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Bleris ’06G continues groundbreaking work with biocomputers

Leonidas Bleris

Throughout his graduate-student career at Lehigh, Leonidas Bleris maintained a dual focus that is becoming increasingly common in the world of engineering.

While designing mathematical models and control algorithms for micro- and nano-scale chemical reactors, Bleris kept one foot in the department of chemical engineering and one in the department of electrical and computer engineering.

He earned his Ph.D. in electrical engineering in 2006 under the supervision of Mayuresh Kothare, the R.L. McCann Associate Professor of chemical engineering, and received several impressive awards in the process.

Bleris was particularly interested in integrated microchemical plants that produce hydrogen by reforming methanol. He also worked on embedding Model Predictive Controls (MPCs) in microsystems.

The engineering systems Bleris worked with are small enough to be fitted onto a standard, 2-cm silicon chip. New medical devices are one application that could come from his Lehigh research.

This week, Bleris, now a postdoctoral researcher at the FAS (Faculty of Arts and Sciences) Center for Systems Biology at Harvard University, moved one of those applications a step closer to reality while adding to his list of honors.

A paper that Bleris co-wrote was published in Nature Biotechnology, a journal published by the Nature Publishing Group in association with Nature, the world’s leading science magazine.

The paper, titled “A universal RNAi-based logic evaluator that operates in mammalian cells,” describes how tiny biological computers can be implanted in human cells and can monitor their activities and properties.

The biocomputers can detect the activities of genes, the presence of a mutated gene and other activities occurring inside cells, say the researchers, who worked with biocomputers in cultures of human kidney cells.

Bleris gave a seminar at Lehigh earlier this month on the project, which involved researchers from Harvard’s FAS Center for Systems Biology, Princeton University’s department of molecular biology and Princeton’s department of electrical engineering.

The article was featured in Harvard’s online news center under the title “In a first, scientists develop tiny implantable biocomputers: Molecular devices’ remarkably precise scans of cellular activity could revolutionize medicine.”

“Each human cell already has all of the tools required to build these biocomputers on its own,” Yaakov Benenson, lead author of the Nature Biotechnology article and a Bauer Fellow in Harvard’s FAS Center, told the Harvard news center. “All that must be provided is a genetic blueprint of the machine and our own biology will do the rest. Your cells will literally build these biocomputers for you.”

Bleris and a Harvard student were equal contributors to the article. Benenson was the project’s key adviser.

Bleris’s Ph.D. thesis at Lehigh was titled “Dynamics and Control of Integrated Microchemical Systems: From Practical Theoretical Approaches to Model Predictive Control on-a-Chip.”

While at Lehigh, Bleris received the Christine Mirzayan Science and Technology Policy Graduate Fellowship from the National Academy of Science. He won best presentation-in-session awards at the American Control Conference in 2004 and again in 2005, and was sponsored by the National Science Foundation to be a participant in the Pan American Study Institute on Process Systems Engineering in Argentina.

Bleris, a native of Greece, received his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.

—Kurt Pfitzer

Posted on Tuesday, May 29, 2007

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