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Department of Biomedical Engineering at Duke University

One of the first biomedical engineering programs in the United States, the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Duke University consistently ranks among the best in the world. As the department has grown, our faculty have continued to pioneer new areas of biomedical engineering, with  strengths in tissue engineering, biomaterials, drug delivery, biophotonics and neuroengineering. Duke BME’s ethos reflects the department’s aspiration to advance biomedical engineering to serve society. As we strive towards this goal, we continue to attract outstanding faculty and students who create innovative solutions to the world’s most challenging healthcare problems.

This collection of articles from Nature Research journals is produced with support from Duke University. Duke University retains sole responsibility for the selection of articles.

Sponsor foreword

As the chair of Duke University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME), I am pleased to present this comprehensive Nature Reprint Collection, which showcases the breadth of innovative scholarship in the department over the past decade.

Sponsor Feature |

Established in 1967 by Duke University’s schools of medicine and engineering, the Duke Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME) was one of the first of its kind in the United States and consistently ranks among the best in the world.

Sponsor Feature |


Inspired by the post-translational modifications of polypeptides widespread in biological systems, the one-pot synthesis of biohybrid materials was engineered within Escherichia coli using a recombinant expression and post-translational lipidation. The fatty-acid-modified elastin-like polypeptides (FAMEs) prepared, which comprise peptide-amphiphile segments prone to self-assembly fused to a thermally responsive elastin-like polypeptide, exhibit temperature-triggered hierarchical assembly.

Article | | Nature Chemistry

It is unclear whether the transfer of plasmids carrying antibiotic resistance genes can explain their persistence when antibiotics are not present. Here, Lopatkin et al. show that conjugal plasmids, even when costly, are indeed transferred at sufficiently high rates to be maintained in the absence of antibiotics.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Cardiomyocytes derived from human induced pluripotent stem cells could be used to generate cardiac tissues for regenerative purposes. Here the authors describe a method to obtain large bioengineered heart tissues showing advanced maturation, functional features and engraftment capacity.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Group 2 innate lymphoid cells (ILC2s) are entangled with cholinergic SNAP-25-expressing neurons. David Artis and colleagues report that ILC2s express the neuropeptide receptor NMUR1, making them responsive to neuronal neuromedin. In mice, this promoted a tissue-protective type 2 response and accelerated expulsion of the gastrointestinal nematode Nippostrongylus brasiliensis. Elsewhere in this issue, Henrique Veiga-Fernandes and colleagues also provide evidence that ILC2s express Nmur1 and respond to neuromedin expressed by adjacent enteric neurons. In mice, the interaction results in an enhanced and immediate response of ILC2s to infection by the parasite N. brasiliensis.

Letter | | Nature

The neonatal mouse heart can regenerate during a limited time period after birth, but this property is rapidly lost. Eldad Tzahor and colleagues identify a component of the neonatal heart extracellular matrix, agrin, which is required for heart regeneration in neonatal mice. They further show that recombinant agrin can be used to improve the function of adult mouse hearts after myocardial infarction. The mechanism by which agrin can promote heart function and regeneration may be multi-faceted, but the authors also show that it can boost cardiomyocyte proliferation, which could contribute to the observed effects.

Article | | Nature

Site-specific recombination and CRISPR-Cas9 have been used to generate genetically engineered mouse models of cancer. Here the authors compare sarcomas generated using both systems and see similar genetic and cellular phenotypes, suggesting CRISPR-Cas9 can be used to rapidly generate sarcoma models.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

A programmable model of membraneless organelles comprised of intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs) containing sequences of low complexity has now been developed. The rules governing the assembly of archetypal IDPs into biologically inspired mixed, layered and size-controlled configurations provides a new means for understanding intracellular phase behaviour of IDPs.

Article | | Nature Chemistry

Conjugation of exendin-4 — a drug to treat type 2 diabetes — with a poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG)-based brush polymer reduces the conjugate's reactivity towards anti-PEG antibodies and leads to lower blood glucose levels in mice for up to 5 days after a single injection.

