Principal Investigator

Dennis Discher

Ph.D University of California, Berkeley
B.S University of California, Davis

Dennis Discher is the Robert D. Bent chaired Professor at the University of Pennsylvania and Director of the NCI (National Cancer Institute) Physical Sciences Oncology Center/Project at Penn. He is an elected member of both the US National Academy of Medicine and the US National Academy of Engineering, and he is recipient of the Shu Chien Scientific Achievement Award from BMES' Cell & Molecular Bioengineering (CEMB) group. Discher holds appointments in the School of Engineering & Applied Science and Graduate Groups in Pharmacology and in Physics, and has been at Penn since 1996. His efforts to increase diversity, equity, & inclusion (DEI) start with his lab’s >60 PhD students and Fellows that have included significant diversity (15% Latino, 20% female). It extends to creation of Mid- career Awards with DEI criteria for CEMB and for the Biophysical Society’s Mechanobiology Subgroup, as well as annual projects over the past decade for summer research by two Philadelphia High School Teachers and for two or more Undergraduates from around the US (~30-50% African American). The lab's most cited work is among the top-5 cited research papers in Cell since its publication: 'Matrix elasticity directs stem cell lineage specification', and other papers range in topic from the mechanobiology of cancers, cardiomyocytes, and nuclei to controlling ‘Self’ recognition via engineered macrophages and particles in application to disease, particularly cancer. He has coauthored more than 250 publications with 80,000 citations, with papers appearing in Science, Cell, PNAS, and Nature family journals. Service includes various roles in CEMB, the American Society of Cell Biology (ASCB), and the Biophysical Society, as well as NIH grant reviewer including chairperson (Gene & Drug Delivery, Phys Sci Oncology, etc.) and Editorial Board service for Science, Molecular Biology of the Cell, and PNAS & PNAS Nexus.

Post-Doctoral Researchers

Larry Dooling

Larry Dooling

PhD Chemical Engineering, Caltech
My research aims to elucidate mechanisms for phagocytosis of cohesive solid tumor cells by macrophages with the goal of improving the efficacy of macrophage-based cancer immunotherapy. To accomplish this, I use a combination of in vitro and in vivo tumor models, immunoassays, and cell engineering approaches including CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing.

Alişya Anlaş

Alişya Anlaş

Ph.D. Chemical Engineering, Princeton
Alişya uses engineered tissue culture models to uncover how the mechanical properties of the tumor microenvironment regulate hallmarks of cancer such as sustained proliferation, survival, genomic instability, and immune evasion. Her work employs hydrogel-based spheroid models to investigate how microenvironmental stiffness regulates cell division errors including chromosome missegregation.
Karan Saini

Karan Saini

Ph.D. Mechanical Engineering, IIT Ropar
I am interested in understanding the interplay among mechanical forces, fibrillar collagen levels and tissue characteristics with an aim to develop novel strategies for treating pathologies including fibrosis, cardiovascular and musculoskeletal disorders. I use novel mechano-bioreactor designs, label-free imaging, adult/embryonic tissue models, engineered hydrogels as well as computational tools.

PhD Students

Steven Phan

Steven Phan

B.S.E Chemical Engineering, Penn State University
I look at chromosomal instability and mechanosensitive pathways in solid tumors and macrophages in 3D confined environments.




Nicholas Ontko

Nicholas Ontko

B.S.E Chemical Engineering, University of Michigan
Nick is a 2nd year PhD student in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering whose research focus works to understand macrophage phagocytosis and new ways to mark cancer cells for destruction with the goal of achieving better immunnotherpaies.


Joanna Georgiou

Joanna Georgiou

B.S.E., Chemical Engineering, Princeton University
Joanna is a first year PhD student in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. During her time at Princeton and throughout a 10 month Fulbright research grant in South Korea, Joanna worked on encapsulating small molecule therapeutics into nanoparticles for tuberculosis and cancer treatment. She is interested in researching cancer and materials.
Markus Sprenger

Markus Sprenger

M.S. Medical Physics, Duke University
Markus is a 1st year PhD student in Bioengineering whose past master’s research focused on electron FLASH radiotherapy. Having a strong background in physics and mathematics, he aims to better understand cancer biology; modeling chromosome loss rates and investigating the effects of confinement from matrix stiffness and transitioning from a 2D to a 3D environment on chromosome loss rates and effects on cell biology.
Susanna Belt

Susanna Belt

M.S. Bioengineering, Columbia University
I am a 3rd year doctoral candidate in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. My research focuses on evaluating how cellular contractility controls extracellular matrix composition and function of developing hearts. My research uses a combination of optical live imaging, RNA sequencing techniques, and second harmonic imaging to dissect these mechanosensitive cardiac pathways.


Michael Tobin

Michael Tobin

B.S.E Bioengineering, University of Maryland
Michael is a Ph.D. candidate in Bioengineering. His research explores the perturbing role that Fat Droplets (FD’s) play toward cell dysfunction across a variety of cell types, ranging from cancer cells to immune cells. He is currently investigating how FD’s may contribute to a loss of nuclear integrity and genomic instability.




Masters Students

Tristan Marchena

Tristan Marchena

B.S. Biomedical Engineering, University of South Carolina
Tristan is a master's student from Aruba studying Bioengineering and Engineering Entrepreneurship at Penn. He conducts immune engineering research centered on antibody-dependent phagocytosis or 'cell eating' of solid tumors with the goal of advancing engineered macrophage immunotherapies. Outside of the lab, Tristan remains dedicated to mentoring international undergraduate students as well as developing new outreach programs to increase STEM education in underrepresented communities in the Caribbean.
Alexander Chang

Alexander Chang

B.S - University of Pennsylvania
I research the role of macrophages in cancer cell biology, wound healing, and cellular differentiation, as well as bio materials and their effect on cells. Because macrophages and stem cells hold the key to reconstructive surgery and regenerative medicine, I am motivated by a strong desire to comprehend the dynamic behavior of macrophages among other engineered cell lines.

Lab Alumni