office of Institutional Diversity and with the Chief Diversity Officer on implementing pipeline programs for recruiting and retaining faculty of color into the University. In 2017, Dr. Williams was recognized by Mississippi’s Business Journal as one of Mississippi’s “Top in Technology” amongst a list of 28 others in the state. Additionally, she was awarded the IBM Women of Color Rising Star award, and MSU’s Champion of Diversity award.