Endowed Bioengineering Chair Named At Michigan Tech

HOUGHTON — Caryn L. Heldt, an associate professor of chemical engineering at Michigan Tech, has been named the recipient of the James and Lorna Mack Endowed Chair in Bioengineering.

A Michigan Tech alumna, Heldt has been on the faculty since 2010.  She is recognized both for her teaching and her research.

“Dr. Heldt cares deeply that her students learn and grow,” said S. Komar Kawatra, chair of chemical engineering. “This caring is highlighted in her success in training students for research careers. Her high standards, mentoring abilities, industrial experience, biomanufacturing knowledge and instructional innovations benefit all chemical engineering students.”

In her research, Heldt uses surface chemistry to remove or purify pathogens and toxins. Her goal is to reduce disease worldwide. Heldt also develops point-of-care devices to detect pathogens and toxins quickly and inexpensively.

With a prestigious 2015 NSF CAREER Award of $525,000, Heldt is developing new virus removal techniques. One hypothesis she will explore is how virus surfaces repel water and how that hydrophobic tendency could impact virus removal. Heldt has integrated this research into the Michigan College and University Partnership/Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (MICUP/MI–LSAMP), offering summer research internships to low-income, first-generation and underrepresented minority community college students.

Taking the Lab to the Marketplace

“I am so honored that the selection committee and James Mack thought that the work of my lab was worthy of this distinction,” Heldt said. “This endowment is a great opportunity to train more students in biotechnology research and to bring novel methods of pathogen purification, removal and detection to the market.”

She is currently on sabbatical in St. Louis, working with Pfizer on gene therapy process development.

“This is enabling me to translate some of my virus purification work to real products that will impact patients,” she said. Her efforts to bring laboratory work to the marketplace and bedside are a signature of Michigan Tech, leading the region to become known as Innovation Shore.

Heldt graduated from Michigan Tech in 2001 with a BS in chemistry and chemical engineering. She worked for BASF Corp. for two years before joining the Carbonell Lab at North Carolina State University, where she earned a PhD in Chemical Engineering in 2008. She completed postdoctoral research at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and before joining the faculty at Michigan Tech.

Alumnus James Mack

Her endowed chair is named for James Mack, a Michigan Tech alumnus and retired president and CEO of Cambex Corp., a developer of specialty chemicals. His company has successfully combined biology with engineering — especially in the rapidly emerging field of tissue engineering and cell therapy, and the development of small molecule therapeutics.

Mack earned his BS in Chemical Engineering at Michigan Tech and an MBA from Western New England College. He conducted graduate research at the University of Toledo and received an honorary Doctor of Engineering degree from Michigan Tech in 2000.

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