Article | | Nature Biomedical Engineering

Restoring lost excitability of injured tissue is a paramount of regenerative medicine. By using a combined expression of bacterial voltage-gated Na+ channel, Kir2.1, and connexin-43 in non-excitable human fibroblasts, here the authors generate excitable cells that rescue action potential conduction in an in vitromodel of cardiac fibrosis.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications


Bacterial cells roughly double in size prior to each division but the process is inherently noisy and mechanisms ensuring cell size homeostasis are unknown. Now Lingchong You and colleagues have quantified single-cell growth over long periods of time in Escherichia coli, and describe transient oscillations with periods stretching across more than ten generations. Combining computer models with quantitative data, the authors propose a noisy negative feedback on cell-size control — small new-born cells tend to divide later than large new-born cells — with implications for the genetic and physiological processes required.

Letter | | Nature

Duchenne muscular dystrophy is caused by mutations in the dystrophin gene. Here, Ousterout et al. use multiplexed CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing to excise a large portion of the gene that carries over 60% of known dystrophin mutations. They show that this excision restores dystrophin expression in patient-derived cells.

Article | | Nature Communications

The authors use developmental changes in chromatin accessibility to identify thousands of enhancer elements that are active at different postnatal developmental stages in granule neurons of the cerebellum. Zic transcription factors were found to promote gene expression patterns key for neuronal maturation by binding to late-acting enhancer elements.

Article | | Nature Neuroscience

This Technical Report describes new methods of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) in non-human primates. By combining single neuron recording with a modified TMS coil with focused stimulation in alert macaques, the authors show that this method can reduce stimulation artifact and allow investigation into the neuronal mechanisms of TMS.

Technical Report | | Nature Neuroscience


In many photonic applications ranging from sensors to energy-harvesting devices, a perfectly absorbing material is desired. Previously, perfect absorbers of infrared or visible light have been made by using lithography to create patterned structures on metallic surfaces, but this approach is expensive and difficult to scale up. Antoine Moreau et al. have developed an attractively simple method, in which silver nanocubes produced by wet chemistry are randomly distributed across a polymer-coated gold surface. Each cube acts as a nanoantenna to counter the reflectance of the metal surface. These cubes are simple and cheap to produce and can be easily spread and attached to the surface, so that large areas can be covered. They provide a means of controlling the colour of the reflected light, and the efficient optical response of the cubes suggests that mixed cube populations with controlled sized dispersion could be used to adjust the absorption at will.

Letter | | Nature

Using a new form of spectroscopic optical coherence tomography, researchers demonstrate three-dimensional molecular imaging of both endogenous and exogenous chromophores with high spectral fidelity. This scheme has significant implications for a range of biomedical applications, including ophthalmology, early cancer detection and understanding fundamental disease mechanisms such as hypoxia and angiogenesis.

Letter | | Nature Photonics

High-throughput synthesis of long DNA molecules would open up new experimental paradigms in synthetic biology and functional genomics. Quan et al. take a step toward this goal by integrating oligonucleotide synthesis, amplification and gene assembly on a single microarray, and apply the technology to optimization of protein translation in a heterologous host.

Letter | | Nature Biotechnology

A one-pot, high-throughput method for the recombinant polymerization of monomer DNA sequences is reported. The method enables the rapid synthesis of diverse libraries of artificial repetitive polypeptides, exemplified by the isolation of protease-responsive polymers and a family of polypeptides with reversible thermally responsive behaviour.

Article | | Nature Materials

In an effort to develop safer therapeutic agents and to limit unintended side effects, Sabah Oney and her colleagues have designed a set of antidote molecules for a series of aptamers exhibiting anticoagulant activities. These so-called universal antidotes are shown to sequester circulating aptamers and reverse their activity, irrespective of the primary sequence and folded structure of the aptamer.

Technical Report | | Nature Medicine

When artificial polypeptides are conjugated to a variety of hydrophobic molecules such as chemotherapeutics, the resulting molecules spontaneously self-assemble into nanoparticles. Delivering the chemotherapeutics to a murine cancer model, the nanoparticles have a fourfold higher maximum tolerated dose than the free drug, and induce nearly complete tumour regression after a single dose.

Article | | Nature Materials