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Eric Darling, Ph.D., Rice University

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Eric Darling

Title: Assistant Professor of Medical Science
Department: Molecular Pharmacology, Physiology & Biotechnology
+1 401 863 6818

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Overview | Research | Grants/Awards | Teaching | Publications

The overall goal of my research is to understand the relationship between the biological function of cells and tissues and their micro/nano-scale mechanical properties. Particular attention is given to mesenchymal stem cells and how they can be used for therapeutic applications. My lab investigates mechanical characteristics via atomic force microscopy, a technique that allows high resolution imaging and force measurements. Our recent findings indicate cells exhibit distinct mechanical biomarkers, which can help identify specific cell types within heterogeneous populations (i.e. metastatic cancer cells, stem cells).


Eric Darling is an Assistant Professor of Medical Science in the Department of Molecular Pharmacology, Physiology, and Biotechnology with courtesy appointments in the Department of Orthopaedics and the School of Engineering. He received a B.S. in Engineering from Harvey Mudd College, a Ph.D. in Bioengineering from Rice University, and post-doctoral training at Duke University. As a member of the Center for Biomedical Engineering, the goal of Professor Darling's research is to understand the relationship between the biological function of cells and tissues and their micro/nano-scale mechanical properties, with special focus on stem cells. Professor Darling's long-term objective is to use quantitative assessment of the mechanical and biological characteristics of single cells to improve tissue regeneration and cell-based therapies.

Research Description

The general focus of the Darling lab is to understand the relationship between the biological function of cells and tissues and their micro/nano-scale mechanical properties. Specific goals include investigating the mechanical biomarkers associated with stem cells before, during, and after differentiation along various cell lineages. We primarily accomplish these cell-level experiments using atomic force microscopy (AFM), which allows for high resolution imaging and force measurements at small scales. Biological experiments involve extended cell culture as well as molecular and biochemical assays. We are also investigating live-cell molecular beacons for the identification of cellular subpopulations. Our long-term goals are to improve cell-based therapies that can be translated to clinical applications. General areas of interest to the lab include:

1. AFM techniques for evaluating the mechanical characteristics of cells and tissues.
2. Stem cell enrichment for improving tissue regeneration approaches.
3. Investigation of mesenchymal stem cell heterogeneity using live-cell, mechanical and gene expression biomarkers.
4. In vivo assessment of inflammatory and cancerous gene expressions.
5. The effect of aging on stem cell therapeutic capacity.


2013, Rice University BIOE Outstanding Graduate Alumnus
2013, NSF CAREER Award
2012, Nanotechnology '2011 Highlights' collection article
2011, Rising Star, BMES-SPRBM Conference on Cellular and Molecular Bioengineering
2010, Award for Editorial Excellence, Annals of Biomedical Engineering
2008, 26th Army Science Conference, Bronze Award for best paper
2008, Duke University, Kewaunee Post-Doctoral Achievement Award
2007, AIMM-ASBMR John Haddad Young Investigator Award
2007, Orthopaedic Research Society's New Investigator Recognition Award Finalist
2007, Pathway to Independence Award, NIH/NIAMS


Biomedical Engineering Society
Orthopaedic Research Society

Funded Research

Biomedical research program (R01AR063642, PI: Darling)
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, National Institutes of Health
Title: "High-yield, lineage-specific enrichment of living mesenchymal stem cells"
Role: PI
Project Period: 09/01/2013 - 08/31/2018

CAREER Award (CBET-1253189, PI: Darling)
National Science Foundation
Title: CAREER: Mechanical Biomarkers and Mesenchymal Stem Cell Differentiation
Role: PI
Project Period: 02/01/2013 - 01/31/2018

BIBS Pilot Project (PI: Morrow)
Brown University
Title: Novel methods to study live-cell gene expression in patient-derived neurons
Role: Co-PI
Project Period: 05/01/2013-04/30/2014

RIH/Brown Orthopaedics COBRE (P20GM104937, PI: Chen) Subcontract
National Institute of General Medical Sciences, National Institutes of Health
Title: "AFM subcontract for the bioengineering core of the COBRE for Skeletal Health and Repair"
Role: Subcontractor
Project Period: 09/01/2012 - 08/31/2017

Courses Taught

  • Biomedical Engineering and Biotechnology Seminar (BIOL 2230/2240)
  • Stem Cell Engineering (BIOL 1150)
  • Tissue Engineering (BIOL 1140 (Spring 2011))

Selected Publications

  • Desai HV, Voruganti IS, Jayasuriya C, Chen Q, Darling EM. Live-cell, temporal gene expression analysis of osteogenic differentiation in adipose-derived stem cells. Tissue Eng A., 2014(2014)
  • Gonzalez-Cruz RD, Darling EM. Adipose-derived stem cell fate is predicted by cellular mechanical properties. Adipocyte. 2 (2) pp. 1-5., 2013(2013)
  • Athanasiou KA, Darling EM, Duraine GD, Hu JC, Reddi AH. 2013. "Articular Cartilage." Taylor & Francis Group, LLC: Boca Raton, FL.(2013)
  • Darling EM, Desai HV. Force Scanning for Simultaneous Collection of Topographical and Mechanical Properties. Microscopy and Analysis, Volume 26, Issue 1, January 2012.(2012)
  • Gonzalez-Cruz RD, Fonseca VC, Darling EM. Cellular mechanical properties reflect differentiation potential of adipose-derived mesenchymal stem cells. PNAS, 109 (24) E1523-9. PMCID: 3386052, 2012.(2012)
  • Beane OS, Darling EM. Isolation, Characterization, and Differentiation of Stem Cells for Cartilage Regeneration. Ann Biomed Eng. doi: 10.1007/s10439-012-0639-8, 2012.(2012)
  • Darling EM. Force scanning: A rapid, high-resolution approach for spatial mechanical property mapping. Nanotechnology, 22 (2011) 175707, PMCID: PMC3150532, 2011.(2011)
  • Gilchrist CL, Darling EM, Chen J, and Setton LA. Extracellular matrix ligand and stiffness modulate immature nucleus pulposus cell‐cell interactions. PLoS One. 6(11): e27170, PMCID: PMC3210142, 2011.(2011)
  • Yim EKF, Darling EM, Kulangara K, Zauscher S, Guilak F and Leong KW. Nanotopography-induced changes in focal adhesions, cytoskeletal organization, and mechanical properties of human mesenchymal stem cells. Biomaterials, 31 (2010) pp. 1299-1306, PMCID: PMC2813896, 2010.(2010)
  • Darling EM*, Wilusz RE*, Bolognesi MP, Zauscher S, Guilak F. Spatial mapping of the biomechanical properties of the pericellular matrix of articular cartilage measured in situ via atomic force microscopy. Biophys J, 98 pp. 2848-2856, PMCID: PMC2884253, 2010(2010)
  • Darling EM, Pritchett PE, Evans BA, Superfine R, Zauscher S, Guilak F. Mechanical properties and gene expression of chondrocytes on micropatterned substrates following dedifferentiation in monolayer. Cell Molec Bioeng, 2 (3) pp. 395-404, PMCID: PMC2898162, 2009.(2009)
  • Athanasiou KA, Darling EM, Hu JCY. Articular Cartilage Tissue Engineering. Morgan & Claypool Publishers: San Rafael, CA, 2009.(2009)
  • Darling EM, Topel M, Zauscher S, Vail TP, Guilak F. Viscoelastic properties of human mesenchymally-derived stem cells and primary osteoblasts, chondrocytes, and adipocytes. J Biomech, 41 (2) pp. 454-464, PMCID: PMC2897251, 2008.(2008)
  • Coles J, Blum J, Jay G, Darling EM, Guilak F, Zauscher S. In situ friction measurement on murine cartilage by atomic force microscopy. J Biomech, 41 (3) pp. 541-548, PMID: 18054362, 2008.(2008)
  • Darling EM, Guilak F. A neural network model for cell classification based on single-cell biomechanical properties. Tissue Eng Part A, 14 (9) pp. 1507-1515, PMID: 18620486, 2008.(2008)
  • Darling EM, Zauscher S, Block JA, Guilak F. A thin-layer model for viscoelastic, stress-relaxation testing of cells using atomic force microscopy: Do cell properties reflect metastatic potential? Biophys J, 92 pp. 1784-1791, PMID: 17158567, 2007.(2007)
  • Darling EM, Zauscher S, Guilak F. Viscoelastic properties of zonal articular chondrocytes measured by atomic force microscopy. Osteoarthritis Cartilage, 14 (6) pp. 571-579, PMID: 16478668, 2006.(2006)
  • Darling EM, Athanasiou KA. Rapid phenotypic changes in passaged articular chondrocyte subpopulations. J Orthop Res, 23 (2) pp. 425-432, PMID: 15734258, 2005.(2005)
  • Darling EM, Athanasiou KA. Retaining zonal chondrocyte phenotype by means of novel growth environments. Tissue Eng, 11 (3/4) pp. 395-403, PMID: 15871669, 2005.(2005)
  • Darling EM, Athanasiou KA. Growth factor impact on articular chondrocyte subpopulations. Cell Tissue Res, 322 pp. 463-473, PMID: 16047167, 2005.(2005)
  • Darling EM, Athanasiou KA. Bioactive scaffold design for articular cartilage engineering. Biomedical Technology and Devices Handbook. Ed. by J. Moore and G. Zouridakis. Chapter 21, CRC Press: Boca Raton, FL, 2004.(2004)
  • Darling EM, Hu JCY, Athanasiou KA. Zonal and topographical gene expression in articular cartilage. J Orthop Res, 22 (6) pp. 1182-1187, PMID: 15475195, 2004.(2004)
  • Darling EM, Athanasiou KA. Articular cartilage bioreactors and bioprocesses. Tissue Eng, 9 (1) pp. 9-26, PMID: 12625950, 2003.(2003)
  • Darling EM, Athanasiou KA. Biomechanical strategies for articular cartilage regeneration. Ann Biomed Eng, 31 pp. 1114-1124, PMID: 14582614, 2003.(2003)